Thor Ragnarok = Grad School

A few weeks ago, I went to see Thor Ragnarok and it was amazing!  So amazing that I saw it again the very next day.


For me, the best thing about the movie was the characters.  The way they actors used one another and reacted to each other made for a compelling and hilarious story.


When I got home after seeing the movie and my friends asked me if I wanted to see the movie with them (my second viewing), I said yes with no hesitation!


Then I started thinking about The Academic Society and if you all were interested in/loving Thor Ragnarok.  And I started thinking about things we could take away from the film.


thor ragnarok for grad school.png

And thus, this post was born!



I will will be writing about plot points, story arcs, and characters in the movie.  So if you haven’t seen Thor and hate spoilers, stop reading immediately!  Go see the movie and come back to this post later.  (See the image above, you can Pin it for later.)

Thor Odinson

Let’s start with Thor.  He is the main character after all.


Thor, the god of Thunder loses his father, his hammer, and his home all in the same day and is then lost to a foreign planet where he is enslaved and forced to win back his freedom.


This is not too dissimilar from starting grad school is it?  You lose your childhood and have to learn how to be an adult, in a new environment where you have to work for 4-6 years to win your freedom...I mean, defend your dissertation.


You become isolated from all of your friends:  new phone, who dis?


And you have to learn a new way of life, a new way to survive the experience.


My mom always told me that grad school isn’t about getting perfect scores and doing the best research.  It’s actually about endurance.  “They” just want to know that you can handle the pressure and keep trying.  It’s about perseverance.


And I think that mentality is what gave me perspective and helped me survive grad school without being overly stressed and without giving up when things got hard as often as they did.


Thor did this.  He never stopped trying to get off that planet and save his home.  Thanks Thor, for being a role model for grad students!


The Hulk


In the movie, The Hulk is lost on a strange planet and Bruce Banner has completely lost who he is to The Hulk.


Do you ever feel like you are completely lost to your grad school experience?  Like your whole life revolves around grad school and you stop doing the things you used to love to do.


What are those things?  Art, music, movies, sports, hanging with friends?


You should start making time for those things every now and then.  In my Facebook group for grad students, Thursday is “Treat Yo’self” Thursday and I encourage everyone to take at least 30 minutes that day to spend time with themselves.


In the movie, Bruce Banner eventually emerges from The Hulk but ultimately returns to The Hulk when the big guy was needed again.


The same goes for grad school.  After treating yourself, you do need to get back into the demand and responsibilities of grad school so that you can reach your goals.


There are so many other awesome characters in Thor like Loki, Hela, The Grand Master, Korg, Valkyrie, and many more!


I’d love to hear what you think about them and how they relate to you and your life in grad school!  Leave a comment on the YouTube video that accompanies this blog post!  Or share what you think in The Academic Society’s FB group.

Holiday Gift Guide for Graduate Students

*This post contains affiliate links.

The end of the semester is near and you are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel that is fall semester of grad school.  The holidays are approaching which means you’ll probably have a little time to spend with your friends and family.  Remember them?


I remember, when I was in grad school, I would always wait until the last minute to start thinking about holiday gifts for my friends and family.  There was always just too much work to do and my brainpower was better used elsewhere.  So, once the semester was over, I would take a little break and after a couple of days I would start thinking about gifts.  Which would be last minute and I would have no idea where to start.


That’s why I decided to create this gift guide for you.  So that whenever you are ready, you can come back here, click click click, and have all of your gifts purchased.

holiday gift guide for grad students on a budget.png


When I was coming up with this list, I wanted to make sure that everything had at least two of the following 3 criteria.

  1. The gift is inexpensive.

  2. The gift can be bought online.

  3. The gift can stand alone and won’t need to be packaged with other odds and ends to feel complete.


Holiday Gift Idea 1:  Accessories


If you have someone in your life who enjoys style and material things, I’ve found that accessories are great holiday gifts.  I’ve given my family members scarves and jewelry that they still wear to this day.


Here are some accessories for the women in your life.


Here are some accessories for the men in your life.


Holiday Gift Idea 2:  Fragrances


You can never go wrong with a good scent.  My family members love fragrances and perfume or cologne would make an awesome gift for them.  When I was younger, and just hitting puberty, my aunt would always ask me, “So, have you found your scent yet, you need a signature scent!”  During the holidays, fragrance sets are all the rage, so you can help your loved ones find their signature scent or add to their collection.


Holiday Gift Idea 3:  Food


Everyone loves to eat delicious things.  And I don’t think anyone would be upset about receiving food as a gift.  My grandad always loved those holiday sausage packs so we made sure to get him holiday sausage every single year.  It was a tradition.  I’ve recently learned about this company called Mouth.  OMG!  Everything looks delicious.  They have all of the sweet, savory, mouthwatering things.  Check out their homepage to browse around or you could look at their gift bags between $25-$50.


Holiday Gift Idea 4:  Handmade Gifts


In grad school, after my fellowship was over and I wasn’t balling anymore, I had to really cut down on my holiday gift giving budget.  So I tried making my gifts.  And my family still raves about those gifts today.


Scrubs, Lotions, and Creams


The first time I made my own holiday gifts as a grad student, I decided to make beauty products for my family.  I made lip scrubs, body butters, and shaving cream for all of the members of my family.  Then I packaged them up in cute little mason jars from Hobby Lobby.  I even created little labels that listed the ingredients.


Here’s a tutorial I found on Pinterest to get you started.  I would suggest starting with a lip/body scrub.  All you need is coconut oil, peppermint essential oil, and sugar.  You may have all of these already.

Framed Graphics


The next year, I wanted to stick with the homemade theme so I printed and framed cute little graphics for my family.  It was a big hit.  My sister actually put hers on her desk at school.  She teaches high school.  The graphic says, “You are amazing, remember that!”  

holiday gift guide for grad students on a budget


All you have to do, is look up quotes on Pinterest, head to Canva and make a cute graphic for free.  Then get it printed.  I created 5x7 pictures and framed them.  There are some nice inexpensive frames on Amazon.


Customized Notebooks


If you have a friend who is really into planning and journaling, you could make them a custom notebook and buy them fun pens.  I tried and failed at this, but I found a new tutorial on Pinterest that looks much simpler.  Also, these pens are fabulous!


Holiday Gift Idea 5:  Books


Books make awesome gifts for a person who loves to read.  Books that are funny, thoughtful, or sentimental are great options.  One of my favorite books is Why is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me by Mindy Kaling.  Cookbooks are great gifts as well.  This one by Chrissy Teigen looks amazing!


A couple of years ago, I got my friend, who has a cat, a hilarious book about cats called I Could Pee on This.


Holiday Gift Idea 6:  TV series/Movies


If you have a friend who is also in grad school, or is just really busy in general, it’s highly likely that they have missed all of the most recent season of their favorite TV show.  Or they weren’t able to get to the theaters to see a movie that they were excited about.  It would be so awesome if you could give them the latest season of their favorite show or a movie they wanted to see.  The holidays are a perfect time for them to catch up.


Not sure what they would like?  Maybe they have suggested a show or movie for you to watch.  You can buy it for them and you can watch it together.  The Big Bang Theory is always a good option.


Holiday Gift Idea 7:  Novelty T-shirts


All you need to know is one thing your friend or family member loves.  Then order a t-shirt with that thing on it.  They would love it and wear it all the time.  I’ve had my eye one this Gilmore Girls shirt for a while.


Holiday Idea 8:  Job Application Crash Course

If you have a friend, maybe it’s you, who is planning to graduate this spring or summer and they haven’t started their job applications, you could give the gift of productivity.  There are so many documents that you are required to write to submit an application including CVs, teaching statements, research statements, cover letters, and more.  So you can either spend your break researching what all of those should look like, or you could just let me tell you in the Job Application Crash Course.  Click here to learn more about it.


I’ve also created a free job application resources guide, sign up below to get it in your inbox.

How to Prepare for the End of the Semester as a Grad Student


As a graduate student, the end of the semester can come with mixed feelings.  Excitement.  Because you will finally be free and have a little break to rest and start fresh next semester.  But you may also feel stress and overwhelm.  Because everything HAS to get done by the end of the semester.


You may have final exams, papers to write, presentations to prepare, research to make headway on, and maybe tests to write.  Not to mention other duties you have like tutoring, proctoring finals, and grading finals.  That’s a lot!


It’s so easy to experience burnout during this time and shut down.  But that is not what you are going to do this semester.  This year, you are going to have a manageable plan.  That starts right now.  So that you won’t experience overwhelm and unnecessary stress.  It is grad school, there will be some stress.  You just have to figure out how to handle it!  Now you have me to guide you along and help you come up with a strategy for success.

How to prepare for the end of the semester as a graduate student | The Academic Society


Why you Need a Strategy for the End of the Semester



You need to sleep.  Getting a full night’s rest (whatever that means for you) will help you think more clearly and get things done at the end of the semester.  I recently learned that when we sleep, our brain doesn’t shut down and also go into sleep mode.  It’s actually the opposite.   Sleep is actually an active time for our brains where a lot of processing, restoration, and strengthening occurs.  Don’t we need all three of these to happen at the end of the semester?


Eat Healthy

A part of your end of semester strategy should include eating real food and actual meals.  It’s so easy to “work, work, work, work, work” - Rihanna. And forget about fueling your body until it’s too late and you just grab quick snacks for sustenance.  I don’t want you to do this!  I want you to come up with a plan and a strategy that works for you so that you don’t forget to eat and you can have time to make (or buy) full and balanced meals for yourself.


Me Time

One of the easiest ways to experience burnout is when you don’t make time for yourself.  Having some time every week where you are doing something that you want to do and helps you recharge is so valuable.  Especially at the end of the semester when it’s so easy to forget about yourself and charge full force into the finish line.

Related Video:  What to do when you are feeling burnout in grad school

How to Create a Strategy for the End of the Semester

  1. Start at the end:  figure out exactly what will happen and what needs to get done at the end of the semester.  Write a list of all final exams, papers, and presentations that you need to take, write, create, proctor, and/or grade.  Are there any other things that you MUST get done by the end of the semester like applying for jobs or registering for a conference?  Write those down too.

  2. Prioritize your list:  figure out which items on your list are most important to you.  Of course all things on your list need to get done but some things hold more weight than others.  Decide which 3 things are most important and put a star (*) by them.

  3. Time Management:  Determine how much time you need to prep, start, and reach the result of your top 3 goals/responsibilities.  Can you start prepping for these things now?

  4. Figure out what needs to get done now:  Look ahead in your calendar and figure out what other assignments, projects, reports, classes, etc need to get done before you can start working on your list from step 1.

  5. Plan:  Now that you know what you need to get done, how long it will take, and the stuff that needs to get done first, you can actually schedule when you will do these tasks.  I’ve created a pdf called the End of Semester Strategy Roadmap that will help you keep track of what needs to get done by the end of the semester as well a video that walks you through how to use it.


Now go forth and end this semester on high note!  I know you can do it!

How to Prepare for the Job Market while you are still in grad school

If you have been following the blog awhile, you know that we have been focusing on how to plan for a productive week, every week.  Up until now, we've been planning one week at a time and one day at a time.

Now, I want you to start thinking big! What are your big goals for grad school? What kind of career do you want when you finish? What do you want to be known for in your field?

In this post, we will be taking these big goals, and breaking them down into smaller, more manageable baby goals that you can achieve each semester.

how to prepare for the job market while you are still in grad school | The Academic Society

Figure Out What you are working for

Understanding what you may want to do pretty early in your grad school career can be super helpful.

If you are interested in a teaching career, make sure that you spend your time in grad school preparing to teach. I know it may be easy to teach the same course every semester. But, it would look really good on your job applications if you taught a variety of class. You can start requesting to teach different classes. Also, you can go to seminars and conferences about teaching in your field.

If you are interested in a research career, you should definitely focus on your own research. But you should try to expand your interests. Try applying for a summer research program this summer. Go to conferences and seminars in your field. Also, take a course or seminar on advising undergraduates in research.

If you are interested in an industry or government job, try applying for summer internships to gain experience. Look for opportunities to work on a team.

When I was a graduate student, I built my grad school career all around teaching. I took courses on teaching, went to seminars and conferences, and taught many different classes. This really set me apart from the other applicants applying for the same types of jobs as me.


How to Prepare for a Teaching Job

When you are early in your graduate school career, even if you aren’t teaching classes yet, it’s important to take advantage of every opportunity that is related to teaching.  For example, if a graduate teaching training or course is offered, take it seriously.

If your department offers a course on teaching in your field, take it!  When I was in grad school, I took a course called Teaching College Math.  It was required that I take the course for my fellowship, but it was soooo helpful!  I studied learning outcomes, how to write a syllabus, about assessments and more.  Plus, it was something I could add to my CV that showed that I had teacher training beyond what most grad students had.

I also went to seminars on teaching and learned about active learning.  I was then able to implement what I had learned in my classes and write about what I tried in my teaching statement when I was applying for jobs.

During the JMM (Joint Mathematics Meetings), the big conference in my field, I took mini-courses on how to teach statistics as well has how to advise undergraduates in research.

So as you continue throughout your grad school experience, look for any opportunity that relates to teaching and take advantage of it.


How to Prepare for a Research Job

Disclaimer:  I’ve never wanted a job where research was a focus, so definitely consult your advisor after reading this blog post.

The first piece of advice is a no brainer.  Work very hard on your research.  Make sure you attend seminars and colloquia in your research area.  It would also be helpful if you were able to collaborate with others on a project.

When you are applying for jobs, it will be very likely that you will be the only person in your department working in your specific field.  So it’s nice to be able to show that you can collaborate and work with others.  See if you can find a way to apply your research in other fields.  Interdisciplinary research was a pretty hot topic when I was on the job market.

Whenever you hear about summer research opportunities, you should definitely apply.  I participated in a program called the Industrial Math/Stats Modeling Workshop where I worked on a research team with 5 other members.  We ended the program by writing a research paper and presenting our work.

Reaching out to other schools’ summer research programs also gives you networking opportunities.  Perhaps you’ll meet the very people who will want to hire you someday.

Finally, try to make significant progress on your dissertation research so that you can get a couple papers published before you graduate.


How to Prepare for an Industry/Government Job

Since my research area is statistics, I definitely considered working in industry.  My advisor urged me to take classes outside of my department that would build my list of skills.

I took classes where I learned how to program in SAS and SQL.  I also learned a few more skills in my summer research program IMSM which I mentioned in the section above.

I also think that you should look for summer internship opportunities and find people to collaborate with.  Any evidence of working with a team will look great on your resume when applying for a job in industry or government.


I hope this post gave you something to think about.  So, starting now, be on the lookout for opportunities NOW that will help you in the FUTURE on the job market.

Productivity Hack: Why you Should Keep a Journal as a Grad Student or New Faculty Member

I know what you may be thinking.  Isn’t journaling for preteen girls to write their current crush’s name inside of a hand-drawn heart?  Well, yeah.  But it’s also for graduate students who want to succeed and progress in their programs feeling less overwhelmed and manage time more efficiently!  It’s a great way to keep your productivity waaaay up!

I started keeping a journal last summer when I was planning my blog launch (my second blogging attempt....).  In it, I kept my daily to-do lists, my long and short-term goals, as well as ideas for the future.  The specific type of journal I kept is called a Bullet Journal, and let me tell you, it was so fun!  If you want to learn more about the Bullet Journal, or as us journalers call it, the BuJo, check out this super official website as well as these really pretty ones on Pinterest.

In today’s, post, I am giving you a list of reasons why keeping a journal is especially important for productivity while in graduate school.

Productivity hack for new faculty members and graduate students | The Academic Society


Keeping a journal can give you a safe place to reflect on the thoughts and emotions you have about your career.  Maybe you had a wonderful day at teaching or at work.  It’s good to acknowledge what you did that day and what made it so great.  Or maybe your day wasn’t the best.  Writing about it can be a nice release of those negative feelings and can help you to not dwell on it longer than necessary so that you can move forward.


Journaling is great for motivation.  Something that I love to add to my journal is a to-do list.  Checking something off of my to-do list is so satisfying and it helps me to celebrate each little win.  In an article in the Harvard Business Review called The Power of Smalls Wins, the authors’ research proved that making progress in meaningful work boosts emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday.  Writing in a journal can give you a place to keep track of that progress.

Keeping Track of Accomplishments

It’s also nice to keep a running list of all of your achievements.  If you do something awesome or get complimented on your work, write it down.  You’ll need to have these things on hand when it’s time for to start applying for jobs and funding opportunities!


Speaking of job applications, do you know everything that is expected of you to apply for jobs in academia?  If not, find out immediately.  You can get a checklist here.  Then you can write down all of these things in your journal.  And now that you know where you are going, you just need to make a plan to get there.  For example, being innovative in teaching is a part of my promotion requirements.  So each week I try to do something new in the classroom to see how my students react to it along with how well they grasp the material.

Related Post:  When to Start Applying for Jobs in Academia


A journal is a great place to write down all of your ideas for research or teaching, big or small.  Maybe there are colleagues that you want to collaborate with or service projects that you want to put together or be a part of.  Maybe there is new research in your field and you want to apply the results in your project.  The sky’s the limit!  I try to keep a running list of new activities for my students to work on in groups.  So far, the biggest hit was Derivative Sudoku.  Today, I’m trying a matching game with graphs of functions and their derivatives.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

How I use my Journal Daily

  1. I like to take 5-10 minutes either in the morning or the night before work to plan my day.  This typically consists of a To-Do list.  See my pro tip below.

  2. Throughout the day, I will write down any new ideas or goals that I think of.

  3. At the end of the day, I reflect on everything I’ve done and evaluate what’s working for me and what is not.

Pro Tip:  Try to keep your To-Do list short.  3-4 items is about all that one can manage without becoming overwhelmed.

I hope that you have enjoyed this post.  Using my journal helps me to stay focused at work and keep my productivity at 100%.  Do you currently keep a journal?  What type of things do you write in it?  If you don’t keep a journal, are thinking about keeping one now?

The Industrial Math/Stat Modeling Workshop for Grad Students

The Industrial Math/Stat Modeling (IMSM) Workshop for Grad Students is a fully funded 10 day research program for grad students in math, statistics, and computational sciences.  Students use teamwork to tackle real world problems in industry and government laboratory research.


How the Program Works

You will be divided into groups of 5-7 to collaborate on projects presented by experienced scientists and engineers.  Each team will have two mentors:  a problem presenter and a faculty advisor.


My Experience

I worked in a group of 6 on a real problem being studied at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  Everyone in our group had different areas of research.  Our task was to develop 3-5 metrics that could be used to measure the effects of particulate matter from forest fires.  We worked together for 8-10 hours a day, wrote a paper, and then presented our research on the final day of the program.  The presentations were given to the full cohort as well as representatives from the companies and government agencies we conducted research for.


The Benefit

I was able to experience working on a real life problem in a new field.  I learned how to collaborate with other researchers with different backgrounds.  I also learned how to work on a team and was better prepared to apply for a job in industry or government if I chose to do so.  We also had the opportunity to present our research at conferences as well as publish our paper.


How to Apply for IMSM

At the time that I am writing this, the application information is not available.  IMSM is a summer program and they usually start accepting applications around March or April.  You can find more information here:

The BFF Program

The Building Future Faculty (BFF) Program is an all expenses paid 2 day workshop for grad students and post docs interested in pursuing a career in academia.  The program is hosted at North Carolina State University.  To be accepted into this program, you must be one or two years away from being on the job market.


How the Program Works

Each student is matched with a department that most closely relates to their research area.  During your visit, you will discuss with faculty members in your area about their department, research, and teaching duties.  There are also seminars that you will have with the full cohort.


My Experience

My research area is Statistics so I met with multiple members of the Statistics department at NC State.  I spoke with someone about the types of positions in the department.  I had lunch with one of the faculty members.  I also met with someone who looked over my CV and gave me critiques that would help me when I was on the job market.  At the end of my department visit I presented my research to the grad students their at their grad student seminar.


When I wasn’t touring the department, I was with the full cohort learning about teaching practices, grant writing, and promotion.  It was at the BFF Program that I learned about active learning and changed my teaching practices.  This is what helped me land my dream job.


As you know, I’m a Lecturer, which is a 100% teaching position.  I actually learned through the BFF Program that I was not a good fit for a tenure track position at a research school.  This knowledge gave me the freedom to spend more time improving my teaching and landing my dream job as a Lecturer.


The BFF Program was an amazing learning experience and I think that every grad student should have the chance to experience what life is like as a full time faculty member before they graduate.


How to Apply for the BFF Program

You can get complete information here:


  1. Complete the application form

  2. Submit a cover letter

  3. Submit a CV

  4. Submit a research and teaching statement

You may notice that these are the same components for applying for an actual job in academia.


Who Should Apply for the BFF Program

Below is the Selection Criteria listed on the website above:

The Building Future Faculty program is designed to provide information for graduate students and post-docs preparing for faculty careers. It is not a job placement program. Those who meet the following criteria are encouraged to apply.

individuals with the ability to contribute in meaningful ways to NC State’s continuing commitment to cultural and ethnic diversity;

individuals in a doctoral or post-doctoral program corresponding to a discipline at NC State;

post-docs and graduate students who have begun their dissertation research;

those who desire an academic teaching career at a research institution;

those who desire to pursue independent research as a faculty member;

those who demonstrate the potential to become a faculty member;

availability during the program dates.



I think that the BFF Program is a great opportunity that is available for grad students of all majors.

Project NExT

Project NExT (New Experiences in Teaching) is a professional development program for new faculty members in Mathematics.  The program is funded by the MAA (Mathematics Association of America).  The program helps 1st and 2nd year faculty members acclimate to their new work environment in academia.


The program provides workshops and seminars on improving and developing teaching practices, engaging in research, as well as finding new and interesting service projects.


My Experience

I was accepted into the 2017 cohort of Project NExT.  Our first meeting was during MATHfest hosted by the MAA in Chicago.  Throughout the program, I learned so much about teaching and implementing active learning in my classroom, managing my time, as well as staying on track for promotion.


The most valuable part of Project NExT, for me, was the community I gained.  I met 89 other newly hired mathematics faculty members working all over the country.  The program was designed so that we would meet and make connections with as many of the other 89 members as possible.


We were grouped based on research areas, teaching interests, and location throughout the program.  We now have a Facebook group as well as an email listserv where we ask each other questions and share our wins, concerns, and fears throughout the semester.  The community alone makes the program more than worth it!


The Benefits

But there are many other benefits:


Active Learning Groups:  We formed groups based on the types of teaching techniques we were planning on implementing in our classes.


Shared Google Folder:  We share papers, worksheets, and other helpful resources with each other.


Plenary Sessions:  We had sessions on Teaching Math in the 21st Century, Academic Time Management, Rising to the Challenge of Diversifying the Mathematics Community, Research-based Strategies for Reducing Stereotype Threat and Fostering Learning and Engagement in Math.


Courses:  We took courses on NSF Funding and Grant Writing Tips, Getting your Research Off to a Good Start, Teaching Math to Future Teachers, Using Technology in the Classroom, Teaching Statistical Concepts with Activities, Student-Centered Assessment, and Undergraduate Research.


Sessions at the JMM:  We will be organizing sessions at the JMM which looks great on your CV.


How to Apply for Project NExT

Go to for complete guidelines.


  1. Complete an application form

  2. Submit a personal statement

  3. Submit a research statement

  4. Submit a CV

  5. Get your department chair or dean to submit a letter of support


Who should apply for Project NExT

You should apply for Project NExT if you are finishing your last year of grad school or a post doc and have accepted a position in academia.  You should also apply if you have completed your first year as a faculty member in academia.


What to do if you do not get accepted in Project NExT

If you are not accepted into the program, you will receive a mentor from the MAA who holds a similar position to you.  This was really helpful for me.  I was not accepted into the program the first year I applied.  But I worked with my provided mentor and she helped me with my application.


I hope that this post helped you decide to apply for Project NExT.  If you have any questions, please email me at

The #1 Mistake you are Making in Grad School (and it’s not your coursework or research)

Mistake:  The #1 mistake you can make in grad school is to let grad school happen to you.

The Solution:  Change your mindset.

I know that sounds so vague and intangible.  But it’s not!  I’m going to give you my tips for changing your mindset about grad school and move forward with intention.

You have probably heard that, when you start grad school, you will have to say goodbye to your friends, family, and free time.  Grad school will be so difficult, time-consuming, and life-draining that you won’t be able to catch your breath.  This is true for many, many grad students.  But it doesn’t have to be true for you.  Your experience in grad school all depends on your expectations for it.  

As a grad student, you typically fall into one of two camps.  First, is the group that freaks themselves out.  They think that they aren’t smart enough, everyone is smarter than them, or that their professors will expect them to know more than they already do.  The second group is the overconfident group.  They believe that they are completely ready for grad school and that it will be just an extension of undergrad.

While there are outliers, most grad students’ reality is actually somewhere between those two sets of expectations.  When I was in grad school, I learned that, yes, grad school takes a whole lot of time and a whole lot of effort.  But, when I took the time to look ahead, figure out my goals, and set a plan, I was able to find some time for myself as well.

If you are interested in how I did this, keep reading!


How to decrease overwhelm and stress in grad school


The Number 1 mistake you are making in grad school (it's not your coursework or your research) | The Academic Society | for grad students and new faculty in Math (and STEM)

Be intentional about your purpose in grad school

It’s easy to say that your purpose is to get a PhD or to do research.  And yes, that may be your overall goal or end result of being in grad school.  But what about this year, this semester, or this month?

Are you taking classes right now?  Is your goal to absorb as much material as possible or to get an A in your class?  Is your goal to narrow down a research area?

Are you in research mode?  Your immediate goal could be to read and understand 5 papers this month.  Maybe you want to prove or discover something new to bring to your advisor.  Do you want to present at conferences or seminars?

Are you applying for jobs this year?  A goal could be to complete your application materials by October.  You can research positions and determine the type of job you want.

Are you focused on your teaching practices?  Do you want to improve your teaching evaluations?  Or increase student engagement in your classes?  Perhaps you may want to start prepping your classes 1-2 weeks in advance.  Or be observed teaching twice each semester.

Making these goals are so important.  If you have specific actionable goals that you can reach for each semester, you can understand how to schedule your time and remain focused on the right things.


Make a plan

Once you have a couple of goals for the semester or month, how are you going to make it happen?  Come up with a plan of attack!  Make a schedule and create smaller tasks within your bigger goal.

If you need help doing this, I’ve created a workbook for you.  Click the button below to get the Grad School Survival Workbook directly to your inbox.


Determine your Non-negotiables

Figure out what your “non-negotiables” are.  Think about your immediate goals for the semester and determine what tasks need to be done to reach them.  These tasks are your “non-negotiables”.  

As a grad student, I took the time to figure out my top goals and non-negotiables before each semester.  When I was doing my coursework, my goal was to start my homework assignments the day they were given.  When I was writing my dissertation, I had monthly writing goals.

When I started teaching, my top goals were to get my students to enjoy my classes and get amazing course evaluations. (This was helpful when I was applying for jobs in academia.)  You just need to determine what your non-negotiables are for the semester.



Money can be a major cause of stress for grad students.  It’s no secret that grad students aren’t ballin’ out of control.  But what does help is if you can start being realistic about how much money you will make each month. If you are a PhD student you are probably being supported in some kind of way. Maybe you are a teaching assistant (like I was) or a research assistant. You may also have a fellowship that comes with a stipend.

If you are a Mater's student, maybe you are only partially supported by your department and you work as a tutor or have a part-time job.

However you are expected to support yourself, take a moment to think about how much support that is. Like the actual number.  Then come up with a plan for the month for how to spend that money wisely.

Are you noticing a trend?  I’m all about the plan!


This is perhaps the most important tip.  You have to change how you think about grad school.  No more saying how overwhelmed you are or how impossible everything feels.  Create a plan with actionable steps.  Speak words of encouragement every morning.  This is call affirmation.

Plan your week ahead of time.  I like to take some time on Sunday evenings to reflect on my previous week and figure out what I need to do the next week and then create a schedule/to-do list for the upcoming week.

I hope that these tips will help you create a plan for yourself so that you can go through grad school with intention.

To be walked through these steps, download the Grad School Survival Workbook!

The Key to Productivity, Organization, and Having a Life in Grad School:  Working 8-5

Does this sound like a typical day for you?


You wake up thinking about all of the tasks you need to do for the day.  Then you remember the thing you meant to do yesterday, but you forgot.  So you spend most of your day working on the thing you should have worked on the day before.  Therefore you don’t have enough time to complete the tasks you had planned for the day.  Which means, that after dinner, at home, you try to do more work while you “relax” and watch tv.  Then you go to bed just to do it all over again the next morning.


Or maybe this is you…


You’re invited to hang out with friends or do something that isn’t grad school related.  You haven’t taken a break in while so you decide to go out.  But the whole time you are out, you feel guilty.  You have so much work to do and you feel like you aren’t spending your time wisely.  Therefore, you can’t fully enjoy your break.


What about this?


You are working on your research and you get stuck on a problem.  So you go read some papers to find inspiration.  Next thing you know, it’s been 3 hours and you haven’t prepped for the classes you are teaching.


Do any of those scenarios sound familiar?


I recently interview four PhD students and they all told me that they struggle with time management, productivity, and organization in some kind of way.  When I first started grad school, I was the same.


But then I discovered the key!  The key to getting stuff done efficiently and still having time for myself at the end of the day without feeling guilty about it.


Would you like to know how I accomplished this impossible task?  Okay, okay, I’ll tell you!

The key to time management in grad school: treat grad school like a job | The Academic Society for grad students and new faculty in Math and STEM


The Key to Productivity, Organization, and Having a Life in Grad School:  Working 8-5


You have to treat grad school like a job.  I know, it’s called school, not work.  But this is what I did and I saw major improvement in my quality of life.  I was able to sleep more and stress less!  Here’s what I started to do my third year of grad school.


Start Early

I’m a morning person, so waking up early allowed me to start working when my brain worked best.  I would wake up early, have breakfast and be at school by 7:30 am.  I would spend the first 30 minutes of my day checking and responding to emails and writing my daily to-do list.


To-do list

Having a to-do list is key!  Creating a to-do list lets you visualize all of the tasks you need to do in a day.  You can always refer back to it throughout the day to see if you are using your time efficiently.  Also, whenever you remember new tasks that you may have forgotten, you can just add them to the list.


There are pitfalls that you need to watch out for when creating your daily to-do lists:

  1. Not being mindful of time.  Not every task is created equal and will not take the same amount of time.  Some things take 5 minutes, like writing an important email.  And other things take hours, like writing up your research.  So you should always be mindful about how much time your tasks take.

  2. Creating an overwhelming to-do list.  I think I read that psychologically, if you have more than 3-4 tasks on a to-do list, you can feel overwhelmed and actually get less work done.  That’s why understanding how much time things take is super important.  What I like to do is to add how much time I want to spend on each of my tasks and give myself a deadline.

  3. Not prioritizing tasks:  Sometimes it just doesn’t make sense to check off tasks on your to-do list in order.  If there is something that needs to get done by the next day, try working on it before something that may not be due for a week.  Also, if there is a task that you are dreading working on, try to work on that first to get it over with.  Otherwise, you would just save it until the end of the day or perhaps never getting to it.


Homework:  Create a checklist or a to-do list and write down all of your tasks for the day as well a how much time you want to spend on each task.


Complete your day with a plan

At the end of your work day (my suggestion would be to finish your day between 5-7 pm), go back to your to-do list and see what things still need to be done.  If they aren’t urgent, add them to a new to-do list for the next day.

Once you get in the habit of things, you’ll find that planning your day becomes easier and easier.  And you’ll no longer feel like you are forgetting things or not spending your time wisely.  Then, at the end of the day, you are completely done and don’t have to worry about remembering things to do tomorrow.  They are already on your list and you can enjoy the evenings for yourself.


The Exceptions

While it is very nice to only work between the hours of 8-5, it’s not always feasible.  There are times where you will have to work outside of those hours.  In particular, those exceptions would include studying for tests, preparing for presentations, or grading hws and tests.


If you want to take the next step and start planning for the week, instead of day to day, checkout the Grad School Survival Workbook.

How to Get Your Students to Answer Questions in Class

So we’ve learned by now that students can only be engaged during a lecture for maybe 20 minutes at a time.  Therefore it’s important to break up your lecture and include some student engagement.

The easiest way to do this is to stop the lecture and ask your students verbal questions like:

  • What’s the next step?
  • Any ideas on how we should approach this problem?
  • Does this idea look familiar?

However, a lot of the time, your students will respond with blank stares.  This just happened to me on the first day of class.  Maybe it was too early in the morning.  Maybe they were intimidated by the math.  It doesn’t matter what there issue was, I still found a way to get them to answer my questions.  Because, like I told my students, I don’t want to stand up and talk for a full 50 minutes by myself!  They need to be involved too!

I’ve come up with 4 tips on how to get your students to answer questions in class.


How to get your students to answer your questions in class for grad students and new faculty | The Academic Society

Make your expectations clear on the first day of class

It’s important to set the tone on the first day of class.  If you expect your students to answer your questions throughout the semester, you must ask them questions on the first day.

It doesn’t even have to be deep or related to the subject of the class at all.  Start with low stakes questions.  Let them ask questions about the syllabus.  Ask them about their previous classes from the same subject.  You can even ask what their major is.  I’ve made a list of questions that you can ask your students on the first day of classes.

Download the Icebreaker Questions!


I like to start with an icebreaker activity to get them up and out of their seats to meet each other.  I go more in-depth about this icebreaker in my free e-course about implementing group work as a graduate student.  

After setting the foundation of some type of exchange between you and your students, they will have meet me and each other (if you tried my icebreaker) and loosened up a bit.  Now you can ask them any question and they will be less nervous to answer.

Answer every question seriously

It may be annoying to repeat something that you’ve already explained.  But sometimes students miss it.  Maybe they were writing notes or maybe they just spaced out.  But for some reason they missed it.

When this happens, you should answer the question fully and make sure that your students understand.

This shows that you care about them and want to help them as much as you can.  It also shows that you won’t embarrass your students if they answer something incorrectly.

Students really appreciate that!  It has been mentioned many times in my teacher evaluations that I never make my students feel bad for asking questions and that they can tell that I care about them learning.

Remember, teaching evaluations can be a big part of your job applications if you want a job in academia.

Embrace the awkward silence

Because it will happen.  You will ask a question and no one will answer.  When this happens, the best thing you can do is wait.  And after a significant amount of time has passed (30-45 seconds), if you can tell that they do not know the answer, prompt them.

Ask them a leading question.  You know, one that will lead them to the correct answer without giving it away.  A question that will put them on the right train of thought.

When you ask leading questions, you are training your students to think that way so that they can get themselves to answers to a question (when they are working alone) and don’t know where to begin.

Here’s what happened to me on the first day of my precalculus class, even after we had such a great time getting to know each other:

We were learning about the distance formula and started to work this problem.

Find the set of all points that are 4 units away from the point (2, -3).

I plotted the point on a graph so that they could get a visual.  Then I asked, “any ideas on how to get started?”


So I asked, “can anyone find one point 4 units away?”


So then I chose a random point at least 10 units away and asked, “is this 4 units away?”

Finally, a few people said no.  And then someone said we could add and subtract 4 units from the x and y coordinate.

And then we were well on our way to getting to the answer to that problem.

After we went through all of that my students realized that I would not accept silence as an answer to any of my questions.

Call on students

I don’t really like to put students on the spot to answer questions, especially in a lower level math course because people have real anxieties about math and I don’t want to traumatize them; I want them to love it as much as I do.  At least that’s the goal.

Also, being called on is something I hated as a student and it gave me anxiety!

I like to call on students to ask them how they feel:

  • “How do you feel about this topic?”
  • “Do we need more practice?”
  • “Which part is the most difficult?”
  • “If you were working this on you own, where would you have gotten stuck?”

That last one is my favorite.  It really makes the students look back at the problem to make sure they really understand it.

Extra Tips

Along with those 4 tips, I wanted to give you a few other small things you can do to get your students to answer your questions.

  1. Smile
  2. Look like a nice, approachable person.
  3. Be relatable and tell them about when you learned the topic.

I hope that you enjoyed this post.  Let me know which tips you plan to use in your classroom and please share any other tips you may have in the comments section below.  It could really help other grad students struggling with getting their students to answer their questions.

Download the Icebreaker Questions!

6 Tips For Getting Good Teaching Evaluations

As a graduate student wanting a career in academia, you need good teaching evaluations for your job application packets.  These evaluations become even more important when you are a new faculty member.  Evaluations can play a role when you go up for promotion.  However, you are often thrust into a classroom to teach without any teaching experience or training.  And when you ask people how to be good at teaching, the answer is usually, “experience”.

This is true.  But as a graduate student who has never taught before, you don’t have that!

This post is about how to be thoughtful about your teaching strategies so that your students learn, like you, and give you great evaluations.

Download the Mid-Semester Survey Questions!

6 tips for getting good teaching evaluations for graduate students and new faculty members in Math and STEM | The Academic Society


Relate to your students

This is where your experience level is a HUGE asset!  You know, more recently than any professor, how it feels to be a student and how you felt when you took the same course yourself.

Share your experiences with your students.  Explain where you struggled and give them tips on how to succeed in the class.

My students always perk up when I say, “Oh, I remember learning this.  A lot of my classmates (or just me) found it difficult but I’ve come up with a good way to explain it.”  Students love when you are relatable like this.  And it also shows that you care.  And those are the things students mention in teaching evaluations.

Make your students feel comfortable

I always greet my students with a smile.  I also smile throughout the lecture…but that’s just who I am.  And my students always mention it in my teaching evaluations.  They always say that they could tell that I loved the subject (because math is awesome!) and that I was happy to be there.

You can also ask them how they are doing.  Especially before and after class.  Then ask them how they are enjoying the class so far.  If you’ve asked your students what their majors are, you can also incorporate relevant examples throughout your lectures.

I highly recommend a mid-semester survey.  This will tell you how your students really feel.  I like to also ask what they would like to change about class…and actually make some changes.  They love this and will share these things in your teaching evaluations! 

I’ve made a list for you of my mid-semester survey questions for the class that gave me all positive evaluations.  Give them a try and see how they work for you.



Understand Time

Time goes so much slower than you think when you are writing on the board.  One minute to you feels like 30 seconds to your students.  You have to give them time to absorb what you have written.  Even if it feels like you are just standing in silence for an awkwardly long amount of time.

Note:  Nothing you do is too awkward.  The more awkward the better is my opinion (I’m a mathematician…awkward is our default), as long as you don’t take yourself too seriously.  It makes you more approachable to your students.

Another thing.  It’s important to realize that students have a jam packed academic schedule as well as social engagements.  I’m not saying to give them less work.  But try to seem a little sympathetic.

Group work

In class group work is my favorite.  It gives your students a chance to ask each other questions.  It also forces engagement.  When I get to a problem in the notes that takes just a little more thought to come up with a game plan for solving it, I like to break my students up into groups of 2 or 3, give them a starting point, and let them talk it out and work it out together.

Coming up with strategies on their own helps them remember the process so much more than just watching me do it!  If you would like to learn how to get started with group work, try my free 4-day email course, Student Engagement for GTAs.  In this course I show you how to set your class up for group work starting on day one of the semester.


Over-prepare for class

Make sure you have prepared more than enough information, notes, and examples for each class.  Use resources other than the class textbook for alternate examples and explanations.

It’s important to actually work the HW problems that will be assigned.  That way you will know exactly what topics and ways of thinking should be discussed in class.

Check for understanding every 3-5 minutes

It’s so easy to get caught up in beautiful mathematics and then you look up 10 minutes later and your whole class either looks lost or has zoned out!

Not good.  I like to check for understanding at every step.  Here’s what I like to ask:

  • “Does that make sense?”
  • “What should we do next?”
  • “What’s the overall goal of the question?”
  • “If you were working on this problem by yourself, where might you have gotten stuck?”
  • “Any ideas on how we should approach this problem?”
  • “Why?”

If you ask these questions, your students will say that you really cared that they understood the material in your teaching evaluations.

Remember, teaching evaluations aren’t everything and you do want to be genuine when you teach.  So just be yourself and try to remember how it felt to be a student.  How would you want your professor to address the class?

I hope that you enjoyed this post!  If you have any other tips or questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below.  Also, share this post with other graduate students and new faculty members.

Download the Mid-Semester Survey Questions!

How to Write a CV as a Graduate Student

One of the most difficult parts about applying for a job, internship, or research program is actually sitting down to write a CV.  You probably haven’t been writing down all of your accomplishments as you have gone through graduate school.  So it’s completely understandable that writing a CV can feel overwhelming.

If you are like I was as a graduate student, you probably only have the resume you used to get into graduate school.   And now that you are in, all of your undergraduate accomplishments are irrelevant.  Great.

But don’t worry, it’s best to start from scratch anyway.

How to Write a CV as a Graduate Student | The Academic Society | for graduate students in Math and STEM

Let’s start with the format and content that you need to create a standout CV for whatever job you are applying for.

Formatting Do’s and Don’ts of an Academic CV


Do use 1 inch margins on all for edges of your CV.

Do use 12 point font for the content of your CV.

Do using single-spacing.

Do write your name at the top of your CV in either 14 or 16 point font.


Don’t use multiple font styles.

Don’t use italics for anything other than journal and book titles.

Don’t center any lines of your CV, other than the heading.

Don’t use any accomplishments from your undergraduate years.  (This one is not a formatting tip, but it needed to be mentioned.)


The Heading of an Academic CV

In the heading of your CV, you should include your first and last name in either 14 or 16 point font.  Also, include the words “Curriculum Vitae” right below your name.  It’s also best to include either your school or home address, email address, and phone number.

The Categories of an Academic CV

Below, I have listed a few of the most common categories found on a CV.  Don’t worry if you don’t have any accomplishments in certain categories yet.  You definitely do not need this many.  I think I only had 6 or 7 of these on my CV when I was applying for jobs.

  • Education
  • Employment
  • Publications
  • Awards/Honors
  • Grants/Fellowships
  • Invited Talks
  • Conference Activity
  • Teaching Experience
  • Service
  • Extra-curricular activities
  • Community Involvement
  • Professional Memberships


What Search Committees Notice

I thought that it would also be helpful to mention things that I had on my CV that search committees noticed and asked me about during interviews.

If you actually taught classes, make sure that it is clear.  As a graduate student, I attended a program called the BFF (Building Future Faculty) Program at North Carolina State University.  One of the most helpful experiences during that program was that I was able to get feedback on my CV from a professor in my field.  So, we went over each part of my CV and he gave me feedback.  One of the things that stood out was my “Teaching Experience” Category.

I had listed that I was a GTA and gave details about the courses that I taught and he asked why I was trying to make it seem like I actually taught those classes that I listed.  Of course I was confused.  But I didn’t want to be rude about saying that I did teach those classes.

Apparently he thought that I was grader or ran recitation sections for those classes that I taught.  He suggested that I use language other than “Graduate Teaching Assistant” and state that I was the Instructor of Record for the course because, apparently, it isn’t that common for graduate students to teach as many classes as I had.

Meeting with this professor was so valuable to me and it really gave me a good idea of what an academic CV should look like as a graduate student.  That’s why I offer a service where I provide graduate students with feedback on their CVs.  If you’re interested, join The Academic Society and email me about it!


Another thing that stood out was interesting extracurricular/service projects.  I was a member of the Graduate Student Association and each year we would put on an event called “Night at the Museum”.  During this event, each department would set up a booth to teach children about their areas of study using fun themes like Pirate Night and Safari Night.

I actually got questions about this event (very small part of my CV) from multiple search committees.

The smallest things can help you stand out to a search committee.  If you are ready to start writing your CV, take my FREE 5-day email course where you will receive a small lesson each day and by the end of the week, you will have a complete CV.

Take the FREE Email Course!

How to Prepare to Apply for a Job in Academia Series, Part 1: Be Observed

When you get into your 3rd year of grad school, you probably have completed all of your course work, chosen an advisor, and started teaching classes.


This is also the time where you start to decide if you love learning so much that you want to do it forever!  Or you decide that when you finish, you want to take the money and run (get an industry job).


If you are in the former group like I was, you’ve realized that either teaching or research is your passion!  Or maybe you are passionate about both teaching and research.  In any case, you’ve found your passion and there is nothing else you’d rather do as your career.  Well, that means you probably want to go into academia and be a professor at a college or university.


So that means, in the fall (or spring) semester of your final year of grad school you, will start to apply for jobs in academia.


But…one does not simply click on a job posting, fill out an application, and hope for the best.  Oh no, my friend.  It takes careful planning and preparation to even complete an application, let alone stand out enough to get an interview!


That’s why I started this blog!  I hated that there wasn’t a roadmap for successfully going through the application process to land your dream job in academia.


I was pretty successful during my job search with the process that I made for myself so I wanted to share it with you!  You have enough on your plate with teaching, research, presentations, seminars, and writing your dissertation.  Let me do the heavy lifting for you.


This series, How to Prepare to Apply for a Job in Academia will walk you through the steps you need to take before filling out a job application.  There are 3 parts in this series:

Part 1:  Be Observed

Part 2:  Observe

Part 3:  Roadmap to Success


How to Prepare to Apply for a Job in Academia, Part 1: Be Observed | The Academic Society | for graduate students in Math and STEM

Part 1:  Be Observed Teaching

Depending on the type of school you want to work at (liberal arts, R1, community college), teaching may or may not be a huge component of your appointment.  But you will have to teach.


And the schools you will apply for will need evidence of your teaching skills, practices, and experience.  Every application will ask for a teaching statement or philosophy, teaching evaluations, and a recommendation letters that will give proof that you know what you are doing in a classroom.


And how will someone know how well you are doing in the classroom?


They will only know if they have seen you teach.


So the first step to prepare to apply for an academic job is to be observed teaching.  And not just once.


You should be observed when you first start teaching and after you become a “pro”.  And it would be super helpful if the same person observed you at the beginning and end of your grad school teaching experience.


So yes, it’s great to ask your advisor to observe you teaching.  But note:  they will be the one faculty member that knows the most about your research.  So their reference letter will focus more on that.


You need to find at least two faculty members to write letters for you that are ALL about your experience in the classroom.


So how do you find who to ask to observe you?


I’m glad you asked!  Find the best teachers in your department.  And don’t think that they must have a Ph.D. to be great letter writers for you.  Instructors are great faculty members to ask to observe your teaching!  If their only job is to teach, they probably know the most about teaching.


So choose two people to observe your classes.  Remember, they will need to do it more than once.  Preferably once at the beginning of your teaching experience and once at the end of your program.


There will probably be years between those observation times.  How will they remember your teaching skills and experience?  They have classes and students of their own to think about.


Make it easy on them!


Create a worksheet or form that is easy for them to fill out while they observe you!  And then you both keep copies that they can refer back to when you ask them to write their reference letter for you.


So how do you create a good form?  Well, your department may already have some created.  But if not, I’ve created one for you!


You’re welcome!


Download the Teaching Observation Form!

As you can probably guess that, to get a good teaching reference letter, you need to plan.  Years in advance!  And being observed multiple times will give your letter writer plenty of personalized and detailed material that is bound to help you stand out among the mass of other applicants.


Not only is it important to be observed.  It’s tremendously helpful to observe others’ teaching styles and practices as well.


That’s what I cover in Part 2 of the How to Prepare to Apply for a Job in Academia series.  You can find that post here!

Don’t forget to download the Teaching Observation Form!  You can get it below!

How to Prepare to Apply for a Job in Academia Series, Part 2: Observe

Welcome back to the series on How to Prepare to Apply for a Job in Academia!  This series was created to give you a starting point as well as a roadmap for applying for jobs.  Because, trust me, it’s very overwhelming!  Here is what we cover in this 3 part series:

Part 1:  Be Observed

Part 2:  Observe

Part 3:  Roadmap to Success

In Part 1, we talked about how important it is to be observed teaching in the classroom.  If you missed the previous post, click here.


How to Prepare to Apply for a Job in Academia, Part 2:  Observe Others | The Academic Society | for graduate students in Math and STEM

Part 2:  Observe Others’ Teaching Practices

If you are in grad school for anything other than Education, you probably had never taught anything before starting grad school.


So that means your own experiences in front of a classroom is not enough.  It is wildly helpful to see how others in your field teach their classes.  Particularly, the people known for their teaching skills!


Like the people I mentioned in Part 1 of this series who will be observing your teaching.


Since you want to develop a relationship with them, you should definitely ask them if you can sit in on a couple of their classes to observe them.


This is especially helpful if they are teaching the same classes as you, or a class that you will be teaching in the future.


And what should you do while you observe them?


Take notes!  Notice how they interact with the class.  Get a feel for their flow and teaching style.


Use the same form that I mentioned in Part 1 and fill it out for them.


If you missed Part 1, click here.


Download the Teaching Observation Form!


What do you do if you notice that your teaching is severely lacking compared to the teaching practices of the person you observed?


Ask them for more help.  I know that I love to talk about teaching.  They will be happy to help.


Ask them how they plan their classes.  Ask them how they choose what problems to work in class.  Ask them how they get students to participate in their lectures.


I have a method that I use that starts on the first day of classes to warm the students up and let them know that I want them to participate in the lectures throughout the whole semester.  I created a full email course that you can take to learn more.


Click here to take the FREE email course.


I hope that you are enjoying this series so far.  There is only one part left.  But first, let’s recap.


What do we need to do before we start applying for jobs in academia?  Observe and be observed!  Click here to read part 3 of the series.


Download the Teaching Observation Form!

How to Prepare to Apply for a Job in Academia Series, Part 3: Create a Roadmap for Success

Welcome back!  You made it to the final part of the series, How to Prepare to Apply for a Job in Academia.  If you haven’t gone through the first two parts, you can find them here:

Part 1:  Be Observed

Part 2:  Observe

These posts also came with a free gift.  If you missed the gift, you can sign up below to get the Teaching Observation Form.

Download the Teaching Observation Form!

How to Prepare to Apply for a Job in Academia | The Academic Society | for graduate students in Math and STEM

Part 3:  Create a Roadmap for Success


I’m the type of person that loves to plan.  I remember, in undergrad, and my roommate can attest to this, what I did every semester.  I would plan my future.  I would choose the classes I wanted to take for the remaining semesters in great detail as well as my plans for after graduation.


My plans changed each semester but it always made me feel better when I gave myself something to work toward.  Like a personal challenge that only I knew about.  It always helps to have some type of roadmap.


That’s what we are going to talk about in the final part of this series on How to Prepare to Apply for a Job in Academia.


I know that I said we can’t just look at an application listing and click apply and be done.  But we do need to know what to expect in advance.


I remember, in the spring semester of my 4th year of grad school, I was planning my future, as I do.  And I decided to look up the types of jobs I wanted to apply for and boy were my eyes opened!


There is so much stuff that goes into an application packet!  At least a month’s worth of work!

Where to Find Academic Job Postings

As you know, I’m a mathematician so I went to the AMA website to look for job postings and found  It’s really the best place to search and apply for math jobs in academia.  Not all math jobs are on the site but most are.


Documents of an Academic Job Application Packet

So let me tell you what I learned.  There are at least 5 pieces of an academic job application.  They can include but are not limited to the following:

  • CV
  • Cover Letter
  • Teaching Statement
  • Research Statement
  • Teaching Evaluations
  • 3-4 Letters of Recommendation
  • Diversity statement (rarely)

That’s a lot of stuff to write!  And they all take a lot of time to actually complete.


So what did I do?  I created a spreadsheet with all of the jobs that I could possibly be interested in along with which applications required what documents.  It was so nice to have it all organized and it helped to keep me on track and ahead of deadlines.

The Job Application Roadmap

I know that applying for jobs can me very overwhelming and stressful, so I’ve created a roadmap for you to follow to help you prepare for the process.


Also, I want to be able to help you even more by walking you through the whole application process with tutorials, spreadsheets, and writing prompts.  So I’m creating an online course called Apply to Standout.


Would you be interested in taking a course that walks you through the whole application process with no research on how to write all of those documents above?


Sign up to get notifications when my course is ready.



Thanks for joining me in this series!  I hope that you are ready to start preparing yourself for academic job applications.

When to Start Applying for Jobs in Academia

When is the best time to start applying for academic jobs?  If you are a grad student in your 4th or 5th year, you should definitely start thinking about your next step.  Start thinking about the career you want and the types of jobs you want to apply for.

Download the Application Checklist!

When to start applying for jobs in academia as a graduate student | The Academic Society | for graduate students in Math and STEM

This article is for grad students who are interested in applying for jobs in academia and hope to be employed in Fall 2018.  Academic jobs include the following positions:

  • Post doc
  • Visiting professor
  • Instructor
  • Lecturer
  • Tenure track professor

The purpose of this post is to give grad students an idea about how much prep is required to apply for a job in academia as well as how to be as successful as possible on the job market.


Deadlines for Apply for Academic Jobs

A good place to start to figure out when to start applying for academic jobs is too look at deadlines.  If you are a mathematician, a great place to start is  I like to classify the job listings in two ways.  The ones with fall deadlines and the ones with spring deadlines.


Which ones should you strive to meet?  The fall deadlines.


Why fall?

Fall is so early!  The new school year is just getting started and you are just getting the hang of your very busy schedule.  Between teaching your classes, conducting research, attending seminars and conferences, meeting with your advisor, and writing your dissertation, where do you find the time to apply for jobs and meet these crazy early deadlines?  I’ll tell you exactly how…in a bit.  


Keep reading.


Why do schools make application deadlines so early?

Believe it or not, sometimes it’s a struggle for departments to find a person that is a good fit for the position they are offering.  So, posting an early deadline gets candidates in to be interviewed early.  And when they offer the candidate the job, there is little to no competition from other schools.


Also, there may be a big conference coming up.  In math, the Joint Math Meetings happen every January.  A lot of schools use this time to meet and interview candidates that applied in the fall.  So if you wait until spring you are missing out on so many interviews!


Why is applying for academic jobs in the fall good for you?

Applying for jobs in the fall may seem like a lot of work…on top of a lot of work.  But this can be very good for you!  Everyone else who plans to apply for jobs is busy too.  So maybe they won’t meet those early deadlines.  This is less competition for you!  Not that competition is a problem.  You are awesome and, if you stick with me, I know that you will create a standout application packet.  But let’s make it even easier for schools to notice you!  Apply early.


I started applying for jobs in the fall and I’ll never forget my first deadline.  October 15.  I was the first of my friends to get an application out.  It was scary and overwhelming but it gave me the push I needed to keep going.  I actually didn’t even need to apply for anymore jobs after November.  That’s less than 2 months of submitting applications.  I got multiple phone/Skype interviews and 4 on-campus interviews by the end of November.  I got three job offers and accepted my current position in December.  This was before many of my peers had even started applying for jobs!


This can be you too!

Download the Job Application Checklist!


Start Applying for Academic Jobs in the Summer.

When you start in the summer, you can create all of the application materials you’ll need before the crazy, busy semester starts!  What materials, you ask?  I’ve put them all on a checklist for you.

Once you’ve created the application materials, all you need to do when the semester starts is create a system for applying for jobs. It will take you no time to do and you can get back to focusing on your research and teaching your classes.  I can help you with that too, when you download the checklist you will join the email list and get tips and tricks from me. 


What you can do now?

When you get the checklist, you may not know where to start.  My suggestion is to start with your CV first.  Then move on to your Teaching Statement.


Related Post:  How to Write an Academic CV as a Grad Student


Need help getting started with those?  You know I got your back!  Get daily emails that walk you through getting your CV completed in 5 days for just 15 minutes a day!


When should you start applying for academic jobs?

So did I ever answer the question I first posed?  When should you start applying for academic jobs?  The answer is the fall, one year before you want to start working in the fabulous world of academia.  And when should you start working on your application materials?  The summer before you start applying.  I hope that clears everything up!

If you have any other questions, leave them below or check out the Facebook Page for The Academic Society.

Download the Job Application Checklist!

What is a Teaching Statement?

Are you interested in applying for a job in academia?  Have you looked at the requirements?  CVs, Cover Letters, Teaching Statements, Research Statements, oh my!  Sounds like a lot.  And you may not even be familiar with what each document requires or what it even is.


Like a teaching statement.  Also known as a teaching philosophy.


What is it?  Why do you need it?  How long does it need to be?  How much time should you devote to writing your teaching statement?  This article will answer all of your burning questions and help to get you started on the path to writing an amazing teaching statement that will help you stand out to job search committees.

Download the Teaching Statement Checklist!

How to write a teaching statement | What is a teaching statement | The Academic Society | for graduate students in Math and STEM


What is a teaching statement or teaching philosophy?

Both teaching statement and teaching philosophy will be used interchangeably throughout your job search process.  They mean the same thing and are the same document.


Contrary to what the actual word philosophy means, a search committee is not really looking for a paper all about your philosophy on teaching.  A teaching statement is actually just a paper about your teaching experience.  So instead of only writing about the magical and inspiring “truths” you’ve found to be the basis of contemporary instruction, you just have to tell a story about how you are in the classroom.


When I first started my application process, I Googled the term “teaching philosophy.”  I’m sure you did too.  I found a pretty good definition on this University of Minnesota website, which you probably found too.  Here’s their definition:


A teaching philosophy is a self-reflective statement of your beliefs about teaching and learning.  It should also discuss how you put your beliefs into practice by including concrete examples of what you do or anticipate doing in the classroom.  


The most important part of this definition is the second sentence.  You MUST provide concrete examples of what you do in the classroom.  It’s the only way to make your teaching statement believable.  Otherwise, it’s all just theory.  And theory is not what a search committee wants from you.


Why do you need a teaching statement?

If you are applying for a job in academia, you are most likely applying for one of the following positions on a college campus:  tenure track professorship, lecturer, post doc, or visiting professorship.


All of these positions usually come with teaching responsibilities.  The search committee needs to know that you have teaching experience and that you know how to handle yourself in the classroom.  They do not want someone who will bring the course evaluations down and make their department look bad.


The only way for you to prove to them that you have what it takes is to write about it, in detail, in your teaching statement or teaching philosophy.


How long does your teaching statement need to be?


It is recommended that your teaching statement or teaching philosophy be anywhere between 1-4 pages.  I recommend 2-3 pages.  Definitely not 1.  One page just screams that you don’t have enough experience or that you don’t care enough to write about it.


Your teaching statement can be four pages.  But only if your stories are sooooo amazing that it captivates the search committee!  Remember, they have other documents to read on top of doing their actual jobs like teaching or research.  Please be mindful of their time.


How much time should you devote to writing your teaching statement?

Well it depends on whether or not you have a plan for writing your teaching statement.  If you know what you want to say and narrowed down specific examples, you could knock your teaching statement out in 3-4 hours.  If you have no plan, and aren’t sure what to do or how to write your teaching statement, it could take a few days to get it just right.


How do you come up with a plan for writing a teaching statement or teaching philosophy?

I’m glad you asked, I’ve actually done it for you.  I’ve created an ebook that walks you through each step of writing a teaching statement or teaching philosophy.  It’s called From Blank Page to Teaching Philosophy.  In the book (there is also a workbook option), you will be given a plan for writing your document as well as what types of examples and quotes to include in your teaching statement.  By the time you finish the book (especially if you get the workbook version), you will have a completed teaching statement that’s ready to send off with the rest of your application material.


If you aren’t ready to purchase the ebook/workbook, I’m giving you a checklist to help you write your teaching statement or teaching philosophy.

Download the Teaching Statement Checklist!


I know that preparing to apply for jobs can be overwhelming and can feel like so much work!  That’s why I want to help!  The whole purpose of this blog is to help free up some time for you to focus on your research and teach your classes.


Have a wonderful day!!!

How to Write an Email + 22 FREE email templates every grad student needs



Download the 22 Email Templates!


pinterest template (6).png

Have you ever wanted to send an email to one of your professors, department chair, or your advisor and you didn’t know how to start it?


Should the tone be conversational?  Or strictly professional?  How long should it be?  What should the subject line say?


It can be difficult to strict the right balance between professional and casual.  Or even, too much information v. not enough information.


When I was a grad student, I was the go-to girl when it came to sending emails.  My friends would always ask for my help when they were sending an email to someone they didn’t know.


Why was I so good at it?  I’m not sure, but I realize now that my parents can be very formal people and I probably learned all about email etiquette from them.


Typically in academia, especially in the STEM fields, you can’t really go too wrong in an email.  But I do want to give you some guidelines and benchmarks to use.


Throughout my grad school experience, I’m sure I sent about 1000 emails but I did notice which one’s I wrote most often.  Here is a list of some of the emails grad students will write before graduation:


  • Making an appointment for office hours
  • Asking for a letter of recommendation
  • Asking faculty members to be on your dissertation committee
  • Meeting with your advisor
  • Accepting a job offer
  • Declining a job offer
  • Asking for funding
  • Scheduling an interview
  • Declining an interview
  • Contract negotiations
  • Thank you’s
  • Applying for a job
  • Asking for advice
  • Applying for summer research programs
  • First day of class for your students

There are many more but me and my friends spent a lot of time crafting these emails together.


Download the 22 Email Templates!



Let’s get started!  Here are my suggestions for how to write an email in grad school.  (Btw, you can pin the image below for safe keeping!)

how to write an email pin.png


The Subject of the Email


Your subject line should be as descriptive as possible.  If you are sending an email to a faculty member, they are probably very busy and get soooo many emails from students.  (They teach undergrads too…)


So, without making my subject line overly complicated, I try to fill it with as much information as possible.  So that they can get everything they need to know about the email without even opening it.


For example:  Suppose you want to make an appointment to ask your professor some questions about a homework assignment but you can’t make it to their scheduled office hours.  I would use the following as my subject:


Office hour appt. 8/23 between 1-3pm?


From the subject line alone, the professor will know that you need help with a class, you can’t make the scheduled office hours, and when you are available to meet.


Just by making your subject line super detailed, you will probably relieve your professor of some anxiety and stress.  As a full time faculty member, sometimes I cringe when I get an email from my students.  Not that I don’t like to communicate with them.  But usually when they email me something is wrong.  Maybe they will need to miss a test or the software for the homework is malfunctioning.  I even put off opening email just because I don’t want to think about whatever the issue will be until later.


So yeah, a super detailed subject line is great!


The Greeting of the Email


Just be normal.  Say “Hi Dr. Blah Blah” or “Hello Professor So-and-So.”  There is no need to be ridiculously formal.  


If you don’t know who you are emailing, you do know why you are emailing them.  For example, let’s say that you are applying for a job in academia and you have to submit your application materials via email.  I suggest using “Dear Search Committee” over “To whom it may concern.”  “To whom it may concern” just feels overly formal and kind of cold to me.


On the other hand, you don’t want to be too casual.  Don’t say “what’s up” to your professors…unless that is the type of relationship you have developed with the person you are emailing.


I wouldn’t worry too much about the greeting.  Again, just be normal.






Download the 22 Email Templates!



The Body of the Email


Get straight to the point.  Try to put the most important information in the first sentence.  Then you can elaborate in the rest of the email.  You don’t want the person you are emailing to have to search for the purpose of your email.


What if the person you are emailing doesn’t know you?

If the person you are emailing doesn’t know who you are just by reading your name at the closing of the email, your first sentence should explain who you are:


Hi, I’m Toyin from your MATH 2250 class (9am)


Then move right into the reason for your email.


How long should the body of the email be?

As short as possible, no fluff.  You don’t need to try to impress whoever you are emailing.  They will be more impressed with you getting straight to the point and being succinct than with your ability to craft 3-5 sentence paragraphs.


What if you reference outside information?

Make sure that you include all links and attach all supplemental information to the email.  Don’t make the reader have to leave the email to search for anything.


The Closing of the Email

Again, my advice is to be normal.  You don’t need to say, “Yours Truly.”  “Best” is my go-to and “Sincerely” is good too.


The only times I stray away from my go-to closing is typically when I am talking with one of my students and they tell me bad news.  Maybe a family member is sick or they are having a hard time.  I like to end with this:


Warm regards,

Dr. Alli


Those are all of my tips and guidelines.  How do you feel about your email etiquette as a grad student?


If you want to save some time, copy and paste my emails.  I have email templates for 22 emails that every grad student will write.  Download them here.

How to Prepare for the First Day of Class for Grad Students and New Faculty Nervous about Teaching for the First Time

I remember being told that I had to teach in my 3rd year of grad school.  I was terrified.  I’m quite shy and hate speaking in front of people.  I felt instantly overwhelmed.  I had never taught a class before.  I was not an education major in undergrad.  And my GTA Teacher Training happened 2 years prior and was not discipline specific.


I had so many fears and questions about that first day of class:


What if my students don’t listen to me?


What if I’m a horrible teacher? Poor students.


What if I make a mistake?


How to Prepare for the First Day of Classes as a Graduate Student Nervous about Teaching | The Academic Society | for graduate students in Math and STEM

You’ve probably had these same questions.  And that’s why I’m here.  I survived my first day of class and discovered that teaching was my passion.  So I want to give you some tips, tricks, and encouragement for your first day of class.


Who is this article for?

This post is for any graduate student or new faculty member preparing for the first day of classes.  It will be particularly helpful for students who have never taught before.  I hope to relieve some of your fears.  This post is also for graduate students who have taught before and want to check that they have everything set for the first day of class.



In my opinion, it all starts with coming into class on the first day with the right mindset.  Have you heard the saying, “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst”?  While it’s good to be prepared, I think that quote sends a negative message.  I like to go into my first day of class with a positive attitude, expecting that it will be the best class I’ve ever taught.  And if it is your first time teaching…it will be!  So no pressure!


It’s not about you

All of those fears and questions I mentioned at the beginning of this post were all about me.  But when you are teaching a class, it’s not about you at all.  It’s about the students.  You are there to help them learn.


Yes, you are busy and have other, more important things to focus on.  But those things are only important to you.  They are not important to your students.  They have no idea what it means to be in grad school.  But they do deserve your best effort.


Be clear and understandable

You should always try to speak clearly and be understandable.  This is especially important for teaching in a STEM field, math in particular.  Many students come in thinking that the class will be difficult so you want to ease some of their fears by, at least, being easy to understand.  If you know you have a soft voice or people have difficulty understanding you, reiterate important things you say by writing them down for your students.


Course evaluations

At the end of the semester, your students will be submitting course evaluations for you and your class.  It may not seem like a big deal now, but these evaluations can become very important for your future in academia.  If you plan to apply for jobs in academia where you will have teaching responsibilities, your course evaluations will be a part of your application materials.


Related Post:  How to Improve Your Teaching Evaluations


As you start thinking about walking into your class on the first day of class, set a positive mindset.  Come into the experience with a positive attitude and try to make your class a good experience for your students.



Download the First Day Checklist!



Prepare, prepare, prepare

It is so important to prepare for your class before you enter the classroom.  Yes, you will be teaching a class that you could do the material in your sleep.  But if you are unprepared, you will stumble and possibly make things more confusing for your students.  This is not good.  You will lose all credibility to them and they will stop listening to you.


Once you’ve shown your students that you know what you are doing and what you are talking about, they will recognize your authority.  Then, a mistake here or there isn’t a big deal.  It will serve to make you more human to your students.


How to prepare

  • I suggest writing out all of your notes ahead of time.  Then 30-60 minutes before class, go back over your notes.
  • It’s helpful to point out “interesting” things.  Try showing them something that they have never seen before.  Maybe you will inspire a student or two to declare your subject as their major.
  • I also like to mark, in my personal notes, where I want student feedback or to get them to work on a problem themselves.
  • Try to estimate how much time each section of your lecture will take.  This will get better with time.  It’s important to respect your students’ time and end class when you should.  You also don’t want to have to rush through examples because you are running out of time.


Enjoying this so far?  Feel free to pin this image!

How to prepare for the first day of class for grad students and new faculty who are nervous about teaching for the first time


Presentation Style

It’s important to decide how you will present your lecture and what materials you will need.  Are you going to write on the board?  Will it be chalk or dry-erase?  Are you going to make slides and present using a projector?


Personally, I like to use a document camera.  When I use a doc cam, I’m always facing my students and I can gage their reactions and interest level as I teach.


In introductory level math courses (precalculus), I like to prepare notes as handouts for my students ahead of time.  When I have those prepared for the students (they are responsible for printing them and bringing them to class), I don’t have to spend time in class writing long questions and definitions.  Also, it reduces the chance that students write incorrect notes.  (This happens more than you would expect.)


Download the First Day Checklist!



The First Day of Class

Materials to bring on the first day

  • Chalk/markers/erasers just in case your technology doesn’t work or isn’t what you expected
  • Roll:  Go ahead and print out a class roll for your students so that you know who was there and who wasn’t
  • Syllabus:  You are probably teaching freshman and they have no idea how college actually works.  So it is important to print out physical syllabi for them and highlight the important parts.


What to do when you get in the classroom

Write your name on the board along with your email address, course title, and meeting time.  In fact, you should write your name on the board for the first 2 weeks of class.  It’s amazing but students will go through a whole semester and not know their instructor’s name, despite the fact that you sign all of your emails and will send at least one email per week.


Another reason to include the course title and meeting time on the board before class is to give students in the wrong place a chance to leave and make it to their actual class on time.


I also like to give the class something to work on at the beginning of class while you all wait for class to start.  Everyone gets to class super early on the first day and this time can be super awkward if they are just staring at you being nervous.  And you are trying not to make eye contact with them.


My tip:  Create some type of icebreaker worksheet.  Or you can give them notecards to write their information on for you.  This can be helpful for students who are not yet on your roll.  You can have a way to contact them.


How to begin class

When class starts, introduce yourself and tell your students about the class and what you expect from them.  This is a good time to go over the syllabus.  I wouldn’t read the whole thing but I would highlight key points.  Sometimes I actually bring a highlighter to emphasize the most important parts of the syllabus.


Then I like to do some kind of icebreaker to loosen everyone up.  During the icebreaker, I get to know the students, they get to know each other, and they get to know me.  If you are interested in more details about my icebreaker activity and how I encourage engagement and participation in my classes, check out the Student Engagement Email Course.


Related Email Course:  Student Engagement for Graduate Students


After class

After class, I send my students a follow up email to remind them what was discussed in class and list any homework assignments they have.  If you are interested in that email, check out 22 Email Templates


Related Post:  How to Write an Email


You should also use this time to check to see if your class roll has been updated.  It’s good to check this until the last day to add/drop a class.  You may even get new student in your class once word gets out about how great you were on the first day!


Tips and Tricks

  • Practice your teacher voice (it’s louder and stronger than your normal voice)
  • Don’t tell your students that this is your first time teaching.  If they ask, you probably shouldn’t lie.  But they probably won’t ask.
  • Remain professional with students but don’t be afraid to bring out your personality.
  • Tell them why you enjoy the subject that you are teaching.  You may convert some majors.


If you enjoyed this post and found it helpful, feel free to share it with your friends.  Also, for quick access to some of my suggestions, download the 1st day of class checklist.

Download the First Day Checklist!