Apparently, I’m hott.

Ever google yourself?  We all do, I’m sure.  It had been a little while for me, but I had finally gotten my act together and put up my info and picture on the graduate student directory of my university.  I’m official.  Because I felt like I was somebody, I felt like I should now google myself to see how cool I am.

I did.  And it was awkward AF.

Apparently a student decided that they needed to let a secret out in the world of the web-based app Whisper.  That secret was that “The grad assistant (insert name and university) is hott.”

I don’t really know how to feel about this new-found information.  I don’t know who would have written that.  It is very strange and weird.  I’m older (mid-30’s) and most of my students are 18-21 years old.

Until that moment of discovery, I had always thought I would want a chili pepper on Rate My Professor; however, I now understand just how awkward that validation of hotness is.

Campaign ads and…Incest?

The title cannot adequately describe what happened while teaching yesterday.  Clearly, an explanation is needed.

Yesterday, is one of the days that I teach.  I have 2 classes, and the professor I TA for was going to sit in on the classes.  This is not just any professor.  This is THE most badass political scientist in my field.  Yes, I may be a bit biased, but he is one of the two professors who made moving from the warmth of the South to the craptacular weather in the Midwest worth it.  He, of all people, was going to be sitting in on my classes to evaluate me.  Oh.My.God.   I was already a bundle of nerves and felt like dying.

The first class went off without a hitch.  My students were talkative and fantastic.  They enjoyed the exercises and the selected campaign ads.  I was able to speak and have a decent discussion with Dr. Amazing in the room.  Naturally, I felt confident going into the second class just an hour later.

I shall interject a thought at this point.  I have learned that whenever I begin to get confident, something usually follows to bring me back down a peg or two.  I must have done some really really crappy stuff growing up that I don’t even remember doing because this backlog of karma bites me in my ass every single time it can.

Class number 2 begins and I felt like I was rocking it.  I had pulled up the 5 campaign ads I was showing, I handed out the surveys I had lovingly crafted, and began showing the first one:  I Like Ike

Somewhere in that pause between completing that ad and opening up the It’s Morning Again in America (Reagan 1984) ad, the Campaigns circa 1800 theoretical ad began playing in the silenced audio-visual equipment land.  YouTube was on autoplay (apparently) and that short little ad had finished and went on to an episode of Drunk History.  For those who may not have seen Drunk History, its a show where they get Historians rip-roaring drunk and have them explain a story from history.  Naturally, it gets a little wild.

I go to show the Reagan ad and un-mute the AV equipment and there’s good old Drunk History talking about INCEST!  And that guy is talking about incest in a way that only a drunk historian can.  Something along the lines of “Incest, just plain old incest” came out of the speakers as a boat calmly sailed on the harbor in the video they were supposed to watch.

“That’s not it!  THAT IS NOT IT!” came flying out of my mouth as I struggled to mute the AV Equipment quickly enough.  I figure out the problem quickly and in an effort to save face, I roll with it.

“I am so glad that this could happen when Dr. Awesome is with us today” and do my best Vanna White impression toward the screen.

Death would have been a welcomed friend.

I pulled it together, played the remaining ads (Reagan’s, Campaigns circa 1800, Daisy Girl, and Obamaville) and we had a lively discussion regarding all these fantastic ads.  We discussed the primacy of affect (Zajonc 1980, 1984; Lodge & Taber, 2005; Casino & Lodge, 2007) and how individuals make candidate evaluations more on their summary tally of emotional impressions (Lodge, McGraw, & Stroh, 1989; Lodge, Steenbergen, & Brau, 1995).  We talked about why attack ads are advantageous.  If an individual votes against Candidate A, then Candidate B basically has a free pass to do or say whatever they want.  A person voting against Candidate A will not be persuaded to change their minds.  Voting against someone is basically more resistant to counterattitudinal stimuli (Bizer & Petty, 2005).

As soon as class was over, Dr. Awesome bolted and on the inside I was like “NOOOO!  Wait!!”

I drug myself up to my office floor, stopped to my friend’s office (which is the first office beside the elevator), told her the story.  I then drug myself to my office, flopped down, put my head on my desk and told my office-mate (the guy one).  We all had a good laugh, while I felt like dying.

The only thing that cheered me up and made me feel okay was calling my professor, mentor, and friend from undergrad – Dr. Batman.  He got his PhD from this same university and knows all of the professors.  I explained the event and he cracked up.  He then said “If you get any trouble from it, remind him that you are my student, so what could he expect?”  Then he gave me about 10 insane stories of things he messed up working with Dr. Awesome that made mine pale in comparison.  Clearly, he wasn’t fired – so neither will I.

I can now laugh about this, without wanting to simultaneously die.  Who knows – maybe Dr. Awesome will like me more now.  Who knows?!

My Costa Rican Mountain called Grad School

The struggle is real, y’all.  This is the beginning of week 8.  There are 16 weeks in the semester, and Spring break is within sight.  It is so close I can almost taste it.  Spring break tastes like caipirinhas, chocolate, and sleeping in a hammock.  Three things I could really use right about now.  Google caipirinhas – those things are amazing.

So far, this semester has only brought me 1 panic attack and zero days where I either cried or seriously considered quitting.  The panic attack, like the ones last semester, came immediately after taking a stats exam for the professor I absolutely adore and do not want to disappoint.  I had a good reason to panic.  I made a 90 on that exam.  That’s barely an A.  I don’t make barely A’s.  In this case, I am going to just tip my hat and take the 90.  I simply cannot fathom taking that test ever again (we get a retake if we want it).

I haven’t cried because of school once.  I am up to my eyeballs in work and readings, but I have a plan.  I have great topics for my research designs.  I have a system and it works well.  I feel like I have done the impossible – I have found my groove.

December 2015 was the year I went to Costa Rica.  I had my first adult vacation without children and went to the beautiful country of Costa Rica (Pura Vida!).  It was absolutely spectacular.  While there, I hiked up a mountain.  I had not prepared to hike up a mountain.  I’m quite the curvy gal, and to be honest – I have no business hiking up a mountain.  I was not dressed for it.  I was inadequately prepared for it.  It was not even in the plan for the day.  Yet there I was staring up at a mountain.  In typical me fashion, I was like “I’ve got this.”  I did not have it.  I climbed up that sucker for hours.  I went up 600 (I counted) knee-height earthen steps.  Knee-height.  I drug my butt up that damn mountain in the middle of a freaking rainforest.  I was sweaty, out of breath, exhausted, and had considered quitting about 100 times on the way up.  Yet, there I stood at the top.  I looked out, and I saw the beauty around me.  I felt this amazing sense of accomplishment.  I hiked up a freaking mountain!  If I could do that – as unprepared and as unfit as I was – I could do grad school.  That was literally the moment where I realized that I truly could get my PhD, because if I wanted it, I could do it.  I made up my mind, on a literal mountain, that I could do this.

I have often thought of that mountain.  My first semester was like that hike up the mountain.  I felt ill-prepared.  I felt like I wanted to quit 100 times.  I had to struggle for each and every step forward.  Some of those steps were re-freaking-diculous.  But right now, I kinda feel like I am at the top of the mountain looking out.  I feel like I’m experiencing that “I am here – look how far I’ve come” feeling.

I certainly understand how much further I have to go before I reach the end.  I’m on my second semester of ten.  Just like on that mountain in Costa Rica, the top is not the finishing point.  Oh no, I had a lot of things to do to get to the bottom.  I ziplined 17 different times.  I rappelled twice (which is the second scariest damn thing I’ve ever done in my life).  I had the most terrifying moment of my life trying to unattach myself from the zipline*.  The top was just the beginning of what would be a scary, exciting, sometimes terrifying, and fun trip down the mountain.  There were plenty of times when I was scared out of my mind and felt like there was absolutely no way in hell that I could do what I needed to do to make it down the mountain safely.  Yet I did.  That is very much how I expect the rest of grad school to go.

I expect that this moment of tranquility and victory I feel at the top of the mountain, after having struggled with wanting to quit all last semester, will be short lived.  I will have other moments to experience.  I am certain I will have fun moments.  I will most certainly have moments where I feel like I may fall and die.  I will have moments where I am uncertain and very cautious about what I am doing.  But at the end, I am sure I will look back on this experience with a great deal of fondness.  Just as I do that ziplining experience in Costa Rica.  For now, it feels nice to no longer be struggling, dragging-ass up the mountain.  I’m just going to enjoy the view.

*here’s the story from above:  The platform was literally a chain link fence on its side.  A freaking fence. Because of the way the tree and fence came together, there was a 1 foot (MAYBE 2 feet if I’m being generous) space between the line and the end of the platform.  I had to jump up to get myself off the line and land back within that 1 foot space.  Terrifying!!  I also had to rappel from that stupid rickety platform.  They need to inspact that crap in Costa Rica.

 

Praise

One of the things people failed to tell me about grad school is that nobody praises you.  You could have an incredibly insightful reaction paper, a fantastic research paper, and amazing research ideas, but it doesn’t matter.  I was given an amazing piece of advice this past summer from a professor in another department.  He said that it was the one thing graduate students did that set themselves up for failure and strained relationships with professors and other students.  He said “Every single person there is a badass.  You are not special.  Sure, you got into grad school, but so did everyone else in your cohort.  You are all used to being the big dogs, but you’re not. Not yet anyway.”

That is so true!  Keeping this perspective made the first semester survivable.

In undergrad, I was praised – probably too much.  I know I was that student who went above and beyond what was expected.  I took my work seriously.  I wanted to learn everything I could in each and every class.  My undergrad professor, mentor, adviser, and friend would basically praise me until he was blue in the face.  It was exactly what I needed to convince myself that grad school was something I could and should do.  There were times when I was clearly the only person prepared for class, and I was praised for it.  I was held up as the shining example of what a student should do in class.

Grad school does not work that way.  At all.  I received a “good job” on a final paper and wanted to shout it from the rooftops.  In one class, the highest I could get on a reaction paper was a 9/10 because he had only given out one 10/10 for a perfect paper in his career.  It is very clear that no matter how good you are, it’s not great.  You might be good, but eh…so is everyone else.  I spent last semester in tears and stressed out because I was having praise withdrawals.  I needed someone to tell me that I belonged there.

Semester 2 – I have been praised.  One of my professors, who is the nicest guy on the planet, stopped into my office one day.  In front of my office mate, he praised me in regards to my work and my participation in class.  Once I picked my jaw off the floor, I thanked him and he left.  My office mate spun around in his chair and was like “wow…what did you do to get praised?  I’ve been here 4 years and have never had a professor say anything like that to me.”

A few days later, that same professor praises me again, this time in front of my office mate and another student (a year ahead of me).  They have the same reaction.   In the subsequent weeks, I hear from another student in class, that this same professor praised me (and her).  Today, I was also praised when asking a question.

I really don’t know how to handle all of this praise and attention.  What was once commonplace, but then became scarce, is now abundant again.  It is the weirdest thing on the planet.  I keep telling myself to take the praise, but I’m worried that I will soon get a target on my back.  I absolutely LOVE my cohort, but I’m worried that they will start to resent me if they, themselves, are not getting this sort of attention as well.

In all fairness, maybe they would if they actually read and participated in class.  I honestly think that’s why I get the positive feedback.  I do the work.  I speak up in class.  They sit there looking around, hoping someone else will answer the questions.  Well, now I feel justified.  Look at how great cognitive negotiations are.

Catching My Breath

I have been trying to catch my breath from running so hard.  The last few days have been incredibly busy and I feel like I am running two steps behind at all times.  I realize that I am not actually behind, but I sure do feel like it.  I always feel like I have something to prove.

Where do I even begin with an update – how about telling the world that I know what the hell the cups in the bathroom are for!!!  Yes!  I solved the months-long mystery.  So, if this is a new topic because I honestly can’t remember if I talked about it – there have been 4 old plastic Pepsi cups full of water on the women’s restroom floor ever since I got to my new university.  I had no idea why.  No one else did either.  I asked.

I would walk by these 4 cups and they would sometimes be 3/4 full, half full, or completely full.  Clearly someone was taking the time to fill them up and I just couldn’t understand what was happening.

They are for watering plants.  I asked Ellen (fake name) – the most amazing office goddess on the planet – and she said that she heard that letting tap water sit out (and let the minerals evaporate) is better for plants.  She waters her plants with that water.  It all makes so much sense now.  I solved the mystery for all of the female students in my department (and the male ones who I talked about this to).  What a relief.

Another recent development is that I have somehow managed to bring notoriety to myself and my daughter.  We marched at the Women’s March in our city on Saturday (1/21).  We had pink pussy hats (cat ear hats for those who think we wore vaginas) and we had the most amazing signs ever.  I almost feel like I shouldn’t post them because then people might find out who I am.  They are unmistakable  But basically, we attacked the crap out of misogyny and looked good doing it.

The Women’s March was an amazingly positive experience.  I felt so strong and powerful.  It was fantastic.  My daughter was proud, and I was proud of her.  Our city had a record march/rally turnout.  A local fraternity is under investigation by the university for things they shouted at us.  A state legislator quit because he was an asshole and basically made fun of sexual assault.  Good things have come from this experience.

Another interesting development following the Women’s March is that I have lost friends.  I do not understand why people who disagree simply cannot be friends, but apparently some individuals think that this is the case.  So sad.

This was such a superficial look at my life.  I really cannot even handle digging deeper right now.  I spent half of the day staring at stats, the other half nearly crying just because my emotions are flooding to the surface, and somewhere in there I made just enough time to be social with my cohort.

My New Students

Thursday and Friday provided me with my first look at my new students.  They are going to be fantastic!  I am so incredibly excited.  They are going to be great.

To start things out, when calling roll I ask them what their favorite band or musician is.  I tell them that if they say they like everything, I will assign them a favorite and it will be Aqua (the people who sing Barbie Girl).  I need to come up with a newer, more humiliating one.

It never fails though.  Things are going along quite well and then…  there’s that one student who says, “I like listening to the old stuff like 90’s music.”  It hits me like a brick.  It sucks the wind out of me, and I’m like “I’m old!!!”  How is 90’s music considered old, but then I think about it.  It was 20 years ago.  How did that even happen?   I have students that were born in 98.  I was a Junior in High School!  How did this even happen?

I suddenly have the urge to grab a Mike’s Hard Lemonade (because yes, I’m that kind of girl) and cry into it while smothering wrinkle cream on my face.

Student Evaluations

Student Evals came in on Thursday.  I was waiting for this moment all winter break.  It was finally time to see what my students thought of me.

I’m going to interrupt my excitement to bring you a public service announcement.  IF you ever find yourself in the unique position of reading your student evaluations right before you run off to meet your new set of students for the new semester – DO NOT READ THEM.  Put them down and walk away.

Yeah, so I didn’t have anyone to tell me that.

I read them.  I must say that I was very pleased, for the most part.  They were asked what I did well and what I could improve upon.  Simple.  More than half of the evaluations actually wrote that there was nothing I could improve upon.  I had some students write “She was great” or “she was amazing” in that section.  I had a few who left that part blank, which I suppose I could have counted in the no improvement needed section, but for some reason I feel uncomfortable assuming that a blank space means I didn’t need to improve to that student.

Other places where I needed to improve were:  I should have told whether I was liberal or conservative.  That student couldn’t tell and it drove her nuts.  (I would say I won the day on that one!!)  Another suggested that I should use more hot button issues (I honestly have no idea how I could have included more without getting fired but ok).  I had several say that they wish I had given them more feedback on the writing assignments (I had been told by the professor in charge of me that I was not to do that unless they asked for it individually, so totally a pass on that one), a few said they didn’t understand the grading system.  And 6 students said that they felt I treated them like they were children.  (Insert sobbing)

I felt terrible!   I think I know who those students were because they were all lumped together and said the same thing (word for word) – and that was my bad class.  They weren’t bad, but they were just that one class that was hard to get anything out of, and they were moody and I had to drag them along every single week.  But really, I felt like crap.  I would never ever want my students to feel like they were being talked down to – ever.  They all had something good to say about me too, but it was just hard hearing that.  It affected me entirely.

The worst comment is that one of my students said that she felt that I was so knowledgeable that she felt like she couldn’t come ask me questions because she would feel stupid.  That broke my heart.  I couldn’t work the AV equipment half of the time, so I don’t know how I appeared to be this unapproachable person who had their crap together.  I said dumb things, I ran into stuff, I struggled with technology.  It just made me sad that she felt that way.

Okay….now to the good.  I had about 40% mention that I was knowledgeable.  Actually, one said that I knew everything about the subject.  Ha.  Approachable = 6; Caring = 5; Respectful of everyone’s views = 13; Energetic and Enthusiastic = 21; Passionate = 5; Prepared = 6; Encouraged Full Participation = 18; Made Class Fun = 21; Good sense of humor = 10; Open Minded = 7

One said that he appreciated that I never yielded to the class when no one would answer my questions.  Another said that I “made it worth coming to class instead of lecture.  Learned more here.  Enjoyed my time in here.”  So yeah – that one said he/she learned more from my class than from the lecture (by a real professor).  That one made me cringe because I don’t want a target on my back – yet it was still pretty awesome.  I had a lot of great feedback.  I am definitely taking the negative things to heart and will try to change them for this semester, and I hope I will have great feedback at the end of this semester as well.