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Bumblebea

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Bumblebea last won the day on June 11 2018

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  1. I did not say that "giving easy A's" was "the only way" to get better evals, but I that I think it's certainly an efficient way to get better evals (probably the most efficient), and to get them in a hurry. I also framed this proposition as an "if ... then" statement. If high evaluations are important to the department, then OP needs to work on raising them as quickly as possible. I don't think it's smart practice to inflate grades for the hell of it. But if someone is working within an innately rigged system (or an incompetent one that doesn't care to provide decent training and oversight for TAs), then they have to think about self-preservation. At many universities, high evaluations are tied to TA privileges (summer teaching, self-designed classes), and if evaluations are being used in this way, then you need to find an efficient way to raise them. End of. Moreover, one can become a better instructor and give higher grades simultaneously. These are not mutually exclusive things. I am indeed unapologetically cynical about student evaluations, given the fact that they've been demonstrated time and time again to be a bigger indicator of students' biases and prejudices, with women and minorities receiving lower evaluations than their white male counterparts. I won't go into that at length, since the information is so ubiquitous, but I would recommend this very recent article that just ran in the Chronicle: https://www.chronicle.com/article/Colleges-Are-Getting-Smarter/245457?cid=trend_right_a There's evidence to suggest that professors who get lower scores on evaluations may actually be better instructors, as demonstrated by students' performance in subsequent classes. Having said that, yes, you can learn a lot from your evaluations when those evaluations contain comments in response to carefully phrased questions. However, while the OP said some feedback was useful, they also indicated that much of it was not, and they pointed out the polarized pattern that plagues a lot of student feedback: students either rate you as very clear or not clear at all; very prepared or not prepared at all. That is bog standard normal for early TA evaluations, and evaluations more generally. You have some students who, dissatisfied with things, give someone all 1's; while other students go down the list and give someone all 5's. When it comes to evaluations, numbers alone are virtually meaningless. Becoming a better teacher takes time, and the OP will certainly get there. It's difficult to do so quickly without training (deplorable IMO) or faculty observation (which should always be done in the first semester and I assume was not). It's also difficult to teach recitations, where you have little control over the assignments and the course content. So again, if someone needs higher evaluations, then easing up on grades may be a way to get there more quickly. It's not dangerous to suggest this. What's dangerous is a program throwing someone in a classroom with zero guidance, no materials, and no weekly schedule (!!!). (Of course the material seemed unclear to the students--the TA didn't even have access to the most basic information of what was going to happen next!)
  2. I'm glad the meeting went well for you but ... I'm sort of dismayed that your low evaluations were such a point of concern for your department, as it's your first semester teaching, and student evaluations are problematic in ways that I can't even begin to go into. First of all, evaluations are oftentimes lower-than-average when you're TAing a recitation (you're the one who gives the grades on student work, I assume, so of course you're bad cop), and they're definitely going to be dicey if it's your first semester teaching. And of course you're almost always going to have a few students who hate you regardless of how long you've been teaching--probably because they just don't want to be in the class. Having said that, the best way to "improve your outcome" is to just give higher grades, as cynical as that sounds. If having high evaluations is such a big deal to your supervisors, I'd advise you to just inflate grades. If they're looking for the bottom line (higher numbers on your evals), then just give it to them. Like, as a point of comparison, no one ever cared very much about our student evaluations where I went to grad school, because they recognized that of course students are always going to complain and of course they are going to complain about a TA or instructor who teaches a required class that most students don't want to take, and who has standards and doesn't give everyone an A.
  3. Two pages over the limit is not a big deal. Don't mess with the font size, spacing, or margins (which will only hurt the readability).
  4. It's been my (admittedly limited) experience that adcoms don't really pay that much attention to the length limits they set. Moreover, most graduate-level seminars assign 20-page papers due at the end of the semester, so "20 pages" is kind of a standard length for academic work in grad school, representing about the number of pages a grad student needs to do a well-researched paper with an intro, a historical context/lit review, close reading, and conclusion. Having said that, it's always good if you can cut your writing sample wherever you can for the sake of clarity and cohesion and readability. If you can say what you need to say in 15 pages rather than 20, then you should give them 15. ETA: All that is to say, though, that I highly doubt a member of the committee would toss out a very compelling writing sample because it exceeds the limits. These programs are looking for the most talented applicants--not the ones who follow the rules.
  5. Submit your very very best paper. Write a very clear abstract for it for those who do not want to read the whole thing. (And, hidden truth time, no one on an adcom reads your entire paper anyway--especially not in the first round. They look at the intro and the first pages closely and then skim the rest.) "Suggested length" is just suggested.
  6. It seems as though you are arguing that you, by studying American literary modernism and deconstruction, will change the world, and I'm just not quite sure a dissertation (or PhD student) can do that. It also seems really anachronistic to use literature of the 20th century to talk about things like the internet, twitter, VPNs, etc.
  7. I honestly don't think you have anything to address here. Lots of PhD students don't begin until their thirties. You don't have to justify having had a life and a job and outside interests. I did not get accepted to a PhD program until I was 30, having spent time outside academia in TFA and working other jobs. As far as I know, this did not hurt or help me as an applicant. (I had hoped it would make me "more interesting" to adcoms--apparently it didn't even do that.) I also don't think your undergrad GPA is of any concern. Lots of people don't even get near a 3.6. But if your gaps are a matter of concern, you might have your recommenders address it and sell it as a strength.
  8. Let me preface this by saying that I was always very skeptical and eye-rolling of "life coaching" or "dating coaching" or "career coaching" and stuff like that. It always seemed really woo to me, and like a complete waste of money. However, when I was going into the final funded year of my PhD, and facing down the job market in the fall, I decided to just bite the bullet and hire a dissertation coach. I was having problems with my advisor and just really needed to involve a third party to get some perspective. So I hired one for about $100 a month, which wasn't cheap, but I do think it was the best money I spent in grad school. You have to be aware that a diss coach isn't a mini-advisor--they aren't going to read your dissertation or be able to offer substantive advice. But they can encourage you and gently hold you accountable. Knowing I was going to talk/skype with someone once a week about my progress helped me stay motivated. It was also nice to be able to talk to someone about some of the difficulties I was having with my advisor and some of my anxieties about the job market. Or, say I got a snarky reader's report back from a journal. Again, it was nice to be able to talk to someone about it without unloading it on my advisor or a family member (who wouldn't really be able to sympathize much, not having been in academia). I thought of it more like academic therapy than "dissertation coaching," and yeah, for me it was what I really needed in that moment. Years later (out of grad school) I tried one of those online writing clubs where everyone logs on once or twice a day and discusses their progress and sets goals for the next day. I found this less helpful and left after a month. It was just too impersonal--no one really chatted or got to know each other, and the advice the group coordinator gave was canned (probably recycled from previous sessions), so it just didn't work for me.
  9. Good point, @renea--I suppose it depends on how someone depends "burnt out," and we don't really have all the information here. Grad school is indeed stressful, and the first semester can be really overwhelming and exhausting. You can also spend a lot of your first semester (or first year ... or first two years ... or the entirety of grad school) suffering from imposter symdrome where you feel like you just shouldn't be there, and that is completely normal. However, I took "burnt out" to mean something a bit different--perhaps bored, uninterested, and just plain uninspired by the material. And if that's the case--and if OP is truly miserable and finds it a chore to even do the reading--then I would advise them to think about doing something else for a while. But yes, there is indeed value in finishing the first year, and, for that matter, the MA altogether. It shows you're a finisher, even if you don't end up going into academia. I'm also probably projecting my own experiences. I found my first semester of grad school challenging and exhausting, but I was still passionate about my classes and found it hugely inspiring to be around a bunch of smart people after slogging through the non-academic workforce for a few years. (The first grad school paper I wrote felt amazing to me.) But other people sometimes have the opposite experience--they hate coursework and find it gets better when they're dissertating, doing the research and teaching they really want to do. So it's definitely a YMMV situation.
  10. Since it seems that you just started, I have to say that it is a little ... odd ... that you are feeling burnt out already. I mean, this is really the very beginning. If you are feeling it's really not for you, then I think you should withdraw from graduate school altogether and find something else that you are truly passionate about. Yes, the academic life is grueling ... but the good news is that no one has to subject themselves to it if they don't want to! I'm not being flip--I'm just telling you to explore whatever other options are out there that might be more meaningful for you. As for the question of whether you can reapply for Fall 2019 ... that's something I really can't answer. I do think that it would look "flaky" to professors for a student to drop out of their program but ask for a letter of recommendation for the next year. And frankly, they will have other students to write letters of recommendation for--shiny BAs and MAs who didn't drop out and who therefore will be owed a stronger letter. Having said that, people do occasionally drop out of graduate school because they are not ready, and then return again several years down the road. They usually don't drop out and then reapply immediately, though. They take some time off and work and then decide what they want to do. And that's usually how they justify their return to academia--"I wasn't ready at 22, but at 28, and having achieved x, y, and z things in the professional world, I am now more determined than ever to make academia my career."
  11. I feel like the era of you-must-have-an-MA-to-apply-to-PhD is almost fully over. When I applied to grad school (more than 10 years ago now), there were still a few prominent programs that required people to have an MA before going for the PhD, but even then those programs were rare. I was getting an MA, and one program I applied to accepted me on the condition that I do the MA all over again at their school before advancing to the PhD--but without funding for that extra MA. (Obviously I turned them down.) So yeah, even back then there was a sense among certain programs that you should be a fresh untainted BA.
  12. Bumblebea

    ISO Statements of Purpose

    Here's what I got from a little googling, this English SOP from Writing Center at UConn: https://writingcenter.uconn.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/593/2014/06/personal_statement_english_phd_statement_of_purpose.pdf
  13. FWIW, Yale has a reputation for having the most rigorous foreign language requirement. I don't think most programs require what they do, though I'm unfamiliar with Michigan. I would not be worried and would advise you to apply anyway.
  14. Bumblebea

    How to Help Undergrad on Brink of Being Fired

    Why do you want to help him save his job? It sounds like he's not a great fit. It also sounds like it's not really your decision to fire or retain him.
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