Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Four Reasons You Should Go to Grad School

Most kids know about college. It's where you go after high school so that you can spend four years trying not to sleep, eating enough pizza for an entire football team, attempting to write 10-paged research papers in a single night, and saving up to buy soap at Walmart when you eventually have time to take a shower. And all this just so you can get a job.

As an alternative to immediately joining the workforce following college, you can go to grad school. What is grad school? Should you go? People don't understand what it is unless they've actually attended, and even some who have survived grad school have trouble explaining it to outsiders.

Ask your cousin Mildred, who did a five-year combined master's-Ph.D. program in Geometric Calculus First Methodist Geology Differentiation, and she'll blink her pale blue eyes behind her binocular-like glasses and stutter, "Don't...send me...back there. I... just want to sleep. Just want...a desk job. Just want...Mommy..."

So don't ask cousin Mildred. Ask me. Without further ado, I present to you...

Four Reasons You Should Go to Graduate School:

1. They say that if you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room.  If you attend grad school, you will never be the smartest person in the room. 

Your Mass Media professor, Dr. Xenogh Xu, M.S., M.D., M. Div., Ph.D., who has published 179 research studies and has been working in his field for 48 years, will ask you a question like: "How can we characterize the passivity of the receiver when we examine the aftermath of 911 through the lens of second-level Agenda-Setting when taking into account Neo-classical perspectives that negate any possibility that priming will not occur following a crisis divergent from the personal narratives held by individuals of Muslim descent?"

Your response will inevitably be: "Um, I think I hear the fire alarm."

Then some 2nd-year Ph.D. student will supply an answer that sounds like chapter 17 of a textbook called Mass Media Theories for People Smarter Than Albert Einstein right off the top of his head.

2. You won't have to join a gym or go on a diet because you won't have time to eat anyway.
You will rise at 6 a.m., pack 17 hats into your bag, and show up at the office. You'll spend all day grading undergraduate papers, meeting with your advisor, attending 2.5 hour long classes, teaching a freshman earth science class, answering emails, fighting ninjas, and meeting with your supervising instructor. Once you get home around 6 p.m., you'll read hundreds of pages of articles for class, read Google Scholar like there's no tomorrow, and try to work on one of the four 25-paged papers you have to write this semester.

Around 2 a.m., you'll realize you have to get up in four hours, but your stomach is eating itself. So you'll raid the fridge and eat corn on the cob, heat up some expired Easy-Mac, and fall asleep next to your bowl of stale Wheaties before the Easy-Mac is ready.

The next morning, you'll consider buying Life cereal next time because of the irony.

3. It's a great conversation-starter with people you haven't seen in a while.

Person you haven't seen in a while: "So you graduated from college, right? What are you doing now? Churnin' up those profits on Wall Street?"

First of all, Person 1 doesn't even remember that your undergraduate degree was in history, and the only thing you know about numbers is that in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

You: "Actually, I'm in grad school."

Person 1: "So you couldn't get a job?"

You: "Um, actually I wanted to go to grad school. It's kinda hard to get in."

Person 1: "So it's like... going to college again?"

You: "No, it's a lot harder, actually. I evaluate tier 1 research projects and sift through the related literature for gaps so I can make my hypothes—"

Person 1: "So are you going to do anything cool like Indiana Jones? Like raid tombs or something? Should I call you Dr.?"

You: -_-

4. You'll be challenged in ways you never imagined, work harder than you ever thought possible, and accept that you know almost nothing—and that is okay.

You might be asked to teach an undergraduate class including students who are only a year or two younger than you are. You might be in the same class—both as students—with one of your former professors from your undergraduate university. You might have to deliver a 40-minute presentation on a topic about which you know next to nothing before an audience of 2nd and 3rd year Ph.D. students. You might have to learn how to balance working 30 hours per week and taking a full load of graduate school classes while figuring out how to pay bills, grocery shop, and cook all your own meals.

You might learn that you know very little and that you have to ask for help a lot, and that is not just okay—it's ideal.

Basically, don't go to grad school unless you really, really want to. It's not something you do just for the heck of it. But if you do want to attend, GO FOR IT. It's awesome, and I wouldn't have wanted to do anything else with the last two years of my life.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

5 Ways to Write an Awesome Cover Letter

Are you tired of trying to guess the password for your neighbor's wifi network called "Good luck nincompoop neighbor kid - the password is in Korean this time?" Are you weary of gnawing on blocks of raw ramen noodles because your microwave gave up the ghost? Are you, like, totally over potential employers telling you that your experience sorting seagull turds at a factory for three months that one summer isn't enough to get you a job at a Fortune 500 Company? Languish no more. Read the following expert advice about how to write a cover letter, and your days of cooking your dinner over a lightbulb at the public library are over for good.

1. Don't use "To Whom It May Concern" as your salutation. If you do that, you might as well just say, "HEY YOU." That's not going to work. Take the time to find out who exactly will be reading the letter. If you have to, call HR and ask.

For example:

To the honorable, dashing, irreplaceable Mr. Joseph Phartnog,

Dear Dr. Ranelda Flibbernugget, queen of the social sciences department and future ruler of my heart,

2. Begin with a narrative. Don't start with: "Um, I want the job you posted." That's boring! You're a special individual with a riveting tale to share. Stories capture people's attention, and that's exactly what you're going to do. Share a story that shows 1) why you're qualified for the job and 2) why you want the job.

For example:

Last Tuesday at 9:24 a.m., I woke up with a start and skittered down the ladder of the barn in which I currently reside and slipped into the cool air wearing only my boxers. The smell of fresh cow dung assaulted my senses, but I charged toward the street nonetheless. I dove into the road, grabbing a chihuahua as I rolled out of the way of an oncoming semi-truck. As I lay panting in the grass, a small child accompanied by a woman with one blue eye and one green eye approached me. As she thanked me, teary-eyed, for saving her dog, I noticed she was wearing a Nike shirt. That's when I knew I should be the new CEO of your company.

3. Tell the truth, but don't be afraid to brag. This is your time to shine! Did one of your former students say that the lecture you gave as a TA changed his or her life? Note it. Did you boss trust you to run the place while he was gone? Note it.

For example:

Before you read my resume, you should know a few important factoids about me. I can play the trumpet through my nose. I have been to Boston in the fall. I once went out on five dates in one day, and that was after turning down three. I have visited P. Sherman 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney. I can do the McDonald's 50 nuggets challenge. I put my pants on two legs at a time. Oh, and I'm Batman.

4. Use the actual wording from the "Requirements" section of the job posting and explain how your experiences meet those requirements. If the application says "must have great attention to detail," write, "Working as the copy editor for college newspaper for two years taught me to pay attention to detail and recognize errors."

For example:

You say you want someone with leadership experience? When I was five, I taught my two younger siblings to hide candy under their beds during "nap time" so they'd have something to do while they were supposed to be sleeping. You say you want someone with good people skills? One time my neighbors got some of my mail in their box, and they waited two weeks to give it to me. So the next day, I put a tasmanian devil in their mailbox. Boy, were they surprised.

5. If possible, deliver the letter in person. Unless the instructions explicitly say you must email or mail the application, try delivering it. You may only meet your potential employer's administrative assistant, but that's still better than an impersonal email. Who knows, you might get to shake your future employer's hand.

For example:

Busy hiring personnel love surprises. Monday morning at 8 a.m., scale the building from the outside using climbing shoes and nunchucks. If the window isn't open, use a glass cutter to get in. Then find the correct room and play the song "We Will Rock You" on your iPhone. Once it gets to the chorus, pull out your crossbow and send an arrow—with your application attached to it, of course—at your potential employer's desk plant. Bonus points if you don't break it. When he looks up to ask you what you're doing, smile knowingly and reply, "That's for me to know and for you to not know." Then disappear in a cloud of smoke.

If you read this without the words in italics, it's actually good advice. I edit cover letters for people all the time, so if you need help, send them my way. I accept payment in coffee or, you know, money.