Thursday, April 29, 2010

GBT Conference

Last weekend I presented my research at my first conference, and it went extremely well! I also got the opportunity to speak with a woman who wrote one of the books I used as a primary resource. I am now working on a new undercover project related to this.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Top 5 Tips for College Writers

Now that I am literally only a few weeks from graduating with my master's, I've also almost finished grading nearly 1,000 student writing assignments over the last four semesters. That said, a few key problems consistently emerge when students hand in writing and research papers. Hopefully this helps some people!

1. Cite. It is illegal if you don't cite your work. If you fail to include a bibliography and in text citations/footnotes, you are stealing someone else's work. This applies to data you took from a source as well as ideas that don't belong to you. If you're not putting your own ideas forward, you have to give credit. Your credit should be clear and easy to find if the grader wants to check up on your sources. And people WILL check. I recently graded a paper where a student took the liberty of using word for word phrases from their souce- without even giving credit. This is plagiarism!

2. Include the basics- page numbers, a title, your name, etc. This to me seems so obvious yet I write these words constantly on student papers! Do not give professors easy reasons to knock your grade down!

3. Start each paragraph with a sentence that tells me what you're going to do in that paragraph. Not only does it make reading easier, but sometimes professors in big classes don't have time to read your entire 12 page paper. Getting the main idea in that first sentence is crucial. It also makes you accountable throughout your writing to make sure that what you're saying makes sense.

4. Unless asked for your personal opinion, don't provide it. If asked to write about someone's perspective on a particular issue or law, the assignment doesn't ask you to critique it. Don't share your opinion unless that is clearly part of the assignment! It really detracts from your overall point and makes the paper seem completely unprofessional.

5. Dare yourself at the beginning of each paper to state what two or three things you want to accomplish in the paper. then, tailor your paper to making it readable (as if your reader knows nothing about the topic), informative, and clearly written. TA's and professors are generally very good writers- don't give away easy points!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

To tell... or not to tell

Over the last few months, I've really been thinking about the contemporary opinion of "pageants" and even those that call themselves "scholarship programs".

When asked why we do them, many people often answer about the self-improvement aspects of competing in pageants. And this is very true. Even if you only participate in them for personal growth and never want to win Miss (Whatever State), you will definitely gain something out of participating. Every girl goes in with different intentions and motivations behind her own participation.

Unfortunately, though, I have to believe that these programs only harm girls if they pop up on your resume. Many people debate about putting it on your resume. For some people, it works really well if you want to go into public relations or a journalism job- being Miss Whatever is a great marketing job and you're constantly putting yourself out there to further the program. At the end of the day, though, pursuing other types of careers with this on your resume just leaves a black mark.

I'll speak from personal experience. I chose not to compete my final year of eligibility in this pageant program and for various reasons. Looking back, it was a choice I am very glad I made. It's allowed me to focus so much more on school- and in the long run, that- and not my two-minute stint in an evening gown- will pay off more. I felt like I had gotten all I could out of the program. I had really pushed myself, and now it was time to move on to something else.

When it came time last fall to fill out my PhD applications, I didn't hesitate at all. I'd been in academia long enough to know that at some times, even being female counts against you. The last thing I needed on my resume was to list pageant experience- the perfect reason to give a committee an easy reason to say "no" to me. Graduate school/academia and pageants don't mix well. At times last year I felt like I lived in two separate worlds- one where looks, body type, and outfits were key, and another where your ability to connect theory to teaching to paper-writing was vital. There were essentially two Lauras. Although this kept me sane by not allowing me to become too involved in either one, I always felt the academy's general feeling about programs like modeling and beauty pageants. There is a stereotype that women can't do that and be smart at the same time. While this isn't true, I've found this belief to be rampant.

So when it came time to include the important resume in my application packet, my mom and boyfriend encouraged me to include some of my pageant information under the heading of community service. I really didn't want to- I felt it would lead to me being typecast immediately. I told them both I'd check with my advisors and go from there.

The overwhelming opinion (and this came from professors at both my alma mater and current school as well as researchers and people working in various policy positions) was not to include it- at all. I was told to delete anything immediately, and that including it could be an easy admissions denial.

On a personal level, this did surprise me a little bit. After all, I had put in literally hundreds of hours cris-crossing the state doing programs for girl scouts, domestic violence shelters, children's miracle network, etc. I had developed my own self-esteem program, spent afternoons at Blacksburg Middle School talking to teenage girls, and spoken to over 180 people in Rotary, Lion's, Kiwanis, and Optimist Clubs all over this corner of the state about my platform. And suddenly none of that counted?

I would certainly never take those experiences back-I worked hard for them and I am proud of what I did. But I just want people to know that it's not very realistic to consider that your pageant experience will help propel you into a career. In fact, this might be a reason why women no longer choose to compete in such big numbers. With reality shows galore and more educational opportunities opening up for women, why compete in something that's only going to hurt your chances in future schooling or careers?

I'm sure there are some people out there surprised by this- and maybe those working in acting or communications feel like listing that experience helped them secure a job. And that's great! But a warning to those considering different types of careers, where you'll be competing against many other qualified candidates- many people don't understand the significance or volume of work it takes to be a local titleholder. You don't want to have to educate them about what it is. I was told to leave it off- and that advice seemed to work! So be careful. Be proud about what you've done and go into the program knowing what you want out of it, but don't expect that listing this experience anywhere is going to help you!