Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Meetings with your academic advisor - a humorous interpretation

Is it just me or does it seem like there are two very different takes on the graduate school advisor-advisee relationship?! Allow me to introduce you to Bob Wiley - a man who can illustrate all of life's dilemmas. Ladies and gentlemen, a hypothetical (typical?) grad/advisor meeting as illustrated by "What About Bob?" (with a couple other additions).

You, upon bumping into your very busy advisor and realizing it's the perfect opportunity to get a rescheduled meeting on the calendar with them:

Still, seeing an opportunity, you try to wrangle a little time from your advisor's calendar given how many times the meeting has already been reschedule...

...and you'd REALLY like to get a little help with some suggestions for how to free yourself from the tar pit trap you seem to be slowly sinking into - the situation feels a little desperate. The interaction doesn't go exactly as you pictured it going. And now you're worried about how you think your advisor sees this interaction.

Finally, they acquiesce...

...and you get a rescheduled meeting date nailed down:

Fast forward to the day of your meeting. You realize you're not as prepared as you wanted to be (probably from poor planning) you attempt to get yourself mentally ready.

FINALLY, the moment arrives!

You sit down with your advisor for them to immediately note - quite correctly but for the umpteenth time - how little progress you've made in your research over the last few months. Then they ask you - "So, what's the problem?"

Now fully unsure of yourself and how to respond, you come up with some dim-witted excuses to try to absolve yourself of some (all?) of the responsibility, to pin the blame elsewhere, anywhere, on them!

...and my bladder explodes.

To which your already-pressed-for-time advisor responds:

Now you, feeling understandably like a heel, leave the meeting worrying about how messed up you are and wondering if it will ever get better. It feels a bit like the dark soul of night. So, to cope, you fall back into old habits.

...before wisely seeking help from the Counseling And Psychiatric Services (CAPS) program on campus.

Bill. Frickin'. Murray. Comedic genius. And perfect salve for all that ails you.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Taxing the Poor - #SaveGradEd
I urge you to oppose any tax bill that eliminates the tuition wavier provision which allows graduate student employees to afford an education.

The tax bills currently moving through Congress threaten support for graduate students, colleges and universities, and tax fairness. The House Republican tax plan (HR 1) would force graduate student employees to pay hundreds (or thousands, in my case) of dollars more in taxes by treating the value of their tuition waivers as taxable income, leading to a tax bill graduate student employees can’t afford on the salary of a graduate research or teaching assistant.

If graduate tuition waivers were taxed, in-state graduate student employees at the University of Colorado Boulder, for example, could be taxed on an additional $22,000 of income (and that amount doubles for out-of-state and international students) while receiving the same income they currently make. That number increases for graduate student employees at private institutions with higher tuition, and will hurt grad student employees across the country. This would simply put graduate school out of reach for all but the wealthiest students, and would significantly harm our institutions’ missions of providing high quality undergraduate education and world-class research.

Graduate employees, in addition to preparing for careers in teaching and research, are on the frontlines in college classrooms and laboratories every day, helping undergraduates succeed and performing ground-breaking research. Even with a graduate assistantship and tuition waiver, too many of grad employees are forced to go into debt to do this important work and obtain a graduate degree.

Support graduate students, colleges and universities, and tax fairness – oppose any tax plan that eliminates the tuition waiver provision for graduate student employees and that cuts other education benefits.

I urge you to vote NO on the current tax bills. If these bills pass in their current form and I am unfairly taxed on income I never received (i.e., graduate tuition waiver), I will be forced to withdraw from the PhD program at CU-Boulder and can no longer help people and communities in Colorado and across the United States learn how to live more safely with wildfire. That would be a double tragedy.

I urge you to oppose the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which is a massive redistribution of wealth to the already rich at the expense of educators, first responders, homeowners, union members and our local communities. This bill is bad for our public schools, bad for our communities and bad for a majority of Americans.

The tax bill would replace one system that is unfair to the majority of Americans with another. It would hugely cut taxes to big corporations and hedge funds while making the poor and middle class pay more.

This bill takes away deductions that have reduced the tax burden for homeowners and working families. For example, the House bill would eliminate the $250 tax deduction used by the 99.5 percent of educators who spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on their classrooms and their students. Millions of middle-class families would see their tax burden increase under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

The bill would also repeal the century-old state and local tax deduction for individuals. However, in a slap in the face to working families, corporations will still be allowed to take this deduction. Overall, the proposal would hurt property values and every community that uses tax dollars to invest in essential services like schools, firefighters, police and sanitation.

It is clear that the purpose of eliminating deductions that help middle-class families reduce their tax burden is to fund tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy, which the vast majority of this tax plan’s benefits go toward. This bill’s preference for the wealthy over the middle class and communities is blatant. While undermining unions and state and local government services by eliminating those deductions, it does the exact opposite when it comes to big corporations, hedge funds and the already wealthy: It reduces the corporate tax rate by 15 percent; helps hedge funds and others reduce their true tax liability by paying a much-reduced “pass-through” rate; weakens or repeals the estate tax for the wealthy so they can pass on their inheritances tax-free; and keeps all sorts of loopholes, like carried interest, that Trump promised to get rid of when he was campaigning.

We’ve seen this plan before, in Kansas, where Republicans slashed taxes for the wealthy and corporations and shrank government, promising it would usher in an economic boom. It didn’t. The five-year experiment caused state revenue to plummet, the deficit to explode, and painful spending cuts to be made—including cuts decimating public schools.

A bill that undermines public services and raises taxes on millions of middle-class families, all to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, does not deserve your support. I urge you to reject the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Revisiting some things core to me

I love that Facebook routinely dredges back up posts and pictures from years past. The picture Facebook brought back this morning reminded me of a couple of core, foundational aspects of who I am, of my true heart - nature inspires me and I love sharing that inspiration with others, with you.

Eight years ago today, on a tiny creek in the Willamette Valley just outside of Corvallis, Oregon, on a cold and blustery Fall day, I was warmed inside by the fascination, curiosity and inspiration I saw in the faces, minds and hearts of a bunch of homeschooled children and their parents (short photo album) as we explored parts of nature they had rarely seen or interacted with - it's one thing to know about something; it's another thing entirely to understand it, to feel the connection to something broader than our own private spaces. The collective fascination we all held that day was captivating.

I've mused about this sense of awe and wonder, curiosity and inspiration a lot over the years - still regularly do. I wrote this blog post (reflection) shortly after one of these field trips.

...then wrote about a related notion a few years later - fostering a sense of place.

Today, I was reminded these things are core to who I am as a person. And I love sharing this with you all. All of this from a simple Facebook reminder of an image I posted eight years ago today. Sometimes the little things remind me of something much larger - what a marvelous little big reminder today. Thank you, Facebook, for reminding me of this memory...and of something much larger.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Five keys to an effective team

Image credit: Google Finance

The Google re:Work project team spent two years studying one hundred eighty teams looking for the secret formula for success. What they found was quite different from what they expected.

The most successful shared five traits, four of which may be familiar to you. Team members:

  • believed their work mattered (what the re:Work team called "impact"),
  • were working on things that were personally important to them (meaning of work),
  • had clearly defined goals, roles and plans to carry out the work (structure and clarity), and
  • could count on each other to do quality work on time (dependability).

The most important team characteristic or trait the Google re:Work team found, however, was the surprise to them. Any guesses on what the fifth and seemingly most important team trait was - the cornerstone and foundation of the other four?

The team worked in a space where they felt they could take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other without fear of judgment, reprisal or being cast in a negative light (what the re:Work team called "psychological safety").

You can check out the original Google re:Work post about this research, here.
Image credit: Google re:Work

As a researcher examining the effectiveness of social learning networks, I've seen all of these characteristics or team traits play out in the network setting. And it doesn't surprise me they are important in successful network dynamics as social networks can sometimes act, in many ways, like large teams.

What struck me about this fifth and most important team characteristic, however, was the degree of similarity, the complementarity of something I see appearing time and again in discussions and interviews with learning network members: when there is little fear of reprisal (or the opposite, encouragement of "risk-taking") and team leaders actively create safe spaces for sharing, the best forms of creativity, innovations and novel approaches often emerge.

That's not to say that whole host of other factors are not important. In fact, they often are and work strongly in conjunction with each other (e.g., connectedness to and familiarity with others, trust, shared passion and interest, belief in what you're doing will make a difference, shared identity building, etc.). But this DOES underscore the importance of safe spaces to speak your mind about things without fear of reprisal or judgement.

In my work, I have been calling this characteristic - this safe space or place where network members seem to be very engaged, productive and successful because they feel they've been given the freedom to take risks, to try new things, to experiment and fail - a feeling of the "freedom to fail". And in this place where there is freedom to experiment (and fail), it seems effective network teams are fostering conditions where the most creative, the most innovative and novel solutions emerge.

Have you noticed a safe space or the freedom to take risks (and fail) creating productive and successful conditions in the spaces you work in? I'd love to hear more about your experiences in the comments, below.

#makeworkbetter #takerisks #safespaces #freedomtofail #creativity #innovation #learningnetworks #socialnetworks #solutions