Dear Kate – February 2014 Edition

 

 

The namesake of this advice column is Katharine McCormick, who graduated from MIT with a B.Sc. in Biology in 1904. Among others, she was the benefactor of McCormick Hall, a suffragist and a philanthropist.  We hope to continue her legacy and dedication to the advancement of women through this advice column.
Dear Kate,
How best should I respond to obvious sexist remarks from people outside of MIT? Two occasions in recent memory come to mind–once when I was shadowing physicians, considering going to medical school after graduating with my master’s, I was asked did I wanted to leave engineering “because the math was too hard”? Also, at a holiday party I was told point-blank that the only reason I got into MIT was because I was female. Usually I’m too stunned to respond but then I’m left feeling angry and discouraged.
Female Engineer
Dear FE:
It never ceases to amaze me how many people feel compelled to offer gender-specific, offensive insults (or any insult for that matter)!   You can’t control other people, but you can manage your own responses.  The first step in dealing with this type of interaction is taking a moment to breathe before you choose how to respond.  I use the word respond very specifically.  Responding rather than reacting allows you to take the “high road”.  Little or nothing is achieved by becoming defensive or combative and you will not change anyone’s mind.

In the first instance, a response such as, “As much as I love math, the idea of helping humanity through medicine appeals to me greatly.  Is that why you went into medicine?” The first sentence leans on a positive aspect, while the second is a question which deflects negative energy from you.  If we wanted to verge on the snarky (which may be more satisfying but ultimately not positive for you), you could simply ask, “Is that why you went into medicine?”  However, it is important to know your audience and if you have to remain respectful, the first response is probably the better one.

In the second example, you could choose to respond directly with, “I’m sure you didn’t mean to be insulting or insensitive. Isn’t this weather/food/house incredible?”  Since this is a social occasion, most likely with no career implications, you can be a bit more imaginative and “off the wall”.  By following your initial straight-forward statement with a non-sequitur question, you can deflect the negative energy.  
The following is crucial: you must employ a half-smile.  Easy and confident. You can practice.  Imagine the sling of an insult coming at you.  Breathe in slowly, exhale slowly, inhale again.  All the while with a half smile. On the 2ndexhalation, practice saying, “I’m sure you didn’t mean to be insulting and/or insensitive.”, with a gracious smile on your face.  
Kate W.
Kate W. has been a senior administrator for MIT for more than 25 years.
 
On behalf of the GWAMIT mentoring committee, thank you to this month’s Dear Kate student contributor and to Kate H.!
If you have a question that you would like to ask our panel of experts (GWAMIT mentors), please submit it here.

Dear Kate – January 2014 edition

The namesake of this advice column is Katharine McCormick, who graduated from MIT with a B.Sc. in Biology in 1904. Among others, she was the benefactor of McCormick Hall, a suffragist and a philanthropist.  We hope to continue her legacy and dedication to the advancement of women through this advice column.
Dear Kate,
I am in my 3rd year of PhD and recently completed my official thesis proposal to my department. I generally find my project fun and interesting, but I’m concerned because all the ideas came from my advisor and I don’t feel like I am capable of coming up with my own ideas. I’m afraid I’m not creative, smart or visionary enough to steer a research project, much less have that research be groundbreaking (which I would really love). I don’t see how this will change, as some have suggested, as I continue to work on my project. In fact, considering how specific and trivial my day-to-day tasks are, I don’t quite understand what I am getting out of my PhD training at all. I’m worried about what this means for my career and life prospects.
Where do ideas come from and is there anything I can do to get better at generating them? Am I doomed because I am uncreative?
Uncreative Cat
Dear Cat,

Generating creative ideas that are in that intersection of things that are feasible but yet really innovative, is one of the hardest things we do as researchers. While every research field and every research group is different, from a developmental point of view, I often start my own graduate students on projects where many of the creative ideas are mine; but I definitely hope that they start taking steps toward being capable of coming up with their own interesting ideas in the last year or two years of their Ph.D. study. So, at least in my portion of the world, you are right on schedule to be asking this question: this is the question I want all my third year Ph.D. students to start asking, so good for you.

Let’s start with some context, which is: let’s think about where the project you wrote your thesis proposal on came from. It is probably something that your advisor believes s/he and you are set up to work on, meaning that you have the background, expertise, necessary equipment, etc.  If you are being supported on a grant, chances are that your advisor proposed this line of research already to some funding agency, which might mean the piece of generating the initial idea might even have occured several years ago, maybe even prior to your deciding to work with your advisor. If creative ideas came out of whole cloth, this might be cause for despair. However, I have found that usually the best creative ideas come while doing something routine: you have a project that looks straightforward, but then you hit a snag, or the data comes out in a way that is completely strange, or something else happens you just didn’t plan for. In my experience, most of the groundbreaking, creative work happens when you are doing the expected thing, and then hit an obstacle and it sends you off on a new, completely unanticipated direction. I notice that usually, you will hit some obstacle (even if you don’t know in advance what that obstacle will be). And such things are to be seized as opportunities to start being creative.  I wish I could give you a recipe for generating great creative ideas, but I think you will find, if you value opportunities to do groundbreaking things, often they will come to you, and often they come in the guise of accidents, but they still come when you embedd yourself in a project and work deeply on it.

However, every field is different, and every advisor is different.  This is a great thing to start talking to your advisor about. Ask your advisor exactly this: don’t call yourself uncreative, but ask how s/he generates his/her best creative ideas. How senior was he or she when s/he felt s/he was savvy enough to steer a research project? How can you learn to develop this skill?  Most good advisors will  be eager to mentor graduate students who  ask such  important questions,  and   you  might  have  some very meaningful  and  deep conversations.

Kate C.
Kate C. received her PhD at MIT and is a professor in the Boston area.
Thank you to the Dear Kate student contributor and to Kate C.! 
If you have a question that you would like to ask our panel of experts (GWAMIT mentors), please submit it here.

Dear Kate – December 2013 Edition


The namesake of this advice column is Katharine McCormick, who graduated from MIT with a B.Sc. in Biology in 1904. Among others, she was the benefactor of McCormick Hall, a suffragist and a philanthropist.  We hope to continue her legacy and dedication to the advancement of women through this advice column.
Dear Kate,

I find myself spending lots of time worrying about relationships when I should be focusing on my research and classes. My boyfriend is in grad school about four hours’ drive away, and while I see him as often as possible, I’ve started to have feelings for other guys at MIT, and that conflict is keeping me up at night when I need to be catching up on the precious little sleep I get. How can I make sure to keep my work and personal lives separate enough to get things done, while not neglecting one or the other?

Time-Crunched and Confused
Dear Time-Crunched and Confused,
They say long term relationships don’t work out, but I beg to differ. Both my brother and closest friend are married to women they dated long-distance for well over a year. It is tough, but it can work out. When it’s the right person, it doesn’t matter where they are emotionally or geographically, things have a way of keeping you together. That said, you should consider whether your conflicting feelings and thoughts are borne of the sad realization that your long-distance boyfriend may no be “the one.”
It’s easy, and to a degree necessary, to be distracted from intellectual endeavors when one’s heart is going through a lot, like you seem to be. First off, that’s perfectly fine! Secondly, remember that you are not alone! Reach out to friends, family, or even a counselor, to help you sort through it all. Go for a walk, read a good book (in atoms!), find a spot where you can feel connected to earth, whatever makes you feel calmer.
At night, when women’s minds tend to get busiest, like Wanda Sykes once cleverly pointed out, try breathing deeply and slowly through your nose, listen to soothing music and picture this: each thought or feeling that comes up, is like a puppy that runs to you. Play with it briefly, then invite them to move on. Keep picturing this as thoughts and feelings come up. It’s a technique I picked up at yoga class, and it’s helped me get through many a sleepless night!
The bottom line: allow space in your mind and heart for all thoughts and feelings. The conflict often arises because we think or feel we shouldn’t think or feel a certain way. No such thing! Every thought and feeling have their place in your mind and heart, so let them be!
Take good care,
Kate O.
Kate O. graduated from MIT with a Master’s Degree in an engineering discipline.

Thank you to the Dear Kate student contributor and to Kate O.! If you have a question that you would like to ask our panel of experts (GWAMIT mentors), please submit it here.

Dear Kate – November 2013 Edition

The namesake of this advice column is Katharine McCormick, who graduated from MIT with a B.Sc. in Biology in 1904. Among others, she was the benefactor of McCormick Hall, a suffragist and a philanthropist.  We hope to continue her legacy and dedication to the advancement of women through this advice column. This month’s column features the same question as the October edition of Dear Kate, but the answer has a completely different spirit and is useful in a different way. As such, we wanted to feature it on its own.
Dear Kate,

During the school year, research gets pushed aside for more immediate but less important obligations (e.g. classes). My project has no foreseeable deadlines or deliverables, and graduation is so far off that it’s of no use motivationally. How can I stay motivated to move my research forward?
Sincerely,
Floating along
I think that many researchers face this issue because research is not a well-defined task.  You’re constantly faced with the question of what you should work on next, and humans are wired to choose the immediate payoff (homework) over the long-term payoff (research).  (For a fun internet rabbit-hole on this, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temporal_discounting and http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brain-bugs/201209/temporal-myopia-making-bad-long-term-decisions.)  The trick is not to try to rewire your brain.  Instead, create short-term research tasks that happen on the same time scale as your homework, so that you can remove the value bias against your longer-term research goals.  Your decision-making skills can get tired (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decision_fatigue), and in order to get things done you have to remove as many barriers and decisions as possible so that you can sit down and work without constantly having to make decisions about what your priorities are.
I had this issue in graduate school and didn’t really know what to do about it.  These days my work has the same problem, but I’ve learned how to trick myself into making research seem like a short-term task.  My usual plan goes like this:
1. At the beginning of a project, or at the beginning of a major phase of a project, break the work down into month-scale or week-scale tasks.
2. Decide which month-scale or week-scale task I’m working on, and break it down into even smaller bits.  I do this whenever I’m finished with the last task chunk, not really on a schedule.
3. Weekly, make a list of tasks.  This includes components of the task chunk I’m working on, plus other things like homework, administrative stuff, meetings, making slides and posters, etc.  Most of these tasks are sized to take less than a day.  I usually make this list on Friday, because what I still need to do is fresh in my mind and I can start work on Monday without too much start-up time.  Since the research work has been broken into smaller tasks that are the same size as shorter-term work, I have an easier time deciding what to do next, and prioritizing the research work appropriately.
So for instance, if I want to write a paper, first I decide what sections it’s going to have.  Then I write down the big accomplishments I need to complete each section.  That might be “create a circuit model that represents my structure” or “do this software-defined radio experiment.”  Then I break down each of those larger tasks into very small ones, like “look up a formula for microstrip gap capacitance for the circuit model” or “test the timed message control block for the software-defined radios.”  There’s no way that I can do a complex task like an experiment on the same time scale as homework (and temporal myopia makes it hard to judge which task I should be working on), but I can definitely test one part of the experiment setup, then do my homework, then switch back to the next research task.  Working this way has the positive side effect of keeping my schedule pretty sane, because I know when to declare a project “done” and what steps to take to get there.
Good luck,
Kate K.-P.
Kate K-P. obtained her Ph.D. at MIT in the EECS department
Thank you to the Dear Kate student contributor and to Kate K.-P.!

If you have a question that you would like to ask our panel of experts (GWAMIT mentors), please submit it here.

Dear Kate – October 2013 Edition


live streaming film Hacksaw Ridge 2016 online

The namesake of this advice column is Katharine McCormick, who graduated from MIT with a B.Sc. in Biology in 1904. Among others, she was the benefactor of McCormick Hall, a suffragist and a philanthropist.  We hope to continue her legacy and dedication to the advancement of women through this advice column.
Dear Kate,

During the school year, research gets pushed aside for more immediate but less important obligations (e.g. classes). My project has no foreseeable deadlines or deliverables, and graduation is so far off that it’s of no use motivationally. How can I stay motivated to move my research forward?
Sincerely,
Floating along
Dear Floating along,
This is a great question! You’ve identified an issue that is of great importance not just while you are in graduate school, but beyond.  Moving forward with your research is the most important thing you can do while you are in graduate school. In fact, it is the reason why you are in graduate school in the first place. Focusing on problem sets, courses, attending seminars, completing tasks for others (e.g. a more senior grad student/postdoc/advisor asks you to complete an experiment for them that is not related to your thesis) can be of value so I am not suggesting that you drop all of these constructive activities, but you have identified a critical issue that you need to address in order to graduate. (The obvious exception is passing whatever qualifying exam/coursework is required by your department). I think a common path for graduate students is to arrive with tons of enthusiasm but little focus, and after spending 2-3 (or sadly, more) busy years devoted to non-thesis activities waiting for someone to come and tell them “this is what you need to do to graduate,” they realize that they must take matters into their own hands. Graduate school is a time to find out what you are passionate about, what you are good at, and how you can build that into a fulfilling career. Every step you take toward achieving your goals will be beneficial to graduating and getting a great job afterward. Break down what you accomplish into small tasks that are rewarding. If you complete a set of experiments, will you be able to present them at a conference or write a paper? They may not be enough to graduate, but they are helpful to your career. Some people who constantly push their research aside do so because they are waiting for others to come along and tell them: “do this!” Beware of falling into this pattern, because others will be happy to tell you what to do, and it will likely not lead to you graduating. A subsequent job for those who fall into this pattern is likely one where they are told what to do, rather than be drivers of ideas. There are many time management books/resources out there that you can look into (for example, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” is a classic). Ask for recommendations from your friends and attend time-management seminars (but not too many!). Most importantly, be sure that your research is something that you are passionate about. If it is, then you will certainly devote time to it, and the small rewards along the way will keep you motivated to accomplish great things.
Best regards,
Kate H.
Kate H. obtained her Ph.D. at MIT. She is a faculty member at a Boston-area hospital.
On behalf of the GWAMIT mentoring committee, thank you to this month’s Dear Kate student contributor and to Kate H.!
If you have a question that you would like to ask our panel of experts (GWAMIT mentors), please submit it here.

Dear Kate – August 2013 Edition

The namesake of this advice column is Katharine McCormick, who graduated from MIT with a B.Sc. in Biology in 1904. Among others, she was the benefactor of McCormick Hall, a suffragist and a philanthropist.  We hope to continue her legacy and dedication to the advancement of women through this advice column. Although we usually try to keep the column short, this month’s question invited particularly lengthy responses. In our opinion, they are well worth the read. 
 
Dear Kate,
I have written a lot of fellowship proposals since coming to grad school, but none have been successful. I find it difficult to deal with the rejections, in part because some of the reviews can get a bit nasty. I told my advisor that I don’t want to apply for any more fellowships, but he didn’t really take that well. Funding is tight in our lab so I can understand where he’s coming from. But the fellowships also seem like a waste of time, especially since I already have to help write grant proposals. Do you have any advice on how to avoid this pointless pain, or how to handle the rejections?
Sincerely,
Rejected and dejected
Dear Rejected and Dejected:
Rejection is difficult, and it is especially hard when referees can’t manage basic civility.  Rejection is a part of academic life, however, so it is essential that you develop ways to cope, or even learn from it, and move forward.  Understand that there is no shame in rejection.  None of us is perfect (neither applicant nor referee).  Being humble (but not self-effacing) about our own efforts and forgiving of others leads to a more collaborative approach. The primary task is to determine whether there is merit to the referee’s criticism. Not every response, even by renowned researchers, is worth taking seriously.  But good criticism is a great gift.   If the critique is cloaked in nasty rhetoric, it can be hard to judge its fairness, so even if you want to rip the letter to shreds, ask someone who knows your work well (your advisor?) whether it is important to address the concern.  If not, just reprint the proposal and send it off again.  Maybe the referee wasn’t up on the latest research, or was feeling threatened, or was grumpy due to lack of sleep.  It isn’t about you.  If the criticism has merit, then consider this an opportunity to improve your proposal and your work. Articulate the criticism in your own words, removing the nasty parts; enter into the opposing perspective and develop the line of thought as plausibly as you can.  Think hard about it.  Figure out a response and, again, check with others you trust to see if it is adequate.  Rewrite the proposal and send it off again.  The proposal will be stronger and you will have learned something valuable in the process.

Best regards,
Kate H.
Kate H. has been a full professor at MIT for more than a decade
Dear Rejected and Dejected:
This is a great question!  First, obtaining funding is a major plus in your career, and success breeds success. A fellowship will be a great thing on your resume that can help you stand out for the next step in your career, so it is definitely worth spending the time to submit applications.  With science becoming so specialized, it is hard for people to accurately judge the publications of their colleagues, and a lot of emphasis is now put on money and awards, which are signs that your colleagues think your science is great.  Funding also can mean the freedom to spend more time on your research instead of serving as a teaching assistant, or it could even save your project if your professor runs out of money.

 Remember that applying for fellowship is a competition, and you might have to apply for many fellowships to get one.  You need to make your application competitive. Get suggestions on your research proposal, personal statement, and other parts of the proposal from your advisor, senior grad students, postdocs, other professors, etc.  Your professor and other professors should be willing to spend the time to teach you how to write the best possible application so that you can bring money to the department.  Also, make sure your application is written directly for the foundation for which you are applying.  For example, if it is a cancer foundation, cancer should be in the first sentence of your proposal –  don’t make the reviewers read a whole page to figure out why a basic science project has a link to a disease.  Also, make sure that your letters of recommendation help make you competitive.  They should NOT emphasize “soft skills” like being nice to work with.  These letters should emphasize that you are a brilliant, creative, hardworking, successful scientist who will make great use of the opportunity provided by this fellowship.
 When an application is rejected, and this happens to ALL OF US, remember, this kind of rejection is just business, it is not personal. Reviewers often have to select just a few winning applications out of hundreds of very good applications.  Also, reviewers are people, and even the best, fairest reviewers make mistakes, for example, they may not be very knowledgeable about the techniques in your proposal.  Use whatever helpful suggestions the reviewers make to improve your next application.    Also, some comments are a sign that the application was not clear about something, so figuring out what needs to be explained better can also help you improve your next application.  Finally, I will also note that reviewers are not supposed to be nasty, I have seen on occasion some inappropriate comments.  Don’t let any insulting remarks get to you because your success in your career does not depend on one jerk’s incorrect opinion.  Instead think of the opinions of the people that matter – your professor and the other scientists who know your work and are recommending that you apply for the fellowships.Still Alice live streaming film online

Sincerely,
Kate J.
Kate J received her undergraduate degree in Biology at MIT and has been a full professor for more than a decade.
On behalf of the GWAMIT mentoring committee, thank you to this month’s Dear Kate student contributor and to Kate H. and Kate J.
If you have a question that you would like to ask our panel of experts (GWAMIT mentors), please submit it here.

Dear Kate – July 2013 edition


The namesake of this advice column is Katharine McCormick, who graduated from MIT with a B.Sc. in Biology in 1904. Among others, she was the benefactor of McCormick Hall, a suffragist and a philanthropist.  We hope to continue her legacy and dedication to the advancement of women through this advice column.

Dear Kate,

The GWAMIT mentoring program has been a great help this year, but I am graduating soon and worried about finding a mentor at my new job (particularly in a male dominated field).  How did you find mentors during different stages of your career?  Any tips?

Sincerely,
Mentorless Mentee

Dear Mentorless Mentee,

Not to worry.  When you get out into world, you will find senior people whom you like and respect.  You’ll ask questions, they’ll express opinions, and if you find their opinions useful, you’ll keep asking.  Before you know it, you have a mentor.  Who knows?  Maybe two. That’s how I found all but one of my mentors.  The exception was an introduction by a mentor – for mentoring in a different but related field. 

As to mentors’ being male: all my mentors were.  Never a disadvantage.  (There just weren’t any women around in those days.)  On the rare occasion when a mentor showed himself against female equality, I confronted – nicely, of course.  Being very smart, my mentors learned.

Again, stop worrying.  You may even find that a mentor relationship created mutually can be even better than one assigned.

Best regards,
Kate P.
Kate P. has been in the business world for more than 35 years and is a published author and lecturer.

On behalf of the GWAMIT mentoring committee, thank you to this month’s Dear Kate student contributor and to  Kate P.
If you have a question that you would like to ask our panel of experts (GWAMIT mentors), please submit it here.

Dear Kate – June 2013 Edition


The namesake of this advice column is Katharine McCormick.  She was the second woman to graduate from MIT, the benefactor of McCormick Hall, a suffragist and a philanthropist.  We hope to continue her legacy and dedication to the advancement of women through this advice column.

Dear Kate,
I am having trouble focusing on my own academic goals and growth. I find myself continuously dwelling in thoughts of comparison of myself to my peers. I feel like I can never catch up with improving necessary skills, meeting curricular and extra-curricular demands, and adding accomplishments to my CV, which all seem to be required for an academic future. How can I regain my focus and calmness?
Sincerely,
Sleepy Owl

Dear Sleepy Owl,


Find some part of the work that you know you can do, and get into it: focusing on that may help you regain your confidence in your ability and the worth and interest of your work. If necessary, take a complete break from work and do something you enjoy. It’s natural to compare oneself with one’s peers, but if this is preventing you from moving forward, do consider talking with a counselor about methods for sidelining those thoughts. It’s overwhelming to consider simultaneously all the things that you need to do, but take them on one at a time: what two things could you do today?

Best,

Kate P.

Kate P. has been a professor at MIT for more than two decades.
Dear Sleepy Owl,
I could not agree more that there are always far too many things to do in a day to possibly accomplish them all.  You can make priority lists, budget time, attempt to multi-task on the less important things, and so forth, but if you are ambitious and curious about the world, the list will always remain too long.  So your last question about regaining focus and calmness is really the key.  I find that it helps to remind myself everyday that the list is, of course, too long and finishing it is not actually my goal.  Instead my goal is to accomplish the most important items and to do them well.  And while this may sound counter-intuitive, I do not consider spending time in conversation with friends or family, or exercise, to be just more elements on the list, but rather essential background practices that make the rest of the items on the list doable.  Much of my most productive problem solving (starting a paper, solving a puzzle, setting up an experimental design, framing an important question, managing an interpersonal problem) is accomplished while out walking our dog or riding my bike.  For me, the key to calm is to be able to walk away from my work throughout the day and give my mind some space to wander, either in conversation or in motion.  Hope this helps.
Kate M.
Kate M. has also been a professor at MIT for more than two decades
On behalf of the GWAMIT mentoring committee, thank you to this month’s Dear Kate student contributor, Kate P., and Kate M. 
If you have a question that you would like to ask our panel of experts (GWAMIT mentors), please submit it here.

Dear Kate – May 2013 Edition

The namesake of this advice column is Katharine McCormick.  She was the second woman to graduate from MIT, the benefactor of McCormick Hall, a suffragist and a philanthropist.  We hope to continue her legacy and dedication to the advancement of women through this advice column.

Dear Kate,
 

I am having trouble balancing my coursework and research with social activities.  When I do make time for friends, I feel guilty.  What is the best way to balance these different aspects of my life without feeling guilty for having fun?
 

Sincerely,
Guilty Grad Student

Dear Guilty Grad Student,

Even if I tried to spend all my time working, I don’t think it would achieve the desired results. I find that I have at the very most,  five good hours for quality work-related thinking a day, and even if I try to spend the rest of the day working, I just end up frittering away time, procrastinating and taking mini breaks from work. Why spend those extra unproductive hours pretending to get something done rather than spend them with your friends?

Here’s a strategy that worked for me in grad school: each day before I  went to bed, I wrote down 1-3 concrete tasks that I thought I could accomplish the next day– big problem sets or research tasks were decomposed into bite sized pieces such as “spend two hours working on hw5” or “read paper X for research” or “spend an hour trying to prove Theorem J”. Once I completed these tasks, I was done for the day, and could run errands, or see friends, or read a good book, or whatever else I needed to keep work in balance. It was amazing how much I got done, once I gave myself permission to stop working each day once I finished a period of intense focus. Hope something similar might work for you.

Kate L.
Kate L. received her PhD from MIT has been a professor for over a decade.

On behalf of the GWAMIT mentoring committee, thank you to this month’s Dear Kate student contributor and Kate L.

If you have a question that you would like to ask our panel of experts (GWAMIT mentors), please submit it here.

Introducing “Dear Kate”

The GWAMIT Mentoring  Committe is beginning a new initiative–our very own advice column!  If you have a question that you would like to ask our panel of experts (GWAMIT mentors), please submit it here.  You may submit as many questions as you would like, and all questions are completely anonymous.  We will submit a subset of questions to a selection of mentors in industry and academia at a variety of ages and career levels, and post their responses on the blog.

We hope you enjoy this new feature, and please feel free to use this column to spark discussion among your own mentoring groups.  
 
How do I tell my advisor that I don’t want a career in academia, that I just want a job in industry when I graduate? I’m afraid the truth with piss him off.Not an Academic

Dear not an Academic,
 
Not everyone is suited to academia, and your professor should know this, but the news might be hard for him to hear. I would stress the reasons why you prefer industry over academia instead of just badmouthing academia.

If the truth doesn’t work, you can always say you want industry experience first to have a better understanding of the problems that need solving. I know several professors who worked in industry first, and then became professors with tenure.

Sincerely,

Kate A.
Kate A. has her PhD in EE from MIT and has been working outside of academia for 6 years

I am a single parent and a grad student. The issue is – I simply do not have enough money to live on. I do not have a working spouse.  My kid and I live on grad student salary and it’s not enough to live on. I tried grading, working for OCW, writing to financial aid dep-t, and nothing works. … I am considering quitting MIT because.. well, I just don’t have enough money to live on simply wholesale mlb jerseys stated. … Any advice? – MIT_girl

Dear MIT_girl,

Kudos to you for making it this far! Being a single parent graduate student with no family nearby is a daunting feat, exacerbated by the fact that you are at MIT, surrounded by many who do not value and/or understand parenthood. A graduate student stipend is definitely not sufficient to comfortably support dependents, whether or not you budget appropriately. You may have already looked into these, but if not:

1)   Do you know whether you qualify for governmental financial assistance? When I was an MIT graduate student, I recall one classmate who singlehandedly supported a family of four on a graduate student stipend, and he qualified for WIC.

2)   Have you made friends with other graduate students who are parents (single or not)? You may be able to make after-school childcare arrangements as a group to save money. Most importantly, you absolutely need to find others who are in your situation for moral support! All of you can share useful hints about making it as graduate student parents, lobby for programs/changes at MIT, and your children may enjoy each others’ company.

You’ve both made it through 2.5 years at MIT. How much longer do you think you have to go? Is there a clear, realistic end in sight? If so, are you likely to have a high paying job afterward? Are you and your child living a happy life now (beside you being stressed over finances)? Does the thought of dropping out of graduate school or leaving with a Masters seem unacceptable? If you answer yes to these questions, then by all means, hang in there and get to the end. Several years from now, you will be in a financially stable situation, and your degree will have helped you get there. On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with finding a job now and leaving graduate school if the financial stress is becoming too much to bare and is spilling into all other aspects of your life. It is understandably difficult to focus on research if you feel that you cannot provide adequately for yourself and your child. Whatever you choose, please do your best to change our academic and workplace culture into one that is supportive of parents. The changes may not come in time to help you, but hopefully, they will soon help future parents. 
Sincerely,

Kate B.
Kate B. is a graduate of the HST program and an instructor at a prominent teaching hospital & medical school in Boston/Cambridge

Dear MIT_girl,

I feel your challenge and applaud you for your talents and ability to gain acceptance at a prestigious educational institution, while also raising a young child. It is not certainly not easy — I am a professional woman, parent of two, with the good fortune of a working spouse and the wholesale nfl jerseys additional benefit of support (time, not $) from our children’s grandparents — and that has been hard over the years. I do understand how expensive and challenging it is to raise a family in a desirable metro area such as Boston. 

The only major “variable expense” in your life is likely to be rent — if there is someway to better manage that cost by combining households with grad students or others in your situation, that’s one possibility. There are publicly sponsored after school and summer programs for families in need, but the waiting list can be years.

I am honestly not familiar with how MIT finances graduate education, so I fear I am unable to offer any additional substantive advice knowing many more personal details. If you would like to have that conversation, please let GWAMIT know.

With respect — and please know I am rooting for you – I state that the most important contribution we can make to the next gen and the world is parental stability and support. You sound like a supportive, consistent mom — something you obviously learned that at home, in your own life.  You have much to  proud of, please don’t give up yet.

Sincerely,

Kate C.
Kate C. received her MBA from Harvard and has 25 years of experience in software industry general management.

The namesake of this advice column is Katharine McCormick.  She was the second woman to graduate from MIT, the benefactor of McCormick Hall, a suffragist and a philanthropist.  We hope to continue her legacy and dedication to the advancement of women through this advice column.
On behalf of the GWAMIT mentoring committee, thank you to this month’s Dear Kate contributors and “Kates”.