Parenting While at Penn and Graduate Student Life

By Esther H. Ra, Ed.D.

Last semester, a graduate student who I had advised asked as she was leaving, if I knew any information about parenting resources for graduate students on Penn campus. As I spoke to the student, it occurred to me that in order for the student to progress in their career search or development, they had a great need for other important resources to help them along in their journey to function as a successful student at Penn. As a former Penn graduate student, who also had a family by the time I defended my dissertation, I empathized greatly with this student. I knew very well the struggle of balancing parenthood and graduate student life, particularly on Penn campus, and remembered the feeling of wanting to be connected to a network of Penn parents. For graduate students who may also be juggling parenthood, this post is dedicated to you! Since I was a graduate student, many new resources have come to existence and there are excellent opportunities and communities you can become a part of so that you don’t feel that you’re journeying alone. Not only did you embark on learning and “mastering” subject matters, but you have the privilege and adventure of parenting another life. It IS possible to do both with some help. I commend you for seeking resources that can improve your graduate student life as a parent. Here are some resources that may be of help:

The Family Resource Center at Penn:

Join their email list learn about resources that Penn has to offer. The site can connect you to Penn parent networks, neighborhood networks, as well as national sites that can direct you to parenting resources. It’s also a hub for knowing what benefits you have as a parent while studying at Penn. There are also amenities such as a lactation room, a family lounge, a reading room, as well as nap space for kids, and books and toys. It is a wealth of information and resources and this should be your first stop at Penn for parenting resources!

Emergency Backup Childcare:

Every parent wants to know what childcare help they can get when an emergency occurs. Who can take care of your children should they have a snow day and you have an important meeting to attend? Penn has a resource that can cover you for backup care should you need it. Free Resource through Penn

Penn also has a wonderful resource where families can sign up to find childcare for their home. This resource can be customized for local care and Penn helps with a free membership to while you are a student.

Lactation and Baby Changing Stations

Are you always searching for a place to nurse or feed your baby? What about a place to change their diaper? It’s always a struggle for parents of babies and toddlers to find a safe, clean place to do what is already a tough job: nursing and changing a wiggling baby. Not only does the Family Resource Center at Penn have a lactation room, but Penn is a very lactation friendly campus with rooms located all around campus. Many of bathrooms in several of the buildings on campus also have baby friendly changing spaces.

Grants for Ph.D. Students with Dependents:

Penn also has a couple l funded family grants, specifically for PhD students. One is a Family Grant and the other Is a Dependent Health Insurance Grant. Read about the guidelines and see if you might be able to qualify. The grant cycle opens on August 27th to submit applications. If you think that these might be of interest, you will need to get in gear with all submission materials ready very soon!

PennCard & Campus Services:

Did you know the PennCard enables your spouse and children to access several amenities on campus? However, they each need to obtain their OWN Penn Card, which can easily be done through the PennCard Center: The PennCard will give your spouse and children access to museums, Penn transit services, and recreational facilities.

I hope that helps with navigating family life as a graduate student! It’s not an easy road, but it’s a fun one when you have the right resources at your fingertips. Happy parenting!

To Adjunct or not to Adjunct, That Is the Question

By Dr. Esther Ra, Advisor in the School of Nursing, Graduate School of Education, and School of Social Policy and Practice

Recently, I have had several students inquire about teaching as an adjunct in community colleges and in neighboring universities in Philadelphia. Have you ever wondered about teaching as an adjunct faculty member? What exactly is this and what does it entail? As someone who has been teaching since my doctoral student days, I do get frequently asked about how one can break into this arena.

What exactly is an adjunct faculty member and what do you do?

An adjunct faculty member or professor is someone who teaches university level courses on a contractual basis, sometimes renewing a contract from semester to semester. The word “adjunct” means supplementary or auxiliary, and as an adjunct professor, you are exactly that, an additional faculty member who has been hired to help teach courses for a department. While adjunct professors are not hired at the level of a tenure-track professor, nor are they one of the main professors in the department, adjuncts are relied upon to do a part (and sometimes it is a large part) of the load of teaching in the department. Typically, adjunct faculty are not expected to participate in research, partake in department committee work, or delve into university service. While it’s not expected for an adjunct to do such activities, many do dabble in some of the same work as tenure-track professors, depending on their interests and time. Above all, an adjunct faculty member will be expected to have an experienced skill set in teaching at the college level, (and in some cases, the graduate level), which will most likely be the sole focus and expectation of the adjunct.

Why Do You Want to Adjunct?

In some respect, it’s important to think about why one would like to take on an adjunct faculty position. Do you want to improve your teaching skill set? Do you want to become more familiar with a topic in your field? Do you want to have a better understanding of working with undergraduate students or graduate students? There’s a myriad of reasons why many people would like to have an adjunct job, but it’s important to pinpoint a direct reason. Adjuncting is not always a glamorous position, nor does the pay and recognition correlate to the level of education a typical adjunct achieves, often a PhD or a master’s in a given field. Knowing why you want to pursue this path, as well as, what you’d like to gain from it, is important to know before jumping two feet into this world. The frustrations of adjunct life are notorious (and I won’t delve into them here), and one may grow jaded early on in the process. Without a clear understanding of goals, the teaching load may sideswipe a newbie, if not tempered in thought and expectation.

How Does Adjunct Hiring Work?

Without getting into the controversy of adjunct hiring, if you would like to enhance your teaching in higher education in a part-time capacity, adjunct teaching is a great way to develop this skill set. Even with lesser duties than a tenure-track professor, an adjunct position is often difficult to negotiate. I am often told by students who come to see me during appointments, that they have a difficult time breaking into this world. I would have to agree with them, that it IS a difficult arena to crack, however, it is also important to note, that even though an adjunct is auxiliary in a department, your CV cannot be “auxiliary.” Your CV still needs to be impressive and polished. With many students in the wings eager to become an adjunct – whether it be a doctoral student, a newly minted PhD, or a seasoned higher education administrator, positions do not avail themselves equal to the number of highly qualified individuals who graduate from master’s and doctoral programs. Keep this in mind as you apply to jobs! It can very much be a waiting game, but if you’re patient, the right opportunity may come knocking on your door.

With that being said, depending on where you are interested in teaching, typically most adjuncts have their doctoral degrees and are well versed in the courses they teach. They are often familiar with the content and courses books for the courses taught, by way of their own research or interests. In some cases, particularly in smaller colleges and community colleges, an accomplished individual with their master’s can also fill an adjunct role. Knowledge and extensive practical experience in the content area is a huge plus in this case, and highly valued.

Networking to Find an Adjunct Position

As with many jobs, networking to find an adjunct position is likely one of the best strategies for finding a job in the field you hope to teach. Start by talking to your advisor. Perhaps you could serve as a Teaching Assistant in one of the courses you’ve taken before that you enjoyed. Perhaps, you could offer to grade and take care of administrative duties of a course before attempting to teach one on your own. Likely without direct teaching experience or course management experience, either in a teaching or graduate assistantship, it will be difficult to be competitive for an adjunct position.

If you’ve already talked to your advisor, consider approaching other professors, either in the same department or in other departments. To do this successfully, you must look to see what content you are familiar with and what you would feel comfortable teaching. There is a lot of overlap in departments and you could be eligible to teach in several departments, depending on the need. For example, an individual who studied educational policy, may be useful in a higher education department, but could also be relevant in a social policy department. Often the interdisciplinary nature of one’s own interests lends itself to opportunities, not just in one field, but in several fields. Take a good, hard look at your training and comfort level, and I am willing to bet, ideas to pursue several different departments will emerge. Brainstorm with your advisors and get their input.

Contacting Departments/Schools to Apply/ Strategic Informational Interviewing

It may seem archaic, but sometimes, cold contacting or networking is a strategy one may need to employ. Why? As a student or a newly minted PhD, these positions may already be filled by senior adjuncts, who have been teaching the same courses year after year. In this case, it may be beneficial to look outside your department. In addition, your interest area may be quite specific and only a handful of universities will have the fields you are interested in teaching. This is often the case, particularly in certain fields with those who have obtained a PhD. An example of this may be a newly minted PhD graduate, a historian of a specific era of US history; some departments can only have allowances for one or maybe two adjuncts in this area, depending on the size of their school. If it’s a specific niche, the opportunities may be even tougher to find. This is when contacting department heads and or hiring professors, or even human resources of colleges and universities who host your field, would be a strategic move. Call the appropriate professors or email them. Introduce yourself and your interest areas and ask to set up an informational interview. Send your CV. It may be that your CV is held “on file” with a “pool of adjuncts.” You may need to play the waiting game, at which time, you may be called when a position becomes available. It takes strategic networking and follow up. This all takes much time and patience. Obtaining an adjunct position isn’t impossible, but it can be challenging without taking strategic steps. As a teacher educator myself, I will tell you that it can be an immensely rewarding position. There is a joy in sharing your expertise and experience with students, and/or new trainees in your field.  While I am fully aware there is a whole host of politics that accompany adjunct hiring, almost all faculty members I know, don’t stay teaching as an adjunct for the compensation (because the pay can be dismal) or for the recognition. They enjoy developing and keeping abreast of their skills, furthering themselves in a field of interest, and sharing their trained knowledge with university students.

Resources for New International Students – Crossing Your “t”s and Dotting your “i”s

By Dr. Esther H. Ra, Career Advisor

When I lived overseas in Seoul after college, it was thrilling, yet intimidating trying to find my groove in a city that was foreign, but yet now my “home.” I had a couple touchpoints throughout the city that helped me get through the first few months there. I was very grateful to the kind souls who showed me where I could shop for groceries (in the basement of a department store), how to pay my utilities bill (at the bank!), and how to navigate the bus terminal to various cities (unlocking the key to visiting extended family). I remember those first few days of walking around and soaking everything in, while trying to make sense of my whereabouts. It was an exhilarating and formidable time. When I think back, I am so thankful to the kind friends and colleagues who took the time to share valuable resources with me. These resources set me up for success and helped me enjoy my experience in what is now one of my very favorite cities in the world!

Similarly, on Penn campus, many new international students and colleagues have joined us on our campus. The fall 2018 semester is in full swing and already the onslaught of a new year and its classes, events, and activities are upon us. If you’re an international student or colleague, are you ready to conquer this semester? Has the semester already been filled with some anxiety and trepidation? Do you feel overwhelmed by the assignments, deadlines, “to-do lists”, and activities? All of this is exhausting for any student, but if you’re a student who is living in a different cultural context than your own, it can be downright daunting. Below is a breakdown of some of the resources on campus at your fingertips:

Penn Career Services:
Our office services students and alumni of all undergraduate schools and most graduate schools. We strategize with students to define career goals and develop their potential. We offer resume, CV and cover letter reviews, as well as mock interviews. In addition, we conduct a plethora of practical workshops and events related to networking, including career fairs, meet and greets, and employer information sessions. Be sure to be registered on Handshake to access jobs and announcements from our office:

Counseling and Psychological Services at Penn (CAPS):
As the counseling hub for the University, CAPs offers free counseling and confidential services to all Penn students. They offer appointments for life’s transitions and challenges, and work with you to develop coping strategies for situational contexts.

International Student & Scholar Services (ISSS):
I’m sure by now you are very familiar with ISSS’ services and with advisors who can assist you with visa questions and immigration processes. This office is instrumental to Penn’s international students and I encourage you to use their expertise to make the most out of your experience on Penn campus.

Marks Family Writing Center:
The Marks Family Writing Center is a resource center that can be utilized by both undergraduate and graduate students for feedback on any writing needs. If you’re having trouble developing a paper, writing a cover letter, or struggling to create a PowerPoint for a course you are taking, the experienced staff at the Writing Center can lend a critical eye for great feedback. With a little bit of prior planning, this is an amazing free resource, you can utilize to brainstorm and organize your writing projects. We have had many students, particularly international graduate students tell us that it was a great place to visit when struggling to draft their first cover letter.

Penn Tutoring:
This center at Penn is for undergraduates only. They offer supplemental help for your academics with tutors who are an ace in the subject area you may be struggling to understand. Again, with a little bit of planning, this free campus resource could be a wonderful aide to any bumps in the road with adapting to the academic rigor that is Penn. We’ve had many students tell us that this has been an invaluable resource and a great help to becoming acclimated to classes on campus.

Weingarten Learning Resource Center:
Did you know that Weingarten Learning Resources Center has programs especially designed for international students’ and their transition to Penn’s campus and its academics? Many of them take place at the beginning of the semester. Some of the workshops offered may help with organizing your semester, discuss cultural differences and expectations in the US classroom, as well as equip you with research skills and citations.

I hope these places on campus can serve as touchpoints for your time on Penn Campus. You’ll be so glad you crossed your “t”s and dotted your “i”s when you did (an American idiom for being detailed and thorough). Welcome and we wish you a successful semester!

Planning for Plan B: 5 Things to Do When Your Summer Plans Do Not Work Out

By Dr. Esther H. Ra, Advisor for Nursing, Education, and Social Policy

“In general, things either work out or they don’t, and if they don’t,
you figure out something else, a plan B. There’s nothing wrong with plan B.”
― Dick Van Dyke, Keep Moving: And Other Truths About Living Well Longer

Sometimes, even with the best-laid plans, our summer plans do not work out according to our wishes. Life happens. Maybe grant summer funding did not work out in your favor or perhaps you went on the job trail, but you did not get an offer for the dream internship you hoped to have. Even worse, you may have had a personal setback in your family, such as a death or job loss, that you could not control. We get it. Unforeseen circumstances derail all of us at some point, and this summer could be the summer that it is happening to you. We have all been there here are Career Services and want to support you through the journey. All is not lost and this summer does not have to be a wash. The key is to plan for plan B. Serena Williams, who is an American professional giant among women’s tennis, boasts 23 singles title wins in the Women’s Grand Slam tournaments of all time. She has been famously quoted saying, “If Plan A isn’t working, I have Plan B, Plan C, and even Plan D.” While your original plans may have come up short, the summer ahead of you does not have to be for naught. Here are some strategic suggestions to make productive use of your summer:

1) Network. Networking, networking, networking. You can never be DONE with networking. In fact, I tell students I meet with, that networking is an ongoing relationship building exercise that can occur at any time and any place. With more time on your hands, take the opportunity to develop your network. Perhaps, you will want to make a goal to network with five new people every week. Whatever your plan, write it down and keep to your goals. While you want to be strategic about networking, be also aware, that it may come upon you without you planning for it. Penn students have met some wonderful people at airports, grocery stores, train stations, and playgrounds. Capitalize on these serendipitous moments because one day it may pay off.

2) Volunteer. Not all amazing life experiences come from paid positions. In fact, some of the best experiences in my own life came from volunteer experiences that have taken me around the globe, richly broadening my perspectives. Take the opportunity to seek work that brings you passion and gets you excited. Perhaps you can enter a field by offering to help staff a project or an event in your community. I do not know anyone who has turned away a cheerful volunteer. Being a volunteer allows for exposure to the working culture of an organization and you may be privy to spaces you would not otherwise be able to occupy. For example, had I not taken a volunteer opportunity to help design school curriculum in Indonesia, I would not have experienced traveling through Southeast Asia, nor gained a grasp on international education in this part of the world. I would have also missed the unforgettable experience of trying all the lush tropical fruits the region has to offer (durian anyone?). You get my point; not all amazing life experiences come from a paid position

3) Shadow. Consider asking someone in your network if you could shadow for a day. Shadowing is a fantastic opportunity to understand the pulse of an industry or dabble in an interested arena without any pressure. Often, through shadowing, you have the opportunity to rub shoulders with many potential mentors and network accordingly as you look to the future. It is an invaluable way to make connections that you would not otherwise be able to make. Like volunteering, you can also be invited to spaces that you might not normally be able to be in, and such opportunities could help open further job opportunities. It can also help you decipher which niches you want to explore.

4) Learn. Have you always wanted to take extra classes, but you never felt like you had the time or energy? Now is your chance! Maybe you always wanted to hone a skill or try something new. Do it now. Having unstructured time allows for creative exploration and flexibility. My friend is a great example of this. She had always wanted to be a certified fitness trainer and had enjoyed all things health. After working toward certification hours during a free summer, she now trains private clients as a very meaningful side gig. Not only does she love the work as a fitness trainer, she is able to stay extremely fit and healthy. This is all due in part because of her strategic decision one summer to take a risk and capitalize on her interests and free time.

5) Write. Do you feel that you have expertise and experience in a specific industry of work? Consider creating a niche blog or starting your own website. Alternatively, work on writing an article for an online digital resource in your field. Perhaps, get your name out on social media outlets and see where this brings you. Sharing your knowledge and expertise can be an immensely rewarding experience. Furthermore, the opportunities to write freelance on a topic you are an expert are endless. It could take you down paths you never dreamed you would take.

Planning for alternative options can bring meaning and purpose to your “plan B” summer. As Carol Burnett says, “Words, once they are printed, have a life of their own.” Create a plan, be strategic, and be tenacious and I promise, you will achieve your goals.

The “Be – Attitudes” of Professionalism

By Dr. Esther Ra, Career Advisor in Nursing, Education, & Social Policy & Practice

It is a new year and many of our Penn students have come back with gusto to begin the semester and that spring job search! If that predicament describes you, I want to draw
your attention to the Penn 7 Career Competencies. Are you familiar with them? Have you put
some thought into how you are growing in these elements at Penn and beyond?

Among the Penn 7, I often address competencies related to Professionalism and Work Ethic
with students in my office. Whether an undergraduate or graduate student, the “professional”
piece of this competency can be a quagmire and where I usually field an array questions.

Please note that these “be-attitudes” are principles that should not be limited to a job search,
but implemented and displayed all throughout your career and frankly, in all other areas of life!

1. Be Punctual. Be on time. I can take this a step further and say, be a little early. If you are meeting an employer for an interview, be five minutes early. Respecting another person’s time shows care that you are aware and mindful of others. This also applies to phone meetings and Skype meetings. If tardiness cannot be helped (i.e. unforeseen circumstances), call in advance and give notice for your lateness.

2. Be Prepared. Before meeting with potential employers, do your research. It is your due diligence. I have had students skip this step and unfortunately, it has backfired terribly. This is a big mistake, resulting in wasted efforts and time on both the part of you and the employer. For example, if you gather information on the employer and their mission, it will give you a sense of their raison d’etre. If the principles of the company does not agree with your own, eliminate it from your potential job search list. Furthermore, come ready to ask good questions about the employer’s current work and organization. Employers like smart questions and will remember if you appeared ready to engage. Be current on the employers’ research endeavors and news. Did you check their Twitter account to see what has been trending? Have they been noted in the news lately for new research? Be sure to check all media outlets, including social media, to get the scoop on the employer. This is a crucial element in displaying professionalism on the job market.

3. Be Respectful. When interacting with potential employers or even professional contacts for networking, be sure to speak to them with respect. This sounds like a given, but it is a great reminder to not let your guard down. For example, DO send thank you emails after meeting with employers. Thank them for their time and energy spent on talking with you. DO refer to them by their title, unless they otherwise say so (ex. Professor, Doctor, etc.). DO NOT bombard employers or professional contacts with the same request by way of email and phone in the same day. Give employers and professional contacts the space to respond, even if it is not within 24 hours. Chances are, they are quite busy individuals. Many are willing to respond, but also have other hats they are wearing in their work and family lives. Be respectful of this and DO NOT demand or overstep boundaries.

4. Be ethical. Employers are always searching to find reliable employees with integrity. Many of the behavioral questions asked during the interview process try to gauge this competency. How did you handle difficult situations? Are you trustworthy? Did you CHOOSE to make the right decision in your previous workplace? Are you wise and fair with your time? Do you own your mistakes? Do you keep work information confidential? Do your part to be an employee who is known for their integrity. Be fair to others, to yourself, and to your employer. It will not go unnoticed.

5. Be you. Above all, BE YOU. Be the best version of you. Penn students are without a doubt exceptionally hard working, innovative, and unique. The professors and administrators here all desire for your continued success. Use the resources around you and push yourself to be the best YOU, you can be. If you need anything, we are here to help you.

Ways to Practice Professionalism at Penn:

1. Be on time for class and appointments. No explanation needed.

2. Be courteous. Address people appropriately. When addressing professors and administrators appropriately in emails and in person, address them as Professor X or Dr. Z, unless they indicate otherwise. DO NOT assume their title or that they want to be called by their first name.

3. Be there or be square. When you say you will be present at an event, be there. If you will not be able to make it, give notice of your cancellation. DO NOT be a “no show” and brush it off as no big deal. People remember “no shows” and it does not reflect well. If you have to be absent from class, for example, own your absence, and send your professor a note of apology with the valid reason why you have to miss class. Do the same with appointments across campus, whether it be at CAPS, Career Services, or at Health Services. Your cancellation could be an opportunity for another student who may need that appointment.

4. Be respectful to all, even to those you do not necessarily gravitate towards. This should go without explanation, however, sometimes we all need reminding; in your working life there will be varying viewpoints on topics (including politics), differing philosophies in carrying out projects, and general opinions you do not care for or want to discuss. While such circumstances require careful navigation, you should never “fall out” of respect. Be calm when addressing differences; DO NOT take matters personally, and smile.

5. Be thankful. Say thank you. This is a gesture, which is often forgotten, but so very simple. After meeting with a professor, email them to say thank you. After meeting with classmates for a group project, email to say thank you for the efforts to all that contributed. A simple thank you goes a very long way. Though we may be in the digital era with email thank yous, I can assure you that simple, handwritten thank you notes are not obsolete. Thanking someone shows respect and appreciation for an action taken or time spent. Everyone likes to be recognized. Saying thank you shows endless class and never goes out of style.

There you have the “be-attitudes.” Now, go and practice them!