Thursday, August 6, 2015

GSE Students Engage in Summer Fieldwork

Even when classes are not in session, GSE students such as Shruti Bhat are engaged in their field of study. This summer, Bhat, who will receive her degree later this month, traveled to Afghanistan through an internship with the International Education Development Program, a recent Penn News piece states. 

Bhat’s work this summer has involved developing a curriculum for young students alongside the Aga Khan Foundation and the Institute for Professional Development. The news piece notes, “Together, they will create the Grade 0 curriculum which is designed to help non-native Tajik speakers in Tajikistan make the transition from programs taught in Pamiri, the local language, to Grade 1, where the instruction is given in Tajik, the national language.” 

Bhat has kept a blog chronicling her time overseas, in which she has referenced the ways in which her GSE education—which helped her prepare for the trip—has played a role in her summer work. “The theme that I encountered so often in many of my classes at Penn of how ‘Context Matters’ really became apparent through this field visit,” she writes in one post about her first time at a school in Tajikistan. 

Check out the full news story—as well as Bhat’s blog posts—to learn more about her summer adventure.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Back to School and Balance

For some, graduate school is a year-round ordeal, while for others, back-to-school season is approaching and brings with it questions and doubts about time management. Here, we take a look at a GradHacker blog titled, “Balancing Grad School and Non-Academic Opportunities,” and outline some of the author’s tips for success with this endeavor. 

Post author and M.A. candidate Laura Mitchell notes that “figuring out how to participate in the non-academic sphere in a way that complements your academic work – and doesn’t require an overwhelming time commitment – can be challenging.” As she states, “Two ways to confront this challenge are to focus on people and to choose low-commitment opportunities that complement your academic work.” We detail some of her tips below. 


Mitchell encourages students to partake in informational interviews to meet people outside of their department, and after these meetings, stay in touch by sharing articles and resources they may find interesting and beneficial. 

One’s schoolwork—and university resources including specific academic departments—can also lead to opportunities in the community. As Mitchell states:  “Writing a sociology dissertation? The education department might incorporate your research methods into their work with high school students.”  

By no means do outside opportunities have to take up hours and hours of time—by choosing to contract their work, students can instead opt to get involved during the periods that work best for them. Mitchell says, “When executed correctly, these opportunities can be a win-win-win: the organization benefits from your expertise, you hone skills and gain contacts that translate beyond the academy, and your scholarly work becomes stronger as a result of your experience.” 

Love to write? Contributing to publications every now and then can help students earn some money and share their ideas. “Regardless of whether you write about your academic work or another interest, writing for a wide audience gets your name out there and can often spark conversations and relationships you wouldn’t have thought to pursue otherwise,” Mitchell says. 

Students, what do you think of Mitchell’s tips? Have you pursued any of these routes?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Anna Deavere Smith's Performances at Penn and Beyond

Anna Deavere Smith’s play, “Notes From the Field: Doing Time in Education, the California Chapter,” is now showing at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre. This past May, Smith delighted an audience of nearly 400 at the Penn Museum as part of the GSE centennial celebration.  

During her visit to Philadelphia, Smith performed a work in progress examining the school-to-prison pipeline. This work “would eventually become ‘Notes from the Field,’” explained Melissa Kapadia-Bodi, who was one of the event organizers. The Daily Beast recently published a large write-up on Smith and her work, explaining that “Smith did about 170 interviews for this play,” from which she draws to embody these different individuals while onstage. 

In between her portrayals of interviewees, Smith incorporates viewers into her work.  As the Daily Beast reports:

“For the second act of Notes from the Field, the audience splits into smaller groups and Youth Speaks, an arts education program, facilitate discussions with audience members on how to create change in the schools and for children.” 

Smith, who graduated from what is now Arcadia University, has been moved by recent events in the Philly educational system, reports. An article notes that Smith “wound up in Philly last year, around the same time that the Philadelphia School District had begun letting go of nurses and counselors for financial reasons. ‘What I heard about and experienced first in Philly was a great need,’ she says. ‘It went from there.’” 

Photo credit: Darryl Moran

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Looking to Volunteer? Here's Why It's A Great Option for Grad Students

As future educators, many GSE students are already highly involved in the communities surrounding them both at Penn and in the greater Philadelphia area. However, any students who may be considering volunteer commitments but need an extra boost of motivation should check out the below tips from an Inside Higher Ed GradHacker piece. Volunteering—on or off campus—does much more than simply boost one’s resume, and despite graduate students’ limited free time, it is certainly a worthwhile activity for many reasons.

According to the piece, some of the outcomes of volunteering include:

The ability to step away from academic stress and issues which actually seem petty after working with someone less fortunate.

The ability to make visible change in a short period of time, which can be a stark contrast to the academic world.

The ability to complete hands-on learning, which can “significantly inform your academic work” by observing technology, for example, at play among a population.

The ability to explore other areas of interest that are not necessarily related to one’s course of study but are also compelling. 

In addition to the reasons listed above, volunteering is excellent because it provides an opportunity for students to cultivate new relationships with both fellow volunteers and those who are being served.  Here at Penn and GSE, there are many opportunities for students to help impact the lives of those in the surrounding area. The Netter Center, for example, leads a variety of initiatives geared toward the West Philadelphia community and beyond. For information on additional volunteer opportunities in Philadelphia—pertaining to education, sustainability, and more—consult this website.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Responding to Verbal Abuse in Academia

Verbal abuse in academia is inevitable, but there are many ways to deal with the issue, Cornell University professor Robert Sternberg writes in a Chronicle piece. Sternberg outlines many methods to manage the abuse without doling it out in return.

Sternberg himself was a victim of verbal abuse that was “attempting to be both professionally devastating and personally demeaning,” he writes. He now believes, “Of greatest concern here is not what you say to the abuser, but rather with what you tell yourself.” We take a look at his tips for those in academia. 

Sometimes, abuse comes from a difficult individual who is known for behaving this way toward many people, and “[t]he way they act speaks poorly of them, not of you,” Sternberg explains. He also advocates for ignoring an abusive individual if possible or to “at least ignore the abusive words or the tone in which they were spoken.” 

You can also choose to “throw an abuser seriously off guard by reacting to a rant with kindness rather than aggression,” Sternberg says. Seems like that old “kill them with kindness” strategy is actually recommended!

Remember what teachers and professors have always told you about respectfully disagreeing with a classmate’s ideas rather than criticizing the actual student? Sternberg draws on this concept and points out that sometimes, criticism he receives is “directed not at me as a person but at me as a proponent of ideas with which they disagree.” However, because we’re looking at cases in which a tone is less than polite, respectful disagreements may be less common. Sternberg states, “Listen to what is said; ignore the way it is said.” Sifting through negative language in order to find useful criticism can be helpful. 

Every job has its downsides. Sternberg says that when it comes to criticism, “[i]t’s like paying a tax for the privilege of being an academic” as well as “a sign you are being creative and doing your job right.” 

Facing criticism from a particular individual is also a way to determine “where the abuser stands rather than thinking he or she is your pal,” which can be beneficial in the long run, Sternberg says.
Finally, academics should make sure that they, too, are abstaining from the same behavior that is bothering them and can even take a case of criticism as an opportunity to teach a colleague how to better address such an issue. 

Students, professors, and everyone else—how have you responded to verbal abuse in your academic career? Which of Sternberg’s tips do you believe is most effective?