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Message to Graduate Students: The Way You Practice Is the Way You Will Play

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

Message Number: 
1710

So, even while practicing, people need to behave as if they were performing in the real thing. I see a parallel between this advice from my music teachers and the advice I give to first-year graduate students with respect to how they should begin developing good habits. I came up with a list of five professional habits that students should work on cultivating and what they can do in graduate school to “practice” how they will eventually “play.”

Folks:

The posting below looks at five preparation habits that graduate students should develop in preparing for their postgraduate careers. It is by Howard E. Aldrich, Department of Sociology,University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is from the National Teaching and Learning Forum, Volume 28, Number 2, February 2019It is from a series of selected excerpts from the NT&LF reproduced here as part of our "Shared Mission Partnership." NT&LF has a wealth of information on all aspects of teaching and learning. If you are not already a subscriber, you can check it out at [http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1002/(ISSN)2166-3327 ] The on-line edition of the Forum - like the printed version - offers subscribers insight from colleagues eager to share new ways of helping students reach the highest levels of learning. ©2017 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Published by Wiley Subscription Services Inc., a Wiley Company. Reprinted with permission.

Regards,

 

Rick Reis

reis@stanford.edu

UP NEXT: Learning Theories and Theorists
 

Tomorrow’s Academic Careers

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Message to Graduate Students: The Way You Practice Is the Way You Will Play

The rehearsal for our upcoming band concert was not going well. Mr. Lehman tapped his baton on the music stand to get our attention and glanced over at Jay, our principal cornet player. Jay didn’t notice, as he was poking his stand- mate in the ribs and whispering to somebody in the next row. Mr. Lehman asked, “Jay, how would you like to play solo?” Surprised by this unexpected request, Jay smiled, puffed himself up, and prepared to answer. But then Mr. Lehman went on, “‘So low’ we can’t hear you!” Deflated, Jay slumped back in his seat, but the message was not lost on the rest of us: Clowning around during the rehearsal was not going to be tolerated, as our conductor was expecting us to treat this practice as if it were the real thing, rather than taking a measure off and ignoring what the rest of the band was doing. As Mr. Lehman explained to us, sloughing off in practice, rather than playing to the best of our abilities, could carry over into the actual concert. As far as he was concerned, the way we practiced would be the way we played.

Habits, Norms, and Goals

That lesson from my high school clarinet-playing days has stayed with me, reinforced by observations across many life domains. When “showtime” arrives, when decisions must be made quickly, people tend to fall back on old habits. If those old habits were built and reinforced by sloppy practicing, then people will be sloppy when situations demand they put forth their best efforts. So, even while practicing, people need to behave as if they were performing in the real thing. I see a parallel between this advice from my music teachers and the advice I give to first-year graduate students with respect to how they should begin developing good habits. I came up with a list of five professional habits that students should work on cultivating and what they can do in graduate school to “practice” how they will eventually “play.”

Five Habits

Be Greedy

First, professionals take every opportunity to learn more about their field. They go to all open seminars and workshops offered by the department. Professionals don’t just “attend” conferences; they participate in them: at professional meetings, spending your time in coffee shops, sightseeing, and going to clubs will do nothing for your professional development—go to sessions! Don’t think of yourself as only a consumer of research, but rather as someone who’s becoming a member of a research community.

Speak Up

Second, professionals can articulate a point of view and back it up with evidence derived from expertise, a skill you will need when teaching, as well as when you’re trying to make yourself heard at conference sessions: speak up in class—don’t just speak when called upon, but rather volunteer to speak; pay attention to what others are saying so that you learn to maintain continuity in the conversation. Someday, you will be in a position as an instructor where you are responsible for not only initiating conversations, but also making sure that others are meaningfully engaged. You can’t do that if you’ve never learned to pay attention and do your part to support the collective effort.

Start Something (or Volunteer)

Third, professionals take initiatives to organize their environments to their advantage. Start discussion groups outside of what is required by your instructors. Volunteer to serve on the colloquium committee or to run the social media operations of your department. The latest information technologies make it easy to create and manage virtual discussion groups, and you may be able to use your position to invite guest speakers whose work you are reading in class.

Network (Across the Aisle)

Fourth, professionals establish relationships with others who have complementary

skills and not just with those with whom they share overlapping interests. Befriend not only the junior faculty, but also some senior faculty with research interests different from yours.

Live Up to It

Fifth, professionals take their work seriously even when they are not the person in charge. If you are a teaching assistant, be a good teaching assistant—someday you will be responsible for organizing your own course and you would like to have TAs who work as hard as you do.

Begin establishing good habits from the moment you enter graduate school. You can do this by taking advantage of the many opportunities offered to you to begin acting “as if” you had already earned your Ph.D. As Chambliss (1989) pointed out in his analysis of competitive swimming, excellence is accomplished through mundane actions, ordinary in themselves, performed consistently, made into habits, and accumulated over time. Practice the habits that will stand you in good stead throughout your career. Participate, connect, and, like Luciano Pavarotti at La Scala, commit yourself to never missing a beat.

Contact:Howard E. Aldrich at Howard_ Aldrich@unc.edu

 

REFERENCE

Chambliss, D. F. 1989. “The mundanity of excellence: An ethnographic report on stratification and Olympic swimmers.” Sociological Theory, 7, 70–86.