Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Little Bee

I confess, I’ve never been much of a reader. But I’ve been reading for pleasure a lot more lately, and I actually really like it. It gives me a nice break from school-related reading, yet I don’t feel guilty about it because I know it’s good to read as much as possible.

On Sunday evening I finished “Little Bee,” by Chris Cleaves. Cleaves requests that readers don’t disclose too much of the plot, but it’s about a Nigerian girl – Little Bee – and a British woman – Sarah O’Rourke – who meet on one fateful day – a day that forever changes both of their lives.

The novel alternates between the two women’s points of view – both of which are relatable and well developed. Usually when I read novels with multiple points of view I side with one of them, but in this case I found myself identifying with both women. I was just as excited to hear from Little Bee as I was to hear from Sarah, and the multiple voices added to the suspense and foreshadowing.

It took me just one week to read “Little Bee,” which is impressive for a graduate student with three jobs and two hours of commuting daily. And it wasn’t an easy read, either. It was the type of reading that must be done in a quiet room with little distractions. I even had to read some of it out loud. The language is rich and descriptive, and just really beautiful. I did need to have a dictionary close by, though.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a big fan of fiction, but “Little Bee” is different because it’s based on the World that we actually live in. The plot is based on real events and people – real third world countries, real detention centers, real oil companies and real refugees. The scenes of “Little Bees” depict things that really happen, and it’s heartbreaking. Although it’s fiction, it shows a world that exists so far away from here.

There are scenes in the book that I could in no way relate to, but I could always relate to Little Bee. That’s what makes it so compelling. “Little Bee” sheds a lot of light into the human experience, and how different, yet the same we all are. On one level, the novel made me so appreciative of the life I’ve been given, and all the freedoms, luxuries, and safety that come with it. But it also showed that we can’t escape pain and hardship and being human, no matter what world we’re from.

All-in-all, I highly suggest reading “Little Bee.”

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Just some clutter to add to the clutter

Lately whenever I’m on my computer, I feel so overwhelmed by information it’s unbearable. There’s just so much out there to see and read that it’s defeating. My brain literally experiences content overload, and I find myself wasting time reading about the most trivial things that have no significance to my life. Yet when I tell myself I won’t go near Huffington Post or Wikipedia, I feel almost guilty. It’s like there’s information out there to be known, and I’m not taking the time to know it. But when it comes down to it, in the big scheme of things, does it even make a difference?

Trivia certainly has its place in my world. Random facts and stories help to make a well-rounded person, and they can serve as great conversation starters. But how much information is too much? While some of this knowledge is useful, a lot of it just feels like clutter. And when it becomes clutter, it’s difficult to distinguish what’s worth caring about, and what isn’t.

I think that’s kind of a common theme for a lot of us. The Internet and the abundance of information it offers has desensitized us to the point that we can’t figure out what is worth a second glance and what isn’t. This is especially true with the sad stories and tales of misfortune – which make up the majority of headlines.

After spending some time browsing the Web I’m often left feeling like there’s no point in even attempting to make this world a better place. There’s just so much wrong with it. And when that happens, people throw in the towel. There’s a very fine line between caring too much and not caring at all. Nothing stirs our emotions anymore.

Once upon a time there was this thing called a print newspaper, which had a limited amount of space. It was the job of journalists to navigate that space and to decide what was critical for readers to know, and what wasn’t. Responsible citizens of our world could read The Globe or The New York Times front to back and feel like they did their part to become concerned, mindful beings. We could rest easy knowing that we felt empathy for something or someone, if nothing else.

That doesn’t happen any more, and I miss those days. Readers have to maneuver through billions of stories in an honorable attempt to find something worth knowing, worth caring about.

I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is, or why it is, but it’s like the more I know, the less I feel connected. I may need to pull a Thoreau and peace out for a while.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

a small (and scary) step towards independence

I reached an important milestone in my journey to adulthood yesterday: I purchased my first car completely on my own.

After much research and deliberation, I settled on a 2011 Honda CR-V. I’m in love. It’s a great little buggy with 4wd and a sunroof. In a perfect world I would have gotten leather, but I couldn’t justify the extra $2,000. Plus, having to peal my thighs from the seat after a 10-minute test drive wasn’t all that appealing. I’ll take cloth, please.

It was an exciting day, of course. But it was also very stressful. My mom calls it “good stressful.” Maybe when I’m halfway through the payments it will be “good stressful.” For now, it’s just stressful.

The new payments won’t put that much strain on my finances. I live at home rent-free, I have minimal student loans, and I’m pretty responsible with money. Ideally, though, I’ll move out before I’m 30 (if you’re reading this, mom and dad, I can’t promise anything).

And lets be honest, rent is not cheap. The thought of paying rent actually makes me nauseous – mostly because it’s money thrown away. There’s no investment there. At least I’ll own my CR-V some very far away day, so I can justify the $400 monthly payment. But I also can’t justify an hour-each-way commute. I do it now and it’s hell. So if I end up working in Boston, I won’t have much of an option when it comes to renting.

Anyways, it’s not so much the new car payment that stresses me out, but the thought of having a car payment on top of rent and whatever other bills come my way in the next 5 years. I’ve come to accept that I probably won’t be making the big bucks as a journalist, so $1500 (give or take) a month on living and transportation alone is kind of a lot.

How do people do it AND save? It seems impossible. And I don’t buy that it has anything to do with my generation and our poor work ethic and/or obsession with materialistic things. The cost of living and education has grown dramatically while wages have stayed relatively the same.

Think about it.

A $400 car payment for a very modest vehicle (I’m not driving a BMW people) is a lot for someone who makes approximately $500 a week. That’s basically a quarter of my income. Imagine is if I had $400 in student loans and $800 in rent to pay on top of that each month? I’d be left with $400 for food, gas, other necessities and fun.

Maybe I will be at home till I’m 30, at least.

Friday, August 12, 2011

One Unsolicited Lesson for The Job Search

The job search has been on my mind a lot lately as summer quickly comes to a close. The thought of finding a real, full-time job does elicit a sense of anticipation and excitement from time to time, but more than often it causes pure anxiety. Where to even begin?

I undoubtedly have the experience, and I think I've built a nice little network along the way through my internships and graduate studies. But I always have a lingering concern that I could be doing more. So my worrywart self naturally had the job hunt on the brain once again today.

I was browsing through the Letters to the Editor on Boston.com, and I stumbled across one from a Brandeis graduate titled “It was just one unsolicited email, and she read it.” The author explained that during his first year in law school he sent Myra Kraft an email seeking advice for breaking into the business of sports and entertainment law. Some time later the student received an e-mail from a senior attorney working for the Krafts regarding their office and legal internship program. Not only had Kraft read the email, but she had taken the time to help the young man out as well.

The author’s story perfectly exemplified the type of woman Myra Kraft was: genuinely kind and thoughtful. He wrote to illustrate just that, and he did so successfully.

But the letter did more than that for me. It showed the importance of having a go-getter attitude. The author was pleasantly surprised when he received a response. He obviously wasn't expecting one. But he sent the email anyway; what was there to lose? Nothing. Just a whole lot to gain, and he got lucky.

Good for him. Closed mouths don’t get fed.

Moral of the story: Be kind, but also take risks when it comes to looking for work, regardless of how far-fetched it may seem. Got it.

Friday, July 22, 2011

"From here on out, I'm only interested in what is real. Real people, real feelings, that's it, that's all I'm interested in."

When I tell people that I’m a writer, I quite often get the question, “Do you want to write a book?”

I then respond with, “No,” and that’s that.

Except with one friend in particular. “No” just doesn’t sit well with him, and he always comes back with “Why?” He simply can’t accept that I don’t have any desire to write a book.

So the usual “you should write a book” topic came up once again in one of our recent conversations.

After I reiterated the reasons why writing a book isn’t on my list of things to do, he concluded, “Well, you should help me write a screenplay then.”

“If it’s a screenplay based on a true story, then maybe,” I answered. “I don’t do fiction.”

Of course he can’t accept that either, and pulls out the usual “Why?”

In this instance, though, I wasn’t so prepared to explain. I thought about giving him the ole’ “Just because,” but I wanted to nip this conversation in the bud before it turned into a weekly routine.

So I thought about it, and this is what I came up with.

For one thing, I don’t have a very creative imagination. I’m not sure why; I just don’t. I’m simply not good at making up stories. Even ask my mother; I’ve tried to sell her a fabrication a time or two. They didn’t work. I think it’s partly due to the fact that I denounced my imagination a long time ago, thus stunting its growth.

But I don’t write fiction primarily because I don’t believe there’s a need for it. There are so many amazing and true stories to be told, why waste time making ones up?

Writing fiction almost feels wrong to me. It’s almost like I’m not taking full advantage of this magnificent world in front of me that I know so little about. I don’t want to miss out on anything that’s real.

Folktales were originally told to teach people the difference between right and wrong. For children, that makes sense. It allows us to simplify life into little tales that neatly conclude with a lesson. I can still remember the stories my Nana used to tell me conveying the importance of kindness, honesty and hard work – like the one about the little boy who was rewarded with a puppy because he did extra chores.

But what about adults? I feel like I'm morally responsible to learn as much as possible about our universe because I can. With technology at our fingertips, there’s no accuse not to. I don't need make believe things and people to convey good and evil. They already exist.

And the thing that confuses me the most is that the majority of fiction is based on reality. Unless you’re writing about vampires and werewolves, you’re writing about the human experience, which is a real thing. So why not just convey the human experience through real people?

Every person has a story, and every person deserves to have their story be told. Real people deserve our compassion, and that's why I write about them.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Any happiness you get you've got to make yourself

I stumbled across this article from actor and comedian Ricky Gervais today in the Huffington Post, and I thought it was an interesting follow up to my previous post.

Reflecting on the past 30 years, Gervais admits that he has “chilled out” about some things. But at the same time, he’s still very angry, and he notes that if the day ever comes when he isn’t, there’s a problem.

Gervais says,

I don't know what happiness is but it's definitely NOT just going with the flow. Going with the flow, for Christ sake? Don't ever go with the flow. Stop the flow, go against the flow, start the flow, but don't under any circumstance just go with the flow.

For Gervais, not going with the flow means saying what he feels and believes in, whether it ruffles a few feathers or not. And while Rubin – author of "The Happiness Project" – isn’t quite as angry and opinionated, she expresses a similar desire to do more than go with the flow. She writes,

One April day, on a morning just like every other morning, I had a sudden realization: I was in danger of wasting my life. As I stared out the rain-spattered window of a city bus, I saw that the years were slipping by. 'What do I want from life anyway?' I asked myself. 'Well…I want to be happy.' But I had never thought about what made me happy or how I might be happier.

Rubin's plan of action is much different than Gervais', but both can agree that happiness isn't about being content with what is. It's about stepping beyond the boundaries and enduring difficulty to achieve something better, whatever that may be. And although it may be uncomfortable in the moment, the satisfaction of accomplishing something, of not going with the flow, will bring you happiness. I don't want to give Miley Cyrus too much credit, but she was right on when she said it’s all about the climb.

I’ll leave you with one of my all-time favorite quotes, which comes from author and poet Alice Walker: “Don't wait around for other people to be happy for you. Any happiness you get you've got to make yourself.”

And checkout Gervais' article. Do it!

Friday, July 8, 2011

If you're happy and you know it...

It’s amazing how much you can discover about yourself by reading about someone else’s discovery of him or her self. I recently started reading “The Happiness Project,” a reflective account of Gretchen Rubin’s yearlong journey to becoming a generally happier person.

What’s interesting about Rubin’s self-improvement project is that she isn’t an unhappy person to begin with. She makes a point to stress that she is actually quite content with her life when she comes up with the idea. But she acknowledges that she could be happier – if not at least more appreciative of her good fortune – by making some small, yet positive changes. As Rubin puts it, “the days are long, but the years are short,” and life is too short to not make the absolute most of it.

So, for each month of the year Rubin picks a different aspect of her life to focus on improving, such as marriage, parenting and work.

From the first page, I knew I’d learn a thing or two from Rubin. Though we don’t have much in common circumstantially, Rubin and I have strikingly similar personalities. We both tend to nag our significant others, blow small incidences out of proportion, and desire – or even expect – praise for the good we do.

One chapter I found particularly motivating was “March: Aim Higher,” in which Rubin focuses on work, and becoming more efficient and open to a challenge. Like myself, Rubin tends to second-guess herself and her ability, and in effect, she ‘s hesitant to take on a challenge. So, she decides to start a blog – which she ultimately gets much satisfaction from – but I could relate to her reluctance. She writes,

“Pushing myself, I know, would cause me serious discomfort. It’s a Secret of Adulthood: Happiness doesn’t always make you feel happy. When I thought about why I was sometimes reluctant to push myself, I realized that it was because I was afraid of failure – but in order to have more success, I needed to be willing to accept more failure.”

I found that a really interesting and true statement: happiness doesn’t always make you feel happy. I think people forget that sometimes, including myself. Those who are lucky enough to say they love their jobs often don’t feel any less challenged, or even less overwhelmed, than the rest of us. But in the big scheme of things, the satisfaction that they receive at the end of the day translates to happiness.

So as I make my way into my final semester of grad school, and then the real world, I’ll try to keep that in mind. Being happy doesn’t necessarily create happiness. Defying the limitation I tend to place on myself, learning from failure and ultimately succeeding creates it. And while it may not be easy or comfortable, I think that kind of satisfaction is what makes a life worth living.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

To Facebook, or not to Facebook...

I’m caught in a dilemma over Facebook. I’ve been working on my portfolio – JSTrufant.com – a lot lately, and thus have been considering my professional image. I know the prevalence of social media will play into my image, and I recognize the potential danger in having a Facebook – especially when a whole slew of friends, family, classmates, coworkers, and acquaintances have the ability to view and/or post anything they want.

I mean, it’s not like I’m posting vulgar statuses or photos of myself doing keg stands. Since college, I’ve become very conscious and aware of what things I share through Facebook. But it’s still awkward, especially with coworkers. There’s a certain way you present yourself at work, and I feel that there’s boundaries that aren’t supposed to be crossed. For example, do I really want someone from work to see pictures of me in a bikini on vacation? I think things like that have an overall negative effect on one’s professional persona, especially for women.

Plus, with the competitiveness of the job market, why risk a bad impression? Everyone’s different, and everyone has his or her own preferences, pet peeves, and so on. Even a friend posting a slightly distasteful joke on your wall can rub someone the wrong way, enough that he or she chooses not to hire you.

There’s ways around it, I know I know. You can always just not accept friend requests from coworkers. But that’s even more awkward, and it kind of suggests that you’re hiding something. There are also privacy settings that make it nearly impossible for someone to find you on the Book. But then, really, what’s the point if no one can find you? There are those lists that make it possible to hide certain information from specific groups of people. Really though, who has time for that?

You can always have two facebooks, too. One for personal reasons, and one for professional reasons. Or you could just not have Facebook all together.

But I will say that the Book has some value in the work place, for certain fields at least. I mentioned before that I’ve gotten in touch with people for stories through Facebook when all else failed. The person was on vacation (he actually was on the chairlift that fell at Sugarloaf, and was still there skiing) and there was no way for me to get his cell phone number. But with smart phones, most everyone who has a Facebook has access to it through the Facebook app. So I went ahead and looked the guy up on Facebook, and sent him a message. A few hours later I had the interview.

Thoughts?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Optimize This!

With the arrival of summer (my last summer as a student, mind you) I’ve had a lot more free time to work on my portfolio (jstrufant.com ... check it out!) and on my brother’s company’s website (acadialending.com ... check that out, too!).

I’ve already learned so much more about Wordpress and site building, and I have to say that it’s really satisfying. Web design is time consuming, and it requires a ton of patience, but figuring it out - often through trial and error - is a rewarding feeling.

For my brother’s website in particular, I’ve been focusing on marketing/branding and search engine optimization. He hired an IT guy to do the actual site building, and now I’m just beefing it up, maintaining it, and working on it's Google ranking with a blog and good, well-written content.

This isn’t quite as satisfying, seeing that it can take weeks or months to see any change in rank, regardless of how much work you put in. But with my handy “Search Engine Optimization For Dummies” book, I think I’ve made some progress. I’m learning a lot, too, which is cool.

Before now, I’ve never really considered myself to be a tech-savvy person. I grew up with the Web – so I have an advantage in that sense – but I’ve always been a consumer, rather than a producer of online content. In a way, I’ve sold myself short. Maybe it’s because I lack extensive formal training – or I’m just a debbie downer about technology in general – but I figured the Web wasn’t my forte.

The work I’m doing, and this article, have proven that I was wrong. In “Why I will Never, Ever Hire A ‘Social Media Expert,’” Peter Shankman makes a good (somewhat harsh, but good) argument for why anyone can make a successful online business campaign if they have the right skills. And those skills aren’t the ability to tweet or facebook. As Shankman points out, it’s about solid marketing and stellar customer service.

And although I’ve never taken one marketing class (public relations is close enough though, right?) I think I’ve learned an awful lot about it in the professional writing grad program at UMD. As a writer, you’re constantly marketing your ideas. At the heart of writing is rhetoric; Writers use persuasive elements that appeal to their audience in order to get that audience to do something, even if it’s simply to think in a certain way.

When discussing the importance of marketing, Shankman mentions relevance and brevity. I definitely have the relevance thing down; I’ve done enough audience analysis as a writer to understand how relevance plays into marketing. Luckily, I have the brevity thing down too. Shankman says,
You know what the majority of people calling themselves social media experts can’t do, among other things? THEY CAN’T WRITE. The number of “experts” out there who can’t string a simple sentence together astounds me. Guess what -- if we have about three seconds to get our message across to a new customer, you know what’s going to do it? Not Twitter followers. Not Facebook fans. Not Foursquare check-ins – NO. What’s going to do it is GOOD WRITING, END OF STORY. Good writing is brevity, and brevity is marketing. Want to lose me as a customer, forever, guaranteed? Have a grammar error on any form of outward communication.
He couldn't be more correct. I said before that I'm more of a consumer of online content, so I often look to my own preferences/reactions to decide what works and what doesn't. If it isn't relevant, if it isn't well-written, and if it isn't USEFUL, it isn't going to be attractive to me. You can tweet and facebook about your site all you want, but if the content on the site doesn't meet this criteria, I'm not going to visit the site - regardless of how many times you tell me too. And if it really gets bad enough, I'm going to de-friend/unfollow you. SO THERE.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

And there goes another semester of grad school. With summer ahead, you'd think I'd be pumped. I mean, I am, in a way. But it's also kind of depressing. It means that many of my pals are graduating, and I'm next. Transitional phases always depress me, which probably says something about my character.

For some people, "change" has a positive connotation. Heck, Obama built his entire campaign around it. But, I'm not one of those people. I'm typically an optimistic person, but I'm opposed to change. Change means things are different, and I guess I've never had it bad enough to want things to be different. Different is uncomfortable, even scary at times.

But it wasn't always like that, now that I think about it. I actually lived most of my life looking forward to change. As an 8th grader, I could hardly wait for high school. On my 15th birthday, I couldn't believe I had to live through another 365 days until I could get my permit, and then another 6 months on top of that before my license. I wanted to be 18; I wanted even more badly to be 21.

I do not want to be 25. Luckily, I have a solid 11 months to go, yet it shows the sharp shift in thinking that happens at a certain age. We live most of our adolescence wishing to grow up, and once we do, we struggle with it. At this point, any change that occurs (and lately it occurs quite often) simply means I'm that much closer to being a full-blown adult. I just ain't ready!

Will I ever truly be ready? Probably not. But there's no point in fighting it. Someone philosophical once said that the only constant in life is change, and it's so true. Change is inevitable.

That doesn't mean I can't complain about it, though.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

a little philosophy...kinda of...

“Later that day I got to thinking about relationships. There are those that open you up to something new and exotic, those that are old and familiar, those that bring up lots of questions, those that bring you somewhere unexpected, those that bring you far from where you started, and those that bring you back. But the most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself. And if you can find someone to love the you you love, well, that's just fabulous” – Sex and The City.

I, too, got to thinking about relationships today. A close girlfriend of mine has been going through a tough, on again/off again relationship/break up mess for quite some time, and she turned to me for advice. Through our conversation, I think I made some sense of loyalty and relationships, both for her and myself.

Last week I purchased (for my mother, but kind of for myself, as well) “Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue,” by Wall Street Journal columnist Eric Felten. I haven’t started reading yet, but I heard an interview with Felten on the Diane Rehm Show last week where he discussed his book and the role of loyalties in our lives. He pointed out that loyalty is necessary to a life of meaning, yet our loyalties inevitably collide, and we are force to chose what is most important.

I tend to be loyal to a fault, partly due to my stubbornness. I hate giving up on someone or something I believe can be salvaged or fixed. I’ve always been the type to keep only a few people close to me, but if you’re one of those few, I almost certainly will never give up on you.

As I got to thinking about my loyalties, I almost forgot to consider loyalty to myself. But what exactly is being loyal to ones self? Selfishness? It’s so complicated. We often form our perceptions of ourselves based on our relationships and our loyalties to others, like family, friends, work, and religion. So how, then, can we act loyally to ourselves in a way that’s separate from these other loyalties? And should we even strive to? If so much of life’s meaning is based on our relationships with others, then what are the perks of self-loyalty?

There are few loyalties in life that we can count indefinitely without any possible fear of betrayal. For me, those are my parents. I trust my parents in a way that makes being loyal to them the same as being loyal to myself. Still, as an adult, I think I need to determine the difference.

The definition of self-loyalty I settled on is doing what’s best for yourself, and following your own instincts. Maybe this is part of being 24-years-old, but I often find that my instincts change on a daily basis, and my head and heart say two very different things. So then what are you supposed to be loyal to? Your emotions or your reason?

Who really knows, but I think that’s what determines how loyal we are to our relationships. Whether or not the people in our lives enable us to be loyal to ourselves ultimately decides if we can be loyal to them.

I don’t know if any of this makes sense. But, I tried.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

what I meant to say when I said it matters where you go to college...

So, a month or so ago I made a post arguing that it matters where you go to college. A month or so later, this is what it evolved into. I'm rather pleased with the outcome...

I still feel slightly nauseas when I recall standing in front of my Business Communications class for the first time. While the students moseyed in, beads of sweat rolled down my back, and I took long, deep breaths through my nose to keep from keeling over. The time had come for me to teach this college class, and I wondered how my transcript had so wrongly led the university to think I was qualified to do so.

Luckily, several semesters later, I can now stand at the head of my classroom without fearing that I may collapse. But sometimes, when my lesson has failed or I don’t have the answer, I still find myself pondering whether I’m truly fit to instruct a 200-level English course.

As an alumna of a small college, and a current master’s candidate and teaching fellow at a large university, I believe the value of education largely depends on the quality of faculty, and whether or not grad students are teaching classes. In an interview with More Magazine, New York Times writer Claudia Dreifus says there were 181,000 teaching assistants at 280 research universities across the country last year. And while many of those TAs probably did just fine, my undergraduate education compared with that of my students shows me that instructors with doctoral degrees and professional expertise bring something inimitable to the table.

I absolutely agree that like life in general, much of education is what you make of it, and what chances you choose to pursue. If your sole concern is getting the degree, and you’ll work your little butt off regardless of who your instructors are, then it may not really matter.

But I also believe that the typical young adult – who tends to be more easily influenced – is going to need a little shove every once in a while. And what you make of your education is largely decided by your environment – and all of the support and opportunities that come with it. If you’re choosing your college based on the ability of its staff to push you a little bit further, to challenge you to be better, then it may definitely matter.

Allow me to show you where I’m coming from. In 2009 I received my BA in English from Assumption College, a liberal arts school in Worcester, MA, with just over 2,000 students and a very limited graduate school. In the 2010 U.S. News & World Report ratings for universities in the northern region, Assumption College was ranked 36. The student-to-faculty ratio is 12 to 1, and grad students teach none of the classes.

Contrast that to the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, where I’m currently a master’s candidate in the Professional Writing Program and a teaching fellow. Ranked 81 in the northern region, UMD has nearly 10,000 students, a fifth of whom are postgraduates. Over the last few years, the campus has started to expand its 32 graduate programs with intent to qualify as doctoral level for the Carnegie classification. The student-to-faculty ratio at UMD is 18 to 1, and grad students teach a fair number of courses.

Those statistics, though, don’t fully reflect the difference between these two institutions. A student-to-faculty ratio of 12 to 1 – versus 18 to 1 – doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. But let me remind you that I’m a teaching fellow at UMD, with my own 200-level class, and my own 75 students each year.

I do receive a lot of support and guidance from my supervisor and comrades who take our position very seriously. But nonetheless, I’m the instructor. Students had paid tuition to take my course before I even began graduate school. And quite frankly, looking back at my first semester on the job, they probably got jipped.

As an undergrad, I had professors who literally changed my life. With such limited professional and teaching experience, I really don’t believe that I can do that for my students. I go in there, and I give it my all, but I’m not sure that’s enough.

I remember once asking one of the more seasoned teaching fellows what she did when she didn’t know the answer to a student’s question.

“I just make one up,” she frankly responded.

What that tells me is that 12 to 1 is very different than 18 to 1, especially since you could argue that some of those 1’s to the 18’s aren’t even qualified – And that, I believe, makes all the difference in the world.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Yes, it matters where you go to college

While the debate over whether or not it matters where you go to college rages on, I can’t help but participate. I love a good ole case of nature versus nurture – and whether it’s outside forces or innate features that determine one’s fate.


Let me begin by stating that there are valid points from both sides of the argument. There’s the community college drop out now making mils, and there’s the Ivy League athlete straight out of Brooklyn now earning straight A’s thanks to a decent education. There’s always that one instance that defies popular belief.


But as an alumna of a private college, and a current graduate student and teaching fellow at a public university, I’d have to say, yes, it matters where you go to college. Comparing my undergraduate experience to that of my students, as I do on a regular basis, I stand by the fact that at a highly regarded institute, you get what you pay for in terms of reputation, education, and opportunity.


I absolutely agree that like life in general, much of education is what you make of it, and what chances you chose to – and not to – pursue. If your sole concern is getting a good job, and you’ll work your little butt off regardless of where you go to college, then it may not really matter.


But I also believe that the typical young adult – who tends to be more easily influenced – is going to need a little shove every once and a while. And what you make of your education is largely decided by your environment – and all of the support, distractions, and opportunities that come with that territory. If you’re choosing your college based on the ability of its staff and overall atmosphere to push you a little bit further, to challenge you to step out of your comfort zone and be better, then it may definitely matter.


Allow me to show you where I’m coming from. I received my BA from Assumption College in Worcester, MA. In the 2010 U.S. News ratings for universities in the northern region, Assumption College was ranked 36. The 4-year graduation rate at Assumption is 64 percent, its student-faculty ratio is 12 to 1, and 47.5 percent of its classes have fewer than 20 students.


On the other hand, I’m currently a Master’s candidate and a teaching fellow at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. UMass Dartmouth, ranked 81, has a 4-year graduation rate of 32 percent, a student-faculty ratio of 18 to 1, and 31.7 percent of its classes have fewer than 20 students.


Those statistics, though, don’t really give the difference between these two institutions justice. A student-faculty ratio of 12 to 1 versus 18 to 1 doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. But let me remind you that I’m a teaching fellow at UMD, with my own 200-level class, and my own 75 students each academic year.


Yes, I receive a lot of support and guidance from my supervisor and comrades who take our position very seriously – but none-the-less, I’m the instructor. Students had paid tuition to take my course before I had even begun my first day of graduate school. And quite frankly, looking back at my first semester on the job, they probably got jipped.


The only different between my senior students and I was that they were a few months away from the degree I already had – except from a better institution. Even still, at the end of my first semester, I received an evaluation that said, “She cared more than any real professor I’ve ever had during my 3 years at UMass.”


So what that tells me is that 12 to 1 versus 18 to 1 is a very big difference, especially since you could argue that some of those 1’s to the 18’s aren’t even qualified – And that, I believe, makes all the difference in the world.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Week Two: January 3 – January 7.

The more time I spend in the newsroom, the more I realize that the relationship between journalists and the communities and people that they cover is extremely complicated. The public has a wide range of expectations for journalists, making the needs of this rhetorical audience difficult to identify and please.

There are even discrepancies in what should and shouldn’t fall under the broad category of news, for instance. As a journalist, though, that’s something you have to decide on every day, since there’s only so much room in the paper; And in a diverse city like Lynn that has a lot of crime, that can be difficult. In effect, journalists end up taking a lot of blame and criticism from unsatisfied people who are unhappy with their city.

On New Year’s Day, for example, the front-page story, “Lynn starts off new year with mayhem; Shooting, stabbing mar holiday,” detailed how a woman was struck by a stray bullet on January 1st, and in an unrelated incidence the same day, an 18-year-old man was stabbed.

On the online version of the story, a reader commented, “Always good to have such positive front page coverage with this ‘news paper’”.

Situations like this leave us journalists with a difficult question to answer: Is it our job to offer up-beat stories that will made our audience feel good, or is it to give them what we consider to be the most important news? Of course it’s a shame when the first front-page story of the year has to be so pessimistic, but journalists just report the news, they don’t create it.

As a result, journalists need to be thick-skinned. I tend to take everything to heart, but in this industry you simply can’t allow that to happen. Yes, the opinions of readers definitely matter, but they don’t all matter. You may think a story is really great, or really important, or whatever, but there’s always going to be someone who isn’t happy with it.

Long story short: Do your best, make good judgment, and shrug off the haters.