Midterm studying advice I could have used a week ago

For many, midterms have already passed by, but if you are as unlucky as I, then maybe you have one more just around the corner. Whether this be a midterm you are taking or one you are grading, the advice in this blog post should be universal. However, if you are lucky enough to be past midterms already, maybe these recommendations will live on in your brain until finals roll around! So while it probably would have been helpful for me to know much of this last week, maybe my Algorithms exam will go swimmingly now that I’m imbued by the great advice that follows.

Breaks are better than breakdowns

I know you’ve likely heard this one, since the Pomodoro time management system has been recommended to me by everyone from my doctor to my mother, but for the uninitiated, the Pomodoro technique is centered around the idea of breaking your workday into 25 minute chunks, with five minute breaks in between (plus a 20 minute break after every fourth chunk). Now, while 25 minute chunks don’t necessarily work for me (I prefer 40 minutes), the science behind it is very clear. According to Loren Frank, a professor at the Center for Integrative Neuroscience at the University of California, San Francisco, “to learn something well, you need to study it for a while and then take a break.” Your brain needs time to process the information that you feed it, and while the amount of break time necessary might vary based on the content you are learning, you can take solace in the fact that choosing to get up and take a walk through the woods in search of turtles is actually helping you to retain information better!

You’ve got to mix it to get the biscuit

Many times, the best way to study is by mixing it up! Varying the types of learning you engage in–such as reviewing definitions and theorems, doing practice problems, or vocalizing explanations to others–is proven to be a much more effective method of studying than spending hours and hours on one method. Even when doing practice problems, research shows that mixing up the types of problems teaches students to recognize a problem type and respond accordingly, rather than performing a rote skill that they’ve memorized. This also much more closely mirrors an exam situation, where the questions will likely be mixed as well! Integration is a great example of a place where mixing it up can pay off. Just doing integration by parts over and over might make you great at it, but it might not make you great at recognizing when to use it. Identifying the best method for solving a problem takes some practice, and much of that practice comes from challenging yourself to do exactly that.

S P R E A D  I T  O U T

Try spreading the material and study time out over several days. Dating as far back as 1964, German researcher Hermann Ebbinghaus discovered that spreading out the information you wish to learn, and doing a little every day, helps you to retain the information much better than learning it all at once. This is because the best way to remember something is to learn it, then forget it, and then learn it again. If your brain has to revisit topics multiple times, then it is spending more time on the process of solidifying that specific information. The more time you spend and the more deeply you have to think to ingrain information, the more likely you are to remember it. This is good! It means if something is hard to learn, then it is also hard to forget.

Set boundaries outside of the unit disk

When we think about setting boundaries, we often think of other people, but I have found that in graduate school there is great benefit in setting boundaries for yourself. A popular example of this is choosing a day of the week on which you will not do any work. The boundaries are for when you say to yourself “why don’t I just finish grading this stuff instead of going to the movie I had planned on?” No! Fight that urge! Rather, commit to giving yourself purposeful breaks that happen even when you’re not strung out and forced into stopping. Planning times during the week to separate yourself from your work helps to implement the earlier advice of taking breaks and spreading it out. Those things are impossible to do if you never have a night off!

Eat, sleep, and exercise (your mom will thank you)

The World Health Organization has officially defined burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Many are now calling it a public health epidemic that is “sweeping the nation.” So what is recommended to combat burnout? A balanced diet, a healthy sleep schedule, and exercise. In other words–self care. Drinking coffee instead of eating lunch is not doing you any favors, though it may feel like it when the day is dwindling. Just remember, you are playing the long game, and the name of that game is sustainability. If your choices aren’t healthy, burnout might be around that corner.

Like Elsa, learn to Let It Go

If no one has told you this already, let me be the first: you cannot accomplish everything perfectly. A quote popularly attributed to G.K. Chesterton, reminds us that “if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” Now, it turns out he didn’t really mean it the way most of us interpret it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good advice! Sometimes the best thing you can do for your learning (and sanity) is to turn in what you know and be done with it. At a certain point, finished is better than perfect, and that point comes when the value of letting yourself stop surpasses the value of the assignment. (For me that point is usually near 9pm when the words begin floating around on the page.) Whenever this time comes for you, I heartily recommend: do what you can, turn it in, and move on.

Final Thoughts

All of this advice is meant to be taken with a grain of salt. If there is something I’ve said that doesn’t work for you, don’t worry! Study habits you enjoy might not work for me either. You may also want to try different variations on these tips–like adjusting the timing on the Pomodoro technique to better fit your habits. Consider reading this post a thought experiment meant to get you thinking about your study habits and the healthiness of them. There is no one solution that works for everyone, so if I’ve missed a tip that works well for you, be sure to leave it in a comment. I know that I, at the very least, am always looking for some good advice!

Posted in Academic Skills, Advice, Grad School, Grad student life, Starting Grad Schol, Teaching | Leave a comment

The best advice I never follow

I’ve received a lot of advice over the years, some good, some bad. Parents, professors, Uber drivers – it seems like everyone has something to offer. The best advice I’ve ever received came from a professor on the first day of my undergraduate Galois theory course. Instead of starting the class talking about the syllabus or jumping right into lecture, she first gave us an important bit of advice:

Don’t be afraid to ask silly questions.

Never before had anyone explicitly told me that it was okay to ask “dumb” or “obvious” questions, and truthfully the advice was revelatory for me. The problem, however, is that I rarely follow this advice. I’m an anxious person, and for some reason I have this notion in my head that if I ask a silly or dumb question, I’m irreparably sullying my reputation. Of course, this isn’t true – nobody’s keeping score. I’m just a graduate student trying to learn as much as possible before I’m set loose onto the world, and it’s in my best interest to ask these sorts of “silly” questions, because often these questions aren’t silly at all.

Reflecting further, I think we could expand on my professor’s advice a bit:

Don’t be afraid to look silly.

Graduate school is hard. Taking classes is hard. Doing research is hard. Making sure you pick the right advisor and trying to find some semblance of work-life balance – it’s all hard. But there’s one difficulty I encounter on a daily basis that I never took into consideration prior to starting graduate school: I’m always afraid of looking silly, of embarrassing myself. Maybe I ask a question during a talk that has an “obvious” answer, or maybe I’m the one giving a talk and I make a big error that everyone catches before I do, or maybe a student asks me a question in office hours and I have no idea how to answer them. But what good is advice if you don’t follow it? So I guess I’m dedicating this year to getting over my fear of looking like a fool. Perhaps I’ll set up that logic seminar I’ve been wanting to organize but haven’t out of nervousness, or perhaps I’ll give a talk outside my department for the first time in my academic career. If there are things in graduate school you haven’t done because you’re afraid of embarrassing yourself or looking dumb, maybe it’s time to reconsider – after all, no one’s keeping score.

Posted in Advice, Grad student life, Starting Grad Schol | Leave a comment

4 Tips for Statistical Consulting – Learn from my Mistakes

 

I decided to perform my first independent statistical consulting project. What is statistical consulting? Statistical consulting is engaging with a client to provide statistical advice and/or services. This client found me through a recommendation from a professor. The client was an Ed.D. student completing their dissertation. I assumed the project would be quick and easy, but I was wrong. I made mistakes that made this task more tedious for me. The following are four tips that I wish I could go back and tell myself before I took on this project:

1. Know your worth

I experienced statistical consulting for companies and graduate students before, but this was my first time independently servicing a client. Additionally, I assumed this project would not be much work. This led me to accept a financial offer for my services that was less than I would have preferred. Never—and I mean never—settle for a price that does not leave you completely satisfied. It is not worth it! You’ll be kicking yourself while you are underpaid and overworked.

Guide to Pricing as a Statistical ConsultantHow do we develop our prices as a statistical consultant?

If I asked you to give me a quote for your services, chances are you would charge less than you should. Statistical work is valuable, so price your services accordingly. Salaried statistical consultants (with bachelor’s degrees or higher) are paid around $125,000 in the United States. You should treat this as a baseline for your prices. This means If you are using an hourly model for pricing, you should charge no less than \$60 an hour. You can increase your price if you have a master’s degree or experience. Use this hourly rate to determine the price of your services on a project-by-project basis. If a project will take you an estimated 10 hours to complete, you should charge \$650 (at \$65 an hour). Alternatively, you can use a package model to determine your price. For example, you can have a data visualization package where you provide four figures or tables for a client. Let’s say it takes a maximum of 8 hours for you to clean a dataset and prepare four figures or tables. Then the price for the package would be \$480 (at \$60 an hour). This gives you pricing packages where the client can select what works for them. Either way of pricing your service is great just make sure you know your worth before you set prices with a client.

 

2. Ask questions, then ask more questions

Before agreeing to the project with my client, we had an initial meeting to talk about the project and whether I was interested. I made the mistake of not asking enough questions which caused some issues after the fact. Always strive to understand the project, timeline, and the client’s expectations.

What questions should you be asking?

Asking the right questions can save you time and make sure you are both are on the same page. The key to asking good questions is to never assume anything! You want to know about the project background, timeline, and the statistical analysis they want you to perform. Your client probably will not have a strong statistics background, so don’t be afraid to question their statistical methods and how it relates to their research question. Determine if they have collected data, ask them about the attributes of their dataset (sample size is important). Outside of the research project details, make sure you are clear on what materials they want you to provide and how they want those materials to look. If at any point in the project you need clarification, ask the client as soon as possible.

3. Establish firm boundaries

When working on the statistical consulting project my previous mistakes came to home to roost. Due to data collection delays, the project was postponed until the start of a new semester. I was not paid for the extra work that I complete. I redesigned the method and redid the statistical analysis because of an error by the client. For weeks, the client was contacting me day and night to ask questions about my work after I completed the project. These factors caused me to struggle to get my assignments in on time. These issues could have been avoided by setting clear boundaries from the start.

How to determine your boundaries as a statistical consultant?

Talk to the client about your boundaries before you agree to work with them. When will you be available to be contacted? Do you prefer email or phone contact? If they ask you to do more work than previously agreed upon, refuse or request a payment increase. Be honest with yourself about how long a project will take and overestimate this time for the client. If you struggle with this, it may help to double the amount of time you estimate. Whatever your boundaries may be, make sure you enforce them. Don’t be afraid to tell a client no or terminate the relationship if necessary.

4. Create a client agreement

I did not have my client sign an agreement because I thought it was a small project, and it would be no big deal. This was not a good idea. For example, I had to redesign their statistical methods halfway through the project. I did not sign up for that, but the client in their mind believed it was only natural for me to do without a pay increase. A written agreement can help alleviate misunderstanding and give you a legally binding document to rely on if things go wrong.

Categories for a client agreement

What should you include in a client agreement?

There are certain things you should include in a client agreement. These items may change depending on you as a consultant and the type of client. In your consulting commitment section, you should include an explanation of the role of a statistical consultant and expectations for a client. This is a great place to state your boundaries. In the services section, you can describe what specific services you will provide for the client. You may want to think about the number of meetings, and revisions to your work as well. The terms section consists of the timeline and a termination date for the project. Information on payment and your refund policy can be found in the compensation section. The confidentiality section provides the client with a clear idea of your level of confidentiality. After preparing your client agreement, send it and have them sign. Keep this document in a safe place. If you have any issues with your client breaking the agreement, you can use the document as a reminder for your client. Worst come to worst, you have a legal document in the unlikely event that legal action is required.

Final Thoughts

I highly recommend giving statistical consulting a chance if you are interested. It can be rewarding if you are mindful of the potential pitfalls. Although I struggled with my first independent statistical consulting project—due to a lack of knowing my worth, asking questions, firm boundaries, and a client agreement— I learned a lot and have grown as a statistician and a person. Statistical consulting, as a Ph.D. student, can offer some financial flexibility, experience for a future career, and teach you how to find and manage clients.

 

Are you interested in becoming or are you a statistical consultant? What are some of the mistakes that you’ve made?

Share your experiences in the comments below!

Posted in Advice, Grad student life, Statistics | 2 Comments

Formatting your CV in LaTeX

Academics in all stages need a CV, from prospective graduate students to postdocs, to faculty applying for promotion. As you gain experience, change roles, and apply for new positions or grants, your CV should change to reflect this. In this post I’ll share my thoughts on how best to format your CV in LaTeX so that it does its job while requiring minimal effort to update and maintain. I’ll also share my own LaTeX CV template for you to use — or modify to make your own!

What’s in a CV

The main point of this post is to discuss how to TeX up and maintain a CV you already have, but if you’re starting from scratch, the goal of the CV is to communicate your academic credentials and professional history. A good place to begin is by looking at CVs of other people, perhaps starting with your advisor(s), other faculty members you know, and other graduate students. Ask lots of people what they think is important in a CV, then take the average of the advice you receive — they might even share their own templates! Advice on this topic is abundant online too; see for example this past blog post.

For a current graduate student applying for grants or research postdocs, it should probably contain at minimum:

  • Educational history (undergraduate, but not high school),
  • List of publications and preprints,
  • List of invited and contributed talks,
  • Teaching experience, and
  • Relevant organizational experience, outreach, and awards.

Generally, things are listed in order of importance, with the most important items at the top and the less important ones coming later (and irrelevant things don’t show up!). Of course, importance is relative to your priorities and those of the job you’re applying for. Most graduate student CVs I’ve seen roughly follow the order above, but with prestigious awards and grants listed earlier, if present. The story is somewhat different for undergraduates applying to graduate school; in that case, I’d choose to list relevant coursework and any research experiences or REUs prominently, in lieu of publications and talks.

Some of the best advice I have received and implemented is to keep one long master CV with everything on it, then copy and paste that into new files for each application, or type of position. This is made easy by having a great LaTeXed CV! If you’re not sure whether it’s appropriate to put something on your CV, you can simply include it, comment it out, and ask your friends, colleagues, and advisor(s) for advice. Then if you decide it should be included, it’s easily uncommented!

Using a template

If you don’t already have your CV TeXed up, or you don’t love how it looks, you can use a preformatted template. For example, if you like how my CV looks, I’ve made the template publicly available! Check out my github to download the .cls and .tex file, or find them on Overleaf. It’s pretty basic, but I like it and it’s easy to use. Here’s how:

  1. Download the cv_style.cls and CV_template.tex files. Save them in the same folder. (If you’re on Overleaf, copy both files into a new project.)
  2. Open CV_template.tex in your favorite latex editor and compile.
  3. Fill in with your details.

That’s it! From here you can tweak the CV either by editing the .tex file or by tinkering with the .cls file. I’ll discuss this more carefully at the end of this post.

There’s endless options for CV templates available on the web (including directly through Overleaf), so check them out and see if there’s one you like more. Some may just be .tex files, unlike mine above. Experiment to see what you like, but remember that it doesn’t have to be perfect; it just needs to convey your information without being an eyesore.

Some useful general tips

The trivlist environment
This environment provides a list, much like itemize or enumerate, but it doesn’t have bullets or numbering. It’s a trivial list! I have sometimes found the need to list things while control the spacing between them, but without bullet points or numbers, and this command fills that role nicely.
The etaremune environment
This is how to get lists numbered in reverse, so your most recent items are listed first, and it’s clear from a glance how many items are in the list. This may be especially relevant in the cases of papers or talks, as the person reading your CV will likely want to know how many of these you have.
Links
Link to things! If the person reading your CV is interested in your paper, make it easy for them to find it by adding a link. This goes for your email, your website (you should have one, maybe this is a future blog post), etc. If you list outreach programs or awards you have won that aren’t self-explanatory, including a hyperlink is an easy way to offer more explanation without taking up real estate on your CV. Note that you’ll probably want to use the hyperref package, which provides the href command to make hyperlinks (this is included in my template).
Make it public
Don’t just upload your CV on job applications, but make it available on your website (again, which you should have; see this blog post). People will want to find you and quickly get an idea of who you are and what it is that you do — especially once you’re giving talks about your research! Make sure they can find you by having your CV linked on your website. If you don’t have a website (yet), you could ask your department to post your CV in their directory, until your site is ready.
Getting help
If you get stuck with LaTeX, Google and Stack Exchange are your friends. There’s an entire Stack Exchange subdomain dedicated to LaTeX with well-written solutions and thoughtful comments, and I don’t think I’ve had a LaTeX problem that it didn’t quickly solve. The Overleaf documentation is also a great resource, and all major packages have their documentation posted online.

Looking more closely at the .cls file

I was originally inspired to make a resume template when applying for summer jobs as an undergraduate, as I had just recently learned LaTeX and thought it would be a fun way to learn some of the details (it was). Plus I actually needed the resume to apply for these jobs! I originally followed some advice on Overleaf and tinkered with it over the years to produce the present form. I’ve actually simplified it several times, to the point that it doesn’t do much more than format the section headings and provide some commands, and it doesn’t need to.

The function of the file cv_style.cls is to provide the document class cv_style. This is then used in place of a standard class, like article or amsart, at the beginning of a .tex file. The file can simply be placed in the same directory as the .tex file, where it tells the compiler to format the sections a certain way and to allow certain commands, described below.

The first few lines specify certain packages which must be loaded for the class file to work properly, just like you’d load packages in a .tex file. Then there are the titleformat and titlespacing commands, which allow you to specify how the section headings appear. For the section headings, I like the small caps with a horizontal rule under, but you can tinker the size, font style, and spacing to your liking!

The remainder of the file consists of four commands. These provide formatting for your contact information and name, as well as talks and papers.

  • \contact{institution}{department}{office address}{email}{website}This command produces your contact information. Each item appears on its own line, with a small space between the office address and the email. I like this centered, at the top of the file, right under the name.
  • \name{}This command produces your name (what a surprise), nice and big, in pretty small caps font.
  • \talk{title}{conference}{host location}{date}This command formats a talk. The title is italicized, while the conference, host institution, and date are listed simply, separated by commas.
  • \paper[coauthor(s)]{title}{status}{notes/links}This is my command to format a paper. I like the title in bold, and I use the status input to share whether the paper is in preparation, submitted to a journal, or accepted. In the final input, I include any relevant links, e.g. to the arxiv version of the paper. The first argument is to include any coauthors. This is an optional argument, since not all papers will have coauthors.

Whenever I write a new paper or give a talk, I just go to my .tex file, make a new an item in a list environment, and fill in the fields in the appropriate command above. If I ever don’t like the formatting — say I don’t want the titles of papers to be bold anymore — one change to the .cls file changes all of the entries in the .tex file!

Concluding thoughts

With just a bit of forethought, and the (optional, but fun) effort of learning how to make a simple .cls file, this system has saved me a lot of time and made it incredibly easy to keep my CV up to date. It’s also straightforward to tinker with, so I can fine tune the appearance when I choose to.

Got a template you’d like to share, or your own tips for writing and formatting a CV? Share them in the comments below!

Posted in Advice, Grad School, Jobs, Starting Grad Schol, staying organized, Technology & Math | Tagged | Leave a comment

2021-22 Graduate Student Blog Vision

Hello AMS Graduate Student Blog readers! I would first like to thank Caleb McWhorter and the previous writing team for their work and dedication to the success of the blog. 

My name is Jasmine Camero and I am the new editor-in-chief for the AMS Graduate Student Blog. I am currently a Ph.D. student at Emory University with research interest in Algebraic Geometry. As a graduate student and a woman of color, one of my goals has been to create community among students so we can thrive in our studies and careers as well as in a social aspect. I would like this to be a space for productive dialogue about topics centered on the challenges students face while encouraging student success. 

I cannot wait to start working with such a strong group of writers who have already volunteered their time to the blog with unique voices that can translate their thoughts, ideas, and experiences to other graduate students. I am confident they will provide readers with their special experiences, viewpoints, advice, and much more. To the writers: thank you in advance for your time, energy, and commitment to this blog. The team and I will work hard to provide a wide-ranging collection of articles for you. 

My vision for the next year is to capture the unique and crucial experiences of graduate students on an academic, professional, social, and personal level. While doing so, I would like to emphasize the following topics: 

    • Diversity: Graduate students are more than just students. We come from a large variety of backgrounds: genders, races, ages, countries, orientations, and more. It is crucial that we not only acknowledge this, but also celebrate it. We would like to highlight the varying aspects of a graduate students adventures. This can include stories about the barriers members of underrepresented communities face and advice for overcoming them as well as encounters of first-generation students and their personal navigation through academia.
    • Resources: Graduate students take on many roles: students, mentors/mentees, teachers, and researchers. We will discuss useful internet sources such as qualifying exam repositories, problem solving, or teaching material. We also plan to share helpful tips and tricks, advice, and specialized templates for beginner or advanced users with TeX. 
    • Experience: Experience itself is an unparalleled affair. It will be worthwhile to display the experiences of students in varying years of their programs: first year, second year, etc. This can include navigating exams, building a CV, finding an advisor, traveling to conferences, and being on the job market. 
    • Mental Health: For many, academia can be a very toxic environment. This can be a space for students to witness and create a healthy dialogue about mental health struggles. 
    • Professional Development: A graduate program in mathematics isn’t just about the mathematics. Graduate students engage in a variety of activities. We will work to highlight mathematicians engaged in spreading the access to mathematics to groups in or outside of their respective institutions. This may include information about organizing and running a seminar, Directed Reading Program (DRP), Math Circle, attending conferences, or volunteering experiences. 

Apart from these central themes, the AMS Graduate Student Blog is by graduate students, for graduate students. We want to hear your ideas, stories, feedback, and suggestions for what you would like to see on the blog. Please contact me, jasmine.camero@emory.edu, or any of the other writers to suggest ideas. If you want to take it a step further, the best way to see the content you want is for you to contribute! If you are interest in writing for the blog, contact me. 

I cannot wait to see what this year has in store for the AMS Graduate Student Blog . 

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