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The First Real Graduate School Break!

Today is the Monday after finals week.  I had to ask myself, " What does a researcher-in-training do or think about during break?"  I even had to back-track and ask, " What is a break?" Does a budding researcher actually "turn off" during break and do absolutely nothing research (or even thinking) related? 

Quick learning bits: 
  • Work and courses is definitely not always the same schedule.  
  • The researcher-in-training is still training outside of the training ground. 
  • Reading and writing is more than a relaxing hobby.   It is ritualistic and necessary during break. 
  • Research is more than reading required textbooks.  Research training includes required, recommended and rare gem texts that have just emerged in the field. 
Of course there is there personable facet of this researcher-in training phase.  Cultivating the "researcher eye"  includes practice.  For instance,  I have to read a wide variety of texts of all different genres and put on my theoretical lens.  If I believe that culture is socially constructed, then I should be tracking  culture as it is constructed.  Therefore, I would also need to keep track of all the new research, current events within different scopes, art and music locally and nationally and the role of technology. That means I need to keep up with my leisure and supplementary readings. 

Lessons Learned by the Researcher-in-Training

I am finally able to take a quick breather between terms to catch up on my reading and writing.  This is pretty ironic since I have been reading and writing very intensely all season.  Although every quarter in the doctorate program has been challenging, ever set of challenges allows the young researcher-in-training (me) to learn more about the field and myself.  This quarter definitely presented a new set of growing pains.   In the midst of the struggle, I have acquired some little pearls of wisdom that pave the way towards my career goal.  Even though I had officially enrolled in the program about 15 months ago (Fall 2014), the epic struggle emerged the year before when I realized it was time for me to consider options beyond my hometown. Sounds trivial, but leaving home is tough, especially, when there are several generations of Chinese-American relatives who have strong cultural roots and would never want anybody to leave.  I would hate to think the only ticket out of town would be admissions to advanced study, but so far that is my best excuse (for the parents at least) to step out and consider other avenues.  

One of my favorite life lessons so far includes this mantra (or something like it): when something terrible happens,  something beautiful always comes out of it.  As many obstacles and setbacks I have faced before going back to school,  I had learned a lot about people, places, and life.

The next lesson would be: don't feel guilty for seizing opportunities  presented.  I remember leaving my previous job and somebody at the office snapped about my anticipated departure when I was present and engaged in my work.  Another co-worker made some other comment about how I was going off to better places.   Even the supervisor, himself, casted a couple verbal stones.  Apparently a 14 month notice for transitioning was either way too short or drawn out way too long.  This leads to the next life lesson that is transferable to any employment situation: cut the cord cleanly and quickly.

As I have gained more work experience,  I realized that quitting is not always bad.  I remember growing up and my parents would always say, " Don't give up,  Don't quit.  QUITTING IS BAD!"  I do have to give them a lot of credit since they were trying to give me some kind of motivation to persevere and hang tough.  I have to admit, resigning from a position should not always be the first option to consider, but knowing when the conditions of the job are going one way (which is south) is extremely helpful for all parties involved.  Of course there are strategies involved with this process.  I would probably have to devote an entire blog post to the art of making a graceful exit.

On the other hand,  being a quitter isn't the way to greatness.  This may sound completely contradictory to the previous lesson, but sometimes when other opportunities (work, research, otherwise) have not presented themselves,  the best strategy is to just stay put and hang on.  And to keep believing that something will open up when the right timing occurs.    Handling research projects is like climbing on a furious beast who is trying to throw me off.   Chasing dreams and believing is extremely difficult.  The glories of being a researcher is not the fame or the money.  It is relishing the freedom to chase one's dreams.

Back to the Old Stomping Grounds: Summer Gig

After completing my third quarter of the Ph.D. program,  I was fortunate enough to  find a summer job.  Another life lesson I learned from being in the graduate program was being able to function under less than ideal conditions and being extremely resourceful.   This summer I have the opportunity to serve as a consultant for a summer camp.  Although the writing camp (morning sessions) have been institutionalized for fifteen years,  this year the agency director is launching a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) pilot program as an afternoon elective.  After taking my research apprenticeship and interests into account,  the director was gracious enough to offer me a specialized position as an advisor/consultant figure for both the elementary education group as well as the secondary education group.

Strangely enough,  returning to this agency as a consultant has been such an incredible experience already. I realize just last summer I was sitting among another group of teacher-leaders-in training and anticipating my next chapter as a doctorate student.  Attending workshops,  meeting scholars within the network, and encouraging my colleagues.  I reflect upon my own thinking when I am out in the field,  testing my assumptions, and also refining my theoretical frame. Of course these processes are essential if I want to continue developing "researcher eyes"  How do I think about my work and the work of others? What are my roles and relationships in a highly-situated activity system?  


Ever since I entered the university,  introductions has been a major part of interpersonal interaction.  I remember my first whole-class introduction occurred when I was in an upper-division undergraduate summer school course and the professor asked each and every student (all 150 pupils)  to share his/her name, major, home institution, and areas of interest.  Now that I am currently a new doctorate student,  class introductions are a given.  After all the practice, I even have several versions of introductions that I weave together.

Name: Lilly Lew
Occupation: Ph.D. student (1st year)
Areas of Interest: Literacy in classroom and alternative spaces, STEM education, Environmental education, community-based learning, learning sciences, cross-age mentoring, and everything else 
Dreams and Wishes:  To become an education researcher and foster university-community partnerships.  
In addition to being a researcher: I love playing frisbee with my big dog Vicky.  I enjoy visiting museums and traveling.  I am also an undercover foodie who wants to share the simple things in life with others. 

Brief Commentary for introduction.

I just created an introduction page for my blog. I remember working on a blog back in high school almost a decade ago.   My, how blog features have changed a great deal since then!   Glad that I'm revisiting the digital platform and reinventing myself through this medium.