Deadline awareness for everybody

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I and my family are now up in Oregon to experience the total solar eclipse. Which will be amazing.

This trip wasn’t hard to plan, but only because we were ready many moons ahead of time. I asked for my buddy’s spare bedroom about a year ago. Also, it’s the first official day of classes on my campus. My spouse’s work has a big exodus for the eclipse, no big deal there, but for our son, that’s the day that the big assignments from summer reading are due. So we all had to sort things out ahead of time.

This is the kind of planning that we need to build for students who we are advising and mentoring. Because applying for opportunities is far, far more than just filling out a form, and students who are not savvy to the mechanics of higher education may not appreciate this reality.

For example:

  • Do you have undergrads who want to do REU programs this summer? Deadlines tend to be shortly after school starts back up after the winter holiday. This means students need to know they have to research REU opportunities in the fall!
  • The NSF Graduate Fellowship deadline is just about two months away. So if undergrads are to write their GRPF statement, they need to start quite soon, and also need to be asking faculty for letters of recommendation right when school starts up.
  • What about folks applying to graduate programs? While students are invited to campus visits in the Spring, application deadlines are sometimes in the late Fall semester. Which means that students need to start making contacts in the Fall semester. Now is not too early, and a few months from now is probably too late.

While I discuss this frequently with students who I am advising, there’s a difference between being told what a deadline is and really understanding what you have to do before a deadline to be competitive. (To do this successfully at my institution, our students require far more attentive mentorship than than our 10 or so tenure-track faculty can provide to our 700 or so majors. Our students have little to no history or background with these kinds of programs as first-generation college students and we literally do not have enough hours in the day to get them up to speed, and the university doesn’t have the resources to provide the necessary academic and career support. And we don’t have labs full of PhD students and postdocs to provide this kind of community.)

At the very least, though, we can make sure that everybody knows deadlines well in advance, and we can support members of our research labs as they are getting ramped up for opportunities.

The disparity in deadline awareness is, in part, an equity issue, and one way to reduce the slope of the playing field* is to make sure that all students know well in advance what they need to do to prepare for deadlines.

Too often, I’ve had students come into my office saying that they heard a certain deadline is coming up soon. And then, when we discuss what the application process entails, we discover that the student hasn’t laid the groundwork to apply and they can’t do the work before the deadline crosses. I’m not concerned about assigning blame to anybody other than myself, but I’d like this to happen less often. It’s our job to make sure that our advisees are given the advance notice of opportunities — that is the least that we can do even if we can’t work with everyone on an individual basis as they need.

A lot of universities seem to maintain lists of deadlines, but those seem to be highly customized for people at that institution. Here are a good list of deadlines for opportunities from the Institute for Broadening Participation for undergrads and for grad students.

Sometimes, deadline awareness is knowing to be ready for specific programs — such as the NSF GRFP — and having them on the calendar.

Perhaps more important is promoting deadline awareness for the seasonality of opportunities and preparation. For example, instead of merely letting folks know that “grad school applications are in late Fall,” it needs to be, “you need to lay the groundwork for applying to grad school in the Summer and early Fall.”

I’m planning to assemble a more specific post that has important deadlines for undergraduates in STEM programs, including a timeline for when one needs to prepare for the deadlines. If you have specific things you think should be (or not be) in there, please leave a comment!


*I didn’t realize the impact of a literally slanted playing field until watching soccer game between little kids. The team going downhill has a big advantage!

4 thoughts on “Deadline awareness for everybody

  1. This is a great point. I didn’t have a lot of mentoring while I was applying to graduate school, so I discovered a lot of details and deadlines in that process on the fly. In an attempt to help future generations of biomedical science PhD applicants, I blogged about my application journey and gave some advice. It’s disheartening to admit that this post is now almost 9 years old, but perhaps others will find it helpful: http://lauraemariani.blogspot.com/2008/12/applying-to-graduate-school-timeline.html

  2. I agree. This is an excellent post. It’s not necessarily just deadlines, either. Since most students have not applied for professional jobs, they may not really get how long hiring timelines are and might think (as I did as an undergrad) that you can start looking for work during the semester in which you’ll graduate.

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