Friday, October 29

Visiting schools = Getting offers

I thought it might be good to light the fire on spending significant time and effort toward getting in touch with prospective faculty advisors and setting up school visits. This takes initiative, courage and work; in other words, it’s not easy. That’s okay though, because you know that we’re here to support you in this endeavor. It is true though that you each need to do the legwork in terms of finding people and reaching out. Through the years, scholars who made visits to their prospective graduate programs have typically received offers of admittance and funding. It some cases, it can really come down to a school visit. For those of you who wish certain aspects of your application to be stronger, making contact and making a visit could really help!

I am also posting this Winner’s Circle since I think it underscores my point – spend time doing the things that are going to be the most effective and don’t get stuck just doing things because you think they need to be done. Yes, you need to take care of all of the details like requesting transcripts, letters of recommendation, etc. etc. But, putting all the effort you can into making contact with faculty is likely going to have the greatest impact in the long-run.

"Efficiency and Effectiveness"

Did you know that there is an important difference between efficiency and effectiveness? Let's talk about that difference and why it matters. Most businesses focus a lot of energy on running an efficient operation – efficient in the sense that things get done with a minimum of effort and motion. It’s low input and high output. In other words, efficiency is doing things right. But doing what things? Ah! This is a very important question.

You see, effectiveness, to me, is doing the right things right. And effectiveness is what you want to aim for, because you can be extremely efficient at doing the wrong things. You can practice the wrong technique or the wrong moves until you've got it down perfectly. And then you're going to wonder and worry about why you're not doing any better, why the business is failing, why your customers don't come back when everything is running like a well-oiled machine.

So when you visualize yourself or your business, don't just see yourself doing things right. See yourself doing the right things right. And remember that sometimes the right thing done imperfectly can beat the heck out of a flawless performance of the wrong thing. Edward Deming, the originator of the total quality management movement, once said that if you run a company on numbers alone, you are sure to fail, because the most important numbers are unknown and unknowable. I have a feeling one of the things he meant was don't worry so much about doing things right, and concentrate instead on doing the right things.

--Lou Tice, The Pacific Institute

Saturday, October 23

One Fine Day

I think you all remember when Caitlin and Sam visited with us this summer – they graciously shared their grad school application experiences and gave us many laughs and “tricks of the trade.” They both seem off to a great start in their Ph.D. programs at the University of Illinois (Sam) and Portland State University (Caitlin). You may also recall Caitlin talking about how she initially thought she would pursue a career in creative writing instead of I/O psychology. My sense is that she is happy with her choice of pursuing I/O; however, she is also feeding “her creative side” through her blog. She actually started it during her grad school application process and is now posting on her new life as a Ph.D. student in the awesome city of Portland. Suffice it to say that Caitlin is a great writer – very witty and highly entertaining – I might add! Caitlin is a great person and I know that I’m excited to see where her adventures take her.

I invite you to follow Caitlin on her blog! As scholars looking to follow in her footsteps of becoming fully-funded in a Ph.D. program of your choice, I think you might find it useful, informative and fun! I encourage you to read over her blog from the beginning (meaning the part about the application process) or you may prefer to pick up from the beginning of the fall semester and see how Caitlin acclimated to the move, her starting work with her faculty mentors and her assistantship, meeting and getting to know other students in her program, getting to know the city, finding a place to live (she’s got some stories on that!)…etc. etc. I know time is limited and we all have to make choices about how we spend our precious minutes. I think checking out Caitlin’s blog would fall in the category of time well spent as aspiring Ph.D. students yourselves!

Here’s the link to Caitlin’s blog:

Friday, October 15

Grad School Groove

From recent meetings with many of you, I know that progress is being made on the grad school front, which is great! It’s a lot of work, but it will be worth it in the end when multiple funding offers are on the table. Grad school visits are starting (Freddy is at Indiana University at the time of this posting) and they are always exciting for us – we love hearing about your travels and hearing about your experiences at your prospective schools. You know my mantra – offers tend to happen as a result of a visit with program faculty. I am offering a link to a webinar with Don Asher – someone you know well. Don participated in a 45 minute grad school seminar at the University of Tennessee and we can access that presentation through a podcast. You may find revisiting some of Don’s ideas and recommendations to be helpful in your current application process and thinking about how to craft the most competitive grad application that you can. Here’s that link:

The other tidbit I want to put out there is something Andy talked about in his monthly – basically how cool it’s been to get to know faculty in the biology department, certainly his mentor, and how he is beginning to feel more and more comfortable with the idea of himself becoming part of that community of researchers. It can sometimes feel like faculty are on an entirely different level, but they are just people who were in the same place as each of you at one point in their career. The fact that most faculty are generous with their time and make themselves accessible by mentoring students is terrific. It’s part of the cycle, for sure. Seeing you guys have realizations like this makes this line of work very satisfying.

Here’s what Andy had to say:

“….an interesting rite of passage type experience has occurred for me in the past year or two. Early in college, the professors and pretty much anyone with a doctoral level degree seemed on a pedestal to me. They were unapproachable with anything unrelated to biology and were something I had no chance or even desire of becoming. That feeling has obviously passed, and I am now taking the first steps to becoming part of that group. Actually getting to know a few professors on a personal level has been an eye-opening experience. On several occasions I have related past experiences in my life to nearly identical occurrences in one of my professors’. I see myself acting in similar ways, asking similar questions, and having conversations both scientific and social. Three years ago this would have all seemed so foreign to me, and even now it seems a bit crazy at times. I feel like part of the group already though, so hopefully all that’s left is to actually get my degree!”

--Andy Harris, 2010 McNair Scholar

Monday, October 11

Inner Calm

Much thanks to Tammy Griffin who continues to gives us great information and instruction on how to deal with stress and how to minimize its effects in our daily lives. I know for me, incorporating meditation and yoga into my daily flow is proving to have GREAT benefits. Just taking a few moments to breathe helps to focus my mind on the task at hand and let go of distractions (like continuous thoughts and inner judgements) that are just a part of life. Try to incorporate some of Tammy's suggestions for yourself. Who do you want to be? Bert or Ernie? :-) On my "to-do-list" is to create a "stress management kit" for the resource room....stay tuned!

Finally, I sincerely hope that at least some of you have stayed with the "Winner's Circle" listserv - there are such great nuggets of wisdom delivered on a daily basis - they are short and sweet, but I find them profound. On Friday, Lou wrote about instead of being overwhelmed by a huge task at hand (i.e. applying to grad school!) that you should just take small steps and do small things that will help move you forward in the process, rather than remaining stuck. Great advice! Here's that post:

Sometimes, "a lick-and-a-promise" is a lot better than nothing and can keep you from feeling overwhelmed. I'll tell you what I mean. Do you ever feel overwhelmed by a huge task that is facing you? Do you ever feel paralyzed because you can't see your way through to the other side? Henry Ford once said that any task, no matter how large, is manageable if you break it down into small enough pieces. A very busy and wonderfully efficient woman I know says she belongs to the "lick-and-a-promise" school of housekeeping: because of her busy schedule, she doesn't have time to thoroughly clean things very often. So, instead, she takes a minute here, a minute there and does what she can. "You'd be surprised," she says, "how many dishes I can wash in a minute – and there are many, many times throughout the week that I have a minute to spare, but almost no times that I have a free hour.... so I do what I can when I can, and play catch-up later." This philosophy makes sense to me, and applies as well to troubles as it does to tasks. Don't stand around wringing your hands when there's trouble and you're not quite sure of the best thing to do. Wade on in and get to work on some part of the problem, even if the full solution isn't apparent to you yet. When we rouse ourselves to action, it builds our confidence, which can lead to more action and a better handle on the solution.

--Lou Tice, Pacific Institute

Sunday, October 10

I just wanted to talk for a minute about this great volunteer experience that I'm a part of this year. is a website where adults can volunteer to mentor inner city high schoolers online. It's a yearlong commitment, and you get assigned three mentees (although you can volunteer for more or you might have less depending on demand). You're only required to spend an hour a week on the website. I started mentoring this year, and I currently have 2 mentees.

The students come from high schools that are participating in the program. That means that these kids have time set aside in school just for them to complete their icouldbe assignments. They go through the list of available mentors and choose which one they want. They go through a self-chosen curriculum- there are different paths they can choose, like college or vocational prep. What my job is as a mentor is to review each assignment they complete and give them comments. They can't move on to the next assignment in many cases until I pass them on the current one. For example, one of my mentees just finished her first unit, and the capstone activity for this was to write a professional email. However, the social aspect is also really important. My mentees chose me mostly because I'm in college, and because I wrote in my profile that I'm low-income like them, so it's my job to help them through applying to college, getting financial aid, etc.

This is a great opportunity for all of us as McNair Scholars because we're exactly what many of these kids aspire to be. I think right now is a great time for us to mentor because not only were we all in their shoes four years ago; we're also going through exactly what they are AGAIN, at the same time as them! This is an awesome experience to put on your CV, but it's also a great way to impact someone's life- in many cases, these kids probably wouldn't go to college if they hadn't had a mentor to help them through it.

If you decide to apply to be a mentor, just go sign up at the website. You have to answer some questions, and then it took me about 3 weeks to get confirmed because I think they ran a background check on me or something. Then you just wait until you get chosen as a mentor, but since school has been in session for a while now, you would probably get picked pretty soon! I hope at least a few of you decide to take advantage of this program!

Sunday, October 3

Mino-Kinoomaagewinawaan: Good Teachings

The way I find motivation to keep going, when the road less traveled is rather rocky, is to find inspirational quotes. I look for the most uplifting, awe-inspiring, and incredible quotes. I realize this can be rather cliche at times, but it helps me to gauge if I am really doing the right thing.

"Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood." -Helen Keller

"It doesn't matter how many say it cannot be done or how many people have tried it before; it's important to realize that whatever you're doing, it's your first attempt at it." -Wally Amos

‎"It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task which, more than anything else, will affect It's successful outcome." - William James

‎"The significance of a man is not in what he attains but in what he longs to attain." -Kahlil Gibran

Now that I've exhausted my recent cache of quotes, I think it's important to realize what an impact that each of us could have... it's a really profound and complex train of thoughts (for me at least). When I watch the news, read the paper, or see posts on social networking sites about the sadness, heartache, discrimination, and injustice of society, I begin to grow impatient with the long path ahead of me.... but then I realize that it's simply keeping my fire lit for once I am in the academic and professional world.

Regardless of what field we're going in to, which degree specification we'll attain, or what university we're attending/going to attend; remember that we are all human. We all strive for affirmation, we all look for love, and that we all hunger for hope and knowledge.

"To become truly great, one has to stand with people, not above them." -Charles de Montesquieu

Be kind to one another, and more importantly, love one another. Our paths will be trying at times, but the road less traveled will yield many fruits not simply for you, but your family, community, nation, and indeed the whole world. Your degree represents your knowledge-it's a physical manifestation of it... literally. But how you apply the knowledge is how you will affect hundreds and thousands of others.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference

-Robert Frost


I shall say, again, I am most impressed with your growth and accomplishments since each of you became scholars earlier this year. I love seeing this evolution from the spring to the fall, especially. And, then again once grad school offers start coming in! You are all so professional in your presentations, very smart and exciting to watch. Experts on the rise! Congratulations and keep focused on the task at hand...taking this great research experience and development of skill sets and apply it toward getting yourself into a fully funded Ph.D. program.

Thought it would be fun to conclude with just a bit of commentary:
  • Bianca - Your presence is strong and self-assured.

  • Kayla - You take your work seriously and it shows in your command of the information.

  • J.J. - I am *most impressed* with your evolution from spring to fall - you came across as smooth and confident!

  • Bryan - What comes to mind is a cool, calm and collected professor.

  • Helena - I can see you presenting on a major breakthrough in your research that you have at an international conference.

  • Blaise - You would never know of your challenges with your project - super confident and very smooth, and relaxed, I might add.

  • Freddy - You can tell that you are passionate and very knowledgeable about your work!

  • Andy - You're the cool guy that gets down into the muck, literally! Great connection about the technicalities of your work and what it means in the bigger picture.

  • Lindsay - Nicely poised and very relaxed, I can see you in a clinical setting.

  • Jenn - Through the chaos, you emerge cool, calm and collected.

  • Josh - True enthusiasm and dedication to the field. Makes for a fun and thought-provoking presentation.

Friday, October 1

Faculty Correspondences

Even with the graduate school application process nearing it still feels as if I am just another statistic for the schools to look at. I can honestly say I have mixed feelings about being accepted to a program and part of that is due to not having a substantial GRE score yet.

With all these thoughts floating around in my head (and with a little incentive from Lynn) I decided to start contacting faculty for my top schools. This was sort of a difficult task for me. Who would I contact first? How many faculty for each school? After reviewing some my grad. school data sheets I realized that all of my applications (except one) are due in December, therefore I decided to just contact all of the faculty I was interested in for each of my schools.

I sent out a total of 15 e-mails on a Friday and was receiving responses on a Saturday! I have had 11 of the 15 e-mails responded to in a week time span.

All of the responses are very encouraging and some even say things such as "I will look carefully at your application when it comes in". Not only does this make me more excited to apply, it also allows me to see which schools are being responsive and will help me to decide which schools I will be visiting shortly.

The main point I want to stress is that a simple e-mail can make such a huge impact on getting faculty to notice you and when they start hearing your name multiple times before receiving your application they are going to remember that name. I also strongly encourage you all to start corresponding with faculty because it makes the process seem like more of a reality and really boosts your energy on delving into the application process.