Sunday, January 30

Reading, Reading and More Reading

For today’s post, I thought I would reference a post from one of the grad school blogs I follow – since the new scholars just received Dr. Mowrey’s training on reading strategies and I’m sure the “older” scholars could benefit from “eye balling” those strategies again (hope you still have Dr. Mowrey’s stuff, if not, let us know and we can set you up), I thought this would be good. Here, Dr. Kuther outlines her ideas for “reading well” now and once you are all in your graduate programs. Cheers! --LMC

Read More Efficiently: Be Strategic
Tara Kuther, Ph.D., Guide

Reading is the one task that nearly all graduate students complain about because graduate study entails a great deal of reading. Depending on your field, it's not uncommon for a professor to require students to read a book (or its equivalent) each week. While nothing will make that lengthy reading list go away you can learn how to read more efficiently and get more from less. Here are few basic tips that many students and faculty overlook.

Scholarly reading is not leisure reading:
The biggest mistake that students make is approaching their school assignments as if they were leisure reading. Instead, academic reading requires more work. Read prepared to take notes, reread paragraphs, or look up related material. It's not simply a matter of kicking back and reading.

Don't read it once:
Sounds counter-intuitive, but effective scholarly reading requires multiple passes. Rather than reading in one pass, from beginning to end, expect to scan the document multiple times. Take a piecemeal approach wherein you skim for the big picture and fill in the details with each pass.

Start small:
Begin by reading the abstract (if an article), the first couple of paragraphs. Scan the headings and read the last couple of paragraphs. You might find that there is no need to read further - the article may not suit your needs.

If needed, reread it:
If you deem that the material is necessary for your project, reread it. If an article, read the introduction and conclusion sections to determine what the authors believe they studied and learned. Then look at the method sections to determine how they addressed their question. Then the results section to examine how they analyzed their data. Finally, reexamine the discussion section to learn about how they interpret their results, especially within the context of the discipline.

Or stop:
Understand that you can stop reading at any time. It may not be necessary for you to read the entire article in detail. Skimming might provide the information you need. Or, as you read you might decide that the article isn't important.

Use the same approach for reading chapters and books:
Examine the beginning and end. Then look at the headings or chapters. Then the text itself.

Once you step away from the one-reading one-pass mindset you'll find that scholarly reading is not as hard as it looked. Take a problem-solving mindset and consider each article as a puzzle. Approach an article as you would a jigsaw puzzle, working from the edges, the outside, in. Locate the corner pieces that establish the overall framework for the article, then fill in the details, the center pieces. Remember that sometimes you won't need those inside pieces to grasp the material.

Consider each reading strategically and decide how much you need to know about it -- and stop once you've reached that point. Your professors may not agree with this approach, but it can make your work much more manageable as long as you review some articles in detail.

Here’s a link to Dr. Kuther’s original post on this:

You might also consider signing up for her blog – she offers LOTS of great tips in small snippets, so it’s not overwhelming….here’s that link:

Thursday, January 27

On the Path to Becoming a Vastly Overqualified High School Spanish Teacher

I just wanted to give a short post on my recent experiences. I'm doing something totally different than the other scholars, and from most other people out there in academia. For you new scholars, I'm going to get a Ph.D.- and then teach high school Spanish.

As we speak (?), I'm typing this in my classroom at Parent-Teacher Conferences. I'm student teaching this semester, and it's AWESOME. I'm actually doing this 2-hour stint at conferences all by myself because my host teacher is at a birthing class (because obviously she's pregnant). Now that I've been here for a couple weeks- I started when they did after Christmas break and had a week less off than you all :( - I've been teaching whole classes, and I love it. I know even more now that this is what I want to do. These kids are so freaking cool, and even though I've already made my fair share of mistakes and gotten countless post-it notes from my host teacher with constructive criticism written on them, I'm having a blast. Teaching is so much work (especially with 36 9th graders in 5th hour!!!), but it is so worth it. One of my students was in the school paper this week and came to class with a copy autographed and made out to me :)

I'm also so thankful that I chose to spend these last 3.5 years at Central. My host teacher writes on all of my evaluations that I have great Spanish, and it's the first thing she says to anyone she introduces me to. I definitely attribute this to CMU's amazing and rigorous foreign language program (Jenn, you know what I'm talking about!). It makes me feel more confident in choosing grad schools to apply to, because if I could choose a school this awesome as a high schooler, I got this now. If I had the insight to choose CMU out of the 7 undergrad institutions I applied to, imagine what I can do almost four years later??? I think the same applies to all of you guys too :)

I just wanted to update you all on my path to this crazy future I've picked out, and to tell all of you that are planning to be professors (because no one else is as crazy as I am) that you're going to love it. Well, either that, or you'll want to come back to high school where the REAL fun is at :)

Sunday, January 23

McNair Warriors

It’s so cool to see the group all together in Warrior Pose. Really, how cool is that?! First, I am happy that everyone kept an open mind during our Intro to Yoga workshop. Pretty much since starting this job, I have struggled with wanting to help our scholars more in dealing with stress, moving beyond “sticking points” from their past, finding balance and just feeling stronger and more confident as individuals overall. I deeply believe that yoga is one solution to this challenge. It’s funny since I actually started exploring the benefits of yoga myself over ten years ago while living in Boston, and am just now incorporating it into our McNair offerings.

Besides the obvious physical benefits of getting the blood pumping, strengthening muscles and increasing flexibility, yoga offers the opportunity to reduce stress and tension by using breath to focus the mind. Yoga gives us the space to step outside our demanding schedules and learn to become more present in our lives. By breathing and focusing on the present moment, we can become more productive and content from moment to moment. I know for myself, I feel ten times better on days that I practice, on many levels. I feel more relaxed and capable in dealing with daily demands and pressures; I also feel happier. What’s great about exposing more people to yoga, like each of you, is that more people will reap these potential benefits. Practicing with one another and sharing our experiences during this process also leads to further camaraderie among the group! I honestly can’t wait to stand witness to this unfolding for those who wish to participate. Scholars from last year’s group started exploring this tool this past summer and now our new group is welcome to join in…

I would like to close this post with several sentiments expressed by Charlotte Bell, an experienced yoga teacher and author of, “Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life.” I know that Friday’s session was challenging. Trying something new can be challenging. I encourage you to stay with the challenge to see what benefits might come to you as a result. Charlotte writes about the poses, like Warrior I, “Each person’s expression of a pose is a perfect expression of his/her Self in that moment.” She goes on to say:

“We learn to relax into where we are. We can give up the struggle to attain something we believe is lacking in our experience. With this shift of intention, asana practice becomes not just a mechanical performance of a pose (or an exercise in frustration if our bodies are not willing to go there). It is a way to become familiar with our wellspring of equanimity that does not depend on `perfect’ conditions. Each time we tap into our own center of peace, even when the physical sensation accompanying an asana is quite intense, the peace that is intrinsic to us becomes more accessible to us in the rest of our lives.”

--Excerpted from “Pursuit of the Perfect Pose”

Sunday, January 16

Reaching Out and Connecting With Others

What a fabulous exchange on Friday, if I may say! I feel like I say this all of the time (and I do), but what makes this program ultra-cool is having such wonderful people involved in it – like each of you and our great faculty mentors. We are very lucky, for sure. One of the things that we stress in McNair is reaching out and connecting with others, whether it is developing friendships with fellow scholars, developing professional relationships with your research mentors and faculty at prospective grad programs or developing relationships with each of us in the office. I think it’s pretty clear that we are all in the business of supporting and being there for one another. Again, aren’t we lucky?! I love this time of year when we have our continuing scholars starting to reap the benefits of all of their hard work and we have our new scholars just starting out on that path. I hope you all enjoyed the “dinner and dialogue” on Friday, as it is a great start for connections that will be strengthened this semester and beyond. I know that not everyone could meet and connect, but there will be ample opportunities to see each through various upcoming social events, research presentations, and such. We are encouraging each of you to meet with your scholar mentor and scholar mentee and we hope you do that in a meaningful way. It’s one of the greatest benefits of the program. Have a great week!

Sunday, January 9

What Does it Take to Get a Ph.D.?

I am going to be completely honest with you if you ask me that question. The answer will be, "I am not sure." But I think I am beginning to understand better and better as time flies by. After 4 years of undergraduate study and 1 1/2 years of graduate school, I often ponder this question as I nod off to sleep every night, and at my desk, and while cooking, and while eating, and while talking on the phone, and while driving home... Well, maybe not that last one.

Wait, maybe I do know what it takes to get a Ph.D. Do you know? Maybe it isn't the same for everyone but I suspect that it is. I used to believe that I would have to be highly intelligent or extremely sophisticated to successfully complete my doctoral training. For a good laugh, ask my children if I am either of these (joking). I wouldn't call myself highly intelligent but I work really hard and as a result, I typically do ok. I have managed to juggle classwork, McNair (first as a scholar, then as the GA), research, conference presentations, and writing for publication all while trying really hard to be the best mom I can be. No, I don't think that intelligence is the most important quality that propels one to reach that lofty goal.

So what is it then? Is it sophistication? Hmmm, Lynn, can you answer that one after hearing of my innovation in opening wine bottles (a wood screw and pliers) when a corkscrew is not to be found on Thanksgiving Day or in filling deviled eggs when the pastry bags have gone missing (my husband's heavy duty jerky cannon)? Sophistication is not, in my opinion, the pivotal quality.

I could go on and on about qualities that I thought would be integral ingredients in helping me to attain my Ph.D. but I am coming to realize that the most important qualities one needs to possess are perseverance and stamina. The McNair program serves low income/first generation and/or underrepresented students so I suspect that many of you, like me, learned about perseverance and stamina at a young age.

A big challenge lies ahead of each of you and you are possibly prepared for it in ways that others may not be. In other ways you may feel unprepared. That is where the McNair staff and your mentors can be of great support. I know with certainty that you will receive benefits as McNair scholars that most other prospective graduate students will not. You were selected for this honor because a panel of professionals (and me) saw potential in you. It is up to you to fulfill this potential if you truly desire a doctoral education.

This brings me to yet another quality that will help you to reach your goals, passion. Again, I am being very honest when I say that there hasn't been a semester in graduate school during which I didn't try to think of alternatives to the crazy path I am following. Passion drives me forward. The ability to make a difference, in society, the lives of others, and the lives of my children, keeps the fires burning and me plodding along the road to Ph.D. What motivates your desire?

Setting Intentions for the New Year

So it’s 2011….already. I’ve been telling Jeanine how I am choosing to refrain from using the terminology, “New Year’s resolutions.” I don’t know, it just seems like too often New Year’s resolutions fall by the wayside. During yoga practice, we set an intention. It can be something like, “I am relaxed and focused” or “I am fully present and living in the moment.” Or anything you want it to be, really. So I am viewing my New Year’s resolutions as intentions. They are daily intentions that I incorporate daily into my life. One example is making contact with one alumnus each day – just a quick email or a call or even a text – to touch base and keep connected. I am often overwhelmed by this task even though I love staying in touch and hearing from everyone. It’s just that I tend to think of it in total – meaning there are a ton of alumni to keep in touch with and thinking that I need to get in touch with each one of them, right now. Instead, my intention is to “do a little bit every day.” My intention is already having a positive effect!

I encourage you to set some intentions for the New Year! Frame them as affirmations for yourself and see what happens. You all have some great things on the horizon. We are excited to start hearing about offers and hearing your plans for this next phase in life! For the new scholars, it is also an exciting time. This is where you start to develop a “grad school mindset” that will carry you through this year and the next.

I’d like to include a post from Lou and the Winner’s Circle – it underscores my sentiments here. Here’s to a great New Year!

"A Positive Future, by Intent"
Do you look at the future with hope and a belief that no matter what comes your way, you will succeed? Or, do you look at the future as hopeless, and there’s nothing that can be done to change it? What you believe has a lot to do with how well you weather the challenges in life. Let’s talk about how our beliefs affect what happens to us. A couple of things to keep in mind:

1) As human beings, we move toward and become like what we think about; and 2) Our present thoughts determine our future.

As human beings, we are teleological or goal-oriented. Also, we are picture-oriented. We think in pictures. If I say, “red apple” you don’t see the words “red” and “apple.” In your mind, you actually “see” a red apple. You see, we don’t see with our eyes. We pick up light with our eyes and then it is translated into images in our brains, depending upon how we’ve been conditioned to translate the light. Words create pictures, and we are drawn to pictures.

So, if you believe the future is hopeless, you will be drawn to every hopeless, depressing, “it’s only going to get worse” story you can find. We are comfortable when we find evidence to prove what we believe is true, and we act in accordance with those beliefs. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy. “I knew it was going to be bad, and it is.”

The same thing holds true if we believe the future is full of opportunity, and that we have the power to make it even better. We will see evidence of the possibilities, and be drawn to them because that’s what we are thinking about. It is not surprising that people who look with positive intent are healthier, happier and more successful.

So, how do we make that switch in belief? It’s all about changing that internal picture you hold, and it isn’t going to happen by accident. It is made, first, by your intent.

--Lou Tice, The Pacific Institute