Monday, November 5

BIG Picture Thinking

This time of year can become especially crazy for our scholars.  It can be CRAZY in a good way and sometimes CRAZY in a “not so” good way.  Each semester comes with its own set of challenges, evidenced by Maureen’s favorite quote, “it’s been a rough semester,” which always seems to surface round this time.  But that’s okay, it’s just part of the process, right?
  • You’ve got paper deadlines.
  • You’ve got quizzes and final exams.
  • You probably have a few projects coming due (some might even be “group” oriented – yikes!)
  • And, for a good number of you, you have your grad school applications.
  • Did I forget to mention things like basic self-care (eat*sleep*move) and time for friends/family?
  • Oh, yeah, you have those things too.
My goal for this post is to encourage BIG PICTURE THINKING amongst these challenges and never-ending to-do lists.  What I mean by this is that you should try to keep your eye (and mind) on the PRIZE.  This might mean doing better than you did last semester for your grades.  This might be crafting one really superb paper (from one of your classes) that you can use for a future writing sample.  For those applying to grad school – this means focusing your energy on getting yourself into grad school.

This can really be tough with everything going on, but carving out the time to craft and submit super high-quality applications is key.  So is visiting schools!  Several of you have already been “out and about” and that is great!  It takes a lot of time, effort and energy to make these visits happen. 

I want to simply remind you that making these visits happen = getting into your top-choice grad program with full funding.  Period.  It’s exactly the BIG PICTURE kind of thinking that I’m talking about. 

In order to visit your top-choice schools, it might mean that you have to “let some stuff" go by the wayside.  And, that’s okay.  It might be hard to not go “full out” in all of your classes as you normally would (wink, wink) – but doing the best you can given that you are traveling to your schools, and taking time off from classes to do so, will be okay in the long-run.

I think everyone knows that in “our collective CMU McNair experience” to date, the scholars that go and visit schools are the ones that get the best admission offers.  Hands down.

So, it pays to think about your “big picture” of getting yourself into a fully funded grad program and do what it takes to make that happen.  YOUR FUTURE WILL THANK YOU!

Sunday, October 14


Those of you applying to graduate schools this fall are likely grappling with this idea of visiting your top-choice graduate program with the hopes of making a good impression and helping your chances of being accepted with a full-ride.  Yes?  Based on my tally, I’ve got the following scholars scoping the following places for visits:
  • Darnell – just hobnobbed with folks from various IVY league schools when he presented his research at the IVY-STEM symposium in Philadelphia.
  • Katelyn and Jared are taking off for Wisconsin this Wednesday for visits to both UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee.
  • Justin C is visiting the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA this week with the hopes of connecting with one of the premier new faculty working on just the area that he wants to be in.
  • Maame will be attending the Compact For Faculty Diversity in Tampa at the end of the month to network with Ph.D. students from around the country and talk with reps from various grad programs interested in recruiting students of color; Maame spent the summer doing research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and developing a fantastic relationship with her faculty mentor; we are keeping our fingers crossed that this helps facilitate her successful entry into their Ph.D. program next fall!
  • Tanisha is making contact with the University of Texas-Austin and plans to bust down south come early November. 
  • Justin M has his heart set on Yale for his master’s in public health; he’s figuring out his plan for a visit.
  • Jennifer had an amazing summer research experience at Michigan State University this past summer and would love the opportunity to gain her Ph.D. there; however, she is also exploring Ph.D. programs that combine the dietetic internship with the Ph.D. such as the one at Cornell University – she’ll be going out there in a few short weeks.
  • After Jared returns from Madison, he’ll be situating the logistics for visits to Indiana University and the University of Illinois; given that Jared is an English major, it is doubly important for him to make school visits a priority!
  • After Katelyn returns from her Wisconsin visit, she is off to visit the University of Iowa – looks like she’ll remain a Mid-western girl at heart?  Stay tuned!
  • Next stop(s) for Justin C?  Flying out to Portland, driving to Euguene to visit the University of Oregon, then driving up to Seattle to visit the University of Washington, before driving back down to Portland to fly back to Grand Rapids.  Truth be told?  I so wish I was tagging along in his suitcase - would LOVE to take a trip to the Pacific Northwest!

 So, why are these visits so important and what do you need to do to make a visit successful?  Well, in these days and times, securing financial support is becoming more and more challenging.  The norm is having over 100 applicants competing for 4 – 6 slots.  Yeah. 

The good news is that McNair scholars have a distinct advantage over others by way of being McNair.  McNair scholars not only have built a credential set that rivals the top-tied candidates, but they have the support and encouragement to make contact with and visit their future faculty advisors.  This is HUGE.  Simply HUGE.  Making contact via email and then following up with a visit allows our McNair scholars to really shine, make a great impression that will last through the admissions process AND make sure that their decision to attend their top-choice school is the best one for them.

Not only are you going to connect with faculty on a personal level, but you are also “trying on” and getting a “feel for” each school/program.  It’s as much about you sizing them up as it is about them sizing you up.  Remember this.  You have a ton to offer.  Not everyone is a McNair scholar who is highly articulate with a ton of research experience with a ton of exciting ideas for the kinds of things they want to get involved with.  You are articulate.  You can talk about your research and why you want to get your Ph.D.  You can communicate your passion for the field.  You can tell them what you have to offer in terms of your skills and strengths.  Besides this, you want to hear what they have to offer you.  How do their faculty treat their graduate students?  What kind of graduation rate do they have and where do most of their alumni end up? 

Certainly, just the planning of these visits can be nerve-wracking.  You have to email faculty and have the courage to put yourselves out there.  You have to be willing to take a risk, get on an airplane, talk to people you don’t know…yet.  You have to be confident in your abilities, your interests, and your accomplishments.  You have to be willing to take the chance that someone might ask you a question that you don’t know the answer to.  The truth is, that’s okay.  It’s okay to be yourself.  It’s okay to be “right where you’re at” in your life.  It’s okay to be trying to further yourself, your goals, and your interests.  It’s okay to be searching for the right people to connect with so that you can further pursue your passions.

I recently sat down with Tanisha and listened to her talk about how she needs to “nail it” when she starts emailing faculty.  She stressed how important it is for her to really know why she’s interested in their program and to be able to speak intelligently about her skills and experiences.  While this is true and I get where she’s coming from, I sensed the certain level of stress and worry coming from these sentiments.  My gut helped me respond by saying…yes, you want to be prepared in your dealings with prospective faculty mentors, but this is NOT the be-all, end-all.  Certainly not. 

In my view, the most important piece of this puzzle is simply being you.  Be yourself in how you email faculty and tell them that you are interested in their work and their program.  Be yourself in being excited to set up appointments and schedule a visit.  Be yourself in reading over their work and familiarizing yourself with the details of their program, while also formulating questions for when the time comes and they ask.  Be yourself in talking about your experiences, how you got to this point in your life, why you see yourself going on to achieve your Ph.D.  Be honest with your excitement, your fears, and your feelings in general.  Honestly, I think it’s the best way to go.  When everything is said and done, if you aren’t connecting with people who can truly appreciate these qualities about you, then perhaps it’s not going to be the best fit after all. 

There.  It’s really about finding your fit.  Following your gut, as I like to think about it.  Putting yourself out there, being okay with what is.  Working hard, but then stepping back and letting go.  You can’t control other people.  You can’t control a lot of things in life.  You can control your ambition and your willingness to express yourself.  You can control your enthusiasm and your eagerness to move to the next level.  Let this happen how it is supposed to happen.

Seriously.  After witnessing a good number of McNair scholars take this journey, put themselves out there, go and visit people and places they’ve never been – I’ve determined this IS the exciting part!  You never know when good fortune will strike, when you will totally connect with someone, when you will totally knock it out of the ballpark in terms of making a super awesome impression.  It happens all of the time.  Let go of trying to be perfect and just be YOU.  They will take you and you will take them if it’s meant to be.

Friday, October 12

Journey, Not Destination!

So, I've been meaning to write one of these for a while.  It's been a great, long and very hard road to get here, but boy oh boy, I’ve made it.  Actually, like Terry O'Quinn just said about Lost, it's the journey, not the destination.

I miss my McNair people - All of them (YOU!), especially the staff and their support.  I can tell you, without a doubt, the instruction, care, and love given to me by McNair at CMU will be one of my best memories ever. 

Some of you may know, but I always thought I was a good writer, at least as an undergraduate.  I wanted to share a page from my first book summary in graduate school.  I haven't seen so many lines since grade school.

I also wanted to share this picture, which I think is freakin’ awesome!

Although the first five weeks have been tough, I absolutely love my school, my program, my adviser  and my new colleagues.

Anyway, I’ll be in touch.  I just wanted to offer an update of sorts.

With best wishes,
Eric Denby

Sunday, September 9

McNair: FIVE More Years!

On a Tuesday morning COE sends out the email saying the McNair slate is out.  This is something we’ve been thinking about, wondering about, fretting about for over a year now – way before we even submitted the grant on June 7.   I distinctly recall getting the email on July 4, 2011 saying that McNair is in trouble.  In trouble!  With the budget and economic times the way they are, the federal government was only going to refund two-thirds of McNair programs nationwide.  That meant only 134 of 200 programs would be refunded.  Not good!

So our goal: write a perfect grant.  We had to!  Nothing like putting on the pressure.  No biggie, we can do this.  This was my second time writing the grant so at least I had experience under my belt.  I also had Maureen.  Long story short, Maureen is a McNair scholar, turned McNair graduate assistant/Ph.D. student and ah-mazing comrade and partner.  Did I mention that Maureen is a highly skilled writer, communicator, researcher and generally highly knowledgeable about all-things-McNair?  Yeah, she’s with me.
I enlisted Maureen’s help on the grant and she spent the greater portion of the spring semester updating all of our sources that *demonstrate need* for a McNair program at CMU.  I focused on other “goodies” like the plan of operation, budget, objectives and the like.  This time around, the Department of Education included the "option" for us to address several “competitive priorities” if we chose to.  Certainly a “no brainer” since we needed to accumulate all the points we could.  Suffice it to say, doing more with less and recruiting more STEM students is the name of the game! 

As an already well-established McNair program producing Ph.D.’s yearly (we have THREE to date with over twenty more in the Ph.D. pipeline), we also had the benefit of scoring additional “prior year experience points” – also an essential item if we were to make the cut!  Despite never quite knowing how those prior year experience points were figured from year to year, the Department actually told us how they do it during a recent COE conference.  Based on that information, we knew that we would secure all points accessible to us.  Yes!
Things came to a head the week the grant was due which happened to coincide with both Maureen and I escorting our McNair scholars to a Graduate School Training Camp hosted by Murray State University in the “far reaches” of Kentucky.  Needless to say, all of the McNair directors present at camp were pretty darn stressed.  We compared notes, shared drafts and told each other that all we could do was our best.  Okay, that sounds good, right?  I won’t go into the details, but one or two breakdowns (some more major than others) later, we submitted the grant upon our return. 

I have to mention the calm, capable and steady presence of Deborah Clark – our grants person – who took us through every step of the process (which is convoluted to say the least – come on, it’s the federal government) and all I have to say about that is – I love you, Deb.  You ROCK!  Seriously, other programs that don’t have such awesome grants folks are up a creek plain and simple.  This is now our second time through with Deb!

June 7 came and went, and for a while, we chilled.  We chilled meaning we didn’t think as much about the grant.  We were in full force with the Summer Research Institute and working with our current group of scholars.  My stomach returned to normal and before we knew it, it was getting more challenging to make a turn onto Mission (meaning students were creeping back!) and school was about to start again.  I knew I had to proceed with our normal recruitment efforts despite not knowing if we would be able to service this next group of scholars.  Talk about having to muster up some energy and excitement without really having *real* energy and excitement.  Not fun. 
Meanwhile, we were receiving almost daily emails from COE (Council on Opportunity in Education, our DC-based organization that advocates on behalf of Trio programs) updating us on advocacy efforts to restore McNair funding, calls to action for alumni, current students and faculty and supporters to sign petitions and contact their representatives.  No real positive information was coming from Washington despite such efforts.  A good number of McNair programs were going to be cut nationwide – to the tune of about 75 in all!

My anxiety level rising once again coincided with the start of the fall semester.  Everywhere I went people were asking me if I knew about our grant it seemed.  Nope!  No idea.  The last time we wrote (back in 2007), I distinctly remember attending COE’s annual conference in Chicago in mid-September and still NOT knowing if we were safe.  Our grant expires on September 30 every four years.  We found out September 17 that CMU made it!  You know, it’s always nice to have some planning time knowing that you will be continuing to run a program after the next two weeks. 

The Department of Education since became notorious for being slow to announce grantees for other Trio programs and the pressure was on to announce not only McNair, but Upward Bound Math and Science and Veterans Upward Bound.  Again, in dealing with the federal government, this would be no small feat!  One of the primary COE outreach strategies had actually been to postpone the McNair competition until after the elections.  Obviously that had not come to fruition.
One day after our program assistant interviews for a new job (because she doesn’t know if she’ll have a job come the end of the month!), I wake up to an email from COE stating that the McNair slate, as they call it, is out.  Now, you might think that we would simply all get emails, or a letter even, telling us YES or NO.  Ah, no, that would not be the case.  Instead, we all have to go “sleuthing around” to find out if we are refunded.  The Department sends letters to Congress who then makes this information public.  I immediately call my contact in Senator Stabenow’s office and leave a message.  Doug had called me as soon as our CMU Upward Bound program had been refunded (yes, CMU rocks!).  I then called my contact in Representative Camp’s office and left a message.  Then I called Toby Roth, CMU’s congressional staff person.  Then Mary Montoye called me for a reference for our program assistant, Julie.  Of course, I’m shaking and freaking out.  No biggie, I can give Mary a reference, no problem. 

I had just read my two daily emails – one from the Daily Love (check it if you haven’t -, it’s cool!) and the Winner’s Circle – and BOTH (yes, BOTH) talked about how sometimes life can really throw you big challenges and that even if the meaning isn’t immediately clear, those challenges make us stronger.  I immediately think: oh my gosh, we’re not being refunded.  I’m going to be jobless (I’m not even thinking about the scholars – sorry guys – at this point).  I’m mid-conversation with Mary and my cell beeps in with a 202 number – DC!  I say to Mary, “gotta go, call you back” and pick up.  It’s the educational aide from Camp’s office, I stop breathing and wait.  Ashton says she has GOOD NEWS.  OMG, jumping for joy, happy dance X100, trying to breathe, smiling uncontrollably, I can’t even believe it.  She got the letter late last night.  CMU IS IN!  Wow.
Seriously, I’m dancing around the house (I was home that day with our babysitter having started fall classes) and everyone was still sleeping, including Ken.  I call Mary.  I get Sue who passes me to Deb who then passes me back to Mary (they are all in the research office) and we are all ecstatic together.  Couldn’t be better!  Ah-mazing.  Who do I call next?  My mom, Ken’s mom, Ken finally wakes up to the good news, I call my friend Pat who also directs a McNair program in Michigan (she doesn’t know yet if she’s in – she must not have contacts like me – JUST KIDDING!), I’ve got other director friends emailing me, they don’t know either.  Pure craziness!  I text Julie and ask her to send a note to the scholars.  I call and leave a message for Maureen.  I post it on Facebook.  Love that!  I think I ended up with about 70 “likes” and a bunch of awesome comments.  McNair unite!  The only reason I really got on Facebook in the first place was to stay connected with our awesome alumni.

It’s been several weeks now since we got the news and I’m still in shock.  After being so deeply stressed (even if I could “ignore” it on the surface) for so long, it’s going to take a moment to decompress and get back onto a “normal” track and way of being.  As a matter of fact, I have to admit that I much prefer this way of being.  I LOVE this way of being.  I love that we can now move forward with recruiting our next cohort knowing that we will actually have a next cohort.  I love that I can get my current scholars on track applying to schools this fall and start booking plane tickets to go and visit their future faculty advisors!  I love that I can continue to move forward with my own coaching training and become even better at what I do.  If anything, this past year has been a tremendous gift in the form of giving me the confidence and inspiration to really embrace what I do and take it to a whole new level.  I’m just super pumped!
It’s been absolutely FANTASTIC walking around campus and sharing the news and joy!  I love that we have such an amazing support network of faculty, staff and students around campus.  It makes this work feel even more special and amazing than it is.  I just returned from New York after attending COE’s annual conference and I have to tell you – we are LUCKY!  The word on the street isn’t entirely complete and the fight continues as I write this, but McNair programs are being cut across the country in significant numbers.  Big, long-standing programs with great track records.  While this may be due to the reality of our current economic situation, I believe that it MAKES OUR WORK AT CMU EVEN MORE PRESSING and “of the essence.” 

Our job is to pluck motivated and curious students from the crowds.  Motivated students that come from some hard backgrounds but have persevered.  Motivated students who demonstrate a certain curiosity and passion for….SOMETHING…..FOR LIFE…..and want to take their education to a whole new level.  They just might not know exactly how to make that happen.  We work with these amazing students and get to witness their evolution and growth in a way that most do not.  We get to push, encourage, elevate, support, excite and witness the growth of our students.  The amount that we learn from our students and this work is simply icing on the cake.  There’s nothing better than receiving notes from our alumni around the country with their exciting news, or better yet, having our alumni come back to Mt. Pleasant after receiving their Ph.D. for a celebratory dinner with faculty, friends and mentors.  CMU McNair students ROCK, hands down!
We have our work cut out for us.  We couldn’t do it without the amazing faculty that give of themselves and their time and their expertise.  It never ceases to amaze me how many deeply caring – and interesting and inspiring – individuals we have that work with our students and support our McNair mission.  It is truly humbling.  So, I’d like to put forth a charge not only for our current scholars, but our future scholars as well.  Appreciate this opportunity and take full advantage of it.  McNair is special.  You are special.  Let us help you keep moving forward in your journey.  Get your Ph.D. and then give back.  Do GREAT things and then help others do GREAT things.  Together we can elevate the McNair mission to new heights.

Tuesday, July 17

Ghana: McNair Scholar Across the Pond

Hello Fellow Scholars!

I wanted to take a break today from writing on my own blog, and give you all a little sharing of my experiences and how they seem to be relating to what I want to do with my life after CMU.

This is Kojo - Which means born on Monday
So, to give some background I'll start with why I signed up for a trip to Ghana in the first place. As a student, I study biomedical science, which is pretty much as bench laboratory science as you can get. I have spent many hours (including my McNair summer research) working in a lab with fruit flies and test tubes, and lots of small calculations and figuring. That research was fine and dandy, but I guess deep down I really wanted to do something more with people. I have spent a long time focusing on Global Health in my spare time, which has really consumed my interested and steered my individual research from my bench-science focus to really a broader healthcare-focused work. I've been searching for months on where I want to put myself as a scholar in the future. Its simply been a toss up between medicine and graduate school, and through McNair I was guided toward combining the two. My MCAT got the best of me, and took that off the table, at least as an immediate applicant, so it was time to turn a cheek. That time came just as I was leaving for this trip.

These children were just on the street, and they loved us.
This trip focuses on International Nutrition. Nutrition is not even close to my major, but is pivotal when discussing global health, and therefore lies within my interests. I met the professor for this trip, Dr. Francis Tayie, and we spoke about my interests. He was excited that I was willing to go on the trip, even if it did not count toward my major. He was pumped about my enthusiasm. Anyway, at first it was not necessarily going to happen since there were financial difficulties and a lot to plan beforehand, but my Will provided and here I am.

This little boy's name is John! 
This trip for me has been an experience of a lifetime.  I have gained so much knowledge in Ghanaian culture it is ridiculous. I have also gained an important insight into the public health situations here, and it really makes you think about developing nations around the world, and how their healthcare systems are so different from our own.

I recently published a post on my own blog about the comparison between Ghanaian hospital care and US hospital care, so I will not restate it all, but I will give some highlights:

The statue is Cecily Williams, she pretty much invented
nutrition medicine for undernourished children.
Ghanaian hospitals are set up on a cash and carry system, meaning that a patient must pay separately and that day for every aspect of their treatment, from medicines (even those used in wards for overnight stays) to labs (yes, even getting simple blood draws), even down to the cost of checkin, which by the way is 7 GHC (about $3.50 USD) at the hospital I was checked into for a mild case of malaria. Don't worry, I'm fine, malaria isn't really that bad, but it will be something I can look forward to sharing my experience with!

The Whole group and the teachers at Bright Lillies
preschool in Accra, Ghana
Anyway, the experience of looking at the conditions of the hospitals here, both the one I went to for my own health called Lapaz, and the one I went to for our class called Princess Marie Louise Children's Hospital, have opened my eyes to show me even more why a career in public health, focusing on global perspectives is one I should pursue. I am excited to continue my trip and then really reflect upon these experiences in choosing where and how to apply this fall.

I hope everyone is having a great summer, and I hope you all take advantage of the McNair program. Things can change rapidly before, during, and after, but overall, you have the world at your feet and amazing people to teach you how to walk. Enjoy it, and let's keep in touch! 

Living for now,
Justin Mendoza
McNair Scholars 2011

Monday, July 16

The Feeling Is Relative

Hey all this blog is just a reflection of my experiences so far while doing my research in Madison. It's been a very enlightening and wonderful summer for me and these are my thoughts on it all. I hope that it helps you all gain some perspective and understanding. I also think we should all take the time to do this. It's extremely helpful :-) hope you enjoy
I posted a question on my facebook status this past week asking about a 1000 of my closest friends this question. “ How do you want to feel about your life?”  It’s a pretty simple question, not asking too much of an individual. I got it from an audio book that Lynn lent me, called The Fire Starter Sessions That by Danielle LaPorte. (I suggest you check it out if you can) It was while listening to this book that I realized that I’ve never really been asked how I want to feel about my life. I’ve been countlessly questioned about what I want to do, where I want to be , and the type of person I want to be.  But never once has anyone bothered to ask what I wanted to feel about my life.  Because of this I realized that I had no idea. I couldn’t answer the question. I could easily recite my elevator speech that would easily address the first three but literally had no idea how to address how I wanted to feel about it all.
Through McNair I have very much become sure of my future. I have defined my research interests. I’ve gotten a taste of what life at grad school will be like. I can actually see my PhD in my hand.  I am happy with my answers. In fact I am sure of them. But there is no doubt that something is missing. I know! That sounds crazy. I mean I have everything that any hopelessly lost but hard driven undergrad would want, more even. Obviously I understand that being so young  I am not supposed to have all the answers. It is normal for me to feel this clueless and have no idea why I can’t seem to be satisfied with my circumstances.  So after a week of reflection and examining the feedback of my much appreciated facebook friends I realized exactly how I want to feel about my life.
1.          I want to feel alive. Though I am living, I have actually not been living my life. I have not experienced anything new, bold or outside comfort zone. Which is why I decided to come to UW-Madison for my summer research. Being here I have become more enlightened, both in my research and general life. The fresh new environment is exactly what I needed to add some spice to  my bland living. Everyday has been a new experience, from navigating my own way to realizing that yes I am now an adult . But also realizing that in being an adult how I start living  now is exactly how the rest of my life is going to be. As such, I want to spend everyday of my adult life being excited. Meanwhile understanding that whatever my choice of higher education, whether it's Madison or not, the important factoid to remember is to actually live my life and enjoy it.
2.                I don’t want to settle. I believe it was the infamous Don Asher who said fit and match equals admission. Through all the GREing and personal statements, I have come to find that nothing is truer than this statement.  I have come to realize that being selective in every aspect of my life is what will bring me the most fruitful opportunities. For me it is no longer just about saying yes to make someone else happy because I see no other doors. It is about having faith, believing in myself, and realizing that to be at my best I have to choose what I feel is best. I have to decide what will make me happy and with every part of me go for it.
3.                I want to be influential. My definition of influential does not just encompass social change or advocacy. Instead it includes the small stuff. The little things that go unnoticed but seem to make the greatest difference. Doing this is what makes me happiest. The warm smiles I give to light up one person. Taking the time to be a listening ear. Saying thank you more often than not and all the other cheesy clich├ęs of kindness we so often forget about. I want to recognize the little battles, the every day struggles that we face. After all it is the small steps we take that help make those big ones happen.
I’m not sure if doing this will help figure everything out.  But I am certain it’s a start. Embracing these experiences and realizing that in anything I want, whether it’s getting into graduate school, falling love, or getting that perfect job, I need to realize how I want to feel about it all. Truly taking the time to see why what I am are doing is important. I suggest the same for my fellow scholars not just to find answers, but to bring clarity and perspective especially during these most critical times of our lives. 

Monday, June 25

Time - What Does It Mean To You?

I've been thinking a lot about time lately.  How do you feel about time and what does it mean to you?  Since we pretty much can't do anything without it, one could argue that time is our most precious commodity.  To be honest, I feel like it's a fight against time - all of the time.  I'm constantly trying to "fit in" another item to cross off of my "to do" list in the next five minutes.  I also tend to have unrealistic to do lists that drive me crazy!  I've started calling this propensity to create SUPER LONG "to do" lists a sickness.  In actuality, the more I add to my list(s), the more stressed and worse I feel when I am unable to accomplish everything on my list. 

I think this is why I dislike Sunday's the most.  Sounds weird, doesn't it?  So, you like the weekend to have a different sort of energy and flow, don't you?  You want to relax but still be productive.  Or at least I do.  You wind down Friday evening, thinking about what you need to accomplish, what you would like to accomplish, etc.  I personally don't like to schedule myself to the extreme, but I have an idea of when I'm going to chill and when I'm going to work.  The problem comes in when I start "pushing" items from my list from Saturday to Sunday because - well, for a variety of reasons - things always take longer than you think, I end up taking more time for relaxation or time with family, I think to myself, "I can do this tomorrow."  No problem. 

Ah, but that is the problem.  Because then tomorrow rolls around (Sunday, in this case) and my to do list is busting at the seams!  I usually start out optimistic and pretty calm about it all.  But as the day wears  on, I find myself getting more tense and irritated with myself because I'm constantly thinking about all of the things that I'm NOT going to be able to accomplish as a result of my choices.  Choices about how I spend my time.  I try to go faster, which means I enjoy each task less and less because I'm less present/focused when completing the task, not to mention thinking to myself - gosh, why can't I just have all the space (or time!) in the world to get my stuff done?!  Because the world doesn't work that way, now does it?

So, maybe it's just my mindset.  If I think time is so limited, then time becomes so limited.  If I think I have all the time in the world, then I have all the time in the world.  No?  Perhaps.  I think shifting my mindset, coupled with a reduction in number of things I put on my to do list, would help.  In the end, I feel the best and most capable at completing certain items (including things like spending quality time with friends and family) when I give myself the time and space to do so.  This means that some things just don't make the list.  Some things just don't get done.  Maybe it's coming to terms with this?

Obviously in my work with each of you, the subject/issue of time comes up.  This spring, I sat down with Jared, Nicole and Darnell and simply "talked time."  I think it's a good exercise to think about how we spend our time in relation to our priorities and goals.  I also think is useful to develop routines, habits, tools that help us develop a positive mindset about time and how we use it.

I'd love to hear your thoughts about time in relation to this post.  How do you manage your time?  Do you have any tips or tricks that really work for you?  Use the comment section below to share! 

Talking time.....discussion to be continued.

Wednesday, May 23

McNair Scholars are Awesome!

McNair in Mt. Pleasant's ~~ Festival of Banners ~~
Located in front of the Court House on Main Street

Monday, May 21

Creed Reference

I think it is important for everyone to be open to new experiences. For the 2012 cohort, the SRI has just bloomed. Although I cannot speak for everyone, I would say that a lot of us went out of our comfort zones in just one week. Here is a list of one or more things we participated in:
*Getting up at 8:00am (or earlier) on Monday morning
*Personality testing
*Diversity training
*Taking the stairs instead of the elevator
*Eating at Greentree Co-op (That BLT with feta cheese was scrumptious!)
*Rock climbing
*High Ropes course
*5k training
*Research pilot test
*Learning how to eat frogs and identify big rocks

Now, look at that list again. I probably forgot a few things. Be proud for all that we have experienced in ONE week. Next, look at the list below. Consider what else we could enjoy together:
*Planting more seeds in the garden
*Hitting the gym 
*Biggest Loser competition

So embrace it. With arms wide open.
Afterall, we are McNair.

Wednesday, April 25

It's All About Your Passion

I'm inspired to write about PASSION.  I'm inspired to write about passion for our "new" scholars who really aren't so "new" anymore as they get ready to present their research at tomorrow's symposium.  I'm inspired to write about passion for our "older" scholars, some of whom are getting ready to graduate and start their graduate career.  Others are continuing their undergraduate work and seizing new and amazing opportunities - like doing more research at other institutions and even countries!

It's all about the passion baby!  Right?  Several of our scholars recently presented at Dr. Hernandez's College 101 program for at-risk high school students and talked about "finding your passion."  Dr Hinck and I spoke about how the best research presentations come from scholars who allow their passion to come through to the audience.  I can tell you for a fact that our scholars who are starting their graduate programs next fall are passionate about taking this next step in their journey.  They wouldn't have received such spectacular funding offers if they weren't!

You can't fake passion, nor can you just make it appear out of thin air.  You can tell when someone really has passion, can't you?  I believe it's combination of opening yourself to possibilities and opportunities, while being true to yourself.  You'll feel it when you have it!  Read Freddy's post (One Day at a Time) on his first year in grad school at IU and he talks about his passion and already starting to feel like a "real" scientist....

McNair gives you the chance to experience research.  Asking questions and finding the answers can be exhilarating, for sure.  Sure, along with the exciting part comes the hard work which can sometimes be pretty mundane, cumbersome and even frustrating.  That's where the passion comes in!  It's the passion that carries you through...and allows you to "pop out" the other end....when it comes time to present your work in front of a group of people and express the importance of your findings....when it comes time to tell a graduate admissions committee what you are going to do with your Ph.D. in "fill in the blank" and why there is no other better choice for you.

So, here's to YOUR passion!  To finding it.  To nurturing it.  To sustaining it on ALL levels.  Now that's the best!

One Day at a Time

Freddy Lee is a CMU McNair Scholar Alumni who graduated May 2011 and started his Ph.D. program in Microbiology at Indiana University this past fall.  He received the McNair Fellowship which totally covers his graduate education.  Freddy wrote to me not too long ago and told me that I could share this with you!  Here are some *nuggets of wisdom* especially for those of you getting ready to begin your own graduate career.  :-)  We miss you, Freddy!
Freddy presenting his research in Lansing at Posters on the Hill
Photo compliments of Robert Barclay
The "skinny" on my first year at IU thus, the first semester was by far the hardest yet with the course load, amount of reading, lab rotations, and just getting adjusted to graduate school/life. I would say it took me a solid month and half to deal with the stress level. Here are a few "Aha! moments" (as Oprah would say) that helped me deal with grad school a little better.
  1. Realizing I don't/won't know everything about science...and that's okay. This is the reason I'm in grad school, to build a more in-depth knowledge of science.
  2. Figuring out the expectation for grad school
  3. Making sure to schedule "me" time (tennis, going out with friends ect.). It's very easy to forget about yourself when you have a to-do-list 50ft. long.
  4. And as always, Approach the to-do-list (assignments, presentations, reading etc. I'm nearly a master at this thought process, but I still catch myself thinking too far ahead, and have to refocus myself to the task(s) at hand.
This current semester is much easier than the previous, I'm sure becoming adjusted to grad school plays a major role. Currently, I'm taking 12 credits (4 courses and research). At the beginning of this semester, I chose a permanent lab to join and I'm working on examining the microbial community in the Honey Bee stomach, and trying to determine the role the microbes play on the overall health of the bee. I absolutely love my lab! I definitely feel I made the right choice with concern to my research interest and lab comfort. Thus far in my graduate experience, I have learned so much about research in biology, and can feel myself slowly evolving into a's pretty exciting.

So things are going well!  And, I'm taking it one day at a time.

Friday, April 13

Island Time

Hello all, Lynn asked that I post this affirmation. As we rush into finals and to the pseudo-freedom that awaits us in summer, I often find myself wondering about why we do things the way we do and why we rush everything we do. This of course got me thinking about other cultures and how they differ from our own. I have found that these affirmations are a good place to take note of how we currently view our lives against the backdrop of the world, our futures, and our current states of mind. So, per Lynn’s request here is my most recent affirmation. --Justin C.

Island Time
As I prepared for my trip to the Marquesas I was bombarded with references to “Island Time.” People spoke as if the flow of time was actually slowed by the remoteness of the islands. Now that I am here I get their meaning. This would be an interesting topic for a cultural anthropologist to study, had they the endurance to drift back and forth between cultures. Is it the longer days that make people move without any sense of urgency? Is it the rhythm of the ocean that guides their pace? Who knows? All I know is that adjusting back to American life is going to be painful. Sure we awake at dawn here on the island, but somehow it is easy to rise with the sound of roosters and waves to greet you. I dread the sound of my alarm clock calling me to a fast paced college life. I love college but I think the musician Jack Johnson got it right in his song “Breakdown.” I think Americans could stand to slow down and appreciate the world a bit more. I will never understand why we all wish to rush through life and only relax in our retirement years. I am reminded of the saying “Youth is wasted on the young.” Perhaps if we all learned to enjoy each day by following the rhythms of Island Time we would not have to wait until we are old to truly appreciate life.

Thursday, April 12

Speak Easy

Hi, all - thought you might enjoy the following piece on how yoga can help with public speaking - I felt it particularly relevant since most of you are exploring how yoga can improve your life on *many* levels and you are all getting ready to present your awesome research!  --lmc

Check out the following link or see below:

Speak Easy

By Karen Macklin

If you're an anxious public speaker, don't panic. Yoga's tools for working with the breath and mind can help calm you when you have to give a speech or show up for a job interview. Performance anxiety occurs when your limbic system reacts to a stressful social situation as if you were in physical danger. You can stop the reaction, explains Dr. Sat Bir Khalsa, a professor at Harvard Medical School, by slowing your breath. In a study conducted from 2005 to 2007, Khalsa and psychotherapist Stephen Cope, who directs the Kripalu Institute for Extraordinary Living in Lenox, Massachusetts, found that a regular yoga program that includes breathing practices helped young professional musicians control their performance fears.

Another way to ease your nerves is by focusing your attention, Cope says. "The more focused your concentration becomes on your task, the harder it is to be distracted by anxiety." Yoga's philosophical teachings help as well, Cope adds. Apply the lessons of a key text called the Bhagavad Gita: Be detached from the fruits of your actions. Do your best and devote the results to something greater, such as a higher power, your new career path, or the wedding guests eagerly awaiting your toast.

Cope, a frequent public speaker, uses this technique before going on stage: "I scan the audience to find someone who looks like they might need to hear what I have to say, and I offer my speech to them."

Yoga in Action: 6 Tips for Public Speakers

Reframe the Situation. If you can see the event as exciting rather than terrifying, you physiological response will be less intense.

Get Grounded. Feel your feet on the floor. Imagine them rooting into the earth, drawing your nervous energy into the ground.

Take Slow, Deep Breaths. Slowing your exhalations will immediately calm the nervous system.

Focus. Remember your task and focus on it the same way you might focus on a difficult yoga pose. Don't think about anything else.

Practice Awareness. If fearful thoughts do arise, simply watch them come and let them go; don't feed into them.

Let Go of the Outcome. Show up, do your best, and offer the fruits of your actions to something larger than yourself.

Take the Edge Off. For pre-performance tension, herbalist Carol Brzezicki of Sage Mountain Herbal Retreat Center in Vermont suggests oat seed extract. Put one or two dropperfuls in water and take it 30 to 60 minutes before showtime. High in minerals, this herb soothes without making you sleepy.

March 2012

Wednesday, April 4

The Paradox of Too Many Choices

Lynn wanted me to share this reflection with y'all.  Hope you enjoy!
The Paradox of too Many Choices

            What a fantastic predicament to be in.  Not only am I accepted to multiple graduate schools (Western Michigan, Ohio, Wayne, Michigan State, and Northern Illinois) but I have two that are offering essentially the same funding package.  Instead of worrying about pursuing my Ph.D., I have the problem of picking which one is better.  It’s absolutely great.
            To assist in my decisions, I’ve created a score card of sorts. The easy and conformable choice is Western; it’s close to my mother’s house, my hometown, and I am very familiar with Kalamazoos.  It is also a bigger program, closer to archives and outstanding libraries, and lies on the Amtrak train line between East Lansing and Chicago.  But it is not Ohio University, which offers a very neat professor who is widely published and close to my specialty.  It is also, or at least used to be, a more prestigious program.  I have some very tough decisions indeed.
            Here is a brief description of each of my criteria.  I am ranking them on a plot of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most desirable or best fit.  Although I won’t only use this tool as my decision maker, I will see how these two programs rank up in a qualitative way.
  • The actual size of the Library with regards to books and collections.
  • The number of Americanists on staff, whether tenure, tenure track, or adjunct.
  • The number of possible professors I could work with.
  • The prestige and rank of the institution.
  • The access to archives that are close to my field (labor, radicalism, political left wing).
  • The number of Ph.Ds conferred.
  • The number of history faculty, which will show the strength of the department.
  • The number of current Graduate students.
  • The quality of the professors (this is where I will give big points to the program that has super-duper professors).
  • The cost of living
  • The cost of rentals
  • The intellectual culture (does the program have a speaker series, does the college bring in speakers, etc.)
  • The social and cultural life I may have in that town (restaurants, neat shops, artsy-fartsy things)

So at this point I find myself back and forth between two seemingly equal programs.  Although Ohio has a perfect professor, Western has many really good professors.  Although Ohio is ranked higher, Western has a larger department, both overall and in US history.   It will be very interesting to see how this all shakes up.  I’ve decided to choose by next weekend (April 6).

Monday, April 2


At a time when the level of economic uncertainty is so high for the vast majority of people, I consciously try to focus on all of the little things that make life really great.  For me, this might be enjoying the ride to town with my girls, or taking the time to read something inspirational, or checking out the spring flowers that are surfacing around campus.  These are things that I'm thankful for despite sometimes being carried away by all of life's day-to-day pressures and worries.

Another thing that I'm very thankful for is my work.  I am thankful for the opportunity to work with students and help them grow their potential.  I am thankful for being able to extend opportunities to students that they probably wouldn't have had the chance to experience otherwise.

I think an important part of this work is instilling a sense of gratitude in our students.  For some, it's already there.  For others, this could be a chance for nurturing and growth.  I don't what it is really.  It could have to do with certain exposures during our upbringing or it could be a result of our modern, fast-paced society.  Either way, I think it's important to take note of all of the awesome things we experience everyday and give thanks.  I personally don't think we do this often enough.

I remember what Father John always used to say (a priest from the church where my parents go) - "Have a nice day and don't take it for granted."  Simple and sweet but not something that's always easily attainable.  Don't take it for granted.

McNair students have access to many resources and opportunities.  The truth is, a significant amount of taxpayer money is being funneled into your futures - about $10,000 in fact.  This money is being spent to help each of you grow your talents, explore your passions, build your confidence, create relationships that will spur your success.  I think we all need to be thankful for that.  As I'm working on our grant, I am intimately reminded of just how much is being put toward scholar success.  In return, I think it's important that all of our scholars become individuals who can speak up and say "thank you" - a lot!  Say thank you to someone who holds open a door, say thank you to a professor who spends an extra five minutes with you to talk, say thank you to your mom for calling to say hi, say thank you to each other for sharing this amazing experience together.

I have to be honest and tell you that through the years, I have been disappointed and saddened by the trend of "entitlement" and lack of gratitude among some.  I want to be clear that this isn't about wanting to constantly be hearing "thank you" "thank you" thank you" all of time.  Sure, it's nice to be recognized for our efforts, but what I'm getting at is something bigger.  It's creating a foundation of gratitude that will not only be present among our group, but will move beyond and travel with each of you in your journey.  I feel personally responsible for putting the resources of the McNair program to good use!  I also encourage and expect our scholars to take these resources seriously and use them to their fullest extent.  Please be an example to others and show your gratitude on a daily basis. 

Be thankful for these amazing gifts - big and small - each and every day.

Wednesday, February 15

Cool graduate school blogs

So sometimes I fall into the trap of too much 'web-formation' on things, but I thought this list would be useful to us all.  It's a collection of Graduate Student blogs.  Anything from dissertation writing and research to cool tech tools to help the scholar in all of us.

I think you should check it out.