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.