Tips for Successfully Completing Your Graduate School Applications

Posted November 22, 2022 by unlmcnair
Categories: Academic Success, First-Generation Student, Graduate School

Tags: , ,

By Carol Boehler, McNair Coordinator and Sophie Tonjes, McNair GA

You’re nearing the end of your undergraduate education, which means beginning your graduate school journey is just around the corner. However, completing graduate school applications comes first. Your statement of purpose, curriculum vitae, and other application materials should detail your past research experiences, discuss your academic and career goals, and tell a story in a compelling way to demonstrate to the admission committee members why you are a great fit and match for their program. The application process can be both a stressful and exciting process. We want you to feel relaxed and confident when submitting graduate school applications.

Here is our advice to help you successfully complete strong graduate school applications: 

Make the most of THIS graduate application cycle. When applying to graduate programs, you should apply to 6-10 programs. However, if you’re applying to clinical psychology, apply to 12–16 programs. You should always apply to at least one master’s program, regardless of discipline, particularly if you have a GPA of 3.0–3.49. This allows you to show programs you are capable of graduate level work and then can later apply for PhD programs. Although you are a competitive applicant, it’s always good to have options in case being accepted into a program doesn’t work out like you think it will or they aren’t accepting graduate students for next fall. Also, never self-select out of applying for a reach school. If they are looking for a graduate student this year and your research interests match what they are looking for, then you might be the exact candidate they’re looking for. Never doubt yourself or your experiences.

Use an application spreadsheet to track your applications. Using the McNair template or a spreadsheet you designed, you can keep track of what materials each program requires (some schools may require different materials than others) as well as compare schools based on important information. Regardless of how you organize your spreadsheet, you should include columns for materials required and materials “submitted”, list of recommenders and letter of recommendation “submitted/complete”, application deadline (date due), “applied” (date submitted), “complete” (date application is “complete” at each school), “interview” (date), “financial aid” (dollar amount), “tuition” (total), and “decision” (outcome). You can include other key details about programs on your spreadsheet, such as faculty of interest, length of program, and important website links. A spreadsheet with this information will help make selecting the best school for yourself much easier. You can delete rows as you decide schools are not the right fit for you, as well as highlight your top choices.

Pay attention to graduate application deadlines. Submit your application as early as possible. While it may seem like common knowledge not to procrastinate graduate school applications, sometimes it’s overlooked that gathering all materials and completing applications can take a considerable amount of time. By submitting your application early, this allows time for your recommenders to upload/send in their letters. You can also resolve any technical issues you run into or get answers to questions that you may have regarding your application. It’s important to monitor your applications after submission to make sure programs received all your application materials and recommendation letters.

Select a 4th recommender as a backup. During this crazy application time, you may want to have a 4th faculty recommender in mind, as a last-minute backup if needed, so your application isn’t held up waiting for your recommendations. Additionally, it’s important to ‘waive’ your rights to view the letters of recommendation when you input your recommender’s information. Some programs may question why you choose not to waive this right, and it may come across as you not trusting the recommender’s letter. Correspondingly, the program may believe the recommender didn’t give an honest review because they knew the student would read the letter. Therefore, it’s always best to ‘waive’ your rights to view letters of recommendation.

Ask for help and advice. As previously stated, the graduate application process is both exciting and stressful so don’t be afraid to reach out for help when need.The McNair staff, as well as your faculty & graduate student mentors, are here to make sure you put together the best application possible. Take advantage of the opportunity to get feedback on your SOP, CV, and other application materials, as well as any offers of support along the way. Graduate school admissions staff are there to help guide you through the process as well. If you have any questions regarding the application process, be sure to ask as these interactions will only help improve your application before review. You don’t have to navigate this process alone.

DON’T take a year off before applying to graduate school. You are never going to be in a better position to apply to graduate school than you are right now. You still have close connections with your mentor and other recommenders and those connections tend to fade with time. Unless you maintain those relationships during that year off and you continue to be engaged in research-related internships or job experiences, you’ve just wasted a year that you could have been in graduate school and can easily lose motivation and be distracted from your career goals.

Don’t let life’s complications weigh you down or keep you from completing your applications. Whatever problems you may be going through today, this week, this month (or for the past 2 ½ years because of COVID), will most likely resolve themselves by next spring, summer, or fall, and you’ll be disappointed that you’ve missed the application deadlines for entrance in Fall 2023.

Push past the self-doubt. Think about all the qualities and experiences that make you unique and have prepared you to attend graduate school. You are a McNair Scholar! You have at least 1-2 unique research experiences to write about in your SOP, and you have at least 2-3 research presentations on your CV. Additionally, some of you have a publication with your mentor or may be working on or have completed a senior or honors thesis. You’ve worked towards this goal, you’ve persisted, and you are ready for graduate school! As Dr. Ronald McNair said in a commencement address, “You are good enough!”

Writing a Research Paper

Posted June 9, 2022 by unlmcnair
Categories: Uncategorized

By: Sophie Tonjes, McNair Graduate Assistant

By the end of the summer, scholars will have a completed full-length research paper. While some students may have written 4-5-page papers in their courses, others may have little to no prior experience writing papers, leading to nervousness. Although support will be provided throughout the summer, here are tips to help students get started on writing a research paper:

Choose a topic that’s interesting. Writing a research paper is easier to do if the topic is intriguing. When choosing a topic that’s interesting, researching for literature will be more enjoyable and more passion will be put into writing the research paper. If working with a mentor on a previously started project, a topic may already be determined. If joining research with a pre-chosen topic, make sure the research topic is still of interest and will be enjoyable to read and write about.

Search for literature and organize articles. After you’ve decided on your topic, conduct an initial literature search to find journal articles on your topic. During the fall semester, Junior Scholars attended subject librarian meetings where they learned different tools for conducting a literature search ( and how to organize journal articles ( When searching for literature, it is important to evaluate the sources. Things to evaluate might include the author’s credentials or institutional affiliation, when was the source published, the publisher, the title of the journal, etc. Knowing how to evaluate sources will help ensure that scholarly, peer-reviewed sources are being used.

Make an outline. This will act as a “map” and help keep writing organized. The outline should include important, and interesting points about the topic. When creating an outline, consider these questions: what is the topic, why is it significant, what literature is relevant to the topic, and what is the thesis or purpose statement? The objective of an outline is to group ideas in related groups, which will make mapping out the order of a paper and what information should go in each respective section. An outline shouldn’t be vague and should include clear details regarding the topic of the paper. Something to think about when creating an outline is, does every point make sense?

Write an abstract. This is the first component of a research paper that a reader will read and paints the overall picture of the research topic. An abstract is a 1-2 paragraph summary of a research paper. Abstracts are typically 150 – 300 words long. An abstract includes the topic of study, the purpose and/or central research questions, the methodology used, the main findings and/or results, and the main conclusions/implications.

Break your paper into sections when writing. Papers should be broken up into three main sections: the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. The introduction should include relevant background material. This is where terms or main concepts are defined, and the purpose of the paper is explained. A literature review over the research topic can be found in the introduction of the paper. The body of the paper will include the methods and results section for the research topic. The methods section will describe the sample of the study, how the research was conducted, including measurements and instruments used, and brief overview of how the data was analyzed. The results section simply reports the findings of the study without interpretation or bias. The conclusion of the paper includes a discussion interpreting the findings. A short summary of the purpose of the research might be included in this section to remind the audience what the research was looking for.

Know style standards based on discipline. It’s important to keep in mind whether the style of a research paper should be in MLA, APA, or a different style. If it’s unclear which style a certain discipline uses, ask a mentor for further clarification. There are handbooks and other reference tools to check the guidelines for each writing style. Such handbooks include in-text citation styles, references page styles, and formatting styles (i.e., headings, title page, and page numbers). Online resources, such as, can be helpful when access to style manuals or handbooks is unavailable.

Revise and proofread the final draft. The overall organization of the paper should be looked at when finalizing a research paper. Make sure all the important information on the topic is included and check that paragraphs and sentences make sense and have a natural flow throughout the paper. It’s always a good idea to review the reference page/bibliography and make sure that every source cited in the paper is also included in the reference section. While making final adjustments to a research paper, ask a mentor or friend to read through it and give additional feedback. Another tip to finalizing a research paper is to read out loud to hear the overall flow. Reading out loud can help identify areas of a research paper that may be worded incorrectly or that sound unnatural. The final version of a research paper should be informative and should further advance the topic of research.

Writing a research paper can be intimidating, but there’s no need to worry. McNair staff, research mentors, and graduate student mentors are here to help you improve your research writing skills and make sure the McNair Summer Research Experience goes smoothly. Hopefully, the tips above have helped you better understand how to write a research paper and will jump-start the writing process.    

Adapted from:


Preparing for Graduate School Interviews

Posted December 14, 2020 by unlmcnair
Categories: First-Generation Student, Graduate School, Professional Development, Research & Internships

By: Sophie Tonjes, McNair Graduate Assistant

For those who have completed their graduate applications, the next step is preparing for interviews with graduate school committees. Your interview is a great way to further market yourself as a great addition to the program, as well as providing an opportunity to learn more about the program you’ve applied to. The interview is not only for you to make an impression as a good fit for their program, but also for the graduate program to show how they can help you meet your academic and professional goals. Some of you may have experience with interviews, and others may not. This post includes advice in preparing you for graduate school interviews.


Do your research. You’ve hopefully already spent time researching the university, the program of interest, and the department faculty prior to the application process, but that was a few months ago. It’s a good idea to refresh your memory before the interview. If there are specific faculty members you’d like to work with, review their CVs and recent research they have done. Read published articles by these faculty members to gain a better understanding of their research. This can also be done for specific labs you’re interested in. Most labs have web pages that describe the research they’re working on and the members of the labs. Having background information on the program and faculty will allow you to speak more intelligently about the program, as well as framing your experiences and answers to questions through the lens of the program.

Practice. It’s very important to practice your interviewing skills before your graduate school interview. Set up a mock interview with McNair staff, faculty in your department, or with the university’s career services. Mock interviews can help you feel more comfortable answering and asking questions. Mock interviews are also a great way to practice your interview body language, such as making eye contact, sitting up straight, smiling, and tone of voice. Your behaviors during the interview are just as important as your answers to interview questions.

Plan ahead. You want the day of your interview to be stress free. Before your interview make sure your CV is updated and that you have a copy of it on hand during the interview. If you’re interviewing in person, print several copies of your CV to give to the members of the admissions committee, even if you’ve already sent electronic copies. You should also develop a list of questions to ask during your interview. Having questions prepared before the interview will show the admissions committee you’re well-organized. You’ll want to write down important details to answers you’re given, so have a pen and notepad readily available to take notes. It’s also important to get plenty of sleep the night before, as well as knowing the details of your interview (e.g., time of interview, location, parking, etc.).

Dress for success. You want to look professional for your interview as this will be the first impression you give to the admissions committee. It is advised to dress in business professional attire. If you don’t own business professional attire or can’t afford such attire at this time, look for discount professional attire sites. Some universities offer opportunities to access professional clothes, so it’s best to look for these opportunities or ask your university if they have these resources available. Examples of business professional attire include:


  • A suit (jacket and pants) in dark colors such as black, navy, or grey.
  • A cotton, button down dress shirt in colors such as white, off white, or pastel colored.
  • A silk tie with a simple pattern that matches the suit.
  • Dress shoes coordinated with the suit.
  • Dark socks that coordinate with shoes and suit, as well as long enough not to expose skin when sitting.
  • Wearing minimal jewelry (e.g., watch and wedding ring), as well as minimal to no cologne.


  • A suit (jacket and pants/skirt) in colors such as black, navy, or grey. If wearing a skirt, it should be below the knee in length.
  • A cotton or silk, comfortably fitting blouse in neutral colors.
  • If you’re wearing a skirt, plan to wear pantyhose in a neutral color.
  • Shoes that match the outfit in solid colors such as black, brown, burgundy, or navy. Shoes can be closed toe low heels or flats.
  • Wearing minimal jewelry (e.g., small studded earrings, wedding or engagement ring, one watch or bracelet), as well as minimal to no perfume.

Types of questions asked. There are a variety of questions admissions committees ask during an interview. Think about what details you want to include when talking about yourself and academic experiences. Interviewers aren’t just looking for facts about your achievements but are also looking to see if you would fit in well with the program of interest. Here are common questions you may be asked during an interview:

  • Tell me more about yourself.
  • Why did you choose your academic major?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are your short and long-term career goals?
  • Why are you applying to our particular program?
  • What kind of research are you most interested in? Describe a research project you’ve worked on.

Questions to ask. You’ll have the opportunity to ask questions during your interview. Asking questions will help you better decide if this program is a good fit for you, it’s an opportunity for you to “interview” the program of interest. This is a time to ask about a faculty member’s research project, funding opportunities for graduate students within the program, or general questions about the degree program. Here are questions you might consider asking during an interview:

  • What kind of financial aid are available to graduate students? Are there opportunities for teaching and research assistantships?
  • What do you consider the strengths of this program? What makes this program unique?
  • Where have alumni of the program gone? Where do they work?
  • How would you describe the faculty-student relationship in this department?
  • What type of student is most successful in this program?
  • Do most students publish an article or present a paper before graduation?
  • How long do most students take to graduate? How many years of course work? How long do most students take to complete their dissertations?

Questions to avoid asking. While it’s a good idea to ask questions during an interview to gain a better understanding of the program, there are questions you should avoid asking, such as:

  • Don’t ask questions that a brochure or website could answer. Make sure you have done your research first before you ask
  • Don’t ask questions which require a great amount of detail to answer
  • Don’t ask highly personal questions
  • Don’t ask questions with a negative tone/attitude

Questions to ask graduate students. During the time of your interview, you might have the opportunity to talk with current graduate students. If you have this opportunity, here are questions you might ask:

  • Why did you choose to pursue graduate studies at this university?
  • How would you describe the graduate students’ relationship with faculty? Do graduate students receive an adequate amount of support, encouragement, and constructive criticism?
  • What are some things you wish you had known prior to beginning your graduate program?
  • What does it take to succeed in your program?
  • What is it like to live in this town? How is the community, and what activities are there to do?
  • Where do graduate students typically live? How much are the monthly costs? Does your financial aid package typically cover your cost of living?

Virtual interviewing. Under certain circumstances, in-person interviewing might not be possible. The points above all apply to virtual interviewing the same they would in-person interviewing, but there are a few extra tips to help you prepare if interviewing virtually.

  • Have the light source behind or next to your camera
  • Position your camera to eye level
  • Look into the camera to make eye contact
  • Select a neutral background—do not have distractions in the background
  • Test your audio and video before the interview
  • Silence and turn off notifications that might pop up on your device
  • Make sure your laptop is charged or plugged in
  • Have a backup option if technical issue come up such as having your phone or tablet available
  • Set up interviewing space closer to the Wi-Fi router to avoid delay with your video
  • Ensure you’re in a quiet location to minimize distractions for both you and your interviewer

Graduate school interviews are an opportunity for you to impress graduate admissions committees, as well as to learn more about the program of interest. In order to make a good first impression, it’s important to be well prepared before the interview. Using the tips listed above can reduce your stress/nerves and help you ace your graduate school interview.

Adapted From:

Civil Discourse in Uncivil Times

Posted November 13, 2020 by unlmcnair
Categories: Civil Discourse, Self-care, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

By: Sophie Tonjes, McNair Graduate Assistant

This has been a difficult year for many individuals. Students may be experiencing stress and anxiety about the election, the COVID-19 pandemic, the fight for social and racial justice, the end of the semester approaching, and/or other personal concerns. While these emotions can be overwhelming, it is normal and okay to feel this way. One way to reduce the impact of these emotions is to practice self-care. In addition, if you find yourself involved in difficult conversations during this stressful time, make sure you’re practicing civil discourse. Civil discourse means engaging in reflective, respectful conversations regarding important topics. The following points are tips on how to engage is such conversations:

Open your mind to what the other person is saying. During conversations, be attentive and considerate of the other person’s point of view. This is a time to process the other person’s point of view, and to learn the reasonings for why they hold these beliefs. Express that you understand the other person by saying “I understand” or “I hear you”.

Ask questions. Never assume you know what another person means. If someone has different perspectives than you do, ask for clarity to help you better understand their perspective. Asking questions during important conversations shows you care about the topic and that you are respectful of the other person’s beliefs.

Don’t make it personal. Stick to the issues and be respectful. Use information and evidence to make your point or defend a position, but never resort to personal attacks. Accept that you might not be able to change the other person’s mind or beliefs. This is an opportunity to share views, not to push your views onto another person. It’s okay to disagree with someone, and opposite viewpoints should not impact personal relationships.

Moderate your tone. Be aware of your words and the tone of voice to ensure the conversation does not turn hostile and negative. Examples of disrespectful mannerisms include shouting, using derogatory terms, shouting, speaking “down” to a person, or sarcasm. When engaging in these conversations, respond in a way that you’d want to be talked to.

Be mindful of your behavior and stay calm. Notice how you are reacting and responding when someone else is speaking. If you find yourself getting upset during the conversation, take a step back and breathe. You are in control of your emotions and being aware of these emotions can help lessen tension. If you find that you are unable to stay calm during the conversation, it’s time to end the conversation respectfully.

Find areas where you agree. Having common ground during discussions of disagreement can make the areas of disagreement feel less intense and reduce your stress. You might have completely different political beliefs, but hopefully you share the same interest in creating a safe and positive environment for others.

Be aware of social media. Social media has become a popular outlet for sharing one’s personal thoughts and beliefs. Due to the large use of social media by individuals of different beliefs, the content you post or share may offend someone you know. A good strategy to use when approaching posting personal beliefs on social media is saving a draft and waiting to post until later, especially if you are emotional or stressed.

Experiencing an abundance of emotions and stress during this time can be difficult. With all of the events occurring in the world today, conversations where individuals disagree may take place. Knowing how to appropriately have these civil conversations is essential in maintaining relationships and promoting positive interactions.

Adapted From:

Well-Being & Self-Care

Posted October 21, 2020 by unlmcnair
Categories: Academic Success, First-Generation Student, Self-care, Study Skills, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Adapted from: Tips for Working Hard and Practicing Self-Care, by Keshia Mcclantoc and Hellina Gesese, McNair Graduate Assistants

At this half-way point in the semester, it may feel like everything is piling up on top of you. Part of being a good student is learning how to find the balance between working hard and taking care of yourself.

Here are tips on how to work hard and practice self-care:

  1. Sleep. Lack of sleep can have a huge effect on how you feel both emotionally and physically. I know what you’re thinking, “I can’t sleep because I have to finish x, y, z…” – but you’re more likely to perform those tasks better after a full night of sleep. Sleeping better can lead to improved memory, learning, and mental performance; this helps you make better judgments and gives you faster reflexes. Your body and mind will thank you for it.
  2. Organize. While organization may seem like additional work, it will put your mind at ease in the long run. Organization can be simple, from keeping your keys, bags, and other essentials in the same places to larger organizational changes, like keeping daily to-do lists and breaking down larger projects into smaller tasks. Organization helps optimize your time and ultimately, can take away the stress of daily life. How to organize varies from person to person, but a good form of self-care is taking the time to figure it out.
  3. Know your Burnout Time. Whether we want to admit it or not, we all have a burnout time. Burnout refers to the time when you can no longer think critically, write well, or do any sort of intellectual work. We’ve all had that moment where we’ve read the same sentence in article over and over again or written a paragraph that makes absolutely no sense. This is your burnout time – learn to recognize it and act accordingly. Don’t try to push yourself after you’ve burnt out; that will only exhaust you more. Burnout varies from person to person but learning to respect it and adapting your schedule around it is an essential part of being a productive scholar.
  4. Take a Break. What do you do when you reach your burnout time? You take a break! You can do whatever you want on these breaks; go for a walk, watch tv, listen to music or a podcast, talk to your friends, or even take a quick nap. The point of a break is to take your mind off what you’re working on. Taking some time to actively not think about an assignment or project is crucial to maintaining your concentration, and not reaching a burnout point of no return.
  5. Reward Yourself. Try to set small goals for yourself each day. Once you’ve accomplished those goals, give yourself a reward like taking a break or any other aspect of self-care mentioned above. Rewards could also be tangible things – like getting ice cream after doing well on an exam. The key is rewarding yourself with what you know will push you to reach your small goals. 
  6. Take the Well-Being Assessment. Whether the issue is big or small, UNL has a lot of people and resources backing you up. For a comprehensive approach to self-care, take the Well-Being Assessment: and schedule a meeting with a well-being coach at Big Red Resilience and Well-Being:
  7. Know When to Seek Help. Part of self-care is learning to recognize when you need help and seeking the appropriate person or resource to alleviate the problem. If your mental burden feels like too much, CAPS can assist you in a multitude of ways.

Remote Communication with Your Mentor

Posted September 8, 2020 by unlmcnair
Categories: Graduate School, Mentor, MSRE, Research & Internships

By Sophie Tonjes, McNair Graduate Assistant

Maintaining communication with your mentor is extremely important. Many of you will continue working with your MSRE mentor during the academic year, so maintaining communication and a relationship with your mentor will be a vital role in completing your research. By maintaining a relationship with your mentor, you’re building your professional network which will be beneficial for you in the future. During this global pandemic, much of your communication with your mentor will be done remotely. Communicating remotely can be difficult at times, but with the use of the tips below hopefully you can communicate with your mentor more effectively.

Be direct. When emailing your mentor, get to the point quickly and state your concern or problem concisely. Long emails can become hard to read and the message you are conveying may not be clear. If you have a situation where you’ll need more than a couple of paragraphs to explain, it would be better to have a conversation over the phone or via Zoom.

Be professional when emailing. You should address your mentor properly; be sure to know how they prefer to be addressed. Some mentors like to be addressed as Dr. while others may wish to be addressed by their first names. Regardless of how your mentor prefers to be addressed, your email should always be professional. Address your mentor at the beginning of the email, present your message using proper etiquette, and end your email by saying “thank you” or “best” and include your name.

Check in with your mentor. Those of you who will continue working with your mentor during UCARE should check in with your mentor weekly so that they can keep up to date with your progress on research tasks. For the scholars who will no longer be working with their mentor, periodically check in with your mentor to keep them updated on what you’ve been doing. Your mentor will enjoy hearing from you and checking in with them is a good way to keep in touch and maintain a relationship with them.

Ask questions and reach out for help. Due to the uncertainty of the fall semester, most of your communication with your mentor will be done remotely. Communication remotely means your mentor will not see when you’re struggling with your research. When you have a question regarding your research or you need help, reach out to your mentor right away. Remember your mentor is approachable, happy to communicate with you, and wants to see you succeed. Whether you’re meeting in person or remotely, always have your questions written down in advance to avoid the need to follow up later with a question you missed.

Be open to phone communication. Email is a convenient way of communicating but phone conversations and Zoom meetings can offer more personal interactions. Ask you mentor if they prefer phone communication or Zoom meetings, and if they are willing set up a regularly scheduled phone call or Zoom meeting with your mentor.

Don’t expect a response immediately. When emailing your mentor, don’t expect a response in less than 24 hours, on the weekend, or at odd hours of the day. While your mentor is here to help you and answer questions, they have other responsibilities as well. If you need to ask your mentor a question regarding an assignment or your research paper, don’t email your mentor 24 hours before the assignment is due. Talk with your mentor in advance when have questions regarding your research.

Thank your mentor. Whether you are continuing to work with your MSRE mentor, or you are choosing a different research plan, thanking your mentors for the help they gave you is important. Hand-written thank you notes are especially appreciated. Your mentors will appreciate the gesture and it will help continue to build your professional relationship.

Communication can be complicated, especially communicating remotely. Remember, your mentor wants to help you and see you succeed. Maintaining communication with your mentor will build your professional network, which can be valuable when applying to graduate school. Talk with your mentor about their preferences for online communication, be professional and plan ahead when meeting with them or asking them questions. Maintaining strong communication with your mentor, especially while working on research, is extremely important and will help make for an easier, less stressful experience. 

Adapted From:

Strategies for Success in Online Courses

Posted April 2, 2020 by unlmcnair
Categories: Academic Success, First-Generation Student, Professional Development, Self-care, Study Skills, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

by Sophie Tonjes, McNair Graduate Assistant and Jill Tucker, OGS Assistant

Online learning may be a new concept for some students. While learning online is different from in-person courses, learning online allows for an increase in students’ knowledge and skills in a unique, flexible environment. Here is a list of tips to help students succeed while doing courses online:

Treat your online courses the same as you would in-person courses. You can do this by scheduling a set time every day to do your work and a designated area where you will work just as if you were in a classroom. Having a routine will help you stay focused on getting your work done and avoiding putting it off.

  • Block out days and times each week to work on this course in your calendar.
  • Students who succeed are those who log in and make progress every day.
  • Take notes. Whether participating in a Zoom class or listening to online modules, taking notes will help you remember important points.
  • Treat your studying like it’s your job and make school your top priority.

Communication is key. Don’t hesitate to talk with your instructors and classmates for help understanding the content of the course. Communicating with others will help you succeed in an online format. Take advantage of your instructor’s virtual office hours when you would be able to speak with your professor individually.

  • Open and active communication with your instructor is key.
  • Don’t be afraid to reach out for clarification on confusing content or assignments.
  • Take initiative to ask questions and seek help. Your instructor can’t see you to know if you’re confused or feeling frustrated in understanding a lecture or reading, so take the first step to communicate your questions.
  • Use appropriate style and language for school. You should write in full, grammatically correct sentences and with a respectful tone.
  • Use any opportunity to interact with other students in the course.
  • Students who feel they are part of a learning community always do better than those who feel isolated and on their own.
  • Be patient. When you ask a question or seek help, you’ll have to wait for a reply from your instructor.

Effective Time-Management Skills. Accept that you’ll have to motivate yourself and tasks responsibility for your learning. It is harder for some people to sit down at the computer on their own to show up at a set time. Be sure to have enough time in your week for all course activities and schedule regular times online and for assignments.

  • There may be no set times for classes so estimate how much time you will need for studying and assignments.
  • Flexibility is a benefit of online learning, but it can be difficult for students who are unable to stick to a routine schedule.
  • Effective time-management skills don’t just happen, they are learned.
  • Review the syllabus for each of your courses. Develop a long-term plan for completing your major assignments.

Remember that online classes vary greatly. Each online course is different based on how the instructor decided to structure it. Just like in-person courses, there are different ways to design an online course.

  • Some courses rely on discussion boards while others make heavier use of group projects, written papers, or problem sets.
  • Others may utilize Zoom or an online learning module to present content.
  • Login to courses daily to make sure you’re on track with all of your assignments.

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Don’t procrastinate. While online courses allow for more flexibility, procrastination is easy to do when you don’t have constant reminders to complete your work.

  • It can be tempting to put off work until the last minute. Starting each assignment right away allows you to be less stressed and have more free time.
  • Schoolwork will need to be done eventually so waiting to do homework can become overwhelming if the assignment takes more time than you have.
  • Students may run into problems when submitting work at the last minute such as problems with Canvas. Don’t be that student that missed turning in an assignment because something happened right before it was due.

Stay Organized. Staying organized while taking online courses is going to help keep you on track. There are many different ways to keep yourself organized, especially when taking an online course.

  • Create a folder on your computer for each course. Place important files and assignments in this folder.
  • Use a calendar with all your due dates and reminders and set reminders on your computer or phone.

Take Breaks. Your mind begins to wonder and become numb after looking at a computer screen for a long period of time. Stepping away from schoolwork and taking a few minutes to yourself gives your brain a break.

  • Take regular breaks to avoid brain and eye strain.
  • Quick breaks can include walking outside.
  • Schedule five- or ten-minute breaks between study time.
  • Don’t work if you’re not in the right frame of mind—online courses are flexible so you can take a break from schoolwork when it’s needed.

Set goals. Set goals that are important to you because you’re more likely to spend time to accomplish them. Keep this goal in mind while doing schoolwork.

  • Be passionate about your choice of study.
  • Keep in mind why you are seeking a degree in the first place.

Make studying enjoyable. Taking online courses can make it hard to focus and stay on task. Having good vibes when studying can make studying go by faster and make it more enjoyable.

  • Play happy music to keep you alert and in a good mood or play mellow music when studying to help you focus.
  • Start studying with something that you enjoy—it will make the entire study session better.
  • Form a study group with classmates, and schedule times to meet over a video conference platform such as Zoom.
  • Reward yourself for submitting assignments early or earning an A on a paper. Take a night off too watch a movie, play video games, or connect with friends via Skype or Facetime.

Online courses can be a great learning experience for students and can allow for other life lessons to be taught. Students can learn the value of time management and self-motivation. Hopefully these tips can help students who are new to online courses and give further advice to students who have previously taken online courses.

Adapted from:



How to Prepare for Remote Learning

Posted March 24, 2020 by unlmcnair
Categories: Academic Success, First-Generation Student, Self-care, Study Skills, Uncategorized, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

By: Sophie Tonjes, McNair Graduate Assistant

As the COVID-19 outbreak continues, the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and many other universities are moving courses online to help slow the spread of the illness and to protect students, faculty, and staff. This may be a challenging and stressful adjustment for some individuals. Due to the abruptness of this change in many universities, some students and faculty members may not have been prepared for this adjustment – especially those students who haven’t worked remotely before. Here is a list of tips and tools you can use to help you work independently and effectively during this time of remote learning.


Designate an Office/Workspace. Designate a workspace in your home that you associate with working and learning. Having somewhere to go and focus when working remotely can make the transition to online learning easier.

  • The space doesn’t have to be a separate room/office, but don’t work on your couch or bed.
  • Use the same spot consistently to train your brain this is where work happens.
  • When you’re done for the day, leave your workplace. Maintain boundaries when working or learning from home.

Set Your Hours. You’re used to going to class and work at certain times in your day. Just because classes were moved to online doesn’t mean you don’t need to set a schedule.

  • Plan the hours you’ll be “working” and stick to the hours you plan.
  • Don’t take long breaks or schedule appointments during these hours.
  • Set daily goals, make to-do lists, track your progress, and check off tasks as you complete them. Pay attention to how long tasks take you and start to adjust your daily goals to match that rhythm.
  • Share your progress. Where applicable, communicate your progress with professors, research mentors, and/or supervisors.
  • Do NOT procrastinate!

Eliminate Distractions. When working or learning from home, it may mean pets, other individuals, or your favorite hobbies are only a few feet away. Learning how to eliminate these distractions and stay focused is important in success when learning and working remotely.

  • Close doors to keep distractions away.
  • Use headphones to block out noise.
  • Demand a quiet space. Let your family and friends know when your break times are and ask them not to interrupt you at any other times.

Communicate. Many people say they do not want to call or message others who are working remotely because they don’t want to bother them. It is important to remember others are working and learning, not vacationing at home so you should feel confident and comfortable reaching out to others who are working remotely. Connect with others just as you would if you were still on campus.

  • Send emails to your professors to check in with your progress, where applicable. Provide as much information as possible to ease the disruption.
  • Do not work all day alone—get some human interaction.
  • Stay in connection with classmates or colleagues. It is easier to be productive without chatting with classmates or colleagues, but social interactions can alleviate the feeling of isolation and loneliness. We’re used to social interaction—it facilitates cooperation and closeness.
  • Think about how you’re communicating. It is important to go beyond emailing and use other digital tools—examples of digital tool are stated later in the post.
  • Not everyone enjoys working from home and finds this shift to taking courses remotely very stressful. It is key to communicate as much as possible to help with the struggles of change.

Backup/Sync Files. Make sure all of your files on your computer are automatically synced and backed up. Everyone has a preference, but the key is to use the same service within your organization.

  • Box @UNL: Box provides unlimited storage to all faculty/staff/students at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. There is currently a limit of 15GB per file.
  • Google Drive: allows for up to 15GB of free space on their servers.
  • Dropbox: allows for up to 2GB of free space on their servers.
  • OneDrive: allows for up to 5GB of free space on their servers.

Tools to Use. It is important to have the right tools. You may need to modify or add to your existing office equipment to accommodate to your circumstances of working remotely. Here are some recommended tools:

  • Chat Tools: Slack, Workplace, WhatsApp, Jabber
  • Video Conference Tools: Zoom, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business, Workplace

Take Care of Yourself. One of the most important tips during this COVID-19 breakout, is to take care of yourself and make your health your top priority. Social distancing is one of the best ways to take care of yourself, but there are many other ways to do this as well.

  • Get on a steady sleep schedule that complements your class and work schedules. Stick to your sleep schedule.
  • Shower and get ready in the morning—treat the day as if you were still taking in-person courses.
  • Put on other clothes rather than pajamas or sweatpants.
  • Eat a good breakfast and healthy lunches/snacks throughout the day.
  • Exercise to keep your blood and brain flowing.
  • Don’t forget to get outside. Make sure you are not spending all day and night at home. With COVID-19, going into the community may not be an option, but going out onto your porch/balcony or walking around the block will allow you to get out of the house and take in fresh air.

Hopefully these tips will be beneficial while the university transitions to online coursework. While this changeover may be stressful, these tips are meant to help relieve any stress and make for a smoother transition. Remember to communicate and reach out if you’re struggling during this time.  The McNair Scholars Program and the University of Nebraska–Lincoln want to see students, faculty, and staff succeed and we are here to help with any problems that may arise.


Adapted from:


Maintaining Relationships with MSRE Mentors

Posted August 13, 2019 by unlmcnair
Categories: Academic Success, Accomplishments, Graduate School, Mentor, MSRE, Professional Development, UCARE, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

by Abe Flanigan, Ph.D., assistant professor Department of Curriculum, Foundations, and Reading at Georgia Southern University

The MSRE experience gives you a great opportunity to immerse yourself in research, learn about your field, and develop professional relationships with your faculty and graduate student mentors. However, after the grind of the summer is over, some of you might not continue working with your MSRE mentors. There’s a variety of reasons why you might not continue working with them, and that’s okay. However, the hard work that you did together during MSRE means that your faculty and graduate student mentors will have learned a lot about your work ethic, skills, and passion for the field—making them great candidates to write letters of recommendation for you in the future! It’s important not to let those relationships fade away.

Having a robust professional network is critical for your growth as a scholar and for having supportive people to write recommendation letters when you apply to graduate school. Here are a few tips to help you maintain contact with these individuals if you stop working together after MSRE:

  • Thank them. After MSRE concludes, the first thing you should do is write a letter or email to your mentors thanking them for the help and guidance they gave you during the summer. Do this whether you continue working with them during UCARE or not. This courtesy will be appreciated by your mentors and is another piece of evidence showcasing your professionalism and maturity.
  • Visit office hours. Faculty members and graduate students are busy. But, if they are teaching classes, they should have specified office hours every week. Stop by every now and then to say “hi,” catch up, and talk research.
  • Take their class(es). Your hard work during MSRE will give your mentors evidence of your potential as a researcher, but graduate schools also want evidence that you’ll succeed in the coursework. By taking a class taught by one of your MSRE advisors, you can show them your potential as a student, which they would almost certainly mention in letters of recommendation.
  • Periodically check in. Send emails to check in every now and then. Like stopping by office hours, emails can be a quick, easy way to keep in touch, ask your mentors that they’ve been up to, and update them on what you’ve been doing. You don’t want to pester them, but an occasional email here or there is an easy way to keep in touch. And, you could let them know that you’d be willing to help on future projects that they might get started. You don’t want to overload your plate with too many responsibilities, but letting them know that you’re willing to lend a helpful hand if needed would probably be much appreciated by your mentors.
  • Meet up with your graduate student mentor. Like myself, I know that other graduate students love to hear from undergraduates who they’ve taught or researched with in the past. Sitting down for coffee or lunch with undergraduates and talking to them about our experiences and answering questions is a great way for graduate students to relax and help teach younger scholars about the field. So, don’t be afraid to reach out to your graduate student mentor for a casual get-together to help you stay in touch!

MSRE gives you a great chance to build professional relationships with your faculty and graduate student mentors. Take advantage of that opportunity and don’t let those relationships fade if you stop working with each other after the summer. These people are in a great position to write letters of recommendation for you because they can provide a firsthand account of your work ethic and scholarly potential. My goal was for this blog to give you some ideas for maintaining contact with these people and giving yourself the best chance to secure sparkling letters of recommendation from them.

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What happens after MSRE?

Posted August 6, 2019 by unlmcnair
Categories: Academic Success, Accomplishments, Conference, Graduate School, GRE, MSRE, Research & Internships

by Jennifer Andersen, M.A., McNair Graduate Assistant

Arriving back from the McNair Conference and knowing I had successfully completed MSRE was an inspiring feeling. I remember coming home, taking a well-deserved nap, and asking my partner—what’s next? I was scheduled to begin my final year of undergrad and was applying for graduate school, but I really needed to get all my ducks in a row to successfully complete everything on my plate. The McNair Program does a wonderful job of helping scholars through the process of what to do after MSRE, but here are a few of my own insights.

Take a (short) break. I spent a lot of time in the lab and on campus during MSRE. While my partner, my family, and my friends were super supportive, I had missed a lot of time I would normally have spent with them. I took a short break to reconnect with my life after summer research, which helped me relax and prepare for the next school year.

Present at the UNL Summer Research Fair. A good way to add a line to your CV is to present your poster at the UNL Summer Research Fair. This is an opportunity to network with the Summer Research Opportunity Program students, and to invite graduate students and faculty from your department to see your hard work from summer. Moreover, you can practice presenting a poster BEFORE you go to graduate school.

Study, register, and take the GRE. You’ve attended the MSRE GRE prep sessions, taken 2 full-length practice exams, and now it’s time to focus on the areas needing improvement. Study, then get the GRE behind you, so this fall you can focus on your coursework and graduate applications. Remember, the GRE is just one part of your application package. Your extensive research experience, faculty recommendations, statement of purpose, and GPA are also very important factors in your being accepted to graduate school.

Update your CV. Now that you’ve completed a research project and presented at a conference, it’s the perfect time to update your CV. This way you have a fresh start when school starts and don’t have to scramble to update it when your applications are due. Also, it’s easier to do this when all your MSRE activities are fresh in your mind.

Work on your statements for grad school applications. With fall approaching and some of you graduating, it’s time to start focusing on graduate school applications. One aspect of this is the personal statement. Now is a great time to think about outlining, adding to, or updating your personal statement. Additionally, some programs request additional statements, such as a diversity statement. Start drafting early so that you have time for your graduate student or faculty mentor to make edits. Also, take a moment to think about when your applications are due and make notes in your schedule to get the applications in early.

Alternatively, start thinking about summer research opportunities. If you’re not graduating until the following year, start thinking about where you might want to spend a summer doing research and search for the application deadlines. Applications for summer research opportunities at other campuses open earlier than you might expect. You can also start drafting a personal statement that can be adapted for your summer research applications.

Look for opportunities to participate in your field. You might think about submitting a paper to a conference in your field. It’s a great experience; many major conferences have graduate school fairs where you can meet people from your prospective schools. Even if it’s later in the application cycle, getting your name out there never hurts. You might also check into regional or local conferences (in Sociology we have the Midwest Sociological Society meeting in the early spring). Several of my department’s students applied because of recruitment events at conferences. You might also ask your grad student mentor to attend a colloquium with you, or ask about attending a graduate level class.

These are just a few of the things I did after completing MSRE – hopefully this will help you get your ducks in a row before beginning an exciting new academic year. Be sure to ask your mentors about their suggestions as well, as expectations vary depending on discipline!

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