I Went to Berkeley… And Got Much More Than a T-Shirt

Posted July 28, 2016 by unlmcnair
Categories: Uncategorized

by Jenn Andersen, McNair Graduate Assistant

Having been in your shoes just two years ago, I know that MSRE goes by much quicker than you ever anticipated. It’s a lot of work, and California McNair Symposium at UC-Berkeley is the finish line. So what do you do now? Here are five things you should do once you are back in Nebraska.

1. Reflect on your experiences. What did you get out of MSRE? The reflective essay is one of the most important assignments you will do as a McNair Scholar. Think about your experiences, what you’ve learned, and how you felt during your first year as a McNair Scholar. Writing this essay helped me to see how far I’d come and how ready I was to be a graduate student. Reading it again after graduation and before starting my graduate program gave me insight into how I’ve grown as a scholar since MSRE.

2. Take a break. One of the most important things about ending MSRE is taking a break once it’s over. If your experience was anything like mine, you lived in your lab, worked on your paper, poster and PowerPoint once you were home, and still had to take care of real-life issues. Make sure you enjoy the last little bit of time before the GRE and applying to graduate school take over. Learning how to do this now will serve you well in achieving a good school-life balance.

3. Get your name out there! Email the people you made contact with at the Berkeley Symposium. Contact potential mentors at graduate schools.  Make appointments to talk with UNL professors to discuss your future goals. You never know when one of those connections will help you. See Abe Flanigan’s July 16, 2015 McNair blog post about networking for tips and ideas! https://unlmcnair.wordpress.com/2015/07/16/finding-a-graduate-program-thats-right-for-you/

4. Keep up with your research. One of the best things about taking part in MSRE is the skills and knowledge you gain in your field. Leverage this to start work on your senior thesis! Keep working on your project or start a new one. You can always spend some time in a new lab for a different perspective.

5. Start prepping for Graduate School applications.If you’re graduating within the next year, graduate application deadlines will be here before you know it. If you have another year, this is the time to work on getting your materials together.

  • Start narrowing down your list of graduate schools.
  • Take the GRE within the next month after the end of MSRE.
  • Explore websites like McNairScholars.com for ideas on where to find funding, either for current research or for your future graduate career.
  • Reach out to your faculty recommenders and make sure you know what they need to complete your letters. Professors may have very exacting standards for their letter packets.
  • The more you do now, the less you need to do before the due date!

How to Prepare for Going Out-of-State to Graduate School

Posted July 18, 2016 by unlmcnair
Categories: Uncategorized

by Colin McGinnis, McNair Graduate Assistant

“Man, it would be nice to get out of here and go somewhere new.” It’s a thought many, if not all, of us have probably thought while watching movies, reading a novel or just simply talking to friends and family about college.

When beginning the application process for Graduate School, you’re given the unique opportunity to relocate to a different part of the country. Since I’ve gone out-of-state for both undergraduate and graduate school, I’ve put together a list of points to consider (and get excited for) when applying to programs outside of Nebraska.

Cost of Relocation
Cost is one of the factors I didn’t properly account for with my move out-of-state. Every time I passed a U-Haul location, I’d think “$20 isn’t bad!; I’ll just rent a truck and move all my stuff to Nebraska.” I was misinformed. Sure, a U-Haul is an affordable option for in-town moves, but once you cross state lines, the rental fee can easily approach the thousands. What I did instead was sell my furniture in Ohio and (slowly) bought new items here in Lincoln. At first, I was a little upset by this, but thinking back on my decision I’m happy with it. I was able to purge items I’d honestly never use again, and start my new life as a graduate student fresh.

If you’re a little more attached to your items than I was, you should start planning your move now. Save a little bit each week so the cost of moving across country isn’t so shocking. You should also talk to friends and family to see if they have any unique ideas for the move (for example my uncle offered to load all my furniture into a produce delivery truck that was going to Omaha from his company! If I hadn’t already sold most of my pieces at that point, I probably would have accepted the offer).

Here are a few things to consider when relocating:

  1. What do you really need to take with you and what can you get rid of?
  2. Where are you going to get boxes to store your stuff? You’ll be surprised at how many you need, here is the tool I used to help calculate (http://hdmoving.com/). Once you know how many boxes you need, call your local grocery store, Target or Walmart! Often if you call ahead, they’ll have boxes for you.
  3. If you’re driving, where are you going to sleep along the way? A tip to consider: Motels are cheaper in smaller, rural towns. Take a day to plan out your stops; it will save you money later on!

Emotional Considerations
Even the least emotional student may find moving to a new part of the country an emotional rollercoaster. Even if you make it through moving day without a tear in your eye, you may be feeling the pain in the following months.

Being separated from all you know and are comfortable with can be emotionally tough. The things you take for granted now, like being able to congratulate a friend on a new internship or seeing your parents twice a month, won’t be such a common experience if moving more than a few hours out-of-state. It’s even harder when family emergencies come up, and you have to make arrangements to get back home. It took me some time, but I’ve come to peace with the idea this is not a reason not to go out-of-state. Instead, see all the positives in your distance from friends and family. I treasure the time I have with my friends back home more now than I ever did, I get to be the “cool vacation spot” for my family, and I’ve found myself talking to my mom and dad a lot more than I did before. As they say, “distance makes the heart grow fonder.”

Building Your Network
Being in a new place is exciting because everything is new! Take advantage of your new surroundings and learn about the culture of your new home once you move. Try local restaurants, go to local concerts, explore parks and festivals. For me, Nebraska has quickly turned from a bland state full of corn to a cool, hidden Midwestern gem packed with art and food.

You should also make an effort to be at locations and events where you’ll meet other students. Look into events organized by your new institution’s Office of Graduate Studies and department. Look up graduate student organizations (e.g., Latino/a Graduate Student Association, Black Graduate Student Association, etc.) and get involved in their programming. Work out at the campus rec center. Go to lectures and seminars both in and out of your discipline. Some of my closest friends are those whom I met as a graduate student!

For many, moving out-of-state takes a toll on wallets and emotions. However, by properly preparing before your move, an out-of-state graduate school experience is immensely rewarding. By moving to a different state for graduate school, you’re offered a unique perspective into how other parts of the country think and operate– which is immensely beneficial as a scholar.

 

Challenges for First Generation Students

Posted June 30, 2016 by unlmcnair
Categories: Uncategorized

McNair Scholars Reflect on their Experiences at UNL

by Jenn Andersen, McNair graduate assistant

Everyone knows starting college is hard. For the first generation college student, however, there are unique challenges that come with being the first in your family to attend college. Below are some first-hand experiences of current McNair Scholars and alumni who were first generation college students at UNL.

What challenges did you face as a first generation student? Were there challenges that you specifically remember being unique to your situation as a first generation student?

Zully Perez Sierra (McNair Senior Scholar): “As a first generation student, I had a slow and difficult start in college. For example, I retook a calculus course not knowing the different options of tutoring available to college students. For my first two years, I didn’t know of the job opportunities in my major which lead to unclear goals of obtaining a degree.”

Kassie Guenther (McNair Scholar 2013–2015): “Two specific memories come to mind. The first was after I’d been accepted to UNL and I sat down at the computer with my mom to fill out acceptance paperwork. I remember being asked what courses I wanted to enroll in, what residence hall I wanted to live in, which meal plan I wanted to purchase, and how I’d be paying the University. Although this was a fun and exciting time, it also resulted in my first real wave of shock and anxiety. I started to realize I didn’t know anyone who could share their experiences about what college was like or tell me which choices to make. I had no idea how I was going to pay for my tuition, room, and board, or books, and didn’t know where to begin in terms of choosing classes or a residence hall. My loved ones provided me with their warmth and support, but I struggled in finding individuals who had been through the process and could definitively tell me what college was going to be like. The second situation occurred as I sat in a large lecture hall during freshman year, learning about careers and opportunities available to psychology majors. For the first time, I learned that I’d need to pursue graduate work to obtain my dream career – being a psychologist. As naive as this sounds, I had no idea because nobody I knew had ever been through this process or knew anything about this major! Not only did I have few people to talk to about the rigors of being an undergraduate, I felt lost and alone in the idea of graduate school.”

 

Did you utilize office hours/academic advisors as an undergraduate? Why or why not?

Zully: “I utilized office hours frequently because I was used to asking instructors questions about the material in high school. I also would find myself struggling in courses in which my exam grades were lower than I had ever obtained. I wanted professors to know I cared about learning but needed help to understand the material.”

Kassie: “Every single semester I went to visit Celeste Spier and Tony Lazarowicz in the advising center to discuss my options. As annoyed as they might have been with my list of questions and frequent visits, I relied on them for academic advice and support. They understood my concerns, provided valuable information and ultimately guided me through much of my undergraduate career. I owe them both a huge thanks!”

Alicia Michelle Rogers (McNair Senior Scholar): “Professors are truly one of the best—often untapped—resources students have on campus. Their wealth of information, extending from the information they teach to professional development, to life experience, really enriches those students who choose to step into their office and initiate conversation and a relationship with them. Eventually, all students will have to ask their professors for professional recommendations, especially those planning to pursue graduate education. When relationships are built early and maintained with faculty, they get a better idea of who the student is, their abilities and passions, and are better able to convey those attributes in letters of recommendation.”

 

How did you become active in your lab/ get to know your McNair mentor? Did you feel comfortable using your mentor as a resource for academic advising and other types of advice after the McNair Summer Research Experience (MSRE)?

Zully: “By meeting an upperclassman through an engineering organization, I learned about research opportunities at the university. Therefore, I asked my academic advisor about research opportunities in the department, and that same day my advisor introduced me to my current McNair mentor. I’ve asked my McNair mentor about the type of conferences to attend and present our research.”

Kassie: “I decided to simply be honest with my research lab and McNair mentor, for that was the only way I was going to succeed in the pursuit of graduate school. I set up countless meetings and asked real and honest questions. I specifically remember asking what graduate school was like, how they handled moving away from home, what the possibilities of being accepted were, and if they felt they had a work-life balance. These were answers I wanted and needed to know, and they were some of the only people who could provide me with that knowledge. Sometimes, looking back, I feel a sense of remorse in asking so many questions. Perhaps I was too burdensome, maybe I took up a lot of their valuable time, what if some of my questions seemed inappropriate or made me appear immature and unsure of myself? In the end, I am happy I asked those difficult questions and was proactive in my attainment of knowledge because it led to my successful admission to a graduate program.”

Michelle: “Honestly, all it took was an email and an in-person meeting with my McNair mentor to get me involved in the research I am now a part of. What I found most interesting was that he told me the main reason why he allowed me into his lab was my involvement in the McNair Scholars program. Besides myself, he has only ever allowed one other UNL undergraduate student to work in his lab (to my knowledge). Since the research deals with HIV and other human pathogens, it was important that he felt assured of my character and that I could handle the responsibility and risks of the research—being a McNair Scholar gave him that confidence. Now I’ve been in his lab for over two years and have built a positive working relationship with a well-connected professor who will help me in any way to reach my personal and professional goals. I felt comfortable utilizing my mentor as a resource for advising. What I think is important is that students take the initiative to meet with their mentors. Mentors are very busy individuals, saturated in meetings and responsibilities which often doesn’t leave them much time for advising. To counteract this, students need to be purposeful in their connections with their research mentors. This means initiating times to meet, developing a plan for the conversation they wish to have, and following up with their mentors after the meeting. Communication is the key to all relationships, and research mentors are no exception.”

 

How did you handle your MSRE project? Did you get results other than what you expected? How did you handle the results? Any particular frustrations that came up during MSRE, and how did you handle them?

Zully: “For the MSRE project, I followed the research outline/task list that I’d need to have signed by my mentor and give to McNair staff. The task list helped me to organize and keep track of every day to day tasks of the research.”

Kassie: “I worked on a team of helpful and inspiring graduate students who provided encouragement, feedback and the ability to learn and challenge myself. With their help and guidance, I felt few struggles throughout the process because I knew that I was doing my best, and they were helping me to produce good work. This is not to say that the experience was not challenging and effortful. I just knew to not be discouraged because I was surrounded by amazing supporters.”

Michelle: “I think I handled it fairly well. My biggest challenge was balancing time at the lab with MSRE deadlines and other responsibilities. What helped me was meeting with my mentor to come up with a reasonable deadline schedule by which to plan my weeks with. Having this schedule helped me to allocate my time appropriately throughout the summer, insuring no area was neglected. Even if I did get behind in my research, communicating this with my mentor was key. It showed him that I was mindful of my lab work, while also demonstrating resourcefulness with my time as a student.”

 

What resources do/did you utilize as a first generation student for support as an undergraduate student? Did you go on to participate in them as an advisor/mentor?

Zully: “I became involved in three engineering organizations. In two of the organizations, I held executive positions as volunteer chair and as treasurer. I’m also a William H. Thompson Scholar and I served as a mentor my sophomore year and as a tutor the last two years. I also joined a bible study. I used first-year experience and transition programs, study shop, OASIS, and resource centers. Overall all of the resources were very helpful for any class assignment or studying for exams.”

Kassie: “I relied heavily on my involvement in the William H. Thompson Scholars Learning Community. They took me under their wing when I arrived at college, provided me with a mentor and cohort, taught me valuable academic and professional skills, and helped to develop me as a leader as well as a person. As soon as I was able, I did my best to give back to the community by working as a peer mentor to other incoming students. The program was a large contributor to the success that I felt in college as well as the sense of belonging and community.”

Michelle: “Other than faculty mentors, I didn’t utilize any resources on campus—because I didn’t know about the resources available to me or where to look to find them. I also feel as though my faculty mentors filled the necessary gaps for me that other resources would have filled. However, I was involved in the First Husker program at UNL as a mentor for incoming first-generation college freshmen. It’s designed well to set the student up for success at UNL, answering questions for students, as well as their parents. One of the biggest things I found most helpful for students about the program was the workshop on finances. It went over everything students need to know about how to manage their money to finding financial aid. I didn’t use the Study Stop locations, but I always directed students to this for help in their classes (I’m a teaching assistant). They have tutors there to help students in a number of different classes, as well as free coffee. Who doesn’t like coffee?”

 

Utilize Your UNL Resources!

There are many resources on campus for first generation students. It’s important to build a relationship with your academic advisor to help navigate through your undergraduate career, as well as discuss your long-term career goals and what resources might be available to help you reach those goals.

The First Husker Program brings first generation incoming freshmen to campus early to allow them to acclimate to college life before the craziness of move-in day begins. Throughout your time at UNL, you can access Academic Success Workshops, the Study Stop, and First Husker Peer Mentors. Find out more information about these and other transition programs at http://success.unl.edu/.

Other key resources include:

 

And remember, as McNair Scholars, you don’t have to navigate your undergraduate or graduate careers alone! You’ll find support is always just an email or phone call away. Once a McNair Scholar, Always a McNair Scholar!

The Struggle of the Modern-Day Conquistadors

Posted June 28, 2016 by unlmcnair
Categories: Uncategorized

by Alicia Michelle Rogers, McNair Scholar

What does it mean to be a conquistador? For some, it’s defined as a person who is out to conquer new territory, ruthless and efficient (“Conquistador”). They have their eyes focused, mind sharp, and heart steadfast, ready to face any challenge that may come their way. Some might even say these attributes are characteristic of many first-generation college students—the modern-day conquistadors—eager to conquer new territories and plant their family’s flag in the ground of the educated. In fact, today it is estimated that about 34% of United States students venturing into this unknown land are the first of their families to get a four-year college degree (Pascarella 1). This astonishing percentage of first-generation students entering college exemplifies the ambition and ongoing importance of higher education in this country. However, despite their ambition, setting out for this collegiate conquest and transitioning into its culture and expectations can be difficult for students, especially first-generation students. It is often an uphill battle faced with many obstacles, but those who come out victorious pave the way for the next generation, creating a new legacy for themselves and their families.

Much of the struggle first-generation college students face is embodied in an image created by Allison Latini of the online news website called, The Ithacan (Figure 1 – Latini). This image depicts two first-generation college students buckling under the pressure and weight of their circumstances. As they are crippled by the stress of figuring out how to fund their college education, they are also dealing with the burden of seemingly high expectations from their families to succeed. Furthermore, their affliction is intensified by the disregard of some collegiate administration to the stress and hardship the students are enduring.Figure 1_Latini

From this image, it is evident that the community of first-generation college students is seen having near-insurmountable circumstances. As a first-generation college student, my experiences have echoed this. As a member of a low-income, working-class family, I struggled with finding ways to fund my education. Part of the reason for this was I didn’t know the resources available to me, the opportunities for financial aid, and where to find and apply for it. I felt very much like a lone wolf, wandering around aimlessly in search of answers, only to come up empty-handed. I didn’t know who to ask for help—especially since my parents were clueless, although supportive, in this process. After one year, however, I chose to drop out of college, deeming it something that was obviously not for me.

Nationally, it seems as though the college community has little knowledge about what first-generation students really need, therefore there are few programs on campuses to help them. In addition, it appears as if the pressure being experienced by first-generation students is thought of as the “norm,” or even a right-of-passage for students. “Pressure turns rocks into diamonds,” one administrator is depicted saying (Figure 1: Latini). In other words, the pressure these students face is regarded as somehow being necessary for their success. However, this may not necessarily be true. In fact, the financial burden often results in an increased risk of dropping out of college (Ishitani and DesJardins 189).

Luckily, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) is finding ways to provide programs specifically tailored for first-generation college students. One such program is the First Husker program, which was instituted by UNL in Fall 2015 as a part of their first-year experience and transition program. During this time, incoming first-generation freshmen were allowed to “move into their residence halls five days early, meet with a variety of faculty and staff in interactive workshops, receive tips and advice on how to start their college experience, and enjoy social activities with other First Husker peers” (First Husker).

I was fortunate enough to serve on the First-Generation Advisory Council, helping to plan and oversee its development, as well as serve as a First Husker peer mentor during the program. Many of workshops students were given the opportunity to be a part of were: academic success in the large classes, time management, financial literacy, leadership, making vision boards, goal setting, learning campus resources, and networking with other first-year students (First Husker Program). Each student also received a faculty academic success coach, with whom they met throughout their first year of college. It has yet to be determined how this will affect student outcomes in the collegiate environment, but extensive data was gathered and will be combined with the 2016-17 program to evaluate its ability to enhance first-generation student retention at the university. Nevertheless, it’s giving the UNL administration knowledge and resources to guide first-generation college students in the right direction, helping to answer their questions, and setting them up for success.

Family Expectations vs. Internal Expectations

The pressure of financial aid is not the only cause for first-generation students’ knees to buckle. Expectations held by their families put weight on these students as well (Latini, 2016). When discussing family expectations, Barrett stated in her article, “Oftentimes, [first-generation students] may feel that if [they] don’t major in something ‘good enough,’ none of their sacrifices will have been worth it.”

Currently, my mother is working two jobs to help support my education. She has always said she didn’t want money to be the reason we don’t go to college. She is sacrificing so much of her life and, whether she means to or not, it puts more pressure on me to succeed. Yet, if you ask her if what I specifically do matters to her, she would say ‘no.’ What matters to her is that I’m happy—and she tells me that all the time. So, the majority of the pressure I feel is simply because of me not my family. I, like many first-generation students, have this sense of reciprocity–that nothing is given to us for free and somehow we have to find ways to deserve it or pay it back.

Furthermore, I think most students want to make their families proud, but their struggles often make it difficult to fulfill that commitment. And, often, their parents don’t know how to help because they’ve most likely never been to college, or they attempted and failed at it themselves.

Figure2_Luo

Despite these struggles, many students do plug into a support system, as portrayed in a drawing by Cindy Luo of the online news website, Daily Trojan (Figure 2 – Luo). In this image, it appears as though support is a necessary attribute for first-generation students in order be happy, while those without that support are discontent or unhappy. I think it shows that not every first generation student is the same. They don’t have the same backgrounds, experiences, or support systems. For some, being a first-generation college student is a lonely battle; for others, it’s a path full of support and encouragement.

One of the things I found interesting in the picture by Luo, was that of the saddened individual with the “Fight on!” cap. To me, it suggests that the student is struggling, and the facial expression suggests a sort of hopelessness, perhaps defeat. According to Barrett, first-generation students often have feelings of not being good enough. This perfectly depicts the “imposter syndrome,” where they simply don’t feel like they belong. They feel different and less-qualified than everyone else. However, Howard is quick to point out that, “. . . this difference does not mean we are less intelligent, less capable of a high GPA, or less suited for a well-paying job, after graduation” (Howard, as cited in Barrett). She stresses that it’s important for students to remember they were accepted into college because they are adequate and because the university believed they could succeed (Barrett).

If I were to pick a group I most closely related with in this picture, it would be of this individual with the “Fight on!” cap. After dropping out of college after my first year, I felt hopeless and defeated. What I didn’t know was I still had a little fight left in me—like this student, I was looking down instead of looking up to see and embrace the “Fight on!” spirit.

Five years later, I realized this fight within me and returned to college, determined to succeed. Despite being alone, I paved the path for myself and found a way to succeed, using positive affirmations and being my own support system. One such affirmation which motivated me was a quote I memorized by Bruce Barton, “Nothing splendid has ever been achieved except by those who dared to believe that something inside them was superior to circumstance.” I think some first-generation students, like the one in the image, fail to realize that something inside them is superior to any circumstance they may find themselves in. Not having a strong support system may be a struggle, but at some point, students have to take responsibility for their future and determine nothing will stand in the way of reaching their goals.

I think many first-generation college students possess this fervor for success. In Barrett’s article, first-generation students are depicted as being “more passionate than normal students about their education”. Perhaps this is because of their determination to succeed. They know their obstacles may be greater than others, but are willing to work hard to overcome them. Another possible explanation might be students with college-educated parents have more of an expectation to go to college and may see it as something they “have to do,” whereas first-generation college students often don’t have this expectation from their parents. Consequently, they may view going to college as “going above and beyond” and see it as something they “get to do.” The difference in expectation could change the perspective by which the different students view education.

For many, being a first-generation college student is a source of pride. They are the first in their family—the first generation—to get a 4-year college degree. Many have to face seemingly insurmountable circumstances, while overcoming numerous obstacles, making a college education a difficult feat to conquer. When a first-generation student graduates, they don’t just accomplish something for themselves, they change the course of their family history. They are the modern-day conquistadors.

 Works Cited
Barrett, A. (2015). 5 Pieces of Advice for Freshmen First-Gen College Students. Retrieved from http://vergecampus.com/2015/10/six-lessons-ive-learned-first-two-months-first-generation-college-student/
“Conquistador – Dictionary Definition.” Vocabulary.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 June 2016. <https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/conquistador&gt;.
“Cost & Aid.” Admissions. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 June 2016. <http://admissions.unl.edu/cost.aspx&gt;.
“First Husker Program.” First-Year Experience & Transition Programs. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 June 2016. <http://success.unl.edu/first-husker&gt;.
Ishitani, Terry T. and Stephen L. DesJardins. “A Longitudinal Investigation of Dropout from College in the United States.” The Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice 4.2 (2002): 173-201. Web. 02 June 2016.
Latini, Allison. Photograph. The Ithacan. Web. 02 June 2016. <http://theithacan.org/opinion/editorial-first-generation-students-should-have-program/&gt;.
Luo, Cindy. Photograph. Daily Trojan. Web. 02 June 2016. <http://dailytrojan.com/2016/01/30/being-a-first-generation-college-student/&gt;.
Pascarella, Ernest T., Christopher T. Pierson, Gregory C. Wolniak, and Patrick T. Terenzini. “First-Generation College Students: Additional Evidence on College Experiences and Outcomes.” The Journal of Higher Education 75.3 (2004): 249-84. JSTOR. Web. 02 June 2016.

 

Learning to Learn: Shifting Study Habits

Posted June 16, 2016 by unlmcnair
Categories: Uncategorized

By Colin McGinnis, McNair graduate assistant

The reality is that only a handful of us are learners. A majority of students are performers– those who cram content into their brains to excel in testing situations, and forget the information shortly after– or are non-performers– those who are uninterested in learning and don’t perform well on tests.

Learners, however, have a deep passion for understanding the content they are studying. They have mastery-oriented learning goals, which isn’t as complicated as it may sound. Mastery orientation refers to a student’s desire to become competent on a task. Students with high mastery orientation believe hard work matters more than the grade, often fostering a sense of resilience from failing on a task. Failing becomes an opportunity to learn from setbacks and mistakes. As the saying goes, if at first you don’t succeed try, try again… and learn from each trial.

Becoming a learner requires strong study habits. Many of us never learned how to study effectively. If you’re like me, no one ever taught you how to study. Since kindergarten schools have been teaching you subjects to be tested (such as math and history), but not necessarily strategies on how to effectively prepare for a test. Luckily for us, universities like UNL offer a variety of seminars and courses on effective learning and academic success.

Having taught one of these classes myself, I believe you should enroll in a course or attend a seminar on this topic to fully develop these skills, but below are my top tips to improve your study habits.

Abandon poor study habits. We’ve been taught to use repetitive rehearsal strategies, such as flashcards or recopying notes, to memorize information for class. However, rehearsals work only for recalling information right away, but not for recalling it later. Effective study habits include selecting information through good note taking, organizing notes with representations and graphic organizers, and creating internal and external associations.

Organize, organize, organize. We’ve all had that moment when visiting a friend’s dorm room that is a complete mess. You walk in and think “wow, how do they find anything in here?!” Well, for many of us our notebooks are like a messy dorm room. We take all of these notes during lecture or while reading and now we have a mess of facts scattered across the pages of our notebooks. Students who study effectively organize their notes into representations whenever possible to best understand and see relationships among ideas. Representations can be just about anything to organize information, however my personal favorites are matrices and illustrations. A matrix allows you to neatly place facts about a topic into broader categories. When studying wars in American history, each war can go across the top of the matrix and information such as “who was fighting,” “number of causalities,” and “dates” could be categories. Simply plug in the facts from your notes and you have a clean and organized way to look at your notes. It is easier to make associations and remember a completed puzzle than 100 individual pieces!

Create associations. Associations are a powerful tool when it comes to studying. There are two types of associations, internal and external. Internal associations are made by relating ideas within the material you’re studying to identify some of those “big picture” topics we might miss. For example, if reading about birds in your zoology course you may learn about ducks and geese. Although never said in the text, you could recognize that both ducks and geese are water birds and probably share many features. By associating this fact, you now would be able to answer questions about ducks and geese, as well as discuses features of water birds and make comparisons to other types of birds. External associations are made by relating information to knowledge we already know. For example, when studying the cell structure in biology, you could associate structures to parts of a school. The cell membrane is like the security guard or intercom system determining who can pass in and out of the building. The Mitochondria is like the school’s cafeteria creating the “food” to power the cell. The similarity between a cell’s structure and a school might not be stated in the textbook, but by creating this external association between the two an effortless comparison is able to be made allowing for quicker, more meaningful learning. Instead of using rehearsal strategies that are often forgotten after a short period of time, create associations to form a deeper level of understanding.

Test yourself first. The best thing you can do when studying is test yourself. Never let your teacher or professor be the first to test you on a subject. When studying, develop questions along the way that test not only facts, but concept and (if applicable) skills. Concept questions are questions that test your ability to identify new examples, and are often left out of our study routines but surely to be on a test! The following is an example of a concept question: “Chris wore a blue t-shirt when taking his history exam and scores a 100 percent. He wore the same t-shirt for his next exam. Chris’ superstitious behavior is best explained by ____.” As you can see, this question is very different style of question than one asking “Define positive reinforcement.” although testing the same concept. By testing yourself first, and testing yourself often (not just a few days before the test) you will be prepared for whatever your instructor throws your way on test day.

Avoid distracting environments when studying. For me, the study lounge in my residence hall was more lounge than study, and the Union was just that– a place to join with people. Find somewhere that you can focus and get to work. This will be different for everyone, but it is important to find a place that is just right for you to really dive into your studies.

Benefits beyond the exam. In using active study strategies, you’ll do more than create deeper understanding of course material. Your test anxiety will decrease significantly. More often than not, test anxiety is typically due the subconscious belief that you’re unprepared. By improving your study skills, you’ll fight anxiety with preparation. Your confidence will increase, allowing you to feel more comfortable talking about coursework and reduce the impostor effect. Most importantly, you may actually have fun while learning. When you feel informed and confident in your studies, you’ll inherently have more fun while learning. Develop a sense of mastery orientation, study effectively, and study because you love your discipline.

The Importance of Self-Care for College Students

Posted June 8, 2016 by unlmcnair
Categories: Uncategorized

by Jess Tate, McNair graduate assistant

As college students we have many responsibilities related to our school work which makes it easy to forget to take care of ourselves. It can be hard to prioritize our personal needs when we are constantly prioritizing the next paper, project, presentation, or final. However, it’s essential to prioritize self-care into our daily regimen so we can be effective and put our best foot forward.

Self-care can be described as a way of living that incorporates any intentional actions you take to care for your physical and mental/emotional health. Building a collection of self-care habits will not only refresh you and replenish your motivation, but may also positively affect your quality of life today and in the future.

Physical self-care includes any intentional actions you take to care for your physical health, such as:

  • Eating regular healthy meals rather than fast food
  • Exercising daily. This could include taking a quick walk through the campus or your neighborhood or participating in an intramural sport on campus
  • Getting plenty of sleep—at least seven hours per night. Inadequate sleep can result in impaired memory, trouble focusing, depression, a weakened immune system, and fatigue
  • Going to the doctor when you’re sick

Mental/emotional self-care involves practices that maintain your mental strength and emotional health, such as:

  • Using meditation or relaxation exercises, such as deep breathing techniques
  • Spending quality time with friends or family who can offer support
  • Keeping a journal to jot down thoughts or feelings
  • Seeking counseling or support when you need it

You might be wondering, “How will I have time to incorporate self-care into my daily life?”  Life goal experts suggest scheduling self-care activities similar to the way you put your deadlines on your calendar. Treat self-care or leisure appointments as seriously as you would your school appointments and mark it on your calendar so you feel obligated to do it. Make self-care a priority and you might find life a little more manageable!

Top Five Things I Wish I’d Known Before MSRE

Posted June 1, 2016 by unlmcnair
Categories: Uncategorized

by Jenn Andersen, McNair graduate assistant

5. I would meet some of my best friends in MSRE.

You’ll spend a lot of time over the summer with your cohort, and you all are facing the same pressure to complete your research projects. Your cohort will be the ones you’ll rely on to keep your spirits up! Many of them will also be continuing the journey of applying to graduate school with you. These friends will give you someone to commiserate with over applications, celebrate your successes with, and they’ll continue to support you through graduate school.

4. I would learn the real meaning of time management.

I was very lucky that my mentor is an ace at time management because until MSRE started I didn’t realize how nonchalant I was about it. Instead of finishing assignments just before the deadline, my faculty mentor taught me how to work backwards from a deadline to set up my schedule for writing, leaving enough time to be able to have her and my graduate student mentor to look over it multiple times. Using this time management technique for preparing my PowerPoint presentation and poster gave me plenty of time to practice my presentation in front of both my lab and my friends and made the whole process a lot less stressful than it could have been. Work with your mentors on scheduling your time during MSRE so you can get the most out of your experiences!

 

3. My results (or lack thereof) are probably not going to change the world.

I went into my project thinking that I was going to come up with results that would change the way health campaigns work and find some huge failure in the program I was reviewing. I didn’t find these ‘perfect’ results, but I did have some interesting findings. It was enough so I was able to do a second study, finish my senior thesis, and be under consideration for publication this year. When my co-authors and I received a revise/resubmit back from the publisher, I was stunned that they found my project to be interesting, even though it didn’t end up as I envisioned during MSRE. While having results matter, it’s just as important to have a compelling story, valid theory, good methods, and a well thought-out discussion to make your paper work.

 

2. My GRE scores needed work.

I went into the GRE Pretest thinking I would perform well on the test, as I’d on other tests in the past, and that would not need to worry about my scores. This was not true. After taking the Pretest, everyone in my cohort found our GRE scores could be improved, just in different ways. Fortunately, this is the perfect time to form study groups with your fellow scholars to help you prepare. With such a diversity of talent in your cohort, there is certain to be someone who can help you improve, just as you can help your peers improve. Try to take your test as soon after MSRE as you can, that way you’ll have all of the studying and techniques fresh in your memory on test day!

 

1. MSRE is one of the most rewarding moments in your young career as a scholar.

I was tired by the time we left for Berkeley. One of the things you don’t think about is how much of the summer will be devoted to your research. It is an eye-opening experience and a pretty good preview of what graduate school will be like. Although, I was even more tired when we got off the plane in Lincoln after the trip, I was so excited about what I’d chosen to do with my life. Experiencing my first conference, presenting my first paper, and handling the questions regarding my research with ease made me feel that I was ready to take on the next step: graduate school. I think this is one of the most important things the scholars who have been through MSRE can tell those that are preparing for their first day of MSRE; it is a hard 8-9 weeks of work, but the skills and confidence you gain in the end are so worth it.


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