Archive for the ‘Study Skills’ category

Four Tips to Revise Your Papers

June 20, 2018

Keshia Mcclantoc, McNair Graduate Assistant

So, you’ve written your manuscript, gotten feedback from your mentor and McNair graduate assistants, and now it’s time to edit and revise your manuscript. Depending on what type of writer you are, editing/revising can either be one of your favorite parts of writing or one of your least favorite parts. You’ve already put in the work of writing your manuscript, now it’s time to polish it until your writing shines.

Although both your mentors and the McNair program staff will help you when it comes to polishing your paper, the real editing and revision work comes down to you. You are the only one responsible for making your manuscript the best it can be. Here are four editing and revising tips to help you improve your writing.

Read your paper out loud. Although it seems silly, reading your paper out loud can help you catch things that your mind would normally skip over when reading in your head. By verbally reading your paper, you can catch grammatical or sentence level mistakes you may not have noticed before. You can figure out whether some sentences seem too long or short. You’ll notice when something sounds off while reading it this way because it forces you to listen to your paper. Things that make sense on paper may not be as clear when spoken, so reading your paper aloud is a sure way to find these errors. Take your time, read your paper slowly, and listen to what you are saying.

Do a reverse outline. A reverse outline is a way to make sure that your argument is consistent throughout your paper. In a reverse outline, you create an outline based on the paper you have already written, not on a paper you plan on writing. You do this by reading each paragraph and writing down one sentence per paragraph to describe the main point of that paragraph. You do this for every paragraph in your paper and then you read over the outline you have made. While reading through this outline, ask yourself – does my argument develop cohesively throughout my entire paper? Am I being too repetitive by making one point last across several paragraphs? Is the paper well balanced? Does the outline, by itself, give a complete sense of all of your research? Do these main points all contribute to my hypothesis/thesis? A reverse outline helps you see how your paper was developed and notice any place where you got off track, didn’t focus on something enough, or focused on something too long. A good paper should have a reverse outline that works as a perfect synthesis of the larger paper. If you don’t feel your reverse outline reads as a synthesis, then focus on the paragraphs that seem to be preventing that.

Keep an elephant graveyard. Sounds like the scary place in the Lion King? Well it is. While you are making any revisions, you keep a separate document open to keep track of some of the significant changes you are making. If you are removing substantial chunks from your paper, perhaps a paragraph you think you might not need in your lit review, cut and paste them into another Word document to easily find later. Essentially, you are creating a graveyard for your paper, where significant aspects that were removed or changed can be kept if you decide you want to use them later.  Although using the track changes function in word may help with the same thing, the elephant graveyard gives you an entirely separate and whole document you can pull from. Keeping this document is important because it allows you to ground yourself in your paper by seeing what you needed to cut or change, shows what mistakes to avoid, and shows just how much revision has gone into your paper. Plus, the elephant graveyard can be useful in other ways. Maybe you deleted something that you change your mind on later—just revive it from the graveyard and put it back in. Maybe your paper has gaps that you can’t seem to fill, look over the graveyard and see if anything you cut can fill those gaps. Typically you might only have a few pages of sentences or paragraphs that have removed.  You do not need to include everything you change or edit in your paper, only they major things that you think you might need to be able to easily find in the future.

Revise in parts, not as a whole.  Revision can be tough work, and as such, trying to revise an entire paper in one day can prove tough. The best revision that happens is revision that takes places across several days, with the writer working on certain areas for each day. Although the MSRE deadlines will determine just how many days you have to revise, spreading revision across different chunks of time can help in the long run. It allows your paper to breathe between revision sessions and it allows your mind to rest. It also gives you time to put in several sessions of quality revision instead of a single rushed session where not all errors can be addressed.

Revising can be intimidating, especially after you’ve spent so much time crafting your manuscript. However, being open to change and using some of the above tips can really help you produce a well-edited and revised manuscript. Remember to take your time and put in the quality work needed to help your paper shine.





How to Stay Organized Throughout MSRE

May 31, 2018

By Keshia Mcclantoc, UNL McNair Graduate Assistant

As a McNair Scholar participating in MSRE, you are shouldered with many responsibilities. Not only are you performing the work of the research itself, but also the work of prepping for the GRE, looking for graduate programs, and perhaps getting a head start on graduate school applications. Summers as a McNair Scholar can be difficult and time-consuming; it is easy to feel lost in so much to do. MSRE is working to mimic the hectic conditions you will face in graduate school where you will be faced with classes of your own, working on your research, and fulfilling your assistantship duties (whether they are teaching or research-based). By using your time with the McNair Program to find organizational strategies that work, you can foster time management habits that will benefit you throughout MSRE and well into graduate school.

Organization_Word Cloud

Here are three tips that will help you think about ways to start organizing during MSRE.

Understand the value of time. As a scholar, you need to understand that everything you do takes up time that has the potential to be valuable. In some cases, this means spending hours in a lab or research. In other cases, this means taking a break to have lunch with friends. Regardless of

what it is happening,

know that the time you are using is valuable. Treating it as such and dedicating your time to those things which will most benefit you is an important part of keeping a balanced schedule and life. Managing your time means asking yourself each day what your time gives you the opportunity to do. Try to see time as something full of opportunities as opposed to something you can waste. Always remember that your time is important and ripe with opportunities to push yourself as both a scholar and person. Don’t just use your time wisely but use it effectively.

Effective Scheduling. The first step toward good organizational habits is making a schedule that works for you. Some people like to make daily to-do tasks, others like to make weekly schedules, and some will do monthly overviews. Find the type of schedule that feels right to you; this is one that is easy to maintain, best addresses what work you need to do, and makes you excited about what is on your plate. Once you figure out what type of schedule you need, there are different ways to keep it on hand. You can write it down in a classic planner, design your own schedule, use a digital tool or an app, or even use pre-made printable that you fill out. The tool you use for maintaining your schedule varies according the type of schedule you have and the tasks you want to accomplish. Even if the idea of making a list of tasks to complete sounds anxiety-inducing, MSRE and graduate school demand a level of attention that other projects will not so in the long run, creating a comprehensive schedule is worth the effort.

Taking Care of Yourself. Organization comes not just from addressing the work you need to do for MSRE but also finding the time to take care of yourself. Having a hectic schedule makes it hard to address very human needs like eating, sleeping, or having fun. While your priority this summer should be completing your MSRE project, it is important not to let it be your only priority. While making your schedule for your MSRE work, write in when you’re going to have lunch or dinner, when you’re going to chill out and watch Netflix for an hour, or even when you need a nap. It’s not about planning out every minute of your day, but it is about making sure you have a comprehensive schedule that addresses your needs both as an academic and as a person.

The best way to manage your time and stay organized is to find the methods that work best for you. There is no one size fits all schedule that could address everyone’s needs, so the best organizational strategy is to find what works best for you. Test out different schedules and calendars, determine whether you want to use planners or apps, decide what your time is worth and how you want to use, and always remember to find the time for both yourself and your research. Staying organized can be overwhelming but learning to make organization a habit can benefit you long after the MSRE process.



When Life Hands You Lemons… (and you have a Paper Due)

June 21, 2017

By Jenn Andersen, McNair graduate assistant and UNL McNair Alum

We all know that college (and graduate school) is hard enough on a good day, but what happens when life gets hard too? When you consider the mental and physical health issues many college students face themselves, as well as family issues that happen back home, it can get pretty daunting to be a college student. For example, more than 30% of students in college are dealing with the death of a parent or close friend within the past two years (Balk et al., 2010). Almost 20% of those students are at risk of withdrawing from college (Plaskac et al., 2011).

I’m here to tell you, however, that there is support available to help you get through these situations. I bet you’re asking yourself, “How would she know?”, and it’s because I’ve been there myself. I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes my second semester of grad school, and my Dad passed away from ALS a year later during my second year of grad school. That made for a rough year or so, but I succeeded in earning my Master’s degree and am moving on to my PhD. (more…)

Getting the most out of MSRE: Grad School Boot Camp

June 8, 2017

by Jenn Andersen, McNair graduate assistant and UNL McNair Alum

Graduate school is an eye-opening experience for all new graduate students (myself included). Grading policies are stricter, workloads are often intimidating, and then there is the ever-present imposter syndrome—the feeling that maybe you don’t belong in graduate school. But, guess what? MSRE is a great time to get the grad school experience without leaving the comforts of UNL.

Three challenges that are often reported by first-year graduate students are (a) time management, (b) amount of reading due/understanding the reading, and (c) graduate-level writing (Schramm-Possinger & Powers, 2015). In addition, first-year graduate students have to learn how to motivate themselves without the undergraduate structure they are used to and with other duties like teaching or research. Sound familiar? It is pretty close to the day-to-day experience you are having right now, right? This is why my MSRE mentor called me and her other McNair scholar ‘grad-students-in-training.’

So how do you make the most of the MSRE experience so you won’t be as shocked when you jump in the grad school pool? I’m going to share five tips that might just help you out. (more…)

Using Metacognition as a Tool for Learning

July 6, 2015

By: Abe Flanigan, 2015 MSRE graduate assistant

Noah has had a crush on Wendy for almost a year. After spending weeks working up the courage, he finally overcame his shyness and asked her out on a date. For their date, Noah picked Wendy up around 7 p.m. and took her to a nice Thai restaurant before taking a walk through the town’s well-known art museum. Fast-forward a few hours, and Noah is driving home after dropping Wendy back off at her place. Noah is anxious. Did the date go well? Did she have fun? Did he talk enough? Were his jokes funny? Should he have worn a tie? These questions and many more like them are racing through his head. By reflecting on how this first date went, Noah is hoping to figure out what went well, what went wrong, and how he could make a second date (if she will go out with him again) more successful.

This self-reflective process is something we’re all are familiar with. Whether it is reflecting on a first date, an encounter with a boss, or our performance in a recent basketball game, everybody has experience thinking about past events. By reflecting on our past successes and failures, we place ourselves in a better position to be successful in the future. The same process of reflection—metacognition—is important when we are trying to learn. Metacognition is the “Awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes.” (Flavell, 1976) In other words, metacognition is the awareness and understanding of how you learn best. By becoming more metacognitive and thinking about our learning experiences, we allow ourselves to identify what types of learning experiences or strategies work best for us, and which ones we struggle with. By doing so, we allow ourselves to become better learners.

The benefits of being metacognitive

Studies show that students who make an effort to be more metacognitive learn more and perform better in the classroom than students who do not engage in this type of self-reflection and assessment. The reasons for this are twofold.

 First, metacognitive students are more likely to know which learning strategies work best for them than students who do not make an effort to be metacognitive. As you know, learning and mastering information is more difficult than simply reading through it once and hoping it sticks in your memory. Information doesn’t automatically get stored into our long-term memories like that. Instead, repeated and meaningful interaction with information is necessary, especially if it’s really difficult material. So, rather than reading through a chapter once and falsely believing they learned everything in it, metacognitive students identify specific learning strategies (e.g., comparing/contrasting the different concepts, creating flashcards, and taking detailed notes) and applying them to that material.

 Second, metacognitive students are more likely to embrace the growth mindset championed by Carol Dweck (1999). If you take time to think about your learning process, then you’re going to feel more confident in your ability to control your learning outcomes. The blog post Perspective is Everything: How Mindset Influences Your Success explained how students with a growth mindset understand that intelligence can be grown incrementally over time and are more motivated, work harder in the face of difficulty, and achieve higher than students with a fixed mindset. When you think about it, metacognition is really just the growth mindset in action. There is a difference between believing that you’re in control of your learning outcomes (growth mindset) and actually figuring out how to take control (metacognition). When students make an effort to be more metacognitive, they experience the benefits of taking control of their learning outcomes, which reinforces the growth mindset.

How can you be more metacognitive?

So, now that you know what metacognition is and its benefits, you’re probably wondering how to become more metacognitive. Fortunately, metacognition is something that can be developed. Outlined below are a couple of learning strategies you can use right now to become a more metacognitive learner.

Retrieval-based learning. Most of our study strategies are geared towards committing information to memory – memorizing definitions, reading a chapter over and over, and taking notes, for example. However, success in school is largely based on our ability to pull information from memory. Yet most students rarely practice, waiting until they take a dreaded test or quiz to attempt to retrieve information for the first time. This routine harms performance! Studies show that the more times you pull information out of long-term memory, the easier recall becomes. This is known as retrieval-based learning (RBL).

RBL is beneficial for two reasons. First, the more times you pull information out of memory, the easier it becomes. Just like doing a push-up or running a mile, the more you do it, the easier it gets. Second, trying to pull information out of long-term memory provides you with an honest assessment of whether or not you actually know something. You’ll know if you have the quadratic formula memorized if you can recite it from memory and you will know if you have a firm grip on the four stages of mitosis if you can describe each of them from memory. So, things like trying to recall as much information about a topic as possible, practicing writing an essay about something, or having a friend create a practice test for you (or making one yourself) would help you practice retrieving information from memory.

 Regulating your environment. As you may remember from the Obstacles to Effective Learning blog post, many factors besides your specific study strategies impact your learning outcomes, such as your study environment. Metacognitive students are aware of this. Not all environments are created equally, which means you should carefully consider how to arrange or select an environment conducive to learning. Think about the things that commonly distract you and make a plan to combat them. Leave your cell phone at home when you go the library (or at least silence it and leave it in your bag). Only bring your laptop if absolutely necessary so you don’t feel tempted to check Facebook once every ten minutes. Or use something like to temporarily block specific websites while you study or do homework. Also, think about whether or not you work best alone or with a group. Studying with a group of friends might seem like more fun than doing it alone. But do you usually end up wasting time talking about off-topic things? Lastly, think about how your lifestyle (sleep and exercise habits, for example) might be impacting your learning outcomes and make adjustments accordingly. Being particular about these sorts of things can help you create an environment conducive to success.

Setting and monitoring goals. You may also find it helpful to get into the habit of establishing specific goals for your study sessions. How long do you plan to study? How many chapters or terms do you want to get through? How many math problems do you want to finish? By setting these kinds of goals, you provide yourself with criteria to assess your studying and homework sessions.

Are you getting the most out of the session? Are you wasting most of your time? Are you moving through the material as quickly as you would like? In addition to assessing the quality of your session, you can also reflect on the obstacles standing in the way of your goals. If you were unable to get through two chapters in American History, then maybe a specific topic is confusing and slowing you down. If so, it’s important to identify the problem and dedicate more time and effort to it. Setting goals helps you stay on track, provides you with criteria for assessing the quality of your homework and study sessions, and also provides you with a starting point for identifying areas of difficulty.


 By making metacognition a priority, you can make yourself a stronger, more efficient learner. For most of us, effective learning strategies do not come naturally. Instead, we need to take time to reflect on our learning experiences. Which study strategies are the most helpful for you? Which topics do you tend to struggle with? Figure out who you are as a learner and tailor your studying and homework sessions accordingly. Just like professional athletes and musicians constantly practice to get better and better, making an attempt to become more metacognitive can advance your abilities as a student, researcher, and life-long learner.

Obstacles to Effective Learning

June 22, 2015

By: Abe Flanigan, 2015 MSRE graduate assistant

 Study every day.

Pay attention during all of your classes.

Ask questions.

Chances are good you’ve heard these three keys to success during your years of schooling. There’s a reason why your parents and teachers recommended those learning strategies: students do better when they try harder. But how effective is a study session if your friends or the temptation to check Facebook constantly distract you? How well can you pay attention in your American history lecture if you only got four hours of sleep last night? While the specific learning strategies students use receive a lot of attention, we often lose sight of other factors that influence our ability to learn new information or perform well on tests and quizzes.

The purpose of this blog is to share information with you about how your sleeping pattern, exercise habits, and exposure to distractions impact your brain’s ability to learn and process information.

I need my six hours of sleep

 College students are notorious for staying up late to hang out with friends, binge-watch Netflix, or study for an upcoming test. Sure, we all like to spend time with our friends, get caught up on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, or feel prepared for our Intermediate Stats test. However, most of us fail to consider how maintaining such an unhealthy sleeping cycle impacts our brains and bodies. Dr. James Maas, author of Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program that Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance (1999) and widely regarded sleep expert, has dedicated his career to studying the effects that sleep has on our capacity to learn and perform at our highest levels.

How much sleep do you get every night? Four hours? Six hours? Eight hours? One of my roommates during undergrad always used to tell me, “As long as I get my six hours of sleep, I’m good to go.” If you’re like most college students, six hours of sleep sounds pretty good. But, what if I were to tell you that Maas’ research has found that people who sleep 4-6 hours every night for an entire week and then perform a series of challenging cognitive and physical tasks perform just as well as participants who are well rested, but legally intoxicated? It’s true. A lack of sleep can severely impact how well our brains and bodies perform. Maas suggests the average adult needs between 8-9 hours of sleep every night. Sound impossible? Make sleep a priority. If you sleep every night from 11 p.m. until 7 a.m. (or from midnight until 8 a.m.), you’ll get your eight hours. To give yourself a chance to wind down and get more sleep at night, make the most of the daylight hours.

Another reason why sleep is helpful relates to a process known as Memory Consolidation. Throughout the course of the day, we learn hundreds of new pieces of information as we talk to other people, listen to the radio, read newspapers, or scroll through Facebook and Twitter. Our brains process thousands (maybe even millions) of sights, sounds, and other stimuli through our senses. That’s a TON of information. We can’t possibly remember it all! While we sleep, the brain sorts through all of the information from the previous day. This is when the brain decides what was important and what wasn’t, keeping important information and “deleting” the unimportant. This is the process of memory consolidation. If you spent four hours that day studying for your French history class, then your brain is going to identify that information as important and begin the process of storing (or, consolidating) it into long-term memory. The information the brain deems less important (e.g., the information you spent less time paying attention to) is going to be “deleted. This is why it’s difficult to remember what you had for breakfast four days ago – it’s really not that important so the brain removes that information from your memory.

Here’s why sleep is important to memory consolidation: the longer you sleep, the more information your brain can sort through and begin to consolidate into long-term memory. If you only give yourself six hours of sleep instead of eight, then your brain has less time to consolidate information into your long-term memory.

Besides setting an earlier bedtime for yourself, what else can you do to get more sleep? Maas has three suggestions. First, remove as many stimuli from your surroundings as possible. Remember, one of the purposes of sleeping is to give your brain a rest from processing information. So, if you sleep with a radio or television on, your brain picks up on the noise and your sleep rhythm is disrupted. At a speech he gave during the 2010 Great Plains Psychology Conference, Maas described how even the light emitted from an electronic alarm clock is enough to interfere with sleep. Second, if you like to workout late in the evening before bed, there’s a chance you’re messing with your sleeping habits. As you exercise, your body temperature rises. But, in order to go to sleep, your body temperature needs to lower. Working out shortly before bed makes it difficult for your body to cool down, so it’s more difficult to fall asleep. Or, you may be able to fall asleep, only to wake up a couple of times during the night or you feel groggy the next morning. Third, Maas advocates setting up a pre-bedtime routine. Calming activities such as reading a book, writing in a journal, or listening to soft music are all things we can do to help our bodies calm down and prepare for sleep.

 Exercise is for more than getting that “beach body”

 A healthy exercise routine also has positive effects on our ability to learn new information. No, you don’t have to run eight miles a day, do 500 sit-ups, or 100 pushups. Researchers have found that simply doing aerobic exercise (such as going for a jog or riding a bike) for just 30 minutes a day, 4-5 times a week is enough to boost your brain’s learning capabilities for up to 6-8 hours after you finish exercising. How? As we exercise, our brains release a chemical known as brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF). Simply put, BDNF is a natural steroid. The presence of BDNF positively impacts our cognitive efficiency and makes it easier to process information and store it in long-term memory. The more regularly you exercise, the more regularly you have elevated levels of BDNF in the brain. So, even if you aren’t motivated to get a perfectly sculpted beach body before Spring Break next year, you can use your academic goals as motivation to get into the gym or head out for a bike ride.

 Facebook, texting, and other distractions that hinder your learning

 Getting enough sleep and exercise can improve your brain’s ability to learn and process information. However, simply being well rested and settled into an exercise routine is not enough to guarantee success. You also need to pay attention to how the environment around you may benefit or harm your brain’s capabilities.

Take a minute to visualize the environment you typically study in. Is your cell phone within reach? Do you have distracting Internet sites open (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) on your laptop? Is the television on in the background? Having these distractions present in your study environment increases what educational psychologists call motivational interference (e.g., Fries & Dietz, 2006). Motivational interference refers to the decrease in our motivation and on-task behaviors as a result of the presence of tempting distractions. Unfortunately, students who experience high levels of motivational interference experience diminished motivation to continue studying, produce lower quality homework, and perform more poorly on tests and quizzes than students who minimize motivational interference.

So, you could be well rested and settled into an exercise routine, but that doesn’t guarantee success. Instead, it could all be wasted if you surround yourself with distractions during your study and homework sessions. In addition to motivational interference, research has found that the human brain cannot multitask (Medina, 2008). Most of us think we can switch between one task and another (like switching between studying for a quiz and sending text messages) and still function at an optimal level. Wrong! Instead, asking our brain to switch back and forth between one task and another challenges and makes our brain tired. Trying to multitask reduces the how much information we retain from study sessions. By minimizing the presence of distractions in our study and homework sessions, we can increase the quality of those sessions. So, put your phone on silent, close the Facebook tab on your laptop, and focus on studying. You’ll be surprised by how much easier it is to learn when you don’t have so many different things competing for your attention.

 Closing thoughts

 Remember, specific study strategies are important for your success. Study, work diligently on your homework, and ask questions. Being a proactive student will pay off in the form of good grades, positive relationships with your instructors, and enhanced opportunities for graduate school. But don’t forget that other factors also impact your learning outcomes. By getting enough sleep, your brain has time to rest and consolidate information into your long-term memory. Getting plenty of sleep also helps your brain function at its peak during the day. Exercise releases BDNF in the brain, further enhancing its ability to function at a high level. Finally, minimizing distractions when you’re studying allows your fully rested and BDNF-filled brain to process information more easily. By taking sleep, exercise, and the presence of distractions into account, you can make it easier on yourself to learn new information and perform at a high level.

Perspective is Everything: How Mindset Influences Your Success

June 15, 2015

By: Abe Flanigan, 2015 MSRE graduate assistant

Students’ beliefs about their ability to learn can have an incredibly positive or negative impact on their college success. Take Alan and Maria, for example. Both are college freshmen taking an introductory-level chemistry class. Alan never felt like he was any good at science. Instead, Alan likes to tell himself, “Tiger Woods was born to be a great golfer and Emily Dickinson was born to be a writer. Unfortunately, no matter how hard I try, I’m just not cut out to be a scientist.” Maria, on the other hand, has a different mindset. Although science has never been her favorite topic, she knows studying and working hard make it possible to do well in those courses. While thinking about chemistry, Maria often tells herself, “I know it might not be my best subject, but I can earn an A or B in this class by working hard.”

Last week, Alan and Maria took a chemistry quiz. Both of them failed. While neither was happy about failing, they interpreted their performances differently. Alan saw his poor performance as confirmation that he’s simply not cut out for science and, no matter how much time and effort he devotes to science classes, he’ll never succeed in chemistry. Maria understood her poor performance as an indication that she needs to devote more time and effort studying, asking questions, and visiting her professor’s office hours. She believes that, by working hard, she can do better on future quizzes, learn the material, and succeed.

Alan’s and Maria’s interpretations of their quiz performance represent two opposite mindsets about the nature of learning. According to educational psychologist Carol Dweck (1999), most students have one of two mindsets about the nature of learning: fixed and growth.

Students like Alan have a fixed mindset. For these students, intelligence is an innate gift. You’re either born smart or you’re not. You’re good at math and science, or you aren’t. Students with a fixed mindset don’t see the value in working hard or taking challenging academic courses because there’s no point. If you were born with natural ability in math, then you’ll always be good at math; if you weren’t born with natural ability in science, then you’ll always struggle in classes like biology and physics. It’s as simple as that and there’s no way around it.

Fortunately, not all people think this way.

The Wright Brothers had to overcome several crashes before successfully flying the first plane. Crick and Watson had to work for over a decade before uncovering DNA’s true structure. Marie Curie only discovered radium after years of intensive work and study. All of these people understood that they needed to persevere and overcome obstacles to reach their goals. People who view intelligence as a malleable quality that can be developed over time through hard work and effort possess a growth mindset. These people understand that sometimes learning doesn’t come easy. In order to succeed, you need to apply yourself, take on new challenges, confront failures, and work hard.

What influence does our mindset have?

Dweck discovered important differences between people who possess fixed and those with growth mindsets. She found that mindsets influence (a) how we respond to setbacks, (b) our beliefs about the importance of working hard, (c) academic performance, and (d) the amount of anxiety we experience during college.

Response to setbacks. If students believe success in school is fixed, that it’s determined by how much natural ability they have in each subject, then their failures or successes will only confirm those beliefs. Alan thought he was bad at chemistry. When he failed the quiz, Alan decided his performance confirmed his belief. He was unable to see how a more concerted effort would’ve helped him boost his performance on the quiz.

Students with a growth mindset view setbacks as opportunities for improvement. Maria didn’t do well on this quiz but used the experience as motivation. She studied frequently, asked more questions, and visited her instructor’s office hours. Maria believes that, with a more dedicated effort, she can succeed. Setbacks are going to happen; they’re a natural part of the learning process. If your faculty research advisor doesn’t like the way you wrote the first draft of your research manuscript, does that mean you will never be able to write scientifically? Of course, it doesn’t. It simply means you have room to improve. Believe me, even doctoral students (and faculty members) receive constructive feedback from peers and advisors.

Beliefs about effort. It’s empowering to know that the ability to learn new information and master new skills is in your hands. Students with a fixed mindset believe working hard is pointless because intelligence can’t be developed over time and natural ability won’t disappear. They are wrong about both of these things.

First, research has shown how taking more notes, studying regularly, and setting a goal to master course content are positively associated with course achievement. Hard work does matter. Second, ability does decrease over time if you don’t continue to practice and apply yourself. For example, let’s say that Alisha’s high school teachers always told her she was a good writer. When she got to college, Alisha felt that she didn’t need to spend time improving her writing ability because she was already a “good writer.” But if she doesn’t practice the skill and hone her abilities, Alisha will have trouble rising to the more demanding writing tasks in college. After all, it’s much more difficult to write a research manuscript in college than to write a two-page book report in high school. Previous success does NOT always mean that you’ll continue to be successful in the future. It takes effort to continue developing the skills to be successful in college, graduate school, and beyond. Students with a growth mindset are more likely to embrace this reality than students with a fixed mindset.

Academic performance. By using setbacks as motivation to improve and work harder, students with a growth mindset set themselves on the path to academic success. The same can be said for growing as a researcher. Learning how to write scientifically takes work. Exploring relevant literature, designing experiments, and analyzing the results can be draining, time-consuming, and mentally exhausting. However, all of us have the capacity to become competent researchers who contribute to our respective fields. By embracing this truth and working towards it, you will already put yourself ahead of students whose fixed mindsets hold them back.

Anxiety. Finally, students with fixed and growth mindsets feel different levels of anxiety during their academic experience. Sure, everybody feels a little anxious sometimes. In fact, studies have shown that feeling slightly nervous before a test or speaking to a group of people can actually boost your performance! People with a fixed mindset, however, experience what educational psychologists refer to as “invited anxiety” – the anxiety that arises from a lack of preparation and feeling like they can’t learn new skills. Why invite anxiety? You have enough to focus on, so keep a positive attitude towards learning!

What does all of this mean for you?

Now that you know a little more about fixed and growth mindsets, you can begin to think about how your mindset impacts your motivation, behavior, and performance. If you have a fixed mindset, take steps towards developing a healthier growth mindset. If you’re struggling in calculus, talk to friends who took the course before you, learn about their struggles. Find out how they overcame them. Read Carol Dweck’s work on fixed and growth mindsets and learn how mindsets influence the performance of students, people in the workforce, athletes, and more. The more educated you are about the benefits of a growth mindset, the easier it’ll be for you to accept how influential your mindset really is.

As you work to develop your academic, research, and professional skills, don’t forget about the importance of your mindset. If you attend graduate school, you can expect to be challenged. You’ll learn new, complex forms of statistics. You’ll receive feedback on how you design research studies and write reports. You may even receive a teaching assistantship and need to learn how to communicate effectively, develop lesson plans, and design assignments that promote student learning. If you’re like most people, you’ll struggle in some (or maybe ALL) of these areas. That’s okay. By keeping a growth mindset, positive attitude, and putting your best foot forward, you can chip away at the obstacles in front of you and achieve your academic and professional goals.