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I Survived MSRE…Now What?

September 4, 2013

by Maggie Gossard

You’ve just finished the McNair Summer Research Experience (MSRE), and you’re excited about what comes next. Here are a few suggestions that helped me have a successful post-MSRE experience.

Give yourself a break
You ate, slept, lived, and breathed your project this summer. You went to Berkeley and completely rocked out your presentation. Maybe you want to start on the next project quickly. But don’t forget to relax. All of your hard work has paid off (and will continue to pay off), and now it’s time to do something nice for yourself. Whether it’s going to get a massage, having a night out with friends, or simply catching up on some much needed sleep, do your best to just take a breather. There is more work to come, but creating balance in your life is a healthy habit to get into. The ability to maintain balance in your life will help you during the next academic year and beyond in graduate school.

Continue your research
This fall, take all of the new skills that you learned during MSRE and apply them to your research. Whether you continue work on your McNair project or starting a completely new research project, know that you’re competent and ready for whatever comes your way. If you’re continuing your existing study, consider making it your senior thesis. After all, thanks to your McNair paper, a good bulk of the work will already be done! You’ll perhaps just be adding in some additional results and bulking up your discussion. If you’re starting a new project, use your McNair paper as a template to help you build your next paper and develop it into a senior thesis.

Market yourself
You’ve accomplished so much! You’re not only a fantastic student, you’re now also a scholar. This sets you apart from your peers in an important way, and it’s important to market yourself as an asset. For example, if you’ve worked in one lab and have done a great job, consider adding another lab to the mix. You’ll have a track record of excellence behind you, and you have a lot to offer a new lab. Plus, don’t forget, you need three letters of recommendation for graduate school; adding experience in a second lab is a great way to secure another letter. Additionally, check out any departmental academic or research awards that you may be eligible for. These look great on your curriculum vitae and solidify your reputation as a scholar.

Prepare for the graduate application process
McNair has given you the tools for applying to graduate school. Don Asher has given you some helpful tips and advice. Now it’s time to put everything into motion. The application process is intense, but completely manageable if you make it a priority and stay organized.

  • If you haven’t already done so, study for and take the GRE. Ideally, you’ll want to give yourself 2-3 months to prepare. There’s no magic formula, book, or app to get you through the GRE. There are tools that can aid you in your study, but when all is said and done, it’s about good old-fashioned studying.
  • Begin researching and narrowing down the schools you plan to apply to. Focus on fit.Remember, as Don Asher said, “Fit and match trump grades and scores”. Don’t get hung up on “big name” schools; there may not be any faculty there researching what you’re interested in. Along those same lines, don’t compromise doing what you’re passionate about to go to a prestigious school. It can turn into a very long five or six years in graduate school if you are not doing something you love.
  • After identifying the programs and faculty members that you’re interested in, email the professors to see if they’re taking students. It could be the best match in the world, but if they don’t have an open spot for you, it will be a waste of time applying there.
  • Begin drafting your personal statement. I recommend that for the first draft, you don’t think too much. Sit down and just pour your heart out on paper. Then begin to revise with the help of your mentor or graduate student mentor. Writing your statement this way will ensure that the “uniquely you” part of your statement is present. Remember to address any adversity you have faced in the past as something you have overcome, not something that happened to you. Give your statement a positive, inspiring message filled with clarity of purpose.
  • Begin identifying your letter writers and gathering information for them. They should be given a copy of your cv, statement of purpose, McNair paper, information on each school you are applying to, the faculty you’re applying to work with (and their research interests), and all the information about when and how to submit their letters to each school. Do your best to make writing and submitting your letters as easy as possible for your writers. The less time they have to spend looking for the information they need to submit their letter, the more time they can spend on writing you a strong letter. 

Keep your grades up
In the middle of all of the chaos, be careful not to neglect your coursework. If you are applying in the fall, your fall marks will be the last set of grades that admission committees will see before they make your admission decision. Strategize your course load and make those grades count.Try to take a “light” course load (no more than 12 credit hours) of enjoyable, manageable classes so that you can make the application process a priority while comfortably balancing your classes.

If you follow these steps, you can effectively use your MSRE experience as a springboard to continued success from college and into graduate school. You have proved to yourself that you can do this: you belong in this domain, you are a scholar, and you are on the path to greatness. Work hard, stay organized, be committed to your plan, and enjoy the ride! The future is yours for the taking.

Making the Most of Your Presentation

July 22, 2013

by Morgan Conley

Think about one of your favorite presentations when you were an audience member and the presenter used PowerPoint. What was that presenter doing that made his or her presentation memorable? How did he or she speak? How did he or she move? Chances are good that the presenter clearly organized slides, engaged the audience, and practiced before the presentation. Below are a few tips to make the most of your presentation.

1. Organization. An organized PowerPoint presentation helps keep your presentation on track. Remember that the slides don’t make up the whole presentation; they are tools that keep you on track. Slides should be brief and to the point, not weighed down with text. Where appropriate, add visuals like pictures, charts, and diagrams to further explain a concept. PowerPoint presentations are linear, so your presentation will flow from one slide to another. The ordering of slides should make sense for what is being presented..

2. Engagement. As mentioned previously, you, the presenter, are the star of the show. Engaging the audience makes whatever you are presenting that much more exciting and interesting. One of the easiest ways to get your audience engaged is by asking a question related to their own experience. Ask them how they generally think about something related to your topic, and solicit a few responses. Then follow up their comments with how you are thinking about something in your presentation. For example, if you’re presenting on the benefits of parallel circuits over series circuits, ask your audience to imagine a string of Christmas lights. Have they ever wondered why, even when one light is burned out, the rest light up? From there, you can present the differences between the two types of circuits. Because your audience has connected your presentation with their own experience, they are able to relate to your topic more easily and remain engaged. This is only one of many ways to get your audience engaged.

3. Content. As much as your presentation is about performance, content matters too. More than likely, people will come to your presentation because they’re interested in what you have to say, so what you tell them is important. For starters, make sure what you are sharing is correct and honest. Share your PowerPoint with graduate students in your lab as well as your faculty mentor. If possible, practice your presentation with your lab as an audience. They’ll be able to provide feedback on your content and your presentation style.

4. Practice and Preparation. Prepare for audience questions by thinking about potential questions and how you’d answer them. Also practice ways of acknowledging a question you can’t answer. For example, an audience member might ask you about a topic that’s tangential related to your research (but may be central to her own research!). By thanking the person for the question, explaining that the topic wasn’t within the parameters of your research, and briefly touching on one or two ways your research could expand to include the topic, your presentation stays on track, and you aren’t trying to sound knowledgeable about an area you haven’t researched. Nerves can sometimes make people forget and they make share something that is incorrect by accident. To avoid this, practice. It feels necessary to say this multiple times; practice, Practice, PRACTICE! This is the best way for you to become comfortable with your material and confident about the information you are sharing.

Obviously, this list is not exhaustive of all the ways you can prepare for your presentation. Consider these tips as foundational and think about ways you can expand to make your presentation fit into a style you are comfortable with.

Flipping the Classroom

June 14, 2013

by Brett Sallach

Sitting at home working on an assignment and thumping your head against the wall in frustration, have you ever said to yourself, “This seemed so easy when the teacher did examples in class!”? This has been a common occurrence during my educational journey, and it is common for many students. This also seems like it is the time when students decide “I’m not good at math or science” or “I don’t like math and science”. The idea of flipping the classroom is a technique hoping to end these frustrating experiences.

Flipping the classroom is an idea that is a key component of Salmon Khan’s Khan Academy. The idea is that lectures are available in short (8-12 minute) videos online that students access on their own, outside of class. Homework, or practice problems, are completed in the classroom. In my experience, when I’m doing practice problems, I get caught up with some minor error, like an incorrect negative sign, or a mislabeled variable. These are easy corrections for a teacher/coach to correct and get quickly on my way to understanding the greater concept.

This opens up an entirely new dynamic in terms of teacher-student interactions. In a traditional lecture, students take notes on concepts presented by the professor. Hesitant to ask the professor to pause, students scramble to take notes on the lecture and may not understand key concepts. In a flipped classroom, however, students take the wheel and steer their own learning. If a concept is more difficult to understand, the self-guided learner can re-watch a video as many times as needed to master a concept. Can you imagine rewinding and replaying a lecture as often as you wanted? In class, students can actively ask questions of the instructor because the topic isn’t new. As a result, students can master a concept in class. Learning then becomes a self-paced journey supported by group work. We all know that teaching a concept is the best way to master knowledge. This system gives opportunities for increased quality interactions between students and teachers as well as students and their peers, so that students are actively acquiring knowledge rather than passively sitting in a lecture and hoping they understand the concepts being taught.

This summer, the MSRE program will be instituting this flipped classroom approach for a few of the weekly seminars. Scholars who actively participate in the flipped classroom will make the most of group sessions. Take advantage of this system! Watch the videos when you’re mentally prepared and in a place to soak in the material. Watch videos before the session to prepare. Find a time and a place that you’re free to focus on the task at hand and can avoid distractions. Watch the videos, and practice the concepts taught in them. Then, bring your questions to the session.

If you’d like to learn more, click the link below and watch Salmon Khan’s TED Talk about this innovative approach to learning. I guarantee you’ll be excited about learning when you get done. Additionally, I’m challenging you to be an active learner this summer. Take advantage of this system and see if it changes your learning experience!

MSRE 2013: You Get What You Give

May 15, 2013

by Maggie Gossard

Heading into MSRE 2013, scholars are bound to be feeling many conflicting emotions: excitement, fear, passion, dread, etc. This is normal and okay! Embarking on any new experience can be both scary and thrilling at the same time. Coming from someone who went through MSRE just last summer, I remember feeling all of these same emotions. However, looking back now, here is the best piece of advice that I feel I can give: Scholars get out of this experience what they put in. Here’s why….

  • You’re in McNair because you want to attend graduate school. Advanced study generally requires a good amount of research. If you truly give 100% to your project and this experience, you’ll have a good sense of whether you want to devote yourself to research by the end of the summer. Doing things half-heartedly will not give you a true picture of what life as a graduate student would be like. It is important that, as scholars, you’re giving yourselves the opportunity to make the most informed decision possible about going to graduate school.
  • Like many other scholars, you may choose to continue working on your McNair project during the fall semester through UCARE. And if you decide to do a senior thesis, putting together a good quality, solid McNair manuscript during summer research can make life so much easier. While you may choose to collect some additional data or run some additional analyses for your thesis, much of the heavy lifting of actually writing it up (literature review/introduction, methods, and parts of the discussion) will have already been done. You’ll just need to go in and add/edit the new information.
  • A big part of academia is building relationships. Giving your all to your project during MSRE can get you off on the right foot with building a relationship with advisors and mentors. Working hard, communicating effectively, and being an active learner will speak volumes to faculty mentors about the your potential as a graduate student (which will come in very handy when they are writing your letters of recommendation!). Remember, it’s crucial that MSRE is your opportunity to show yourself as a future scholar.

So the moral of the story is: put in your best effort and it will pay off tenfold. The work is worth it, because you get what you give.

Ronald McNair: Eyes on the Stars

February 15, 2013

“Carl McNair tells the story of his brother Ronald, an African American kid in the 1950s who set his sights on the stars.” -StoryCorps

Home for the Holidays

December 18, 2012

Scholarly work and research teaches you to think differently, and you may find that you approach even daily tasks differently. Because of the transformation you experience as scholar changes you, the familial relationships you’ve established over the past 20 years may have changed, too.

The relationships you have with your family and friends don’t need to be strained, though. When you are at home, think about ways that you can show your family that you are still you:

  • If there are activities you used to do with a parent or sibling, make sure to schedule a time to do those activities, like shopping or playing soccer.
  • Talk about your work in layman’s terms, but don’t speak down to the person you are talking to. Avoid jargon, which can make it look like you are trying to talk over others’ heads.
  • Be sure to help where you can. While you are tired from studying hard, lend a hand in preparing food, cleaning up, and shoveling snow.

Read more about students like yourself or about academics who head home for the holidays.

Studying during Finals Week

December 4, 2012

All semester, you’ve been going to class, diligently taking notes, and participating in class discussion. You’ve done your best to set yourself up for doing well in the class and building knowledge for future semesters. But did you know that how you study and make connections between material can help you succeed on your finals?

  1. Make a plan and stick to it. Be realistic about the amount of time you have left in the semester to study. Rather than trying to review all of your notes and the class material in the final 48 hours before an exam, set smaller, easy to achieve goals along the way that will lead to mastery.
  2. Build connections between different topics and different units. Students who can organize their knowledge do a better job of retaining information and understanding how that information fits together. “We tend to build associations between events that occur in temporal contiguity (for example, a causal relationship between flipping the switch and a light turning on), between ideas that share meaning (for example, a conceptual relationship between fairness and equality), and between objects that have perceptual similarities (for example, a category-member relationship between a ball and a globe). As these associations build up over time, larger and more complex structures emerge that reflect how entire bodies of knowledge are organized in a person’s mind,” according to How Learning Works. Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. If you want to build an enduring connection between sets of knowledge, you need time.
  3. Avoid cramming and get plenty of sleep. Studies show that cramming can actually be detrimental. Researchers at UCLA found that “sacrificing sleep for extra study time, whether it’s cramming for a test or plowing through a pile of homework, is actually counterproductive. Regardless of how much a student generally studies each day, if that student sacrifices sleep time in order to study more than usual, he or she is likely to have more academic problems, not less, on the following day.” Be sure to give yourself the advantage of a good night’s sleep!
  4. Eat healthy! Food is your body’s fuel, so get at least three square meals a day. Reduce coffee consumption to help you avoid the jitters, and try to avoid energy drinks and caffeine pills. They may help you remain awake, but artificial alertness won’t help you retain information.

Remember: you’ve been a good student all semester, so you won’t have to spend your time memorizing everything. Take care of yourself and work on reviewing what you’ve learned, building connections across the course and throughout your discipline. You’ll do fine!


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