- Identify Sources Available –Juggling the demands school and work can be difficult. I’m lucky my job as a part-time faculty member for two different colleges give me the option to access three different online libraries. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of learning how to navigate and use your school’s online library. As great as Google is, using an online library automatically sifts through all the BS for you. It provides the legitimate stuff so you can rest easy knowing it’s credible info to use in your research papers. Not to mention you have librarians who are lifesavers when it comes to research. Use them! Google Scholar is another great source. If I find an article or book I’d like to access on Google Scholar, but it’s wanting me to pay a fee, instead I take note of the article and request a copy be provided by the library. I’ve learned some other nifty uses of Google Scholar, so I’ll write another blog that focuses specifically on that topic later. It’s pretty damn cool. Also, don’t be afraid to ask peers and former teachers for advice or help. You’d be surprised how even a tiny suggestion from one of them can save you from wasting a ridiculous number of hours on searching for something they already knew where to look. Build a list of classmates you know are hardworking and trustworthy. Include on that list your favorite teachers you feel are open for questions, even after you’ve completed their class. Trust me when I say they can help save you lots of tears and avoid blood pressure spikes. And then there’s social media. What a goldmine! Twitter is an excellent platform to tweet a quick question and get quick responses. More on that later also.
- Invest in Software – It’s been 10 years since I was a student, so naturally some things have changed. Everyone uses MS Office, so get with it. I’m amazed at how many students don’t understand the basics of using Word or Excel or PowerPoint. Welcome to the 21st century! And there are so many cheap options for students to get these programs; there’s really no excuse. One software program I discovered that I now cannot live without is Endnote. It interacts directly with MS Word, so as I’m writing, it will automatically put in citations and references for me. Seriously! And it will do this in multiple writing styles. You need to use APA? MLA? Harvard? No problem. By the way, I don’t want to hear anybody complaining about having to use a certain writing style for academics. When I began my bachelors program 100 years ago, the style used in my field was MLA. Then, my senior year, the entire field changed to APA. I got completely familiar with APA through graduate school. Now that I’m in an English program in the UK, I’m now learning Harvard. Endnote has literally saved my life.
- Use a Calendar – You’re going to need time for reading, for researching, and for writing. Depending on the class, you might even have to do a bit of data collection and then figure out how to sift through and manage all that data. All of this takes time! And then add a job and family responsibilities on top of that, it seems there are not enough hours in the day. But there are. I bet you’re not using them to your advantage. This is where Google calendar comes in. I put deadlines on my calendar and then work backwards from there, looking for days or hours I can dedicate to school. I will create an appointment in my calendar for library time or office time. Dedicate those days to whatever needs to be done to complete the assignment down the road, whether that be researching and reading through articles, or writing notes and summaries, or finalizing a paper. I even work in time on the calendar that is dedicated “data cleanup” time since that is so time consuming and requires focus. You’d be amazed at how much you can accomplish in one day when you adhere to a schedule. A note about day planners: I understand some of you might still be “old school” and prefer paper calendars. I just don’t understand why! One of the best things about using technology is you can setup reminders. I can’t tell you how many times an assignment would not have been completed if my phone didn’t yell at me to get it done.
- Include “Me” Time on that Calendar – Years ago, my dad said to me, “you need to exercise your body as much as you exercise your mind.” Thanks, dad. That was the best advice I believe he ever gave me. Honestly. Remember that calendar I mentioned previously? Work in some physical activity at least 3 times a week. For me, going to the gym has become a sanctuary where I can destress away from everyone else and all my responsibilities and keep my sanity. So, get out from behind that desk and set appointments (that you cannot break) to go on a long walk, or a run, or a swim, or to the gym. Not only will you physically feel better, but you will feel mentally refreshed.
- Get to Know Your Professor – This is perhaps the most important piece of advice I can give from the perspective of a student and a professor. As you’re working on your next assignment, check in and ask a question or send a rough draft to make sure you’re on the right track. This worked wonders for me just a couple of weeks ago. I was sifting through a small amount of data (just about 10,000 tweets I had collected – no, seriously) and ran into a roadblock. A quick email to my instructor and boom! The answer was provided. No more stress. Since she is in the UK and I’m in the US, we Skype once every 6 weeks or so. This time is so incredibly valuable. I write down questions before our meeting so I can maximize our time together. She’s given me great advice on areas of research, key authors to review, how to use certain programs and helped me polish my research questions. I noticed when I begin to doubt myself, it’s usually about time for another Skype session. Afterward, I feel 100% better and have a renewed self-confidence. So if your professor holds office hours, go and visit them. Even if it’s just to say “hi.” And if they don’t have office hours, send them an email or text or call (find out what they prefer). I guarantee the bridge you build through communication will pay off in the end.
I’m now eight months into the program and neck deep into the crap. It didn’t take me long to realize just how little I know about pretty much everything. After successfully courting my Ph.D. supervisor and convincing the admissions committee that I can do this, I have had about a thousand moments of doubt since my journey officially began. It has become painfully clear how long it’s been since I’ve been a student and even more embarrassingly clear how lazy I’ve become with the self-discipline it takes to take on a post-graduate program. But all is not lost. One of my strongest traits is the ability to self-reflect and acknowledge the areas I can improve and design a plan to improve them. And in the spirit of spreading knowledge, here are the top 5 lessons I have learned to date. If it’s been a minute since you’ve been in a classroom and you’re planning to return to get a bachelors, masters, or doctoral degree, take heed. These lessons just might save your sanity.
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One of the greatest joys of being a college instructor is seeing your students graduate. Over the past couple of weeks, my social media news feeds have been full of happy and proud faces of recent graduates and their families. It’s a time of celebration and a time of transition. One ritual shared by colleges everywhere is the delivery of a commencement address by a well-known speaker. The commencement address is meant to congratulate the graduates on their accomplishment, to encourage them to keep chasing their dreams, and to inspire them to conquer life’s challenges that are sure to come. Some speakers are well-liked while others are not, but the speaker isn’t the most important part of the commencement address; it’s the message.
As a public speaking instructor, I try to emphasize that last point to my students. The speaker is not the most important part of any speech; it’s the message. I try to get them to understand regardless of who is delivering the presentation, try to avoid being distracted from the message. Focus and listen to what they’re saying, especially if you disagree with them. Listening to alternate points of view, having our own views challenged, giving others the opportunity to speak is how we continue to grow. It’s how we continue to learn. It’s how a democracy is kept a democracy.
Imagine my disappointment at reading the news publicizing some of the recent graduation ceremonies around the nation where graduates either walked out before the delivery of the commencement address or worse, disrupted the speech itself by standing up and turning their backs on the speaker or loudly booing during the speech. These behaviors are not admirable. The actions are not the actions of the brave. And for the students who are next to graduate, please consider the following reasons walking out on or disrupting a speech is not a good idea.
Wow! A lot has happened since December! Let's see. Where to begin?
I guess starting a PhD program is a pretty big deal. It's been over 10 years since I was the student, so I've had to spend some time focusing on overcoming some pretty bad habits and learning some new ones. I'll have to provide an update on my rocky path.
Oh, and I made the leap and finally decided to self-publish my first book. It's incredibly short and was actually completed last year. I was shopping around for publishers when someone asked me, "Why don't you just self-publish?" And I was like, "I really don't know!" The result? It's now available on Amazon! I'm excited and nervous all at the same time. Excited because I finally did it. Nervous because I finally did it. I'll have to provide an update on the writing and publishing process and what I learned in a future article.
Did I mention my husband and I celebrated our 20th anniversary also? Guess I need to also write some articles about marriage and how to not suck at it. Well, at least not suck at it some of the time.
And let's not forget about family drama. I guess no family is immune, right? Yes, I'll have to sprinkle a bit of that back into the blog as well. Handling family conflict. That should be exciting.
Most importantly, I'm still teaching. I'm still loving it. And I've decided to compile 13 years' worth of student evaluations to review so I can pick out the golden nuggets of student complaints and praises and write about them. The Salty Professor will make her debut soon and provide some responses.
So as you can see, I have been a busy bee, so something had to give. I just didn't realize that something was going to be my blog and it would be an entire half a year before I got back into the seat. So, as close in on the end of month 5 of 2017, I think I'm finally getting my shit back together. Guess we'll find out won't we?
To be an effective communicator (and an overall happier person), you need to understand the concept of respect and how it really works. Respect is something that comes from within. It is not some type of reward you get from others just because you’re the older one or because you’re the boss or just because you think you deserve it; nor is it something you should seek from others before providing it to others. Let me explain. It’s very simple.
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “To get respect, you need to give respect.” It’s a good rule to follow, but I’m willing to bet your perspective on its meaning is completely skewed. Somehow, our selfie-induced-shallowed-out-10-second-attention-span-having-selfish-selves have warped it into meaning, “if you want me to respect you, you need to respect me first.”
Um, no. This is not what an effective communicator does. And if this is how you operate, you need a serious attitude adjustment. Right. Now.
First, it’s important you understand there is a difference between having respect for someone and showing respect. If you honestly don’t have respect for another person, that’s fine. Maybe they are a complete douche. I understand. I know quite a few myself. However, did you know it is possible for you to act in a respectful way, regardless of their behavior? I know this is a near-impossible concept for some of you to get, but please stay with me.
Second, understand respect should reflect your character, not theirs. You must take responsibility for your own behavior and how you treat others. Stop being reactive and start being proactive. Stop looking for others to respect you first. The way you treat others can steer those interactions in a positive or negative direction. And if they’re still acting like a douche after you’ve treated them with the utmost respect, don’t let their behavior drag you into the swamp with them. Remain above the pettiness and resolve to be a respectful person, regardless of how they behave.
When you begin being the bigger person and start looking at yourself as the role model and take responsibility for your own attitude and behavior, your entire world will change for the better. Others just might start respecting you because you behave like a person who commands respect rather than a person who demands respect.
Just this morning I was online chatting with a group of FB friends about some important life decisions they’re considering. Like anyone making important life decisions, there was some self- doubt being sloshed around. Should I go back to school? Is it possible to get a job overseas? Am I too old to do this? Aside from the questions, there was one statement that stood out from the rest.
Thank you for the encouraging words…I was going to give up on that road.
This entire chat got me thinking about the things that hold us back from our goals. That final statement made it abundantly clear. There are already so many roadblocks we encounter in life and the biggest one is us.
Let me share a story. It’s a personal one I’ve shared with only a few.
When I was a senior in high school, it became painfully apparent going to college just wasn’t in the cards for me. I made excellent grades. Being the drum major, I was the supreme queen band nerd. I excelled in music and was involved in a ridiculous amount of extracurricular activities. I even received a “Youth of the Year” plaque from the Exchange Club. Yes, I was that kid. Even with all that, college was out of my reach for a variety of reasons I’ll leave for another day.
I was desperate to get away. I knew I had to leave to make something positive happen. Staying put was a fast road to nowhere, so I made the decision to become a U.S. Marine. Here’s where the roadblocks became mountains.
My recruiter had never placed a woman in the Corps before. Never. He wasn’t about to start with me. As soon as I walked into the recruiting station, he sat me down at his desk so he could go talk to the man in charge down the hall. This is what I heard.
Gunny, there’s this girl out here. How do I get rid of her?
Give her the tests, and when she fails, you can get rid of her.
Yes, that happened. I’ll continue this part of my story later. Let’s jump to my family’s reaction. Oh joy.
Not one person. Let me repeat that. Not one person in my family supported my idea to join the Marine Corps. Not one person thought I could actually do it. Not one person had an encouraging word to boost my confidence. No one voiced an affirmation. No one. One family member even went so far as to bring a deranged friend home from the bar, who apparently served in the Army during the Vietnam War, so he could get in my face and tell me how the Corps was going to ship me off to Guam where I would be raped every day while there. Yes, he actually told me I would be raped every day if I joined the Marine Corps.
Let me fast forward 25 years later to today’s chat with my FB friends. I’m so glad to be a part of a group that offers encouragement to one another. It’s nice to hear the affirmation, the support. But what if that group didn’t exist? What if you’re that person without a group? Perhaps you’re that person with a dream that no one understands. Perhaps you’re that person with a goal no one thinks you can achieve. Perhaps you’re like the 18-year-old Jen with no one telling you they have confidence in you. No one to tell you yes, you can do this, go for it.
The bottom line, you have to have confidence in yourself. You have to recognize the value in what you want to achieve and the greatness that awaits you at the other end of the road, wherever that road may lead. There are more than enough people in this world who will either just ignore you when you talk about wanting to achieve something more or will say something negative to discourage you from even trying. Whatever it is you want to do, you have to do it for yourself. Not for anybody else. For you.
What would have happened if I had let the recruiter discourage me or let my family’s lack of confidence keep me from joining the Marine Corps? I don't know, but I can tell you what wouldn’t have happened.
I would not have been the first woman my recruiter placed in the Corps. I would not have graduated in the Honor Platoon from Parris Island. I would not have been the first woman Marine to receive the Sergeant Major Dan Daly Award. I would not have been the first woman editor for the Quantico Sentry. And I would not have experienced the sense of accomplishment and feeling of pride that came from two meritorious promotions and a Navy Achievement Medal.
And who knows? If I had not become a Marine, perhaps I would not have graduated from college either. Maybe I wouldn’t have my master’s degree. Maybe I wouldn’t be pursuing a PhD. I definitely would not have met all the wonderful people along the way who have helped shape me into the person I am right now. Specifically, I’m talking about my wonderful husband.
I’m not listing all the highlights as a way to toot my own horn. Anyone who knows me well knows I don’t ever talk about any of this stuff. And don’t think everything was roses either. I didn’t mention the demotion I experienced between the meritorious promotions or the divorce I had to go through before meeting said wonderful husband. The setbacks are all a part of the journey. But those are stories for another day.
What I do know is whatever your goals are, whatever your desires are, whatever you want to achieve, you have to have the confidence in yourself to go for it. Don’t let anyone else make that decision for you. My wish for you is this, take that step forward and let your journey begin. I promise you, you will be happy you did.
Jennifer Furlong has 25 years’ experience in the communication field and teaches communication and public speaking courses in the Savannah area. She earned a B.A. and M.A. in Communication from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. She currently resides in Richmond Hill, Ga. with her family of canines, felines, and humans. Let's be social! Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter. Just look for Professor SpeechLady. See you in cyberspace.
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