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March 30th, 2015
Group work is an inevitable part of most university courses and the ability to work well with other people is something all employers care about. While working on a group project can be incredibly rewarding, it can also present real challenges if you don’t go in with the right mindset. Here are a few tips to make group work just a little bit easier!
Be Prepared to Compromise
Something we must learn early in life is that different people have different working styles. While some people like to have an essay planned out and written weeks in advance, others thrive on the pressure of leaving it until the last minute. Be open about how you work from the start – if you talk about the ways in which each person works best right away, you can come up with a compromise that suits everyone.
If everyone compromises a little – for example, by agreeing to pre-planned deadlines – this can help avoid leaving some group members stressed or upset by discovering that their expectations were out of line with the rest of the group.
Maximize Each Member’s Strengths
Do you love public speaking? If so, great – tell your group members that from the start! Break down everything that has to be done, from conducting the research to preparing the slideshow and giving the presentation in front of the class, and assign tasks to each person based on their strengths.
While it can be difficult to please everyone, having an honest discussion about strengths/weaknesses early on and and attempting to give everyone tasks that they’re comfortable with will benefit the entire group in the end.
Stand Up for Yourself and Do the Work
People have different personalities, so if you are naturally shy and are put in a group with someone more confident, it can be tempting to shrink up and not say or do anything, even when you think that the group might be headed in the wrong direction – this is a mistake!
As scary as it is, make sure you stand up for yourself and speak up. This is the only effective antidote to groupthink and conversations where not everyone immediately agrees can be incredibly fruitful.
Of course it goes without saying, always put in the work. Don’t be the person that shows up with the job half done. It is common for group projects to include peer assessments and if you don’t put in the effort, your classmates won’t be shy.
Choose Your Group Wisely
If you are given the opportunity to choose your group members, the temptation is often to work with your friends. Sometimes that is for the best because you know each other well and it can make working on the project more fun and less stressful. However, it can also lead to even more tension, particularly if you aren’t diligent about assigning tasks and preparing some deadlines from the get go.
Someone who you have a lot of fun with on a night out might not make the best partner for a group project. (For one thing, this can make it much easier to get distracted!)
There are also a lot of benefits to working with people you don’t know – it can give your project a wider range of perspectives and help you capitalize on differentiated skills as a group. Moreover, you might even end up making a great new friend.
March 23rd, 2015
Presentations have become an integral part of most university and college courses. While some students won’t think twice before getting up to speak in front of a room full of people, for others, the thought of being in the spotlight can become overwhelming. It’s natural to be nervous, but for many students, those nerves can spiral out of control, making you feel anxious for days leading up to the event.
Here are a few tips which will hopefully help to make you feel as comfortable as possible before giving your next group or solo presentation!
Perfect Your Slides
If you are required to make a visual background for your presentation on something like PowerPoint, make a really good job of it! Rather than cobbling together some blank slides with a couple of paragraphs on them the night before, take some time to make them look amazing!
A well-structured, nicely designed slideshow will show your teacher and classmates that you put a lot of work into the presentation. This tells your audience that any visible nerves are purely due to public speaking and not from a lack of preparation.
Having your key points outlined briefly on your slides also means that if your nerves get the better of you and you lose track of where you are, your slides will quickly guide you back to where you were.
Practice, Practice, Practice!
It sounds obvious, but the worst thing you can do if public speaking worries you is not run through your presentation a good few times in advance! Start off alone, speaking aloud in your bedroom or an empty classroom. Then ask some friends to act as a test audience for you.
Not only will this likely lead to useful feedback on your content, but it will make you feel more comfortable in front of a crowd, too! It allows you to practice key strategies — such as eye contact — which will improve your presentation. Your tutor wants to see that you are engaging with the class, so getting used to being in front of others is really helpful.
Make Use of Note Cards
Note cards can be a useful tool to take advantage of, but do make sure you check that you are allowed to use them first! Having cards with brief summaries (not the full script of your presentation) can help to keep you on track and, much like the slideshow, can give you the confidence of knowing exactly what’s coming next.
However, they can also be a useful tool to stop you from fidgeting, something which is ever so tempting when you’re nervous! If you have cards to hold, you won’t be as likely to touch your hair, fidget with a pen or fiddle with your jacket!
Plan Something Nice for Later!
Depending on your schedule, if you can afford to take a little time out to go out for dinner with friends, go to the cinema, or even just go for a walk round the shops – do it! Knowing you have something fun planned for after the big event can make it so much easier to get through the stress of a presentation. You might still be nervous, but knowing that no matter what, the rest of your day is only going to get better, is a great feeling! That alone might be enough to make you feel more settled.
October 9th, 2014
Many students begin graduate school believing that it’s basically an overgrown version of their undergraduate education. I mean, you’re a student – right? How much different could taking classes and writing papers possibly be?
The truth is, there are some big differences between college and graduate school. Being aware of the changes you’ll be expected to make can help the transition to graduate school feel less daunting. Here are seven of the biggest differences between life as a college student and life as a grad student.
It’s not uncommon for undergraduate students to take 5 or 6 classes a semester in college. In graduate school, five classes would be nigh impossible. A full course load is generally 3 courses – and for good reason.
Each graduate class will require a lot of reading, more than you ever thought possible in college – and more than might actually be possible in a week. You’ll have to learn to prioritize the most important readings and actively skim the rest.
Moreover, the structure of the courses will be different. There are virtually no lecture classes in graduate school; all or nearly all of your classes will be small seminars with 15-20 students or less. Even as few as 2-5 students in a class is not uncommon.
You’ll be expected to be prepared for seminars and to speak up and participate in the intellectual conversation. Your professors will be interested in hearing your insights. Higher quality is expected from your papers, presentations, and group projects. You’ll devote much more time to each class than you did in college.
Undergraduate education is primarily about breadth. In graduate school, your education will be focused on developing depth in a particular subject area. Coursework in graduate school is designed to help prepare you for your comprehensive exams and for writing a dissertation.
Develop a clear idea of what you want to study before you start graduate school, because you won’t have the same freedom to explore different disciplines as you did in college.
This is good news for anyone who knows exactly what they want to study and is ready to polish their knowledge in that field (which – at least theoretically – should be everyone in grad school). You’ll spend a great deal of time reading deeply within your field and participating in high-level discussions with scholars in your area.
The caveat, of course, is that this is not the time to explore brand-new avenues. While there is some flexibility and plenty of room to grow in grad school, for the most part your job is to specialize and become an expert within a specific field. You’ll want to build upon the knowledge you’ve gained in college.
In college, you were likely shepherded through the process of selecting a major and a class schedule. Graduate programs expect you to be much more independent – both in selecting your classes and in directing your research program.
Your classes themselves will also be more self-directed. While many undergraduate professors provide constant deadlines for big projects (e.g., by asking you to turn in a topic and an outline before turning in a final research paper), most seminar classes in graduate school will simply set a single deadline for the final paper. Moreover,that final paper may be your only ‘official’ assignment for the entire semester.
It’s your job to pace yourself and figure out what internal deadlines you need to set in order to get all your work done without overwhelming yourself into uselessness.
In research, too, you’ll be expected to be more independent. While you will get more guidance toward the beginning of your program, by the end of your first year you will be expected to have some fresh ideas about potential research or scholarly projects with potential to contribute knowledge to your field.
In college, the most important thing was performance in your classes. If you did well in classes, you received good grades, and you were considered a “good student.”
In graduate school, classes are just the beginning – and frankly, one of the least important aspects of your program. Good grades are commonplace and expected.
You’ll come to understand the oft-noted phenomenon whereby a “C in grad school is like an F in college.”
You’ll also be expected to get involved in research and/or scholarship early on in your program. The quality of your ideas and your research will be a far bigger part of how your advisor and other professors perceive you within the program than your performance in classes.
Even at a small college, you might have been one of a hundred other students in your major, while at large universities there are thousands of students in every department.
It’s important to remember that unlike in college, you can’t just fade into the background if you want to succeed in graduate school and beyond.
In graduate school, you’re part of a much smaller cohort within your department, and as a result you’ll be much more ‘visible’ to your peers and faculty. The faculty in your department will form opinions about you based on the way you act, think, and speak in classes and at departmental events and meetings.
This is good – and necessary! These same faculty members become part of your network and you’ll want them on your side down the road when a hiring committee calls them for their opinion. You also want to be at the forefront of their mind just in case the perfect job for you crosses their desk or email inbox.
Many college undergraduates become highly engaged with the life of their campus – joining campus groups, cheering the football team on Saturdays and hanging out at campus hotspots.
While some graduate students are more active than others, in general graduate students are less involved in the social life of the campus and more involved in their department as the hub of their experience in graduate school.
Most of the people you interact with on a daily basis will be other students and faculty members within your department, to the point where you may find yourself completely unfamiliar with faculty and practices in other departments at the same school.
Graduate student organizations do exist, but typically they meet less frequently and tend to focus on different things than typical undergraduate social clubs. And while some graduate students live on campus, most will live outside the campus ecosystem.
In any case, the halls of your department will quickly become your home on campus, for better or worse.
Compared to college, the biggest difference in graduate school is that everyone wants to be there. Many graduate students think of their schoolwork as their job (and chances are, it is or will be) and this difference in mindset changes everything.
Your peers will stimulate and challenge you, and they won’t come to class in their pajamas. Faculty within your department will actually be interested in what you have to say. And because of this fundamental dynamic, you’ll learn more and discover that you have more to offer than you might previously have imagined.
This point should also be something that you think hard about before you decide to attend grad school: are you sure it’s what you want to do? If not, there’s no rush: wait until you know exactly what you want to study and make sure you can confidently answer the question, “Why do I want to go to grad school?”
If it’s where you want to be, you’ll find yourself in good company.