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            You’ve graduated with your bachelor’s degree, and you have been accepted to the university of your dreams to pursue a master’s degree or possibly a Ph.D. I know it seems early to consider this, but what is your exit strategy? What I mean is, are you going to take a comprehensive test, create a project, or write a thesis as a means to fulfill the final degree requirement to graduate? It seems overwhelming to start considering this, but what you decide upon now will influence every major decision you make in graduate school, including the most important choice you will make: who will be your committee chairperson and who will be your committee members. Your committee will guide you through whatever exit method you choose, especially if you choose a project or thesis. Each member will play a significant part. However, it is your chairperson that will have final word and most control, so chose wisely. The following suggestions center around the thesis or project methods, although your committee is salient in all three cases.


Choosing Your Committee

            The most important decision you will make will be who to pick as your chairperson. I cannot stress this enough. Picking the right chairperson will be the difference in a enjoyable scholarly experience or wishing you had never applied to graduate school. Sorry to sound negative, but the right choice will make all the difference in the world. My first recommendation in choosing your chair would be to pick a professor that you know or has taught one of your classes. Because you will be working closely with this professor, for a year or more, you should consider the following about your candidate:

  • How busy is this professor? Are they a department chair or involved as another committee chair or member? You will be asking them to add your project or thesis onto their already huge workload.
  • Do you get along with them? I cannot imagine asking someone you do not even like to chair your committee. You will be spending a lot of time with them, so having a good relationship will help when things get rough.
  • What’s their specialty? Do they have the experience they need to provide you with the best advice on your given project? While they don’t need to be experts in your exact topic, make sure that they have enough knowledge of your topic to provide helpful feedback.
  • If you have previously had them as a professor, how fast do they turn back assignments? You will be producing multiple drafts of your proposal, so you want a one to two week turn around, not five or six or more. Do they have office hours that can work around your schedule?
  • Are they easy to talk to and do they challenge you? You do not want a “yes” person to control your best work. You want them have suggestions that will make this work fulfilling and your highest achievement that you have ever produced.

I would say that you should consider the same attributes for your other committee members. Remember that your chair has final word and the most control of your work. Often, the rest of your committee will not see a draft until it has been signed off by your chair. However, you want a well-rounded committee. You want them to complement each other and if possible get along, even if they have differing opinions or viewpoints. Maybe your chair is great at research but is not well versed in statistics. You should consider a member that excels in that part of the puzzle. Do not pick your members out of convenience. You want them all to contribute and not just agree, as tempting as that may sound. You want your members to challenge you to do your best work.

            I hope I have not scared any of you into burning your admission papers. I have had to learn some of these lessons the hard way. These are difficult decisions, but a little research and you will put together a team that will make this rewarding and less frustrating.

Going back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, the original aim of a liberal arts education was to encourage free citizens to participate in civic life by supplying them with skills of grammar, rhetoric, and logic. In medieval times, the study of liberal arts evolved to include arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. The modern liberal arts college champions development of the well-rounded human as it allows students to focus on the diverse breadth of arts, humanities, social sciences, sciences, and mathematics. 

However, without the perspective of the bigger picture, some students view the liberal arts core negatively. They argue that it prolongs their college career, costing them more tuition money, and challenges them to study subject areas they might not even be interested in. And why should an English major, inclined towards reading and writing, have to take a general education statistics course? What’s the point?


The point is that you will:

  • learn to think critically
  • be more well-rounded and better prepared for your future
  • learn the most when you step out of your comfort zone


As a freshman in college, I enrolled in what I thought was a gen-ed history course. After receiving a 30+ page syllabus, I realized it was really an education course disguised by readings on local history. As neither a history nor education major, I was attracted to the course for three honest reasons: it fulfilled my history requirement, the professor had great reviews, and the class went on field trips. It turned out to be one of the best classes I ever took, despite the fact that I was the only non-education major. It may have been the only time I’ll ever have to write lesson plans and organize field trip activities, but it provided me the opportunity to strengthen my leadership and creative talents, while encouraging me to reflect on how everyone learns differently.


Liberal arts courses fuel students’ curiosity and encourage them to test the waters of where their professional interests might lie. Taking a course outside your designated major forces you to think and approach problems in an all-new way. You will learn to communicate -- remember grammar, rhetoric, and logic? -- and connect with people who are accustomed to different thinking, all while broadening your own knowledge and network. And, just because you studied English doesn’t mean you’ll never need math in your life.

Sure, if students only had to complete X number of business or engineering courses to graduate, they could probably earn a degree in fewer semesters, piling up less student loan debt in the process. However, they would have missed out on what might be their last opportunity to truly explore different academic interests just for the sake of learning.

On top of that, students might be lacking the transferable skill set that would help them succeed in their careers -- the interpersonal, organizational, leadership, and communication abilities often best developed through diversified studies. The list of student benefits of a liberal arts education is rather similar to what employers look for in their new hires. Even talking about your experience of adapting to unfamiliar coursework and learning styles provides great material for a job interview! Losing your security blanket, coloring outside the lines, thinking outside the box, and stepping out of your comfort zone in a class setting is great practice for doing so in the real world.


Whether their focus is in the traditional liberal arts discipline or not, students should be encouraged to broaden their studies and make use of the liberal arts core. With expanded knowledge across disciplines, students will be equipped to better understand and respect opposing viewpoints, assess their own opinions, and make informed decisions. Just like the ancient Greeks and Romans, students will become well-rounded citizens, which will serve them in their personal and professional lives for years to come.

It’s #TechTuesday! Here are 10 useful and free apps we love for both instructors and students to live informed, balanced, simplified, and successful lifestyles:

  • Alarmy
    • Some of us just aren’t morning people, but sometimes life throws us 8 a.m. classes anyway. Whether you’re waking up just to be at class or you have to teach it, attendance and punctuality are important. Alarmy is one way to ensure that you get out of bed -- your alarm will be set with tasks that must be completed to turn off the dreaded noise.
  • Morning Brew
    • Who has time to watch or read the news everyday? Morning Brew delivers a newsletter of major updates to your email inbox every morning. Designed for millennials, the app provides quick and quality news coverage of diverse topics including a stock market recap, business news, and a short lifestyle section.
  • SelfControl
    • Whether you tend to procrastinate a little or a lot, physically blocking out distractions can be helpful in completing assignments in a timely manner. SelfControl lets you block your access from certain sites and apps for a predetermined period of time. Even if you restart your computer or delete the app, you won’t have access to blacklisted sites until the timer is up.
  • Slack
    • In need of a professional, direct means of communication between organization members, students, and instructors? Slack is a cloud-based messaging and collaboration app that offers organized instant communication, file sharing, screen sharing, and calling through its free and secure service. It’s the perfect real-time alternative to email.
  • Venmo
    • Find yourself without your wallet and with a growing list of IOUs? Venmo makes it simple to pay back your friends for split meals, Uber rides, concert tickets, rent, and much more. The app securely connects to your bank account or credit card to send or request money to friends, family, colleagues, and now even many businesses.
  • Google Keep
    • If you’re a big list person like me, you’ll love Google Keep, one of the lesser known apps in the Google Suite. You can take notes, make checklists with tick boxes, create drawings, insert photos, change colors, and set reminders.
  • Quizlet
    • This mobile and web based app allows students to study content through flashcards, quizzing, and a variety of study games. Quizlet is extremely popular with students because it can be used on the go and study sets can easily be shared. Instructors can use it as a tool to review course information, track progress, and engage students.
  • EasyBib
    • While writing a halfway decent essay is a prerequisite of college admission, properly citing one is not. EasyBib makes it easy for students to correctly cite their sources and avoid plagiarism. All you have to do is plug in the link to the article you’d like to cite and the app picks out and formats the necessary information.
  • My Fitness Pal
    • Students and instructors alike can fall prey to bad eating habits under the stress and time constraints of school. My Fitness Pal is a free app by Under Armour that keeps track of daily exercise and diet habits, allowing you to set attainable personal fitness goals. Users simply enter their current and goal weight, then input their meals and daily exercise to track their progress against the recommended calorie intake suggested to achieve their goal.
  • Mint
    • College is often the first time young adults manage their own money, usually with little guidance on how to do so responsibly. Try Mint to proactively (or counter-actively) save money. It’s an all-in-one app for budgeting, investments, bills, security, and credit. 

Maybe you’re like me: Determined to finish your biggest project, but struggling to get things done. For students, this may be especially true with writing papers. In college, when it came to term papers, I’d hear my classmates’ united refrain: “I’ll just do it the night before anyway, why start now?” The phrase still rings familiar to me years out of the academic environment. I’d had my fair share of the “One-Draft Wonder,” too, so why did it bother me so much?


I found my answer in what Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck identifies as the “growth mindset”, the belief that talent and skills can be developed over time. The growth mindset is dedicated to improvement, even if that requires the possibility of failure or struggle. Alternatively, a “fixed mindset” assumes talent is static and unchanging. The fixed mindset chooses the quickest path to success, (i.e., the One-Draft Wonder), relying on skills presumed to be static and relatively unchanging. The growth mindset engages, takes its time, and yields a bigger payoff down the road.


The learning process is not a matter of instant gratification. In my experience, I found a remedy for my distraction in a few basic tools: The assigned text, a notebook, a pencil, and nothing else. The first time I tried this, I spent 90 minutes hanging out with Walt Whitman’s When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d. At first my eyes kept flickering up from the page, but slowly I became immersed. By the end of 90 minutes I was diagramming in the margins, unaware of my surroundings and lost in the experience of the poem.


Applied to the college classroom, the growth mindset reduces students' stress of completing a first draft because the main goal is to improve over time, rather than be perfect the first time. In this way students can feel comfortable approaching challenging assignments before the eleventh hour hits. I love Dweck’s advice because it empowers us to be learners at any age, continually considering our lives a work in progress. 


For more on growth mindset, check out Your College Experience 13th Edition, or explore more online here.

Immediately upon walking through the doors of my old high school, you are confronted with a floor-to-ceiling list of students’ GPAs. From day one, students are encouraged to compete against each other for the coveted spot at the top of the list. Certainly the list allows students to visualize their goals, but it can come at the cost of pitting classmates against each other.


Many students grow up consciously or subconsciously competing against their siblings and peers to be the best: in sports, popularity, and in academics. Sometimes, their interest in learning is overshadowed by this desire.


Like so much of our lives, education can become a competition. Some students are immune to this affliction, while others are entirely fueled by it. Each students’ personal experience of the academics competition is affected by numerous factors including his or her financial situation, gender, choice of school, and much more.


Kids love the childish game of “mine is better/newer/bigger/etc. than yours.” Most of us eventually grow out of this stage, only to see it reappear in a new form in school -- especially college. Now, instead of, “mine is better,” the winning phrase becomes, “my work is harder.” This comes up particularly often regarding majors, and everyone hates it:


“I wish I was an English major just reading and writing all day instead of doing organic chemistry labs.”


“I have a practical and two exams this week.”

“Well, I had a practical and two exams today.”


“I was up until 1 a.m. finishing that paper.”

“Oh, you’re lucky. I was up all night finishing that paper.”


As the semester wears on, students frequently compare war stories, trying to one-up each other with who has it the worst.

With so many stresses of being a college student, on top of the daunting pressure to eventually get a job and become an adult, this additional stress competition is completely unwarranted and unwanted. College offers the opportunity to choose a major that genuinely interests you -- regardless of how objectively/subjectively “hard” or “easy” it may be. Comparing majors and workloads is like comparing apples to oranges, and it gets students nowhere. While communications students may not take as many exams as science majors, they are nonetheless inundated with essays, presentations, and group projects which are challenging in their own right.


College offers so many opportunities -- tutoring sessions, teaching assistant positions, mentor programs -- for students to work together to help each other symbiotically. Instead of complaining at each other, students could at the very least complain with each other and find solace in the fact that they’re not alone in their struggle. And at best, they can help each other to succeed to their fullest potentials.


When the pressure to have the “right” numbers on one’s final transcript (which ultimately isn’t as important as real experience) becomes more important than actually learning and retaining any of the content of one’s classes, students lose sight of the purpose of a college degree.



But at the end of the day, remember that the purpose of education is to learn! Healthy competition encourages students to do their very best and think independently, and it also enlivens the classroom environment. Students thrive with a combination of both competitive and cooperative learning. For example, instructors can:

  • Allow students to work and study collaboratively, but grade each on their own merits.
  • Give students say in how they approach an assignment and how they will be tested.


Through this balance, students are motivated to do their best but still value learning over earning high grades and teacher approval. Students can help each other through study groups, tutoring, and mentoring. The math majors can support the English majors by tutoring them in general-education statistics, and vice versa.


As the number of college students experiencing anxiety continues to rise, it’s important to remember that mental health is more important than acing a test or course. Aside from academic resources for struggling students, all campuses should also offer free counseling, meditation, and other stress management services. Be sure to take advantage of the support at your fingertips and encourage others to do the same to promote a healthier, happier campus.


Most importantly, keep in mind that earning real world experiences through internships, job opportunities, leadership roles in campus organizations, and even studying abroad will help you more in your future career than that 4.0 GPA ever could.

There is a resounding assumption that our nation’s high school graduates will enroll in some form of higher education in the fall of the same year they graduate. The assumption starts early on in American public education, with the onslaught of advanced placement/college prep academic tracks, college entrance exam test preparation, college visits, and the pressure to participate in extracurriculars for the purpose of crafting an impressive college application. To know what you want to be “when you grow up” and where you want to earn your degree from is “supposed” to be something students have squared away by the time they begin their senior year. What happens if you don’t fit into that box?


According to the 2016 American Community Survey published by the U.S. Census Bureau, 19.3% of people 25 and older hold a bachelor’s degree and just 11.9% hold a graduate or professional degree of some kind. Based on this, it is evident that not everyone holds a four-year degree or beyond.


I think we are doing an injustice to our nation’s young people when we assume they are going to a college immediately upon graduating from high school and that if they choose to go right to college, that they need to know exactly what they want to study. How embarrassing, isolating, and frustrating that must feel if you a) don’t want to go to school right away (or ever) and/or b) have no idea what to study.


In my own work with students who struggle academically, they will tell me that they have been a student, continuously, since they were five and that they are tired. They don’t know what they want to study anymore. They aren’t getting the grades in the program they (or their parents) wanted. They feel aimless, ashamed, and sometimes, just depressed.


What if instead of dragging them to the finish line, we gave them permission to take a break? I often find myself saying to students that, “colleges will be there when you’re ready.” As a society, we need to normalize that earning a degree is not a race – it’s an opportunity and a commitment that an adult can take on at any age. Besides the financial investment, earning a degree takes an exorbitant amount of personal investment as well and students need to be ready for that commitment.


What if instead of asking our young adults what they want to be, what they want to study and where they want to go for school, instead ask, “What do you think you might like to do after high school?” and just let that be the open-ended question. What if instead of jumping in with our own opinions on what they should do, we just listen to them, patiently and with an open mind. What if we normalized the notion that it’s ok to take a break after high school, to work, to find yourself, to reflect, to travel, to tend to yourself and others in a loving and caring way?


We don’t slow down enough as a society. That we know and I am guilty of it as well. We are always thinking of the next thing to do, to buy, to be. What if, instead of rushing recently high-school graduates into dorm rooms and classrooms, we let them learn at their own pace, just by making their own choices in their lives? Moreover, what if everyone’s post-high school graduation plan was a great plan?


Michelle Gayne

Assistant Director of Advising & Academic Services

University of Maine

Last summer, we looked at schools with Common Reading Programs, where institutions assign or recommend titles for students and instructors to read over the summer, so that they can come together to discuss the book as a community in the fall.


Believe it or not (I don't), but summer is here again, and so are these reading programs. While several schools have already announced their picks, there's still no way to tell which books will be the most common (pun intended) choice.


While some common reading programs include the entire student body, many of them are aimed specifically at students entering their first year of college. This gives incoming students the opportunity to share something with their instructors and peers before they step on campus, and provides them with a taste of what they can expect from their institution over the course (pun not intended) of their studies.


So, for those of you still deliberating on your common reading choices, or those of you who simply want more reading recommendations, take a look at the Macmillan catalog on Books for the First-Year Experience. These critically-acclaimed books are ideal for the first-year experience: they're accessible and challenging, timely and classic, broadly appealing, stimulating, and moving. They foster individual growth while also inviting campus-wide discussion. Overall, a perfect summer reading for an incoming student who wants to start their first year on the right page (last pun, promise!).


Here are some examples of books featured on Macmillan's Books for the First-Year Experience Catalog: 


The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton with Lara Love Hardin

The Sun Does Shine

Oprah's Book Club Choice for June 2018!


In 1985, Anthony Rae Hinton was arrested and charged with two counts of capital murder in Alabama. Stunned, confused, and only twenty-nine years old, Hinton knew that it was a case of mistaken identity and believed that the truth would prove his innocence and ultimately set him free. But with an incompetent defense attorney and a different system of justice for a poor black man in the South, Hinton was sentenced to death by electrocution. He spent his first three years on Death Row at Holman State Prison in despairing silence—angry and full of hatred for all those who had sent an innocent man to his death. But as Hinton realized and accepted his fate, he resolved not only to survive, but to find a way to live on Death Row. For the next twenty-seven years he was a beacon—transforming not only his own spirit, but those of his fellow inmates, fifty-four of whom were executed mere feet from his cell. With the help of civil rights attorney and bestselling author of Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson, Hinton won his release in 2015. With a foreword by Stevenson, The Sun Does Shine is an extraordinary testament to the power of hope sustained through the darkest times. Hinton’s memoir tells his dramatic thirty-year journey and shows how you can take away a man’s freedom, but you can’t take away his imagination, humor, or joy.


Anthony Ray Hinton spent nearly thirty years on death row for crimes he did not commit. Released in April 2015, Hinton now speaks widely on prison reform and the power of faith and forgiveness. He lives in Alabama. Check out his chat with Oprah about his book on her Facebook page here.


Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande


Being Mortal  

Medicine has triumphed in modern times, transforming birth, injury, and infectious disease from harrowing to manageable. But in the inevitable condition of aging and death, the goals of medicine seem too frequently to run counter to the interest of the human spirit. Gawande, a practicing surgeon, addresses his profession’s ultimate limitation, arguing that quality of life is the desired goal for patients and families. Gawande offers examples of freer, more socially fulfilling models for assisting the infirm and dependent elderly, and he explores the varieties of hospice care to demonstrate that a person’s last weeks or months may be rich and dignified. Nursing homes, preoccupied with safety, pin patients into railed beds and wheelchairs. Hospitals isolate the dying, checking for vital signs long after the goals of cure have become moot. Doctors, committed to extending life, continue to carry out devastating procedures that in the end extend suffering. Being Mortal asserts that medicine can comfort and enhance our experience even to the end, providing not only a good life but also a good end.

Atul Gawande is author of three bestselling books: Complications; Better; and The Checklist Manifesto. He is also a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, a staff writer for The New Yorker, and a professor at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health. He and his wife have three children and live in Newton, Massachusetts.

In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero with Michelle Burford

In the Country We Love

Diane Guerrero, the television actress from the megahitOrange Is the New Black and Jane the Virgin, was just fourteen years old on the day her parents were detained and deported while she was at school. Born in the U.S., Guerrero was able to remain in the country and continue her education, depending on the kindness of family friends who took her in and helped her build a life and a successful acting career for herself, without the support system of her family. In the Country We Love is a moving, heartbreaking story of one woman’s extraordinary resilience in the face of the nightmarish struggles of undocumented residents in this country. There are over 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., many of whom have citizen children, whose lives here are just as precarious, and whose stories haven’t been told. Written with bestselling author Michelle Burford, this memoir is a tale of personal triumph that also casts a much-needed light on the fears that haunt the daily existence of families like Guerrero’s and on a system that fails them over and over.

Diane Guerrero is an actress on the hit shows Orange Is the New Black and Jane the Virgin. She volunteers with the nonprofit Immigrant Legal Resource Center, as well as with Mi Familia Vota, an organization that promotes civic involvement. She has been named an Ambassador for Citizenship and Naturalization by the White House. She lives in New York City.

Walking to Listen: 4,000 Miles Across America, One Story at a Time by Andrew Forsthoefel

Walking to Listen

At twenty-three, Andrew Forsthoefel walked out the back door of his home in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, with a backpack, an audio recorder, his copies of Whitman and Rilke, and a sign that read “Walking to Listen.” He had just graduated from Middlebury College and was ready to being his adult life, but he didn’t know how. So he decided he’d walk. And listen. It would be a cross-country quest for guidance, and everyone he met would be his guide. Thousands shared their stories with him, sometimes confiding their prejudices, too. Often he didn’t know how to respond. How to find unity in diversity? How to stay connected, even as fear works to tear us apart? He listened for answers to these questions, and to the existential questions every human must face, and began to find that the answer might be in listening itself. Ultimately, it’s the stories of others living all along the roads of America that carry this journey and sing out in a hopeful, heartfelt book about how a life is made, and how our nation defines itself on the most human level.

Andrew Forsthoefel is a writer, radio producer, and public speaker. After graduating from Middlebury College in 2011, he spent nearly a year walking across the United States. He first recounted part of that journey in a radio story featured on This American Life. He now facilitates workshops on walking and listening as practices in personal transformation, interconnection, and conflict resolution, and is currently based in Northampton, Massachusetts.

This post was adapted from an entry in A Word from Macmillan tagged 2017, A Word from Macmillan on 10/19/2017.

When I was in elementary school, I had trouble focusing in one of my classes during reading time and tests. This was not due to a lack of motivation or interest; on the contrary, I loved reading and going to school each day. My lack of concentration was related to a specific sound -- music. My teacher at the time felt listening to classical music facilitated learning, and would often play it during quiet moments in class. My mind was unavoidably drawn to expressive melody lines, dissonant harmonies, and pulsating rhythms, and I couldn’t seem to listen passively without mentally attending to these musical elements. For me, background music was more of a distraction than a learning aid.


Many studies in the fields of psychology and neuroscience have demonstrated a correlation between music and enhanced cognitive performance; however, the findings are nuanced and sometimes contradictory. Can music really facilitate learning, or do these effects vary based on factors such as learning preferences and personality types? How do musical genres and different cognitive tasks affect this correlation?


“Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Rekonstruktion aus dem Jahre 1819),” Barbara Krafft

Mozart for the Mind

“The Mozart effect” refers to a common misconception that listening to classical music enhances intelligence. The idea stems from a psychology study conducted in 1993 by Frances Rauscher, Gordon Shaw, and Katherine Ky. In the experiment, participants completed standard IQ spatial reasoning tasks after listening to three distinct sound conditions: a Mozart piano sonata, a relaxation tape, and silence. Rauscher et al. found participants scored significantly better on the tasks after listening to Mozart than either silence or the relaxation tape, with an increase of about 8 points on their IQ scores.


Although this effect lasted for only 10 to 15 minutes, the implications were widely misinterpreted. While the participants were college students, many people generalized the results, claiming early exposure to classical music could boost intellectual development in children. The idea that listening to Mozart could increase general intelligence became a popular cultural belief, despite the fact that this study examined only one domain of intelligence. In considering the effects of music on learning, it is also important to note this experiment examined participants’ task performance after listening to different sound conditions, rather than the effect of listening to music while simultaneously working on a task.

The Mood-Boosting Effects of Music

Despite difficulties in replicating the Mozart effect, many studies provide evidence that listening to music can facilitate learning and enhance cognitive performance. One prevailing theory suggests music can improve mood and motivation levels, alleviating some of the emotional strain associated with complex tasks. For example, Hallam et. al (2002) found calming background music had a positive effect on children’s altruism levels and performance on arithmetic and memory tasks, suggesting music perceived as relaxing or pleasant can significantly affect task performance and behavior. On the other hand, music perceived as arousing, unpleasant, or aggressive negatively affected children’s memory task performance and altruism levels, suggesting some types of music are less conducive to learning than others.


Several studies indicate these effects could be influenced by other factors such as personality and learning preferences. For example, a study conducted by Adrian Furnham and Anna Bradley (1999) found pop music hindered performance for both introverts and extroverts on memory and reading comprehension tasks; however, this effect was more significant for introverts. 


Another study provides evidence that music can be beneficial for both introverts and extroverts depending on the work environment. Dobbs et. al (2011) found while both extroverts and introverts performed better in silence than while listening to music, they also performed better on the music condition than while listening to general background noises, such as simulated office ambiance or people talking. This suggests it may be beneficial for students to listen to music while studying in areas like cafés that may have distracting background sounds.


Is Silence Superior?

Although many studies support the hypothesis that music can enhance cognitive processing, a large body of research suggests silence provides the optimal study environment. For example, Thomas Alley and Marcie Greene (2008) found students performed best on a memory task while working in silence compared to listening conditions with irrelevant speech or vocal and instrumental music, suggesting background noise and music can impede cognitive performance. Interestingly, students performed better on the instrumental music condition than on the irrelevant speech or vocal music conditions.

Another study by Nick Perham and Harriet Curie (2014) indicates studying in silence or while listening to instrumental music is preferable to studying while listening to music with lyrics. They found students performed best on a reading comprehension task while working in silence, and they also performed better while listening to music without lyrics than while listening to either liked or disliked music with lyrics. 

Takeaway Tips

Should students listen to music while studying? It depends. Students should consider various factors such as task complexity, musical genre, personality, and study environment before listening to a background playlist while doing homework. Based on the current research, here are several tips to keep in mind:

- Experiment with listening to enjoyable music before study sessions. Research building on “the Mozart effect” suggests listening to musical excerpts that induce positive mood and arousal prior to engaging in various tasks can lead to improved performance.

- Notice how you are feeling and adapt your study music choices based on your current mood and motivation levels. If you are feeling overwhelmed, try listening to calming or relaxing music to help alleviate stress levels. Consider listening to upbeat and pleasant music if you need a motivational boost.

- Take into account the complexity of the assignment and your environment, and adjust your study music accordingly. Try to study in silence for complex cognitive tasks like memorization or reading comprehension. If you must study in an area with potentially disruptive background ambiance, consider listening to music to avoid becoming distracted.

- Listen to instrumental music with limited acoustic variation. Avoid listening to music with lyrics while studying, especially when completing reading or writing assignments. Look for music that is enjoyable and somewhat repetitive. Some people find it helpful to listen to video game music or movie soundtracks, while others benefit from listening to meditation music or white noise.


Do you listen to music while completing tasks? Do you find it helpful or distracting?

Michelle Gayne

Faculty Don't Bite!

Posted by Michelle Gayne Jun 18, 2018

I have dedicated a significant portion of my career in higher education so far to working with students who have struggled academically. For me, it is one of the most gratifying experiences that I have had and I like to tell these students, when I meet with them one-on-one or in a classroom setting for Academic Recovery seminar, what an honor and privilege it is to work with them to get them back on track. Now that I have developed an interest and skill set specific to this population of students, I’d like to offer up one tip, one very important tip, that can be a game changer. In order to implement this tip, students need to find the inner courage to do what they have always wanted to do but either felt too embarrassed to do it, or they thought, “What difference would it make?” or they trusted second-hand opinions from friends over the primary source. I’m talking about the extreme value in having students talk to their faculty...GULP!


I often ask students if they ever reached out to talk to their professor for the course regarding their difficulty in understanding something (say, for instance, why they did poorly on a paper or exam). More often than not, I hear them say they haven’t, either because 1) they wouldn’t know what to say, 2) they were too intimidated to approach their professor, or 3) they just never thought to even approach their professor! What I tend to do next (and enjoy greatly) is walking them through a scenario of how they could go about approaching their faculty member. Could they get to class early or linger back after? Could they send an email instead of approaching them in person? Or, and this is a big one, could they go to their office hours or make an appointment? I like to challenge them to think about how they would envision this going for them, what they would ask, and how they would feel about themselves once they did it.


One of the best feelings I reap as an advisor is when a student, especially one who needs to get their grades up in order to keep studying at the University I work for, comes to me and says that it worked, that it was easy and relieving to visit with their professor. What’s even better? When it changes their paradigm about what it means to be in the role of student and professor - that faculty are able to learn from students and not just the other way around.


The time-tested adage of “Every journey starts with a single step” has never rung more true, and once students take the advice and talk to their faculty...well, they tend to keep on with their journey and tend to ask themselves, “What else can I do?”


Michelle Gayne

Assistant Director of Advising & Academic Services

University of Maine

I was a first generation, “undeclared” college student back in the 80’s, when there were few resources for someone like me. I knew I wanted to “help people,” but at the time I had no idea what that meant. I had taken a psychology course in high school and liked it, but when I broached the subject with my parents, they were not supportive, questioning how I would find a job and support myself with that major.  I too was at a loss, because I could not think of another major of interest. I know now that there were many other majors and careers I would have been interested in and good at had I known about them. After ten years of working in this industry advising undeclared students, I understand that. But at the time, I was in the dark about how such things worked, and to whom I should go to for advice and support. Like many first gens, I thought the degree itself was a ticket to the world of work.


My parents relented, but in one respect, they were 100% correct. Fast forward to graduation, with that psychology degree in hand, and I had no idea what to do next. This was a major that required me to figure out what I wanted to do with it. 


It took me a few different tries to figure that out. I had an internship at a juvenile detention center, I interviewed for jobs with my school’s career services office, and I made my parents happy by working at an administrative job for the state. Each of these experiences helped me develop more skills and taught me more about my career interests.


Eventually, my experiences led me to advising college students – specifically, freshmen who are unsure about their own majors. Each year at orientation I share these lessons that I have learned, and lessons that my former students have taught me with students and their families. Here are a few that I would like to share with you, whether you are a student yourself or an instructor trying to help your students navigate their majors and careers:



Trust your student’s instincts. Tell them to pay attention to the obvious, even when it may not be so obvious to them. For example, I worked in an advising college for three years as an undergrad and loved it. It took me four more years to learn there was a master’s degree and an entire profession for advisers and higher education professionals.


As long as you can pay the bills, embrace being a late bloomer! By the time I “figured it out,” many of my friends who thought they knew what they wanted were already disheartened with their “chosen” fields, and ready to make a change.


Take the pressure off! Students are choosing a major, and in many cases they take more general courses than major courses. Focus instead on what they wish to do with their degrees someday, and strategically encourage them to pick up skills and experiences along the way.


Remind your students that career paths are rarely straight lines. It is only through working that we are ready to stretch in new directions, based on our work experiences.


And finally, breathe. Just breathe. As a parent of a rising college sophomore who changed his major mid-year, I understand from an interesting new view. When he said “…it’s okay to change, mom?” I said “…Yes, yes of course it is. You are a typical college freshman, and this is to be expected. Follow your heart. Follow your instincts. And go with what sparks the fire and makes you want to learn more. We will figure out the rest as you go.” I’m excited to see the rest unfold.

Spring is finally here! 

Last January, we promised you a new blog, with posts from instructors like yourself. And with the long-awaited spring, we also have our long-awaited blog!


Stock photo of a laptop, mug of coffee, journal and pen, camera, calendar that says "January 2018," and a phone with its calculator open to say "2,020".

Photo obtained from 


Stay tuned for blog posts on teaching tips and best practices for helping students succeed in and outside of your course.


Speaking of, if you're interested in contributing to our blog, click the link here. If you know what kind of blogs you'd like to see, let us know by clicking here and filling out our short survey.


Keep an eye out for our new posts in 2018, and have a very happy spring!



The College Success Team

Macmillan Learning


With ten days left in November, there are likely many Wrimos scrambling to bring their NaNoWrimo submissions to a conclusion. If that sentence sounded like utter gibberish, here is a translation: November marks National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), an annual creative writing project. Between November 1 and November 30, participants (dubbed Wrimos) across the United States attempt to complete and submit a 50,000 word novel or the first 50,000 words of a longer work.  Some NaNoWriMo projects have even gone on to achieve commercial publishing success; notable examples include Sarah Gruen's Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, and Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl.   


      The NaNoWriMo website allows participants to track their word count and writing progress, and earn participation and writing badges for reaching certain milestones. The website and Twitter account also provides tips for dealing with writer’s block, information about regional writing meetings, and online support forums where published authors share words of wisdom and encouragement. To “win” the contest, Wrimos must simply complete and submit either a 50,000 word novel or the first 50,000 words of a longer work  by 11:59 PM on November 30. To achieve this, however, requires preparation, discipline, and time management as writers should plan to complete 1,667 words a day in order to reach the November deadline. And while the purpose of the NaNoWriMo contest is to encourage those who have wished to write a novel but never found the time to do so, it is also a useful tool for teaching time management and the writing process. As such, NaNoWriMo could be a particularly beneficial experience for college students, even though academic obligations may prevent many from completing the required word count by the November deadline.


  Most college essays are considerably less than 50,000 words, but NaNoWriMo provides a general writing experience that students can learn techniques from. Similar to plotting a novel, students in the prewriting phase will need to plan out their papers and complete necessary research prior to writing. During this phase, students should take into consideration their word count and how much writing they will need to accomplish per day in order to meet that goal. Students who attempt the NaNoWriMo challenge will gain experience in committing their time to write, tracking their progress, and consulting NaNoWriMo resources for advice on navigating writer’s block and other challenges. Students can transfer this experience to their own academic writing when the time comes for them to manage their schedules to complete assignments, create their own goals to meet assigned word counts, and seek out writing resources for assistance.


      NaNoWriMo builds motivation into its competition with a daily goal of words written. The contest is not so much concerned with proper spelling, grammar, and editing for clarity, as it is with fulfilling the word count. Such a concept may be difficult for some writers to accept; I often find myself relating to Anne Bradstreet when it comes to my own writing. But the intention is to encourage the free flow of thought and writing without the hindrance of lower order writing concerns. Students may find this experience of freewriting helpful when dealing with the pre-revision stage of writing. NaNoWriMo provides an experience in the motivation, commitment, and planning it takes to be a writer, attitudes and skills applicable to success in college and beyond. So whether you aspire to pen the next Great American Novel or complete a history essay, consider participating in NaNoWriMo for an introduction to the fun and frenzied writing experience.


Happy Writing!



Banner image source: Where The Writers Go To Write (Poetry, Stories, Contests, and more!), 

Freshman year of my undergrad, my college goals were to find my interests by taking different types of classes, learn how to be successful, and start my young adult life right. Four years and a BA later, I accomplished all my goals. Well, to a degree (pun intended).


In college, I found my voice (quite literally -- I minored in music) and discovered traits I never realized I had. It was the best of times, and, when writing a paper at 4 am, it was the worst of times; it was worth every single moment.

However, as I took more classes, I came to a realization -- there are some things you simply cannot learn in a classroom without application. Admittedly, I was intimidated by the thought of applying for an internship. I was so involved on campus that I would hide behind the excuse “I don’t have the time." After a talk with my academic advisor and a swift kick in the butt from my Resident Director, I discovered I was my own obstacle. When I got over myself, I was determined to score an amazing internship.

While I was accepted to the internship of my dreams, it did not come without some hurdles. Below are some tips and takeaways from my intern experience, and I hope in some way my hot mess will lead you to brighter, successful path.



#1 Resumes

I took my time adding in all my credentials and achievements, and at the end of the day, I thought my resume was swell. So swell that I didn’t ask anyone to see look it over. OH, HOW WRONG I WAS. Turns out why I wasn’t hearing back from any companies was because my resume was as dry as toast. When I sought help at the career development center on campus, my resume game reached new heights.

Big Takeaway:

Add some color to your resume. While that can be taken literally (and it should if you’re a graphic design major), you should also showcase your leadership skills with descriptive verbs and adjectives to explain your duties. This article from The Muse features some powerful action verbs that will give your resume a one-two punch in the application process.

Extreme, but still horrified.

#2 Cover Letters

While a few applications had cover letters as optional, I had the right instinct to include a cover letter anyway (fight off those lazy twinges)! When I began to write my letter though, I hit a wall; writing about myself felt...strange. My original cover letter turned out to be two pages of robotic reiteration with a minor overdose of narcissism. I needed help, AGAIN. So back to career development I went.

Big Takeaway:Image result for resume meme

Your cover letter should not be a doppelganger of your resume. While it should certainly allude to your resume, your cover letter is a chance to give a concise explanation of your skills and qualifications rather than repeating directly what’s on your resume. Go more in-depth or mention something new!


#3 Interviews

Miraculously, this department was my strength but I definitely had much more to learn. While resumes and cover letters are crucial to standing out, the interview is where you will make a lasting impression. My career development center hosted mock interviews to help students practice for future interviews, which proved to be very useful. In addition to practicing before your interview, check out some of these tips I learned along the way:

  • This interview is just as much as an interview for you as it is for them. There should be no reason whatsoever that you don’t ask your interviewer a question.
  • Leggings are NOT professional. This one is geared mostly toward my ladies (or any leggings lover), but don't think for a second your H&M leggings and a blazer are going to fly for this interview. It's business no matter what industry you're in so dress like you want to be taken seriously. 
  • Get comfortable, but not too comfortable. Don't start cursing during side conversation or small talk. You'd think this was common sense, but my potty-mouthed best friend made this mistake! It is unprofessional, and your interviewer is not your best friend.
  • Send a thank you note/email. People lose job opportunities for forgetting this, seriously. 


Image result for interview meme

   Always improve! Evaluate your strengths and challenges.


         #4 The Actual Internship

This is your chance to get work and network. Not every task is something you will love but through the menial tasks, you will also have a chance to speak with others, learn the ins and outs of the industry, and, most importantly, make mistakes! There is no better time than during your internship than to ask questions and make a few mistakes. The ones I made during my internship taught me invaluable work-life lessons and helped me understand the importance of consistency and communication. My advice for those who got the internship:

  • KEEP ASKING QUESTIONS! Better to ask if you’re unsure then ride along blind.
  • Informationals are a must! Interviewing other people in different departments helped me understand what I would like to do in my career and what waters I rather not tread.
  • Make friends with fellow interns (if you have any).
  • Network my friends, Net. Work. #werk


These internships are what you make of them. Utilize your time and not only learn something but take the experience in. I did that part right, and trust me, it was one of the best decisions I made in my college career. 


As a wise man once told me, "if the work is hard, do the work." 


And I did.

   Since joining Pinterest, 2012, my boards have been pathetically bare. But as you may have seen from my last post, this fall I've been on an organization kick, and so I've been looking to Pinterest for inspiration. 


   For those who are not already familiar with Pinterest, it's is an image-sharing site, where people collect ideas and web pages by pinning them to their boards. It's essentially the internet's solution to scrapbooking, but instead of preserving old things, you're searching for new things. Pinterest currently has approximately 150 million active users each month, and among those users are students and, increasingly, instructors of all grade levels. Here are just some of the ways that instructors can utilize Pinterest to make their classrooms more engaging, more creative, and more internet-friendly.


Get Inspired

   One of the best aspects of Pinterest is the ability to find and share some of the unique ideas that your colleagues have posted to the site. Whether you're looking to decorate and organize your classroom, find templates for class activities and projects, or even just to find some tips for time-management and stress relief, you'll find plenty of ideas within your first few minutes of searching. You may even find something that you weren't looking for, like the inspiration to learn a new craft or explore new places.


Personally, I've been looking for bullet journal ideas and templates


Share Ideas

   This is something that can benefit you, your colleagues, and even your students. Pinterest provides a space for people to share ideas, so if you want to offer your students some study tips, they can provide you in term with some ideas for outside material that could be discussed in class.


Remove All the Clutter

   Is your desk often covered with articles, journals, and memos? Save all of that information on your phone, computer, or other electronic device instead. With the option to create folders and boards for different categories, it's much easier to store and organize your data on Pinterest, so if you ever get a chance to actually read all of those articles, you'll actually be able to find them!


Student Work

   A great way to get students excited about their studies is to let them explore what they're learning on their own. This helps them develop independent study skills, and gives them an outlet to be creative with their coursework. Students can use the site to brainstorm and research topics, create digital portfolios and journals, and collaborate on group projects. This is also an excellent opportunity to get students thinking about the source of the photos, ideas, and information they're finding, teaching them not only about copyright law but about critically evaluating information and its source.


Build a Creative, Collaborative Environment

   As previously mentioned, Pinterest is a place to share with others, and this can be your space to share with your students. You can start group discussions, share feedback on work, store ideas that have come up in class discussions, and create a space to display impressive work. By allowing students to explore their creativity in class, you'll not only get them thinking about the course material in a new way, but you'll also give them the chance to build communication skills, confidence, and self-reliance. These practices could help students succeed in the classroom, in their careers and, of course, on social media.

Fall may not mark the beginning of the calendar year, but it certainly presents an opportunity for growth and change with the beginning of the academic year. Think back to the end of the last semester, or the end of your last assignment – do you feel it went well? Is there something you wish you had done ahead of time to make things easier for yourself, or some project that you felt could have used more work if you had had the time? Work piles up fast, sometimes before you realize what’s happening; use these first few weeks of school to get yourself prepared for the busy season ahead of time.


Get Organized

      Spring cleaning isn’t the only time for clearing out space and reorganizing. Whether you’ve moved to a new living situation or work station or you’re returning to the same old office space, organizing now will make life much easier when there are stacks of papers and books to go through later in the semester. When you’re organizing, keep in mind that you should arrange your space in a way that is most efficient for you - your desk may look great cleared off, but if that doesn’t fit in with your working style, your work will probably be undone quickly. Need inspiration? The following image from CCN Money shows how you can organize your desk for maximum productivity.


Dedicate a Study Space

      Whether you like to work at a desk, in your room, in a library, or another public setting, try to pick a spot and dedicate it just for your work. If possible, avoid bringing distractions like your cell phone and snacks to this space, so that your brain will get in the habit of treating these places as work-only spaces. Try to avoid working on your bed, as this can make it more difficult to concentrate on your work and make it more difficult for you to fall asleep later. In fact, it’s generally better to avoid doing work in your bedroom altogether, though that’s not always possible. Finding a spot, as small as that spot may be, to work consistently will help your brain concentrate when you’re in that space. I used to waste so much time procrastinating on my final papers by deliberating over work spaces, but three of my favorites were the desk carrels in the library, the table in the laundry room, and the floor of my bedroom, when it was too late to use a public space.


Plan Ahead

      The great thing about a college syllabus is that it provides a roadmap for how you can expect your semester to go. Most instructors will include the due dates for writing assignments, exams, and even your midterms and finals. Mark these due dates on a calendar, in a journal, or on your phone so that you can keep them in mind when making plans for travel, friends, or extracurricular activities. You can also compare the due dates for different classes, so you can try to get some of the lighter assignments done early when they conflict with larger priority assignments. Also look out for particularly lengthy reading assignments – bring some of the longer works with you when you know you’ll have some reading time, so that way you won’t be cramming it all in at the last minute. If you decide to record these assignments on paper, be sure to use a pencil, as the course syllabus is likely to change as the semester goes on!


Find a Study Buddy / Form a Study Group

      Nothing makes preparing for a final exam or writing a final paper easier than having friends in the class to help you brainstorm. During the first few weeks of class, talk to your peers about your ongoing assignments, and see who might be interested in joining you for future study sessions. By reaching out now, you’ll ensure that you have someone to get in contact with if you ever have a question on an assignment that your instructor might not be able to answer right away, and someone to keep you company in the library when writing papers or completing reading assignments.


Seven students sit around a study table in a library. The students portrayed are the main characters in the television show Community. 

Note: Unlike the study group in Community, you want to form a group that actually studies.


Think Back to Last Semester

      If this is your first semester in college, think back to the last time in your life when you were really stressed out with a lot of work piled up. Back then, what did you wish you had done earlier? What do you think could have helped you avoid that stress? Premeditating your future needs and taking proactive measures will help you make this semester as productive and stress-free as possible.