Special Guest Writer–Amara Tanweer (undergraduate): Take Advantage of Education Abroad!

Like many students, I thought studying abroad was an experience I just was not destined to have. I only began to consider it towards the end of my sophomore year of college. There were several reasons for deciding to pursue this opportunity. First, it gave me an excuse to travel. I did not have a lot of exposure to other cultures, and I thought this had hindered my growth and perspective as a person. Second, studying abroad would assist with the pursuit of my career and educational goals. I am planning to get a doctorate in clinical or counseling psychology, and I thought studying abroad would make me stick out from my competitors. Third, I would not be opposed to working abroad upon completing my advanced degree, and I believed that being exposed to other cultures and understanding a culture’s impact on psychological techniques, would prepare me to be a better psychologist. Finally, I wanted to challenge myself – to throw myself into the unknown and make the best of it.

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The logistics of selecting a program was not as difficult as I thought it would be. The Education Abroad Office at my university was a tremendous help with the application and payment process, and I utilized their assistance frequently. I decided to study abroad the Spring semester of my Junior year. I did not want to go during the Fall semester because there was a possibility of overlapping dates with some programs. That is, the end date of the study abroad program could go past the first few days of classes of the spring semester at my home university. I selected an “exchange” program, which essentially meant that I paid the same amount of tuition as at my home university. I am an in-state student, so this worked out in my favor. In addition, it was important that I chose a study abroad program that was affordable. I chose the cheapest program in terms of housing costs as well as overall cost of living in the particular region I was looking at. Related to this last point, I applied for and received several education abroad scholarships, which helped significantly. The study abroad program I selected was the University of Central Lancashire in Preston, England.

studyabroad2Overall, my education abroad experience was incredible, and I am humbled to have had this time overseas. I would highly recommend studying abroad as it provides valuable life lessons. I accomplished all of my goals, gained valuable insight into how culture can affect psychology, and was able to network with many professors and other students. I will end on this note: studying abroad is not an opportunity that is out of reach. There are many benefits, and with the help of your school’s Education Abroad office, it really is much more feasible than you realize!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

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Get Things Done…Now!

I recently had a meeting with a student where I was trying to help him think about all of the things he needed to do in order to keep moving ahead with his career plans. Most important in this regard, I reminded him how critical it was to contact the graduate program he was really interested in attending—it was actually on our campus. It was application time, and I told him that it would serve him well to talk to both the staff who dealt with applications and the faculty who were in the graduate program. I emphasized that it was one thing to read about the program, but quite another to talk to someone about what could be the next few years of your life. Moreover, having a one-on-one conversation would make you stand out (in a positive way) as the program decided whom to accept.

After spending some time talking about things, I calmly said, “So when do think you’ll contact the graduate program office?” I was not trying to be hard on him or make him feel guilty that he had not contacted anyone yet. I just wanted him to understand that I thought there were real advantages to contacting the program relatively soon. His answer to me was not what I expected, given his enthusiasm for continuing on to graduate school: “I am really busy, so I’m not sure when I’ll get around to contacting them.” Given his unexpected answer, I thought about whether I should press the issue, but instead I told him I hoped he could do it soon and wished him good luck with his future plans.

procras-town-sign-1865304_1920-2This kind of thinking by this student was not necessarily new to me, but it really got me thinking about the more general problem of college students not getting things done in a timely fashion. It includes the student described above, but also students waiting until the last minute to complete class assignments (written work and reading), and students failing to study in a timely fashion for exams. Finally, there are those students who procrastinate and impact their ability to obtain research assistantships, internships, jobs, etc.

As we all know, trying to solve the procrastination problem is extremely difficult. But, students need to have some way of overcoming the delays that can lead to low grades and missed opportunities, let alone the stress and pressure that result from waiting too long to get things completed. Here are some pieces of advice for students to help overcome procrastination:

1) Don’t think you need to get everything done at once. In my opinion your best bet is to work on things in a distributed fashion, getting a little done every day. The way to achieve this is to set up a schedule, a time management plan that you commit to and will follow throughout the semester. I have written about this in another post (https://beginnersguidetocollegesuccess.com/2016/01/20/dont-delay-set-up-a-study-schedule/)—check it out!

2) Write it down! It is not enough to have a plan in your mind. You need to force yourself to write down everything you need to do. This can be on your phone, in a planner or agenda, or on a “To-Do List”, anything that forces you to take the time to actively think about your schedule.

3) Reward yourself! In my way of thinking, you can reward yourself in two ways when you complete various tasks. First, you can reap the psychological reward of completion, by crossing out everything on your schedule, agenda, or list that you finish. It feels great to get things done! Second, you might consider giving yourself a small monetary reward for every task you complete. Then, at the end of some period of time use that money to buy or do something you really like.

4) Think about what it will mean if you do not get things done. Will you be happy when you do not finish your 5-page paper written? Doubtful. How will feel pulling an all-nighter right before an exam? Tired! The key is that you want to get things accomplished and feel good about yourself.

procrasworkspace-2167299_19205) Blah! Blah! Blah! Toss the excuses and take control of your life. Excuses are simply not going to cut it, and are often BS. Be aware of all the excuses you can give for not getting something done (e.g., “I like when I’m feeling pressured,” “I’m too busy”, “I’ll get it done later”), and fight the urge to use these excuses. You may feel better giving these excuses, but they aren’t getting things accomplished.

6) Get motivated. Making sure you complete various tasks requires you to be motivated. One way you can do this is to always set goals, both short term and long term. Setting these goals ties in nicely with developing a schedule that guides you through the semester (#2 above). In addition, you need to set the kind of goals that will move you toward you career after college—what do you want to be after graduating and what do you need to do to achieve this career goal.

7) Avoid punishing yourself when you do not complete a task. There are bound to be times when you want to do something, but you don’t complete it. Accept that this will occur and don’t be too hard on yourself. You don’t want to have a negative impact on your motivation level, and (more important) you want to figure out the best way to avoid having this happen in the future.

8) Remember that overcoming procrastination is a battle. Your inability to get things done is not something that occurred up overnight. In fact, procrastination can be viewed as a habit that developed over time. Because of this, it will take some time to get rid of this habit and replace it with behaviors that work for you to get tasks completed. Start fighting against procrastination today!

I hope you will take my advice and get things done…now!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

 

Get Involved!!!

Now that you are in college, it is very important that you do not just sit around and keep to yourself. I understand that there are times you need to be alone (think studying!), and other times you want to be by yourself to read, workout, watch a movie, etc. However, it is VERY important that you get involved in various activities on campus. Even if you have a job, there are sill ways you can get involved to take full advantage of your college experience. As a former 2 and 3 job undergraduate, I can tell you that it was a critical aspect of my college experience to be a part of campus life.

With that said and before moving on to the reasons to get involved, here is one way I participated on campus. As you can see I was the school mascot for my college. Yes, that’s me as the Temple Owl in 1981—hard to believe!!!!

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The key to getting involved in various activities is that it really is the case that college is more than just going to class. College is a time to grow, both intellectually and personally. Getting involved in activities adds to that growth. So, here are 7 reasons for why you should get involved:

1) You will make friends. By joining a club, you automatically increase the chances you will make new friends. Sitting in your room playing video games isn’t going to give you the opportunity to meet others, nor is constant studying in a library study room. Remember, the friends you make in college can last a lifetime. The more people you meet, the more friends you make, and the more you can have fun doing things on and off campus.

2) It is good for your mental and physical health. The evidence is pretty convincing that being around others is good for various aspects of your health. For example, when you interact with others in a campus activity you’ll feel better about yourself, and give yourself potential sources of support.

3) You will actually learn new things. I know you may not want to hear it, but college involves learning both in and out of the classroom. So even when you are not sitting in a lecture with 500 other students, getting involved gives you the chance to learn something new. This may be how to play a new sport if you decide to join a rugby club or what are new methods of recycling if you join a student environmental group.

people-2557396_12804) You can boost your resume. I don’t want to get too crazy about this, but there is nothing wrong with listing various college activities on your resume. You should list those activities that really say something about who you are. Employers and graduate and professional school selection committees look at your college activities. I was in the National Psychology Honor Society (PSI Chi) when I was an undergraduate—listing this organization on my resume was important when I was applying for grad school in psychology.

5) You can get involved with community service. There are many activities on campus that will offer you the opportunity to work in the community. This could include being involved with philanthropic activities tied in to a sorority, campus political organizations that promote citizenship (e.g., voter registration), or various other clubs who work with community organizations (e.g., Habitat for Humanity,). It’s great to know that for many of you who have been involved in community service before college, the chance to continue your involvement in the community can continue.

6) You can gain insight about your ultimate career goal. College is a time to explore possibilities, and to figure out what you want to do after graduation. If you have an interest in something, join a club or activity that matches your interest and see where it leads. It’s possible that your involvement in a particular club or activity will be the catalyst for your future career.

7) You get a chance to experience diversity. In most cases, whatever club or activity you get involved with will involve students of various national origins, color, religion, socioeconomic stratum, sexual orientation, political views, and more. For some of you, this may be your first opportunity to interact with people who are really different than you. Take advantage of this opportunity!

I hope you will take my advice and get involved on campus—you won’t regret it!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

Special Guest Writer–Amber Sexton: Preparing for Medical School–What Should Be Your Major?

From a young age, I was entirely certain of the career path I wanted to pursue- medicine. While I totally understand that everyone reading this might not say the same, I know some of you have the same career aspirations as myself. So, for those of you with every intention of going to medical school, this is for you!

Let’s rewind almost four years to the summer before my matriculation here at the University of Kentucky. Though on the edge of huge change in my life, there were a few things I was very sure would remain constant as I began college, one of those being my passion for medicine. So I knew what my end goal was, but I still had one important decision to make.

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What should I major in?

You all faced the same question with lots of inward reflection and thought, I’m sure. For me, and I imagine for you as well, the decision was multi-faceted. Of course, my biggest concern was “what major/degree would help me most in applying to medical school?” I considered which major would be impressive to medical school admissions committees, which major would “diversify” me in an applicant pool, which major would best prep me for the MCAT (the standardized test required of all medical school applicants), and which major would be best to juggle alongside the prerequisite courses I planned to take.

With these questions I couldn’t answer, I sought advice from my older brother who, at the time, was a fourth year medical student preparing to begin residency. I applied his advice to my own journey. Now, as I prepare to graduate from UK and begin medical school in the fall, I will pass the same advice given to me to you:

Truthfully, with respect to admission to and preparation for medical school, it does not matter what major you choose.

Now, with a surplus of options, here are a few helpful things to consider when narrowing your choice:

  1. First and foremost, choose something you have genuine interest in studying. This subject will be something you immerse yourself in for four years. Don’t choose to major in electrical engineering if you hate math but you think it will impress a medical school admissions committee. Not only will you make it much harder to succeed in your coursework, but also you’ll make yourself absolutely miserable. The two things that will impress admissions committees are a great GPA and a great MCAT score. To bust the myth of biology and/or chemistry degrees: while some of you choosing to pursue medicine may have a genuine interest in studying biology and/or chemistry in depth, these two majors are not one-way tickets to medical school. So, don’t feel pressured to choose one of them as your major.
  2. Understand that there are specific prerequisite courses that medical schools require you take prior to beginning medical school. Though these are mostly consistent from school to school, you should check with each specific medical school you’re interested in to ensure you take what is necessary. If you choose a major other than biology, chemistry, etc., also remember that it is your responsibility to work those prereqs into your schedule. You’ll want to have the bulk of these prerequisites completed prior to sitting for the MCAT.
  3. Be prepared to explain why you chose your major. If you choose to major in theater and vocal performance, for example, yet you want to attend medical school, you should have strong reasons for why you chose this major and, of course, why you want to be a doctor. If you major in something rather atypical for pre-med students, interviewers at medical schools will almost always ask you about it. Don’t worry- they aren’t necessarily trying to grill you, they genuinely want to know you and your interests.

operation-afamerc-medschoolAs for me, I chose to pursue a degree in psychology. After taking one psychology class in high school, I became incredibly interested in studying psychology in depth. I believe that as a professional expected to treat humans, it’s absolutely imperative to somewhat understand their behaviors and motivations. I wholeheartedly believe that my degree in psychology will help me to become the best physician I can be.

Best of luck with all of your endeavors!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

 

The Importance of Grades

After teaching for almost 30 years, I have come to accept that not every student will earn a good grade in my courses—to me a good grade is an A or a B. This was a bit tough for me to deal with when I first started teaching, because I had naively assumed that everyone wanted to get a good grade. I had always “gone for the A” in college (even with a busy work schedule), why wouldn’t my students too. Some students may be in a real bind as far as good grades because their ability to devote time and effort into my courses is limited by job responsibilities, military service, or by personal difficulties (including mental issues). However, there are a number of students whose lack of motivation and willingness to give their maximum effort in my classes is driven by a view that grades are simply unimportant. This latter group of students includes those who think about “Cs for degrees” or may even feel that getting a D and just passing one of my courses is OK.

In my world, what is a bummer about the students who choose not to strive for high grades is that they probably can get good grades, but something is standing in their way. If these students think that grades are simply unimportant, are they correct? It is my opinion that these students, for the most part, are incorrect and that earning good grades in college is worth pursuing. Let me add that in taking this position I am not saying that having a higher GPA means you are a smarter person. Of course, many factors will impact your GPA over and above your intelligence.

good grades-booksLet me offer 4 points in support of my thinking that good grades matter:

1) If you want to pursue a doctoral or professional (MD, DDS, Nursing, PA, PT, or OT) degree good grades are critical. As I have talked about in other places (careersinpsych.com and https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/careers-in-psych), these programs are only taking the best of the best. Thus, your college grade point average (GPA) carries a lot of weight. It is possible to have a relatively low GPA offset by high scores on your entrance exam (e.g., GRE, MCAT, GMAT). However, selection committees (fair or not) will typically view a relatively low GPA in a negative light.

2) For certain jobs, especially high-paying jobs, good grades can be a “tie-breaker”. That is, if you have a 3.7 GPA and another job applicant has a 2.7 GPA, all things being equal, you will likely get selected for the job. Now I can hear some of you saying that “all things being equal” hurts my point because no job candidates are exactly the same. I agree. Nonetheless, grades are likely to be a part of the job selection equation, along with other characteristics like job skills, leadership qualities, ability to work with others, creativity and experience. My point is simply that grades can make the difference between candidates, and that it is better to have good grades than not. I will add one other point about certain jobs. Your GPA may be critical when you are looking for your first job out of college, but the value of your GPA may diminish over time–work experience may then carry the day.

3) If you get good grades in what are perceived as tough courses, this can work to your advantage. This does not mean that everyone should be taking a lot of difficult science and math courses in college. You just need to be aware that selection committees for graduate and professional school (possibly even certain jobs) will look at your transcript. Therefore, it won’t hurt that you took some science and math courses and did well in these courses. Keep in mind that those individuals making a decision about your future want to be sure that you were not taking a bunch of “bunny” courses to inflate your GPA.

goodgrades-arrows4) High grades can open up various opportunities for you in college. Let me give three quick examples. First, there are a number of scholarships that open up while you are in college. As you can imagine, these scholarships are not going to students with low GPAs. Second, it is typically the case that faculty will choose students with the highest grades to work in their lab or conduct other research. I am one of these faculty members. I look for the brightest and most motivated students to join my lab; high grades help me determine which students to select. Is it possible that I have missed a “diamond in the rough”—a student with high potential but low grades? Of course, but I feel over the years high grades have been a good indicator of productive research assistants. Finally, when it comes times to securing letters of recommendation you will probably have a better chance of having a faculty member write you a letter if you have done well in school. Moreover, the stronger your academic record, the better your letter.

In closing, I want to reiterate that grades are not everything. You may have qualities (e.g., leadership skills, creativity) that can overcome poor grades. In addition, I do not want to discount the importance of networking or experience in helping you move forward with your career. Finally, good grades require a lot of time and effort. The cost of high grades may be a loss of some sleep and social time. Still, in the end I feel the benefits of good grades outweigh the cost. Good luck!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

Low Grades? Here’s What You Should You Do

In my almost 30 years of teaching I am sorry to say that almost every class (especially the large classes I have taught) has had at least one student who failed the course or did really poorly. This is a real drag because it is almost always the case that this student could have avoided failing if he or she had taken some important early action.

Before getting to what action you should take if you are doing poorly, let me first say that as a faculty member there is only so much I can do to move a student forward in my classes. Thus, how you do in a class is mostly up to you. For example, if you decide (for whatever reason) not to study you are likely not going to do well. Or if you think that you can blow off class, the chances of catching up and getting on top of class material is slim. I will add that you can always take a chance and see what happens if you do not study or stop going to class, but I find it hard to believe that you really want to play these odds.

bubblesheet-986935_1280With the above in mind, what should you do if you find that you are really struggling in a class? Here are several pieces of advice:

1) Be realistic about your situation. It is critical that you understand that there is a problem, and that it needs to be dealt with as soon as possible. The option of waiting is typically not going to work for you. Too often I have had students who are doing poorly, and think that things will just turn around on the next exam. In most cases, things do not turn around and these students continue to fall further behind.

2) Determine the cause of your poor performance. There are a number of factors that may be leading to your difficulty in a class. I feel it is best to initially sit down on your own and assess what might be the problem. For example, are you doing poorly because you simply do not study enough? Remember, the unwritten rule of most faculty members is that you are expected to put in 3 hours of work for every 1 credit hour you are taking. Yes, that means 9 hours outside of class for a 3 credit-hour class! Other factors impacting your performance might include your (a) not going to class; (b) not understanding the material; (c) having too many obligations (number of courses, employment, relationships, family, activities); and (d) having mental health issues (e.g., depression, anxiety).

3) Determine if there are changes you can make on your own to improve your class situation. It would be nice and simple if you determine that you are not studying enough for a class, because then you might just have to study more. This is easier said than done, but at least you can work on a study schedule that can get you back on track (for tips on setting up a study schedule go to: https://beginnersguidetocollegesuccess.com/2016/01/20/dont-delay-set-up-a-study-schedule/). Likewise, if you are not going to class, go to class!

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4) For some issues you will need help from others (aside from the instructor). This help can come in many forms. For example, if you are having trouble understanding the material, you could meet with other students to go over class notes. You might also want to get a tutor. At some schools tutors may be free and centrally located, but you might have to do a little searching to find a tutor who can help you out. In my experience, tutors are great and can often be a game changer as far as your performance in class. Another person who may be able to help you out is a graduate teaching assistant, if your class has one of these. You might also talk to your academic advisor to see if they can offer you some guidance, especially with regard to directing you toward certain resources (academic and otherwise) on campus. Finally, if you are having mental health concerns you will need to seek out a mental health clinic on campus to get professional help.

5) No matter what, you should talk to your Instructor. In my opinion, it is extremely important to touch base with your Instructor about your situation. Regardless of what you are thinking it is likely the case that your Instructor will be in your corner, and they ill do whatever they can to help you do better in the course. This might include going over material or giving you advice on how to study. The key is that if you say nothing, your Instructor (who will ultimately give you a grade) will be in the dark about your situation. Keep in mind, however, that you should avoid thinking that your Instructor is going to offer you extra credit or discard certain low grades—this is probably unlikely.

6) Consider dropping the course. Even if you do all of the above, you might still need to drop the course. You may be in a situation where the benefits of dropping the course (e.g., more time to devote to other classes) far exceed the cost of staying in the course (e.g., a failing grade). Check out my blog post about dropping a course (https://beginnersguidetocollegesuccess.com/?s=drop+course).

I hope this information helps you think about your situation when things are not going so well. Good luck!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

Dealing With Grades After Finals

Congratulations on finishing the semester! Of course, I hope things went well and that you are satisfied with all of your grades. However, I know that there are going to be some of you who are not happy. I mean, not happy at all.

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As I see it, there are usually 4 types of unhappy students at the end of the semester. Student 1 is unhappy as the result of not performing as well as they expected. These are the students who expected to earn an A, but they got a C. Moreover, they realize that their performance did not warrant an A–their C actually reflects what they should have received.

SOLUTION FOR STUDENT 1: I am sorry to say that if you are like Student 1 there is not much you can do. Your grade reflects your performance. If you did not perform well, either because you thought the class was too hard or you did not put in enough effort, I do not see any way your grade is going to be changed. My best advice is to consider repeating the course (https://beginnersguidetocollegesuccess.com/2016/03/21/is-repeating-a-course-a-good-idea-definitely/).

Student 2 is unhappy because they believe that their grade was incorrectly calculated based on the criteria presented in the syllabus. Remember, the importance of your syllabus. Not only does it make clear all of the rules of the class, but also it should specify exactly how grades are determined. If your syllabus says each exam is worth 25%, then each exam is worth 25%. Neither you nor your Instructor can change the rules at the end of the semester. If you calculate your grade and you see that Exam 1 was weighted 20% and Exam 3 was weighted only 10%, you have every right to be unhappy.

SOLUTION FOR STUDENT 2: If your grade was calculated incorrectly you should take action. This means:

1) Contact the Instructor immediately. Do not wait until you get back from break. The sooner you deal with this, the better. I’ll add that when I hear from a student right away I know this student is really concerned about their grade.

2) If possible, contact the Instructor face to face. Of course, this may be impossible if you get your final grade after you have left campus.

3) Get all your facts together and be prepared to present a convincing case. Make sure you double-check your calculations to be sure that there was a mistake. It would probably do you well to have another person look over the calculations to be sure you did them correctly. When you actually communicate with your Instructor I feel you should be ready to go through your calculations in a very systematic fashion to show them where mistakes were made.

4) MOST IMPORTANT! Be civil. No matter how you contact your Instructor, do so in a way where you are courteous, polite and respectful. You will get nowhere with your Instructor (except asked to end the conversation!) if you raise your voice, do not give your Instructor a chance to speak, or use foul language. Be calm, and let the facts guide the conversation. Let me add that you might think that you cannot be rude in an email—think again. I am amazed by the rudeness I see in an emails sent to me.

Student 3 is unhappy because they feel that certain graded components (e.g., assignments, reaction papers, exams) that comprised their overall grade were graded too low.

SOLUTION FOR STUDENT 3: Same as for Student 2, except you will need to have some way of presenting a case for why you were graded unfairly. This can be quite difficult, especially with graded components that are more subjective (e.g., an essay exam). I feel you have every right to ask your Instructor to justify your grade by making clear exactly why a certain amount of points were deducted. What might help your case is if your Instructor gave out a grading rubric that you can use to justify why you thought you should not have lost certain points.

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Student 4 is unhappy because they feel that somehow their grade does not reflect their performance and effort in the class. This is the student who just missed out on the next highest grade. A “silver medalist” like this is caught between wishing they had tried just a bit more in the class and hoping that their Instructor might offer them the few points they need to obtain a higher grade.

SOLUTION FOR STUDENT 4: If you are Student 4 this is a really tricky situation that must be approached very strategically. As above, contact the Instructor immediately, try to meet with the Instructor face to face, and be civil. Keep in mind that you should not be “begging” for a grade. Based on my own 29 years of experience and my discussions with faculty colleagues, this type of behavior simply will not work; if anything, begging will lead an Instructor to stop the discussion and make clear that there is no chance of additional points. My view is that if this is you, be prepared have some case to make. For example, you might have grades that show a steady increase through the semester, thereby showing a greater mastery of the material. I will caution you that if you state that your grade must be raised because you will lose a scholarship or be put on probation is typically not going to sway a lot of faculty.

I hope it is not you who is unhappy after the semester. But, as I described above, if it is you remember that there are ways to increase your chances of ending up with a better grade. Good luck!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.