Sunday, November 18, 2012

Crunch time -- aggressive time management for end of semester

As we near the end of the semester, some students find themselves in a bit of a panic about how they will finish all of the work that is due. Here are a few strategies:

1. Block times on your schedule for writing or whatever other work you need to do. If you are still trying to fit school in between other commitments, now is the time to chunk off blocks of time, in advance.

2. Protect your time. If you have a habit of letting requests from friends and family creep into time that you had planned for school work, now is the time to say "no" and fiercely protect the time you have designated for school work.

3. If you can, take a day off from work. This sounds obvious but many of us don't think of it. If possible, take a day off from work and devote it entirely to your school work.

4. Ask for help. I mention this often in this blog. If you haven't yet asked your family or friends for help, now is the time. Ask family to help with things that need to be done around the house or help with shopping and food prep. If you aren't living with family or partner, and if you have supportive friends, ask them to bring a meal. This doesn't sound like much, but if you can avoid the time it takes to prep food and instead have meals right there and ready, you can work longer and get more done.

5. Skip something. Review your schedule and see if there are commitments that you can miss. Of course some commitments need to be kept, but there may be plans that can be postponed until after your work is done. I have postponed lunches with colleagues, nights out with friends, etc., and then made the most of that extra time.

Cheering you on in you on in your work!

Photo by HLS

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Inspiration from Susan Nelson

Two years ago today, the world lost an amazing woman, Susan Nelson. Susan was our neighbor and friend in Pittsburgh for many years until she and her husband Dave moved to California for a job change. Susan passed away two years ago, but her scholarship and wisdom live on.

Each year on this blog, I post an address that she gave when she was at Claremont School of Theology. May Susan's words give you inspiration and hope:

Dear students,
I am glad to welcome you
To what I expect will be an exciting
And challenging
Year at Claremont School of Theology.
When I began my journey
Into theological education,
The word “career”
Had not crossed my lips.
I entered my first program, rather,
As a seeker.
I loved to read and muse
And I wanted an opportunity
To think about the meaning of life
And to grow
In wisdom and knowledge
I knew that life is fragile,
But I had not yet learned
How to hold the brokenness of life
With the joy of discovery
That, broken or not
It was worth the journey.
I loved beauty,
But I had not learned that beauty is fleeting
And that finitude is part of what
Makes it so beautiful.
I yearned for loving relations,
And had yet to realize
All the ways in which
I could learn to avoid
The tension of face-to-face relations.
These learnings were critical
To my growth as a human being
And to what eventually became
My calling as teacher and administrator.
I expect that each of you
Is something of a seeker.
Curiosity and possibility
Have drawn you to this place
To this faculty and staff –
To the fellow students you will tussle with
And perhaps enjoy along the way.
I expect that you will not be the same person
When you leave CST
That you are right now.
I expect that you will know moments
When the works feels out of reach,
Your studies less than lustrous
And many other moments
When you will know the satisfaction
Of accomplishment
And the joy of doing something
Really well.
And I expect you will grow friendships
And learn an important lesson,
That mutual respect for all people
Is critical
For the flourishing of life.
May you thrive in your challenges at CST,
May you grow in appreciation
Of the privilege
Of learning
In a community of scholars
May you have stellar teachers and mentors,
May you find moments
When you are surprised by joy
Or struck by a beauty
That totally draws you in
Providing absolute distraction
And, may you risk companionship
And the messiness of life
In genuine community
A year ago,
Students asked me to consider
Giving a “last lecture” –
If I were invited
To give the final lecture of my life,
What would I say?
Since that time,
I’ve had to actually consider
“Last things”
And how to live
In a present reality
That seems so precarious.
What I would say if asked
To give that lecture on this day, is
Practice awareness,
Watch yourselves breathe, -
Every day find at least one thing to be thankful for
- Tell others what they mean to you -
And practice the discipline
Of taking nothing for granted –
Or perhaps, better said,
The discipline of forgiving yourselves
For all the ways
You will take life for granted
And receive it anyway.
Grace and peace
Be upon you.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Improve your PowerPoint presentations

Many of you will be making presentations to your peers in class. Here is some research on what students prefer in powerpoint presentations:

Research about student preferences for powerpoint presentations

Cheering you on in your work!

Photo by HLS

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

I Love Lucy and Grad School

The now-classic comedy series "I Love Lucy" debuted this week in 1951. Here's a clip, one of the great Lucy moments, that may also remind you of life as an adult student:

I hope it gives you a smile!
Cheering you on in your work!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Help with APA -- Best of the APA Blog -- check this out!

Several staffers at the APA host a blog to help users understand the ins and outs of APA style. Each fall, they compile a "best of" post. This year's features links to a number of previous posts, covering areas such as: getting started with APA, sample papers, general reference help, how-to citations, grammar, and formatting. This is a useful list of some of their most helpful posts. Check it out!

Best of APA Blog

Cheering you on in your work!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

What do you do well? Exploring your strengths as a student

What are your strengths as a student? Are you a good writer? Good researcher? Good leader or contributor to group projects? Perhaps you are a good time manager. Pause for a moment and identify those strengths to yourself. Sometimes we dwell on those areas that we identify as weaknesses. That reflection can be important as we can work to improve. However, I think it is equally important to recognize our gifts.

Cheering you on in your work!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Apps for grad students

Free apps that help me be more productive in my research, writing, and work with graduate students:

Citation and source management:

Zotero - download citation information directly from web-based sources (enter others manually), build your citation database, Word plug-in allows you to insert formatted citations and generate reference list with ease. Free.

Document sharing:

Dropbox - Store your documents in the cloud so you can access them from any computer. Also useful for sharing big files with classmates or teachers. Free.

YouSendIt - Another app that is useful for sending files that are too big for email. Free version available.


Lucidchart - I just started using this in the past year and I love it! I have used it to make a number of diagrams for presentations and I find it to be an incredibly capable tool. Click here to apply for free education version (it says K-12, but they also give education accounts to those in higher education).


Eyejot - I love this tool! Send video messages -- more personal and energetic than email. Free version allows messages of up to one minute.

Doodle - Easy scheduling tool, great for setting up meetings for group projects. Free.

Note taking:

Evernote - A cloud-based note taking tool -- means you can access notes from any of your devices. Also allows you to tag notes - easier to find what you are looking for later. Free.

Social bookmarking:

Diigo - Tag and store your bookmarks so you can find important sites easily. Cloud-based so you can access them from any device. Group function allows you to share -- great for group projects. Also includes highlighting and commenting tools. Free.

Images (for presentation slides, etc):

Stock.xchng - extensive library of free images.

The Noun Project - web-based library of universal symbols. All are free for non-commercial use.

And two not-free (in fact shockingly expensive) apps that help me be more productive:

Things - task management for mac users. This is an elegantly simple yet sophisticated task management app. Quickly enter to-do items with due dates, tags, and notes. Also schedule recurring to-do items and group items under projects. Approximate prices -- Macbook version: $49. iPad version: $19. iPhone version: $9.99. Hard to believe it's worth it, but it has been worth it for me. I have Things on my macbook and phone and it helps me stay on top of all I need to do and also helps me to feel done at the end of a day when I've completed all that I intended to do.

One password - password manager. Easy to use. Saves me time because I don't have to scramble to figure out forgotten passwords. Mac version: $49. iPad and iPhone versions also available.

Please note, I am not affiliated with the makers or distributers of any of the above-mentioned apps.

What other apps do you use for school?

Cheering you on in your work,

Icon above from The Noun Project

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Writing Tutorial for Graduate Students

Here is a tutorial on writing for graduate school, created by Cecelia Munzenmaier at Drake University. Dr. Munzenmaier covers a range of important topics such as how to make an original contribution and meeting graduate school standards. Her post also includes a number of helpful links. Check it out!

A Writing Tutorial for Graduate Students

Monday, September 10, 2012

Feeling overwhelmed? Here are 4 strategies:

This is a repost from last year. It is the best summary I've written of the four strategies that I find most helpful.

The start of graduate school can certainly feel overwhelming. Here are a my top my top four strategies for dealing with feeling overwhelmed. I have listed some of these ideas in other posts, but I'm listing them here together all under this theme.

1. Make a weekly to do list... spend a few minutes with your syllabus and note exactly what you need to do for the next class. This will help you pull back from thinking about all the work over the course of the semester and instead to focus on the most immediate work.

2. Do something every day. Read even one chapter or part of a chapter. Begin an assignment. Heck, even just download articles. Do something. Find little chunks of time: lunch hour, get up early before work, read on the bus... see if you can carve out some extra time. These little bits of work will add up and will help you build and maintain momentum.

3. Take something off your plate. If you have a significant other or kids, ask for their help around the house (e.g. they do dishes while you have "study hall"). If you have a lot of outside of work commitments, this might be time to cut back.

4. Ask for help. If you are still having trouble managing, if it still feels overwhelming, talk with classmates to get ideas on how they are handling the work load. And definitely talk with your professor and/or someone in your academic skills center. Often, someone who is outside of your experience can help you assess and improve time management, work strategies, etc.

You can do this! Remember, many students have come before you, have felt just as overwhelmed, and have succeeded!

Cheering you on,

Monday, September 3, 2012

Feeling overwhelmed?

If you are feeling overwhelmed, you are not alone. Grad students feel overwhelmed at this time of year for all kinds of reasons.

Are you a new student? You may feel overwhelmed in first classes upon hearing how much work is expected. This is natural.

Are you a returning student? If so, you may have realized this summer, just how hard you have to work in school to keep up. Fall semester is here. Scary. This is natural.

Are you continuing work, having not even had a break over the summer? You may feel tired. This is natural.

A first step to dealing with these feelings is to know that they are natural. You have a significant amount of work ahead and many of you also have job or career, family, and other responsibilities -- this combination is demanding. In coming weeks, I will post strategies to deal with these feelings. For now, know that you are not alone and that these feelings make sense given all that you are facing. Also know that generations of grad and adult students before you have felt this way and they have succeeded. You can do this!


Photo by HLS

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Solving your own computer problems -- getting unstuck

Many of my friends and colleagues become quickly paralyzed when it comes to solving problems on the computer. Whether the problem is a forgotten password or difficulty formatting a document, many of us quickly feel blocked and unable to move forward. This is no surprise as most of us did not grow up with computers and nobody ever taught us how to solve these problems.

Having worked at a technical university for awhile and being married to a geek (!!!), I have learned a number of steps that one can take to solve these sorts of problems. In order to share these steps with friends and colleagues, I wrote them out, and then a colleague at Carlow made an infographic. If you tend to get stuck while working on the computer, check out this help sheet:

Problems-solving steps for minor computer problems

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Productivity strategies

I love thinking about productivity strategies. What steps can we take, what approaches can we implement, what habits can we strive to develop, that will help us be more productive?

Natalie Houston, associate professor of English at the University of Houston, offers her five rules for maintaining a productive routine:

My Productivity Rules

What strategies do you use to increase and maintain your productivity?

Cheering you on in your work.

Photo by HLS

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Hello and welcome! Or welcome back!

After taking the summer to work on a journal article and a few other projects (and to take some much-needed time off), I'm back to the encouragement lounge! Watch for posts 1-3 times per week. Please email me at if you have questions or ideas for a future post.

More soon,

Photo by HLS of Bob's sweet ride

Friday, May 18, 2012

Encouragement Lounge break

Hi friends. I am going to take a break from The Encouragement Lounge. As you can see, I have posted very little this spring. I am engaged in a bunch of work that is incredibly time and energy consuming and so I need to find other commitments that I can let go of or at least put on hold so that I don't get overwhelmed.

If you have come to this site looking for support, use the search function in the right column menu and search for whatever topic interests you (time management, stress management, writing, APA, etc.). There is a wealth of old posts here and given the nature of this blog most previous posts do not go out of date (this is support, not current events!).

Cheering you on in your work!

Photo by HLS

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Late semester! We can do it!

I know it is a stressful time for most students! But keep at it, you can do it!!!

Cheering you on,

Photo by HLS

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Time saver -- Format Painter in Microsoft Word

Hi All, Here's a tip that a colleague shared with me recently. There is a tool in Word that many people don't know about called Format Painter. This allows you to easily copy formatted text within a word doc and even between MS Office programs such as word and powerpoint.

This tool is useful if you have formatted something and want to quickly apply that formatting elsewhere. For example, you have created a heading and selected specific font and size, you can use the Format Painter to apply that formatting to other text in the document. If you are not on a tight deadline, you are better off to use Styles, but if you are in a hurry and just need to fix some formatting, Format Painter is quick and easy. Read the following page for instructions (it's easy to use!):

Format Painter

Cheering you on in your work,

Photo by HLS

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Guest blogger- My Dad!!!!

Thanks Dad for contributing this week's Encouragement Lounge post and photo!

Have you ever looked back on your day, week, month, etc. and felt as if everything (work-family responsibilities and of course school) is starting to pile up and you are on the bottom of the pile? If you try to get accomplish everything at once (move that pile) you will not finish anything and things will become more confusing. However, with "Patience and Perseverance", tackle one item at a time, get help from your spouse, significant other, friends, peers, teachers and before long the pile will get smaller and smaller. There is nothing you can not accomplish when you approach things in an orderly, systematic fashion. Getting upset and throwing stones does not help and you might break a window!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Confused? Just ask.

If you are finding an assignment to be confusing, ask your professor for clarification! Sounds simple, but I know that often students are hesitant to ask either because they think they should just "get it" or that the professor may be annoyed. I can tell you though, that most of us on the teaching side would much rather hear those questions.

When you convey that something is confusing, it helps us recognize elements of a syllabus or assignment that may not be clear (not only to you, but to other students).

Also, we would rather you ask, and get on the right track, than to guess and possibly guess wrong and then go down the wrong path with your work. So, if you are confused, ask for clarification.

Good luck with the work!

Photo by HLS

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Editing and proofing your own work

Hi All,

I posted this link and these ideas a few years ago, but am posting them again for new readers.

Learning to edit and proof your own papers is important in terms of success in graduate school.

This handout, published by UNC offers several strategies:

UNC - Editing and Proofreading

A few additional strategies:

1. Read your work out loud. You will catch errors that you don't catch when you just read the piece silently to yourself.

2. Start reading in the middle. I suspect that if we always begin editing and proofing our papers in the beginning, the front end of the paper is stronger than the back end because we are more focused in the first part of the reading -- our attention may diminish as we move through the paper. So, start reading in the middle so you give your best energy and attention to the second half of the paper, at least once. And then go back and read the first half.

3. Print the paper in a different font. This will wake your brain up and you will have more focus. (this is also mentioned in the UNC document!).

4. Keep a checklist of errors that you typically make in your writing. After you have reviewed the paper and believe it's in good shape, go back and review for the items on your checklist.

If you have other ideas, please post them in the comments section below!

Cheering you on in your work:

Photo by HLS

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Reflect on your strengths!

Hi All,

Today I encourage you to stop and consider what are the strengths that you bring to your academic endeavors? Are you a good writer, good group member, do you add to the class discussion, or maybe it's your ability to manage your time effectively while working and taking care of family? Whatever your strengths are -- take note and recognize them! Do you have any strengths that were unexpected, that you didn't recognize before going back to school? Often in the day-to-day, we are more in touch with the stresses and demands of school, than of our strengths. So today, stop and recognize all the good stuff that you bring to the work!

Cheering you on,

Photo by HLS

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Thursday, February 16, 2012

My Dog Ate Your Homework

We have a new puppy (this is part of the reason I haven't been posting much lately -- he takes time and attention so between that and teaching, I'm busy). Anyway, yesterday I looked up from some work and noticed that he was chewing on the end of one of my teaching notebooks. So he literally may have been eating a student's homework (how's that for a turn of events!).

Cheering you on in your work!

Photo by HLS

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Psychology of Color

Good info for preparing presentation slides and other project work:

Cheering you on in your work!

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