Continuing the global perspectives adventure

This morning I find myself on a train on the way to Strasbourg, France in order to continue my exploration of higher education abroad. After visits to several Swiss institutions, I’m excited to today visit two institutes of higher education in France. I’m interested specifically in exploring self-regulated learning, which has, thus far, been a bit tricky in our visits to research-focused institutions. However, I’ve enjoyed getting creative in this exploration and I look forward to what today will bring.

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Hello from Zurich!

Hello all!  I am happy to check in from the Hotel St. Joseph in Zurich.  I have spent the last week on the whirlwind trip of a lifetime across Switzerland.  Across the span of a week, I explored Zurich, Lausanne, Fribourg, Zermatt, and much more!  Now it’s time for business.  Tomorrow starts our exploration of European higher education with trips to the University of Zurich and ETH.  I learned today that Einstein studied at ETH and that U of Zurich is the biggest university in the country.  What a treat to see them both!

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The Importance of a Global Education

I came across this article on the importance of a global education, and about how one Illinois university, understanding the importance of a global education, has begun to financially support all of their students to travel abroad.

I’m glad that the VT grad school has made a similar commitment by sponsoring our travels this summer!

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Oxford Blocks Google Docs

I hope that everyone is toasty and enjoying this beautiful dusting of snow.

In light of all of the conversation about technology that has been had in the Future Professoriate classes as well as in the majority of pedagogical workshops and conferences I have attended, I thought I’d share the following issue.

Within the last few weeks, Oxford University has blocked from campus the popular online collaboration tool, GoogleDocs.

Clearly, there are enormous benefits to integrating technology such as this into our students’ learning experience.  GoogleDocs, in particular, is a fantastic resource for real-time collaboration among students.

There are drawbacks, too, of course.  Generally, however, discussion that I’ve heard about the drawbacks of technology revolve around student tendencies toward distraction.  I’ve heard much less about upholding student privacy and safety online.

So I’d be interested in everyone’s opinion on this matter.  Has Oxford made the correct decision here?  How can we best provide students with a 21st century education while also protecting them from scams and hoaxes?

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Traveling with Technology

Happy Valentine’s Day, all!

I’m writing today with a Chronicle article that is relevant to our discussion at Tuesday’s Global Perspectives meeting about the benefits and drawbacks of traveling this summer with our (relatively heavy) laptops.

While this piece is written with a focus on those traveling to developing countries, I believe that it addresses very well the importance of allowing one’s self to become immersed in a new culture.  It can often be too easy, it explains, to travel abroad but to remain immersed in our familiar world of favorite music and television, for example.  But, it argues, if we can disconnect ourselves just a bit, we can focus on the new culture surrounding us.

I, for one, fully intend to bring some technology to help me to document my experiences, but here’s my pledge that I’ll take some time away from Netflix and my iPod to focus on the incredible journey that we’re about to experience.

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This semester is, for me, a semester of mentoring.  I have mentored, and have been mentored, informally for a very long time now, but this semester I took on a number of more formal mentoring roles.

The most drastic example of this is that I have been hired by the Psychology department to serve as the Graduate Peer Mentor for all graduate students who instruct upper-level courses.  The role comes with a number of new responsibilities for me, including coordinating our monthly “brown bag” discussions of pedagogical matters, and soliciting faculty for suggestions of the most relevant course material in an effort to create more standardized curricula for our graduate-instructed courses.

By far, my favorite part of the position, though, is interacting directly with instructors to discuss with them their concerns regarding students.  When I was a first-semester instructor, I was often overwhelmed in my new role, and I knew very little of the resources available to me or the protocol to be followed in the wide variety of situations that arise naturally over the course of the semester.  Over the semesters, I’ve learned a great deal, and I’m very excited to have the opportunity to use what I’ve learned to help others.

I’ve also recently taken on a number of undergraduate research assistants to help me with dissertation data collection.  I’ve mentored plenty of lab undergraduates in the past, and have very much enjoyed doing so, but this is my first opportunity to do so with students interested in my own, personal, research.  It’s a very positive experience helping others to explore this area of research that I’m so passionate about, and I love seeing their excitement and the questions and ideas that this excitement generates.

At the same time, I’ve also become involved in the Graduate-Undergraduate Mentorship Program.  The goal of this program is to allow undergraduate students to shadow graduate students in order to better understand the day-to-day workings of graduate life.  It’s been a far more thought-provoking process than I had anticipated.  I had my first meeting with my first mentee last week.  Rather than throwing her head-first into the (sometimes overwhelming) realities of graduate school that she could potentially learn from watching a doctoral student in action, I decided to first have an introductory meeting with her in which we could get to know each other.  I also tried to brainstorm for her a list of things that I wish that I would have learned before coming into graduate school.  It consisted of, but was not limited to:

  • You’re used to “doing it all”.  In graduate school, you’re going to focus much more narrowly, and that’s going to feel strange for a while.  But it’s worth it.  You have the opportunity to become an expert on your little piece of the world.
  • The GREs aren’t nearly as scary as they seem.  Get a stack of review books from the library, hole yourself up to study for a while, and you’ll be fine.
  • Classes are no longer the focus.  You won’t be fed knowledge anymore.  You’ll be able to discover it for yourself through your reading and your research.
  • Some people may try to tell you that teaching assistantships are not as valuable or as important as research assistantships.  Don’t listen to them.  I’ve had both, and I’ve gained a tremendous amount from both experiences.
  • Graduate school is hard.  It will test you.  But you’ll be stronger for it, and you’ll make fantastic friends along the way.  You’ll work through it together, and it will all be worth it in the end.
  • Never turn down an opportunity for free food.

As it turns out, thinking through this list for myself was, in some ways, very empowering.  It’s often difficult to recognize in ourselves the progress and growth that we have made, but I’m certainly no longer that same girl who was intimidated by the GRE.  Nor am I any longer that first-semester instructor, nervous about the idea of speaking in front of a classroom.  I’ve also come a long way from that time when I was in the shoes of my undergraduate research assistants, dipping my toes in the research ocean for the first time.  Apparently, I discovered, I’ve grown.

I came into this mentoring experience expecting to use what I’ve learned to become a resource to others, just as my mentors have guided and shaped me.  What I had not anticipated is that I would also learn a great deal from the process.  What a pleasant surprise!

So I ask you, blogosphere, what have you learned from your mentoring experiences?

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Citizen Scholarship

I’ve become involved this semester with Virginia Tech’s Citizen Scholar Program.  It’s a wonderful program with the goal of “encouraging graduate students to create a mutually beneficial partnership with the community by utilizing their research and academic skills to solve real-world problems”.

In short, it’s an outlet for students to take what they are learning in their extensive research and education and to apply it to the local community in a way that benefits everyone involved.

Thusfar, I’ve had a very positive experience with the program and its accompanying class.  It’s given me wonderful ideas and a great deal of motivation to go through with them.

Currently I am in the process of working with local preschools and daycares in an effort to help children with their executive function.

In the future, though, I’d also like to include an element of citizen scholarship/engagement in my teaching.  For example, I see a Developmental Psychology course as a prime opportunity to engage students with local nursing homes and daycares.  I fully believe that such opportunities would not only benefit the community, but would also benefit students by allowing them to think critically about what they learn as they apply their knowledge to the benefit of others.

I’ve also heard of professors setting aside $500 and asking their Developmental students to spend this money on age-appropriate toys for children.  Students write and have class discussions regarding why the toys are appropriate for various age groups, thus reinforcing course concepts in an applied setting.  Then toys are to be donated to local charities to be given to children in need.

I’m excited about setting this plan into action, and I’m curious about how I might be able to work similar ideas into other courses.

So, Blogosphere, how do you get your students engaged in citizen scholarship projects?  How do you get the projects off the ground?  With what types of projects have you had the most success?

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Dealing with Academic Setbacks

I’ll admit it.  I’m not perfect.  This is something that I think we, as academics and perhaps as human beings in general, have a hard time admitting.  But it’s the truth.

We live in a competitive world.  Grant money is scarce, publications are judged harshly for the sake of good science, and audience and committee members are critical for the same reason.

I, like many others, was raised to believe that, with hard work, I could accomplish anything.  During times like these, though, I must admit that this is not always the case.  Hard work is valuable, no doubt.  But sleepless nights and to-do lists completed do not necessarily equate to goals reached.  Sometimes our honest-to-goodness best is just not good enough.  Sometimes papers and posters are rejected.  Sometimes meetings and talks do not go well.  Sometimes funding does not come through.  Sometimes things just do not go as we hope.  The best laid plans…

As such, I’m currently facing an academic setback.  It’s my first, and I suspect that it will not be my last.  It’s something that we all face from time to time, and I’m very fortunate that this minor deviation from plans is the worst that I have seen so far in my career.

I’m also fortunate in that I know that I will be stronger for having faced this situation.  I will learn from my mistakes and I will forever be stronger.  I’ve also learned that I have an invaluable support system in my friends and that I will never be alone in my struggles to become the best that I can be.

So, ultimately, I must admit that this setback is, perhaps, not a setback at all.  Rather, it is a deviation from my plans that is leading me down an even better path than I had once imagined.

For now, though, I’ll take time to reflect and to move onto the lesser-known sixth stage of the Kubler-Ross model of grief– BAKING.

How about you, blogosphere?  How do you react when things don’t quite go to plan?  I’ll be happy to share fresh-baked bread with those with helpful insight.  ;)


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It’s probably no secret by now that I’m a GradHacker addict.

Today they released an entry that so expressed what I’ve felt in my experience thusfar in academia that I believe that any attempt I made at elaborating upon the subject would only pale in comparison to the original entry.

The topic was “sucstress” :

“Sucstress can strike whenever we are so used to rejection or things going poorly, and as a result, we don’t know how to handle success when it finally does comes

Be still my heart.  It’s certainly something special to know that the insecurities we feel are common to many.

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