- If someone in your family talks about clean eating, tell them there is no such thing. It's all a big marketing scam. (Okay, this one might turn into a fight. Sorry).
- Does someone in your family enjoy hunting and fishing? Bring up the conservation of public lands (listen to this podcast)
- Learn some fun facts to change the subject (just in case things get tense) from the database: What America Ate.
- Talk about Genetically Modified Foods, and why public opinion differs so drastically from scientific opinion on the subject. Should we label?
- If a relative starts droning on about dieting, remind them of the importance of intuitive eating and healthy food attitudes. Or, if they must talk about diet, tell them to talk about this one.
Since this is a political science blog, let's talk about politics and the holidays. The cliche is families that fight about politics over turkey. If you're not sure how politics will be received at home, take this quiz: Should you talk about politics over the holidays? Let me suggest, however, that instead of getting into a fight you might consider switching the topic to Food Politics! Need some ideas?
Finals are rapidly approaching, and crunch time is here. Take a deep breath, remember to have perspective (this is not life or death), and get ready to dive in to studying. For those students who feel desperately behind or overwhelmed, also bear in mind that you are not alone and the best thing to do is meet with your professor and make a plan. Having a plan will feel much better than avoidance.
Once you have a plan (or if you had one all along) then the next thing to think about is how to maximize your studying time. Effective studying will look different for every student, but here are some of the techniques that you might find useful. I recommend trying several, then narrowing down on just a few that you find most helpful.
Make your own study guide: Read through your notes and highlight the things you find to be the most important, main points, and major connections. If you were using effective note taking techniques over the course of the semester, this will be easier, but even if not, you can still do this. Once you've highlighted the most important points of your notes, re-write your own study guide using bullet points, highlighting and underlining particularly important information, and using arrows or other pictorial notations to indicate connections between subject matter.
Flashcards: This technique can be particularly helpful for studying content from your textbook. Make flashcards with important concepts, vocabulary, and ideas. Do not limit yourself to bolded vocabulary words. Instead, consider the major headings and subsections of each chapter. Look at the important concepts and suggestions for the review in the back of each chapter. These resources are there for a reason, use them!
Timeline: For history and government classes, in particular, making a timeline and taping it above your desk can be particularly helpful. Sometimes when studying these subjects, we cram a lot of information, but forget the big picture. Creating a timeline of events and milestones can help students have perspective and a broader understanding of the material they're learning about.
Study Groups: I find that study groups are most useful after you have spent some time studying independently. If everyone in your study group has spent time on their own studying, then coming together to compare study guides, clarify confusing concepts, and discuss possible exam questions can be helpful. I do not recommend group studying as a place to start, since students can sometimes begin to "group think" and lead each other astray.
Visit the professor: Once you have spent time studying on your own and with classmates, make an appointment with the professor. Have questions written down or sections of your notes highlighted where you were confused or need elaboration. If there are any gaps in your notes that your fellow classmates couldn't help you fill in, you can ask the professor to help you. Discuss the test format, if the professor did not explain it to the class, and consider how you can gear your studying to that format.
Eat, drink water, sleep plenty, let your brain rest. When you study, use the Pomodoro technique, or otherwise give yourself periods of intense focus interspersed with periods of rest. Rest is essential to learning and to being human. Don't "pull all nighters," do take care of yourself.
Receiving and incorporating feedback is something that is challenging for even the most seasoned of writers.
Feedback can often feel like someone is telling you that you aren't good enough, that your work or writing isn't valuable, and that perhaps you as a human aren't sufficient. That feeling is a lie! That is not what feedback is about.
Feedback, when given in the spirit of constructive helpfulness, is about improvement. Your teachers, fellow students, and eventual coworkers and bosses, all want you to be your best self and produce your best work. They (hopefully) want to build you up, not tear you down. So let's talk about how to use feedback. To start with, the writing center at UNC has this helpful guide to getting, understanding, and effectively using feedback on your writing.
So knowing that feedback isn't about being mean, and it IS about helping you reach full potential, what are some ways to make feedback work for you?
It's nearing the end of the fall semester and many of you will be asked to fill out evaluations of your professors and their classes. Unfortunately, most of your professors can't (or won't) bribe you to do this. And in fact, there is bountiful evidence that student evaluations are poor measures of student learning and professor effectiveness. Nonetheless, it's important to most of your professors that you complete them since these evaluations are used in tenure and promotion decisions. Given that, I'd like to say a few words about them.
First, please offer constructive comments! Here are two examples of what that might look like (taken from past course evaluations for my public policy course):
On the other hand, vague comments are not very helpful. For example:
Second, try to consider the language you use and what biases might be at work. Ask yourself if you have fair and realistic expectations from your professors, or if there are some expectations may have been operating unconsciously and influencing your perceptions of the class. Try to write your evaluations based on the course itself, not based on your feelings about the professor's attitude or likability - doing this will also help ensure that you are writing constructive comments.
Your professors care about what you think and how their courses worked for you. Above all else, they care that you learn. So please take these evaluations seriously! Tell your professors (in a constructive way) if there are ways that they can help you learn more effectively or make the course work better for you. And tell them what you liked, what they shouldn't change, and what you'd want to see again!
Throughout the semester it is important for students to check in with themselves, mentally, emotionally, and physically. Take stock of how you're feeling across the board. Does your body feel run down and exhausted? Are you running on a high of stress and caffeine?
Taking just 5 minutes to check in with your body can help you assess where you are and what you might need to adjust to make it through the remainder of the semester. Your university will almost certainly have a variety of resources that you can, and should, make use of. These resources range from academic assistance such as writing centers, to free counseling and mental health services, to affordable or free health clinics and vaccinations. But in addition to those services, there are a few minor things you can do right away to get back on track.
Are you struggling with racing thoughts?
This week, inspired by terrific work by Mirya Holman, I want to talk just a little bit about peer mentoring. Often when we think about mentors we think about older, wiser people who will guide us. But peer mentors are incredibly important for undergraduate and graduate students as well. You can be a mentor yourself, and find a mentor among people you already know. Perhaps it sounds silly to you to even talk about peer mentors when you're in college. Let me assure that it is not.
So, why peer mentors?
For students who struggle to know when they are "done" with an assignment or paper, having a final checklist can be helpful. If you are one of these students, here are a few minor things you can do to make sure you're getting full credit on class essays /papers and that you are producing your best work. Below, I present to you a pre-submission check list. If you do all of these things before submitting an assignment, you should be setting yourself up for success.
 Did I utilize all required class materials? If I was still not confident about the subject, did I use any supplementary materials provided?
 Did I actually clearly address all questions asked in the prompt?
 Did I understand the purpose of the writing assignment and write something insightful and interesting in response? Would I want to read my own work?
 Does my paper flow in a logical and organized manner?
 Did I appropriately cite (in-text) class resources in my response?
 If I used outside sources: were they appropriate academic sources, and did I appropriately cite them (both in-text and works cited)?
 Did I make any unfounded claims without backing them up? If so, consider removing the claim or looking for evidence.
 Have I checked my grammar, spelling, and punctuation?
 Check for consistency. For example, am I using the same tense (present / past) throughout?
 Is my writing concise? Remove unnecessary words meant to impress people or lengthen my word count (these don't fool the professor).
 Did I remember to include the word count or page numbers, if required?
 Did I put my name, and any other required heading information, on this assignment
For Online Discussion:
 If this is a discussion board posting, was my response to a fellow classmate kind, clear, and a good-faith response to their posting?
 Did I engage my classmates in a way that I would want to be engaged with?
For a research paper:
 Do I clearly state the purpose of the paper? Do I explicitly state the motivating research question?
 Do I provide a roadmap of what is to come in the paper?
 Do I have at least one sentence that explains why anyone cares about this research?
 Have I engaged with the research on the subject? (In other words, I read a variety of research, understand it, and know where I fit in to it).
 Did I clearly explain how I conducted my research?
 Do I summarize main points for the reader?
 Does my conclusion clearly state what I set out to do and what I found?
Often undergraduate (and graduate) students struggle to read academic work, and even textbooks, effectively. Reading academic work is a skill, and it differs drastically from reading for pleasure. Here, I offer you advice on how to effectively and efficiently read for class.
When reading an academic journal article, begin by identifying the research question and the main argument (thesis) of the article. This is the most important part of reading: understanding the main argument. You should be able to distill the main argument of an article in to two to three sentences that clearly capture the findings and significance of that work. Once you have identified the question and thesis, you can begin to discover how the author makes their case.
In an ideal world, you will go through each of those steps to deconstruct an article and analyze what you're reading. But we all know that you may be reading under time pressures or constraints, and you may not realistically be able to sit down and deconstruct every article you are assigned. What then?
You'll still need to begin by identifying the thesis of the article, but instead of mapping out the argumentation, variables, and methods, you can use heuristics to grasp the basic point of the article. Here is a great resource on how to best use heuristics and keywords to improve comprehension when doing quick reading. A few additional pointers are as follows:
Let's break down the research process a little. For college classes, and even for future jobs, you may be required to do research from time to time. While it's tempting to go straight to wikipedia, and that's a fine starting place, it's not a good ending place. In fact, you should NEVER cite wikipedia in an academic paper. So what should you do? How do you start to write a paper on a topic you know very little to nothing about?
Our mantra for this post: a goal without a plan is just a wish. What is your plan for this week?
1. Begin by mapping out major milestones, goals, and deadlines for the semester.
2. Look at your calendar for the week and month and identify those major deadlines and goals you set for yourself.
3. Fill in your guideposts - when do you have classes? If you have a job, when will you be at work? When will you workout, rest, or relax? Allow yourself to have a work/life balance.
4. What are your MUST DOs for the week and what do you need to work on to move toward other goals? What are the things you'd like to do, if you have time?
5. Start with your MUST DO tasks. Do the hardest and most important things during the times of day when you are at your best and most focused.
6. Every day this week look at the calendar you made and stick to it. Reach those goals. Do the studying, write the papers, apply for that job or grad school or internship or sign up for that GRE. Whatever it is that you need to do to make it happen.
7. Celebrate your achievements!