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Sleep.

At first glance, it may seem like a waste of time, especially to those with a go-go-go, Type A personality. There is an obvious recognition that sleep is necessary, but it can also be accompanied by a twinge of guilt since nothing tangible seems to get accomplished after a visit from Mr. Sandman. As a result, people tend to cheat on sleep, in some cases cutting a few hours a night. Instead of the recommended 7 to 9 hours for most teens and adults, many people get only 4 or 5 or 6 hours.

Despite protests to the contrary by many, teens and adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night to function at 100-percent capacity.
Despite protests to the contrary, teens and adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night to function at 100-percent capacity.

“Most of us think we can get by very well with less sleep, but studies have shown that only a tiny percentage of people can function as well on less than 7 hours of sleep per night,” says Mary Pat Lamberti, assistant professor of nursing at Southern. “It affects us physically, such as our reaction time being reduced; cognitively, not being able to perform as well on tests; emotionally, perhaps being less in control of our emotions; and health-wise, with our immune systems being compromised.”

She says that many myths continue, such as the amount of sleep that young adults need. Some feel that since high school and college students are young and can recover physically from stresses better than older folks, the same must be true for staying up late and getting up early. But the evidence points otherwise, according to Lamberti, who did her doctoral dissertation on sleep among college students. Similarly, the notion that senior citizens need less sleep than the rest of us is also a myth, she says.

Lamberti says that Americans are getting less sleep and reduced sleep quality today than 30 years ago. “This is probably due, at least in part, to our hyper-connected world and the hectic pace of society,” she says.

High school and college students tend to be the worst culprits of sleep deprivation, she says. “There are a lot of demands for their time – school, job, sports, social activities. Those habits learned during adolescence and young adulthood tend to continue in adulthood.”

So, what should we do? Lamberti offers several suggestions to improve sleeping habits.

*Go to bed and get up at about the same time each day. “Your body needs to be trained in terms of when to fall asleep and when to wake up,” she says. “Consistency pays off.”

*Sleep in a darkened room. This signals to the brain that it’s nighttime and time to sleep. Having the TV on, lights on, etc. can trick the brain into thinking it’s still daytime. That may help to keep us up a little longer if we really need to on a given night, but we’ll pay for it.

*Try to avoid watching TV, eating, or reading while in bed. Again, this helps train the brain that when you’re in bed, it’s time to sleep.

*Caffeine should be avoided in the evenings, and for some people, should cease after lunchtime.

*Alcohol and many other drugs affect sleep patterns, resulting in a less-than-refreshing night of sleep.

*On the other hand, exercising helps, especially if it done 4 to 6 hours before sleep. It takes a while to wind down from a hard workout, so avoid strenuous activity immediately before going to bed.

*Turn off the computer a few hours before sleep. The computer stimulates parts of the brain and can delay sleep.

Managing finances has always been a challenge for college students, who are often on a tight budget and on their own for the first time.

But in recent years, students are borrowing more to pay for college, resulting in skyrocketing loan debt. In fact, student loan debt in America exceeded $1 trillion in 2014 with more than 40 million Americans having incurred some of that debt.

Student loan debt is saddling graduates for many years after college. But steps can be taken to reduce those long-term costs.
Student loan debt is saddling graduates for many years after college. But steps can be taken to reduce those long-term costs.

Lew DeLuca, Southern’s new coordinator for student financial literacy and advisement, says that while loans help millions of students each year, it is important that they and their parents understand the ramifications of debt and what steps can be taken to minimize it.

“Students often don’t realize how much cheaper it is to save money now, rather than borrowing money and paying it back later,” he said. “Interest really adds up.”

He offers several suggestions to students and parents on how to keep this debt under control:

*If you receive a refund from your financial aid office (because costs sometimes turn out to be less than the amount of money requested in the loan), give serious consideration to paying it back. While it may be a lot more fun to use that money to go on a trip or buy various items, you can reduce the long-term pain of debt if you sacrifice a little now. Remember, if you didn’t get the refund, you might not ever miss it. DeLuca acknowledges that there are circumstances when students genuinely need the refund money for expenses. But if it is possible to pay at least some of the refund back, do it.

*Do your best to graduate in 4 years. We know this is not always possible. Some students switch majors, or may have major or diploma requirements that make this difficult. But consider taking classes in the summer or winter, if possible, especially if you find yourself behind in credits. DeLuca says the cost to attend one additional year at a college or university is substantial. “You not only have the tuition and other expenses associated with another year at school, but you could be losing a starting salary for a year, or part of a year.” For example, if someone with an entry level job in your field would typically make $40,000, add that to the cost for another year of tuition, fees, books and other expenses. Typical college students could be looking at a real cost of $60,000, $70,000, or more. And if that job offers its employees a 3-percent raise after the first year, you would be losing out on that amount in subsequent years. “It really adds up!” DeLuca says.

*Try to keep your student loan debt to an amount that is less than the starting salary of your first job after graduation. Not only is this wise financially, but psychologically. To owe more money than you know you are going to make next year can be quite a psychological burden.

*Find a college that fits into your financial reality. There are many quality schools that are relatively inexpensive compared to others. This can be a good option for students, especially if you are interested in pursuing a particular program that has an excellent reputation at a less expensive college or university.

*Sound financial guidance can be money in your pocket. Don’t be afraid to seek financial advice from a reputable financial planner.

DeLuca was selected recently to fill the newly created position of coordinator of student financial literacy and advisement at Southern. The university financial literacy and advising webpage offers additional facts and tips about student loan debt.

Starting a new school year brings both challenges (expected and unexpected) and opportunities. It gives students a chance for a fresh start — a way to right some of the wrongs from the previous year and to exceed expectations. But to do so, it is important to have a plan of action.

Students wishing to improve their chances for a successful year should begin with a plan before the first day of classes.
Students wishing to improve their chances for a successful year should begin with a plan before the first day of classes.

Today, Wise Words offers the last half of a 2-part series on how to start the year off right and lay the groundwork for a successful year.

Part II

Kelly McNamara, assistant professor of counseling and school psychology at Southern and a former school psychologist in both Connecticut and Massachusetts, shares her suggestions:

*Develop a schedule…Using the previous tips as a guideline, create a plan to get everything done (including fun). “If you tend to be a more detail-oriented person, or an overachiever, a schedule can help reduce feelings of anxiousness that may arise when contemplating how all of the tasks you have taken on will actually get done,” McNamara says. “If you tend to have more of a laid back, go-with-the-flow type of personality, a schedule can help provide an anchor to keep you grounded so that you are less likely to get caught up in the here-and-now, running out of time for completing assignments and having fun.”

*…But be flexible… “Life has a way of throwing us curveballs, so make sure there is room in any schedule to move things around,” she says. “On any given day, you may need to spend more time completing assignments; a fun activity may run later than expected; a project may take longer than you thought it would; your club meeting or sporting event may run late; or you may need to pick up am extra shift at work.”

*…And find some balance. “Certainly, there will be times when you are spending more time studying, working and completing assignments than you might like,” she says. “But it is important to remember that spending all of your time studying and completing assignments, working or even going to meetings or practice can start to feel routine. Try to balance your time so that you are (fulfilling your obligations), but also spending time with your friends, family and having some fun. “This balance is often hard to achieve, but if we plan for it, and consciously try to achieve it, we have a better chance of realizing it.”

*Establish priorities. Since balance can be difficult to achieve, know what really matters so that you can be sure to put what matters first when time runs short. “It can be really challenging to figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life, and you may even change your mind a few times along the way,” McNamara says. “But at any given time, it’s important to have an idea of where you want to go, and have a plan to get there. So, decide what is important to you, and make sure that this priority, or those priorities, show up prominently in your schedule and in your life.”

Good luck to all the students — and their parents — for a successful 2014-15 school year!

The start of a new school year generally spurs a bit of anxiety to students – especially for those about to enter a new school. Who doesn’t have some butterflies in their stomach the night before classes begin, or when meeting your teacher for the first time?

But along with that angst and a need to prove your scholastic mettle once again, September also offers the opportunity for a fresh start. In baseball, if a pitcher’s ERA was uncharacteristically high the previous year, or if a hitter’s batting average was surprisingly low, spring training offers hope and promise to turn things around.

A new school year offers students parallel academic opportunities – reclaiming a spot on the honor roll, a chance to boost your overall average and class rank, successfully completing an Advanced Placement course to earn college credit. Last year was last year. This year is now.

A new school year gives students a chance for a fresh start. Wise Words offers some tips on how to start the new school year off right.
A new school year gives students a chance for a fresh start. Wise Words offers some tips on how to start the new school year off right.

But what steps can you take to start the school year off right? Kelly McNamara, assistant professor of counseling and school psychology at Southern, offers several suggestions. She is a former school psychologist having worked in Connecticut and Massachusetts schools.

Today, Wise Words launches a 2-part series on how to start the new school year off right. McNamara shares her ideas in both posts.

Part I

*Learn from those who walked the path before you. Talk to students who recently completed the course or year you are about to start. Ask about workload, topics addressed in classes, teachers/instructors and other important pieces of information that will help prepare you for the year to come. While finding out that Mr. Jones or Ms. Smith is a tough teacher is good to know, ask what specifically makes them so tough. What do they like or dislike? Similarly, you might hear that sophomore English is very difficult. But then ask why and what kinds of assignments are forthcoming. “Remember, people will differ in their opinions about what was enjoyable, tolerable or unpleasant, so be sure to get a variety of opinions,” McNamara says.

*Seek guidance. Talking to a guidance counselor, or perhaps a teacher or two, can answer some questions and concerns you might have. Maybe you had a good relationship with last year’s algebra teacher. Ask them what geometry will be like. If you don’t know any students to talk with about a course or year, counselors might even be able to help put you in touch with someone. “These professionals are great resources to help you navigate the unknown at school,” she says.

*Have some fun. In fact, plan for it. Various studies show that engagement in school is important, yielding benefits to students, such as higher academic achievement and lower dropout rates. “One way to be more engaged in school is to have something that you look forward to and motivates you to be there,” McNamara says. “Find something you enjoy and do it, whether it is a class that is interesting, a sport you love, or a club that fulfills your creative or volunteer spirit. It’s a lot easier to get out of bed and get to class when you have something motivating that is waiting for you.”

*Make the most of your electives. Most schools have a certain number of required, or core courses. For example, every sophomore might need to take English II. But electives are those classes in your schedule that you choose to take. For example, you may need to take five classes next year, but only three of them are core courses, leaving room for two electives. Courses in the arts are frequently electives, as are those in computer science. But even additional courses in the “basics” can be electives, such as going beyond your three-year requirement in foreign languages and taking a fourth year of a language. “Use these ‘flexible’ credits to make the most of your school experience, whether it’s for fun or to help you achieve your goals,” she says. McNamara points out that a larger number of students today apply to majors or specialized schools when applying to college (such as engineering). Electives can be a way to provide you with specialized training and give you a “leg up” on the competition.

Coming soon:

Part II – More helpful hints to start the new school year out right

The application interview for prospective graduate school students can make the difference between being a contender on paper and actually getting accepted.

It is important to be 'ready' for a graduate admissions interview. Consider at least a few practice sessions before the big day.
It is important to be ‘ready’ for a graduate admissions interview. Consider at least a few practice sessions before the big day.

Today, Wise Words concludes a 3-part series on applying to grad school with a look at the interview and the potential value of participating in academic conferences. In Part I, we focused on the importance of self-awareness and gathering information about potential schools before applying.
In Part II, we examined the admissions essay, test and letters of recommendation.

“You should consider the interview as an opportunity to provide the individual or committee interviewing you with as much information as possible, while also trying to stress your strengths and weaknesses,” says Shirley Jackson, graduate school coordinator for the Sociology Department at Southern. “Therefore, you should really think about how you might respond to various questions.”

One way to prepare for the interview is to ask a friend or someone you trust to throw questions your way in a mock interview setting. It can be even more effective if that individual has strong interview skills, or is familiar with the types of questions a college or university may ask an applicant.

Jackson suggests this Web page at Catholic University that provides examples of the types of questions that may be asked during the interview.

“Remember, an interview for graduate school is much like an interview for a job,” she says. “You are trying to sell yourself as the best candidate for admission and the department is trying to sell itself as the best option for someone who is looking at a number of possible programs.”

Be Part of the ‘Conference Scene’

Academic conferences abound in higher education – in almost every discipline. While professors and graduate students generally participate in greater numbers than undergrads, there are opportunities for everyone to participate.

At Southern, undergrads often team up with faculty members on interesting and valuable research projects. This is beneficial for many reasons, including the visibility and notoriety gained through being associated with scholarly research. “There are even undergraduate research conferences to help to familiarize the novice conference attendee and participant,” Jackson says.

“Once you learn to navigate the ‘conference scene,’ it will become something that is enjoyable and less intimidating,” Jackson says.

And Finally…

Be prepared to make a time commitment when searching for a graduate school. “Applying to grad school can be like having a part-time job,” Jackson says. “It takes a bit of work to find a program that works for you.”

Indiscriminately getting into any program – without doing your homework and figuring out what you want to pursue — may not be a good idea because the chances of completing the degree are reduced, she adds.

But finding the right program and the right school can be valuable to your career and your future. A little effort now – okay, sometimes a lot of effort – can pay big dividends later.

Good luck in your search!

The undergraduate college essay can be a source of stress for prospective students. Many of us can relate to the angst of trying to put together an “admissions-winning” composition.

The same often holds true for students writing an essay as part of their application package for grad school.

In Part I of this 3-part series, we looked at the importance of self-awareness and gathering information about potential schools before applying to graduate school. Today, Wise Words explores the admissions essay, admissions tests and letters of recommendation — three crucial components of the application process.

The application process for graduate school involves many of the components as at the undergraduate level -- and can be just as stressful.
The application process for graduate school involves many of the components as at the undergraduate level — and can be just as stressful.

Shirley Jackson, graduate coordinator of Southern’s Sociology Department, recommends that students write their graduate school admissions essay in a scholarly fashion. “I constantly tell my (undergraduate students) that when they write assignment or papers, they should write in a scholarly fashion and to revise their work,” she says. “I do that for good reason. Both a scholarly style of writing and a heavily revised essay are key to writing the graduate school essay.”

While her next suggestion may be a given to most prospective graduate students, it may be necessary to remind a few folks, especially in this day of electronic access to all kinds of materials.

Do not use websites that offer to write personal essays for a fee. In addition to a person’s honesty and academic integrity being at stake, pragmatically it doesn’t make sense to risk your reputation with another person’s work. “There is a good chance someone will find out, and your career as a graduate student can be over before it begins.” Jackson says.

Instead, Jackson suggests buying a book that can be helpful in writing the essay. “Bookstores have sections on graduate and professional schools in their reference section,” she says. “Check through their shelves to see what may be most helpful to you.”

Admissions Tests

Jackson points out that many grad programs will require taking a particular type of admissions test (GRE, LSAT, etc.) as part of the admissions process. “The test scores may not alone result in admission, but they are usually considered with the rest of a person’s application materials (essay, transcripts, letters of recommendation, etc.)”

One of the most often required tests for grad study in the social sciences and business schools is the Graduate Records Examination (GRE). It is offered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS). The following link provides information about the admission tests:
http://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/about)

Those considering law school should prepare for an extremely competitive process, according to Jackson. She suggests the following link from the Law School Admissions Council for information about the LSAT (Law School Admissions Test): http://www.lsac.org

Some people are better test takers than others, of course. Jackson says those who are not good test takers should consider taking one of the preparation courses offered by Kaplan or Princeton Review, or checking whether there are sample test questions available through the test administrators for your particular entrance examination. Bookstores also have a large selection of test preparation books.

Letters of Recommendation

Just as you should do during the undergraduate school application process or with a job opening, give the people you are asking enough time to write a thoughtful letter. “These letters will carry a great deal of weight, especially if they can help offset weak test scores or a low GPA,” Jackson says.

She suggests:

*Choose your letter writers carefully. It may not be enough to have someone write a letter to simply say that you have received an “A” in their course, especially if the course is not related to the major or does not draw upon the skills necessary to show your potential as a grad student.

*A letter from a professor who taught a class in which you earned a “B” might be a good candidate under certain circumstances.

*Consider letters from professors who taught courses where much writing was required, or in which you wrote a research paper.

*Think about seeking letters from those professors who know you well. Do not be offended if a professor declines to write a letter. The professor may simply not know you as well as you think, or perhaps may not believe they can write a strong enough letter to support your application. If that happens, simply seek out another professor.

*Employers may also be good options, especially if they can speak to your level of commitment, positive character traits and ability to work well with others.

Coming Soon:

Part III — Admissions Interviews and Other Words of Wisdom

While we prepare to celebrate Independence Day on July 4, you might be interested to know that the Second Continental Congress actually approved a resolution declaring the United States an independent nation on July 2, 1776.

Many historians contend that America's actual date of independence is July 2, 1776.
Many historians contend that America’s actual date of independence is July 2, 1776.

In fact, John Adams originally thought that would be the date that we commemorate each year.

“What are you doing for the Second of July?” could very easily have been the question we ask our friends around this time of year.

So, how did July 4 become the national holiday?

Check out a previous post that offers some trivia about our nation’s birthday. Some of the factoids may surprise you.

Happy 4th! And Happy 2nd, too!

The rigor of the undergraduate college selection/admission process is well-known.

But if you ask people to explain what it takes to select and be admitted to graduate school, you are likely to get a sea of blank stares. After all, even in well-educated Connecticut, only about 16 percent of the population attains a graduate or professional degree.

Applying to graduate school -- and finding the right program -- is often more time consuming and involved than people think.
Applying to graduate school — and finding the right program — is often more time consuming and involved than people think.

“Many students do not consider graduate school as an option until their last year of undergraduate study. This leaves students with only one semester in many cases to prepare the application for graduate school,” says Shirley Jackson, graduate coordinator for the Sociology Department at Southern. She recently presented a workshop called “Everything You Need to Know About Applying to Graduate School Workshop.”

Today, Wise Words begins a 3-part series on navigating the graduate school process for the first time. Jackson offers her recommendations in each post.

Part I:

The first thing that a potential student should consider is whether they should go to grad school, and if so, why. She says while people are familiar with the sometimes painstaking process of getting into the undergraduate program of their choice, choosing and applying to graduate schools also requires time and attention.

“The process of applying to graduate school should not be taken lightly,” Jackson says. “It involves a lot of work. You should spend time researching programs of study, universities, faculty and funding opportunities. Information is readily available via the Internet, through bookstores and your department.”

She suggests that prospective graduate students contact the schools that they are most interested in, as well as ask those schools about the possibility of talking with graduate students currently in the program.

Jackson recommends reading “Best Graduate Schools” in U.S. News & World Report to get an idea of the strength of a school’s program. She also says this U.S. News link offers valuable information for potential grad school applicants:

Jackson notes that competition can be more intense at the graduate level than at the undergraduate level. “A much smaller number of students are admitted into graduate programs,” she says. “You are in competition with students from all over the state, nation and/or the world.”

As a result of the competition, Jackson offers two handy suggestions:

*When considering graduate school or professional school, do not limit yourself to applying to one school. You should apply to as many schools as you can afford and reasonably expect to be a successful candidate for admissions.

*Familiarize yourself with the requirements for admission and then work to go beyond these minimum requirements to increase your chances for admission.

(Southern’s School of Graduate Studies is holding its spring open house from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Monday, June 23, at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport. Several new program offerings will be showcased.)

Coming soon:

Part II — A look at the graduate school essay, admissions tests and letters of recommendation

As students approach the end of the school year/semester, you can sense the anticipatory joy that fills the school hallways and classrooms. But this time of year also often brings with it the anxiety of finishing term papers and theses.

Trying to write an “A” or “B” paper can be challenging enough, but figuring out what to footnote and what not to footnote can be a tedious, even painstaking process. Yet, it’s a crucial component of the writing process if you want to avoid plagiarism, an academic cardinal sin that can derail a person’s college career.

It is better to err on the side of citing, rather than not citing, information on an academic paper to guard against plagiarism.
It is better to err on the side of citing, rather than not citing, information on an academic paper to guard against plagiarism.

Wendy Hardenberg, instruction coordinator at Southern’s Buley Library who also teaches a freshman Inquiry class, says a surprising number of students don’t have a clear understanding of what plagiarism is when they first get to college. As a result, some students actually commit plagiarism accidentally.

“It’s still bad even if you didn’t mean to do it,” she says. “In fact, consequences of plagiarism can range from getting a poor grade on an assignment to failing a class outright.”

And the consequences don’t always end with your academic career. “You can actually lose a high-profile job years in the future because someone finds that you plagiarized your dissertation,” Hardenberg says.

“Plagiarism basically means presenting someone else’s ideas and/or writing as your own,” she says. “If you found something somewhere else, you have to tell your reader!”

Hardenberg offers a few clarifications and tips on avoiding plagiarism:

*Cutting and pasting a quote from someone is fine — as long as you put their words in quotation marks and indicate where you found the quote.

*You can paraphrase instead of quoting directly, but paraphrasing also has to be cited. And paraphrasing does not mean just changing a few words. If you find yourself only changing a few words, you might well be better off using a direct quote.

*Remember, if you can Google the quote, your professor can, too. And many professors have lots of experience checking on whether quotes or parts of a paper were “lifted” from another source without attribution. This is especially true in this era of electronic media.

*Copyright infringement and plagiarism are not the same thing. Copyright infringement is a legal issue, while plagiarism is an academic honesty problem.

*When in doubt, cite it!

(Incidentally, Hardenberg recently competed on Jeopardy!, where she placed a close 2nd to a defending champion who had been victorious on 20 consecutive shows. Check out an article that appeared in the New Haven Register before the show aired on May 30.)

Everyone has stress in their lives. And the sources are many.

It can be the seemingly endless nights of crying babies; the increased job workload in which you think you’ll never get your head above water for the foreseeable future; or the anxiety of upcoming SATs or final exams.

But regardless of where it is coming from, stress can easily beget more stress — unless you take the time to slow down, figure out why your heart and mind are racing, and take constructive action.

Denise Zack, an assistant counselor in the University Counseling Services Center at Southern, explains that the increased heart rate and blood pressure, as well as other common symptoms of anxiety, are related to the region of the brain that responds to stress.

“The limbic system – which is a primal and very old part of the brain — interprets stimuli using your five senses to determine whether you are in danger,” Zack says.

Exercising the pre-frontal cortex of the brain during stressful situations can train the brain to react more rationally under pressure in the long run.
Exercising the pre-frontal cortex of the brain during stressful situations can train the brain to react more rationally under pressure in the long run.

Even though not getting your report finished on time or being 10 minutes late for your next appointment is unlikely to result in bodily harm or terrible consequences, these kinds of episodes can trigger the primitive part of the brain to trigger the “fight, flight or freeze” response.

“This part of the brain has been conditioned to interpret everyday interactions in much the same way a caveman would respond to life or death situations with a saber-tooth tiger,” Zack says. “The amygdala (a part of the brain) determines that a situation is stressful or dangerous and releases cortisol, adrenalin and other stress hormones into your system. That automatically sets off a cascading series of physical and emotional responses that can be very distressing.

“This can occur periodically or chronically and leave an individual feeling overwhelmed. Aside from the immediate results of these hormones raging through our blood and increasing tension, the long-term effects can wreak havoc on your physical and mental well-being.”

Zack says that over time, a patterned way of responding to similar stimuli or situations can develop. “The neurons that begin to fire together are now wired together, and an individual may feel powerless to change it.”

She notes that when the limbic part of the brain is stimulated, it makes it much more difficult for a person to engage in logical or rational thought. But by taking a deep breath and thinking about what is happening, people can access the pre-frontal cortex region of the brain, which is responsible for rational, logical thought.

To access the pre-frontal cortex part of the brain, Zack recommends asking yourself questions like:

  • Is this an old pattern (of physiological or psychological response)?
  • What is my emotional reaction beckoning me to work on?
  • Given my insight, what are my options in addressing the stressful situation?

She says this type of thinking can begin to “rewire” the brain.

“When the pre-frontal cortex is being used, more blood flow is sent to that region and by default, less blood flow is sent to the limbic region of the brain,” Zack says. “In addition, new neural pathways are formed because the individual is now thinking about their response, as opposed to simply having a reaction.”