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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.”

It’s that time of year again — the weather turns warmer, the grass is green and the birds are chirping in the morning. But if you’re a student, these picturesque spring days can be accompanied by a knot in your stomach as you work to finish term papers and prepare for final exams.

For most college students, early May is crunch time. High school students generally get a reprieve until after Memorial Day, when the reality of June finals really starts to hit home.

High school and college students are urged to take regular breathers during their cramming sessions as they prepare for final exams. A few minutes of fresh air and self-reflection can lower stress levels and enable a person to study more effectively.
High school and college students are urged to take regular breathers during their cramming sessions as they prepare for final exams. A few minutes of fresh air and self-reflection can lower stress levels and enable a person to study more effectively.

Everyone approaches finals week a little differently. Let’s face it – some people are just better at handling stress than others. But it is very easy to get caught up in the moment – studying, writing and fretting for hours at a time with little or no down time. While diligence is instrumental in preparing for finals, it is also important to remember to “Take Five.”

Denise Zack, an assistant counselor in the University Counseling Services Center at Southern, points to the importance of students giving themselves periodic breathers despite the frenetic pace that often accompanies finals week. She says that it is important from time to time to take a step back and reflect upon what is actually happening and see the bigger picture.

“Getting ready for finals can be a very difficult time,” Zack says. “It usually means added stress because more time and energy is given to the task of studying, which takes time away from other activities and responsibilities. It is important to remember that you need to take time to be reflective and mindful about how you are managing the added pressure.

“You may say there aren’t enough hours in the day to take just five minutes for yourself. You manage to come up with excuses for not caring for yourself or listening to your body and your needs go unmet. But by now, you also know that your energy gets depleted and your immune system may weaken from the stress. Something must change and the change must originate from you.”

Zack explains that by getting caught up in the worry, the amygdala part of the brain releases cortisol, adrenalin and other stress hormones that can raise blood pressure, heart rate and lead to feelings of being overwhelmed.

In other words, stress begets stress. And studying when your heart is racing and feelings of worry are stimulated is even more difficult and less effective.

Zack presented a paper last week on this subject at the annual conference of the National Association of Social Workers.

For additional tips on handling the stress of finals week, check out a previous post.

Your favorite team has just won the championship game. You join with your fellow exuberant fans in celebrating the victory. High fives are exchanged. Chants are voiced. Perhaps a victory party is in the works.

At least that’s the way the overwhelming percentage of die-hard fans rejoice in their team’s triumph.

But for a select few, the normal celebratory practices are not enough. Instead of rehashing the game and chatting with their friends, they resort to tipping over cars, or worse, setting them on fire. Instead of a festive night on the town, they opt to riot in the town. Instead of popping the cork of champagne, they pop the windows of nearby establishments or vehicles.

The vast majority of sports fans can be counted on to behave properly during and after a game -- win or lose.
The vast majority of sports fans can be counted on to behave properly during and after a game — win or lose.

Why do some people resort to this kind of behavior when their team has just reached the pinnacle of success?

Granted, losing fans sometimes resort to this behavior, too. High doses of anger, frustration and disappointment can be a recipe for violent behavior. And that’s just as disturbing. But from a psychological standpoint, the “victory violence” is more of a mystery. What exactly about the thrill of victory sets people off?

Yet a small number of 'fans' paradoxically resort to violent behavior, such as vandalism and setting fires, after their team wins a national or international championship.
Yet a small number of ‘fans’ paradoxically resort to violent behavior, such as vandalism and setting fires, after their team wins a national or international championship.

The jury still appears to be out on this phenomenon, sometimes known as sports hooliganism.

“With the excitement of winning comes a physiological arousal,” says Gayle Bessenoff, an associate professor of psychology at Southern. “But it’s still a little bit of a mystery as to how that excitement turns into violent, destructive behavior in some individuals.”

Bessenoff says that while the number of people who engage in this type of behavior is small, it is large enough so that it has become a regular scene after college and professional team sports championships. And it doesn’t seem to matter what part of the country the team is from. In fact, soccer — with its international flavor and national pride on the line – is ripe with such incidents around the globe.

“There is a mob behavior component to this where people act in ways they normally would not,” she says. “And it seems as though most of the incidents are not premeditated, but rather occur as part of a pattern of escalation that peaks at some point in the post-event time frame.”

Some point to the release of large amounts of testosterone after a big victory – especially for fans who take wins and losses personally – and speculate that it can lead to more aggressive behavior. Others theorize championships can create a sense of euphoria in which a sense of invincibility sets in.

But nobody really knows for sure. Not yet, anyway.

“There is some research on the subject, but it’s still not very well understood,” says Sharon Misasi, a professor of exercise science at Southern who has a background in sports psychology.

She recommends a 2007 article posted on the BBC website for those who wish to read more on the subject.

Many people say students today are more aware of the world around them than at any time in history. The technological boom in the 21st century – where news of events happening thousands of miles away can be reported instantaneously via social media – certainly helps make that a plausible argument.

We saw evidence to support that theory in our own backyard this week as social studies classes from four area high schools attended an April 7 forum at Southern called, Crisis in Ukraine: What Happened and What’s Next?” The latest developments in the standoff between Ukraine and Russia – and between East and West — were the focus of a panel discussion.

Panelists at Southern's forum on Ukraine ponder a question from moderator Chris Velardi (far left), a news anchor at Channel 8.
Panelists at Southern’s forum on Ukraine ponder a question from moderator Chris Velardi (far left), a news anchor at Channel 8.

Faculty experts representing a variety of disciplines and perspectives shared their views and insights. The panel discussion included a look at what the United States can and should do in response to the Russian annexation of Crimea, as well as with the threat of further territorial encroachments.

Costel Calin, an assistant professor of political science at Southern, gives his assessment of the situation in Ukraine.
Costel Calin, an assistant professor of political science at Southern, gives his assessment of the situation in Ukraine.

The high school contingent – representing Amity High School of Woodbridge; Shelton High School; and Hillhouse High School and Sound School, both from New Haven – totaled about 100 students. In all, about 250 people attended, which also included college students (mainly from Southern), faculty, staff and some individuals from the general public.

A Southern student takes notes during the panel discussion.
A Southern student takes notes during the panel discussion.

But it wasn’t a matter of a few teachers forcing their classes to sit through a college program. The students generally and genuinely seemed excited to be with us and were attentive to the discussion. In fact, a few teachers told us beforehand that the students had been discussing the situation in Ukraine in their classes and were eager to attend the forum to learn more about what is happening.

To be sure, any group of 100 high school students is likely to include a few who wished they could be somewhere else. Of course, that’s true of adults, too. But by and large, their behavior and enthusiasm was impressive, especially at a time when young people are often criticized as having a short attention span. Most listened intently during the 1 hour, 45 minute program as the professors enlightened and opined.

These Amity High School students are enjoying their trip to Southern.
These Amity High School students are enjoying their trip to Southern.

In fact, many of the Shelton High School students were continuing the discussion after the program’s conclusion, according to their history teachers Sharon Cayer and James Allan.

“From my observation, the high school students – and the audience, in general – certainly seemed engaged,” said Greg Adams, chairman of Southern’s Sociology Department and a panelist for the forum. “That gives me hope for the future.”

Hillhouse High School students are eager for the program to start.
Hillhouse High School students are eager for the program to start.

Adams was part of the six-person panel that also included: Kevin Buterbaugh, SCSU professor of political science; Patricia Olney, SCSU professor of political science; Krystyna Gorniak-Kocikowska, SCSU professor of philosophy; Costel Calin, SCSU assistant professor of political science; and Matt Schmidt, assistant professor of political science and national security at the University of New Haven.

In addition to Sharon Cayer and James Allen from Shelton High, the teachers whose classes attended included John Buell from Sound School; Jack Paulishen from Hillhouse; and James Clifford, Chris Borelli and Lee Ann Browett from Amity.

Sound School students are among the first to arrive for the forum.
Sound School students are among the first to arrive for the forum.

If you would like to see the program in its entirety, you can check it out thanks to the Connecticut (Television) Network – CT-N.
http://www.ct-n.com/ondemand.asp?ID=10117

 

For a look at some practical applications of everyone’s favorite irrational number, check out a previous post in Wise Words.

Enjoy a slice of pie.
Enjoy a slice of pie.

It’s hard not to like pi!

Those of us “of a certain age” can probably recall our English teachers – at least one stickler on proper grammar – telling us not to end a sentence with a preposition. Similarly, split infinitives – a verb phrase in which the word “to” is separated from the action word – were to be avoided at all costs.

Some grammatical rules of writing, once considered non-negotiable, are being questioned and de-emphasized more often today.
Some grammatical rules of writing, once considered non-negotiable, are being questioned and de-emphasized more often today.

Sure, you might be able to get away with breaking the rules a bit in a science report. Even a social studies teacher might let it slide. But the following sentences in an English class would likely merit you with some “red ink” on your essay.

• Nobody knew where the marchers were from.
• That is what it was all about.
• We are planning to gradually improve our grades.
• They decided to fully implement the system.

As students, we were inclined to accept these rules as “grammatical gospel.” But do you know who established those rules? And why can’t we end a sentence with a preposition or use a split infinitive?

Dina Brun, an adjunct faculty member at Southern in the Department of World Languages and Literatures and who teaches Introduction to Linguistics, says the history of these rules dates back to the 17th century. She says Joshua Poole, a grammarian and rhetorician, and John Dryden, a literary writer and poet, have largely been credited with the preposition rule. Dryden was also associated with the split infinitive rule.

“These two individuals, and others, wanted to make English more like Latin,” Brun says. “In Latin, an infinitive is a single word, so there is no split.”

For example, she points to the Latin word, “clamare,” which means to claim, and “habere,” which means to have. The “re” part of the word is the English equivalent of “to.”

Brun says the rules have been getting much more relaxed in recent years. “It’s been a gradual process throughout the 20th century to the point where today, ending a sentence with a preposition is pretty much accepted,” she says. “The same is true of the split infinitive.”

And Brun said that is not necessarily a bad thing. She points out that when sentences are constructed intentionally to avoid ending in a preposition, it can lead to some awkward constructions.

For example: This is the book I told you about. To comply with the old rule, it would need to be changed to something like: This is the book about which I told you.

The same is true with the “no split infinitives” rule. For example: “We need your help to fully implement the process” would have to be changed to: “We need your help to implement fully the process.” The latter just doesn’t sound right.

Brun says that before the 17th century, there really was no such rule. She notes that even great literary geniuses, such as Shakespeare, ended sentences with prepositions.

Other language rules also are beginning to change. Brun notes that the differentiation between “who” and “whom” is beginning to wane. She says that people are beginning to drop “whom” and replace it with “who.”

Before long, we may be writing letters “To Who it May Concern.”

English teachers and writing coaches, what do you think? Is this progress or regression?

It’s a question that may be the ultimate brain teaser – how much of our brains do we actually use?

You’ve probably heard – even from presumably good sources – that human beings only use a small percentage of our brains. Some will say 5 percent. Others say 10, or perhaps 15 percent.

People actually use their entire brain, rather than the oft-quoted small portion of 5- to 10-percent.
People actually use their entire brain, rather than the oft-quoted small portion of 5- to 10-percent.

Is it any wonder, then, that we have heard that the human mind can be greatly enhanced and has the potential to develop ESP, or even mental telepathy? After all, if we are only using 5 percent of our minds, it could be inferred that we could improve the power of our brains to an almost unbelievable level. (Those of you who saw the 1970 film “Beneath the Planet of the Apes” might remember the telekinetic, mutant humans who were able to read minds, create mirages and inflict searing pain on their perceived enemies telepathically.)

But the truth is that none of those tiny percentages that are espoused in terms of how much of our brains we actually use are even remotely close to the truth.

“How much of your brain do you really use? All of it!” says Kelly Bordner, assistant professor of psychology at Southern.

Today, Wise Words looks at the myth that people use only a small portion of their brain. In Part I of this 2-part series, we examined the myth that opposites attract in romantic relationships, at least in the long run. Both subjects were among the psychological and behavioral myths explored in a course offered last fall at Southern.

Part II:

Just like muscle mass can be increased, so can the strength of our brain – just not to super human levels. For example, Bordner says that when we challenge ourselves with new material or learning a new skill, we create new neuronal connections.

“If we only used 10 percent in the first place, there certainly wouldn’t be the need to build new brain mass,” Bordner says. In other words, why bother challenging yourself with complex ideas if you could just tap into the “unused 90 percent of the brain.” And would stroke victims really need therapy to create new pathways in the brain to compensate for the damage sustained in the episode? At the very least, rehabilitation would seem to be a much easier process if you had all that “surplus brain” to work with in generating those new connections.

So, where did this myth originate? Bordner says no conclusive answer has yet been found. Some say it might have started with an interpretation of a quote from William James, who is often credited with being the father of American psychology.

In his book “The Energies of Men,” James wrote: “We are making use of only a small part of our possible mental and physical resources.” But he never used a percentage, and could have been talking generically about the benefits of reaching our mental and physical potential.

Others say the myth could have stemmed from taking comments from other philosophers and scientists out of context. Even Albert Einstein has been attributed with having made statements supporting the myth.

But Bordner says there is no evidence in modern science to support the myth.

So, the next time you hear someone say that people only use 10 percent of their brains, you might want to tell them that isn’t the case with anyone you know.

They say opposites attract.

And that is absolutely true when you are dealing with…say…magnets. Who doesn’t remember their elementary school science classes when you would watch the “north pole” of one magnet gravitate toward the “south pole” of another. Conversely, two north poles or two south poles would repel each other.

The axiom of opposites attracting might even apply to initial attraction among humans. But when it comes to successful, long-term relationships, the opposite is more likely to be true, according to Kelly Bordner, assistant professor of psychology at Southern.

Finding someone with a similar personality and similar values may just be the prescription for happiness in a long-term relationship.
Finding someone with a similar personality and similar values may be just the prescription for happiness in a long-term relationship.

“It’s likely that the initial difference in personality and temperament leads to interest, excitation and perhaps, attraction,” she says. “But in the long run, despite what people say, opposites don’t attract, they attack.”

Bordner explored this topic, as well as other psychological and behavioral myths, during a course last semester. Her students also examined the roots of the myths, separating fact from fiction, and looking at the implications of what would life be like if the myths were actually true.

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, Wise Words examines the “do opposites attract” subject today in the first of a 2-part series. The second part will look at the popular notion that we humans only use a small percentage of our brains.

Part I:

The media culture is full of examples of opposites attracting. Fans of the “Big Bang Theory” have watched the on-again, off-again romance between nerdy scientist Leonard Hofstadter and the attractive but more superficial Penny. Yet, if the sit com were real life – granted that’s a reach — Sheldon Cooper and Amy Farrah Fowler would have a better chance of success.

“So, where did this myth originate? Well, no one really knows,” Bordner says. “But if you’re in it for the long haul, look for someone similar to yourself. After all, could you imagine spending the rest of your life bickering with your partner about whether to go out or stay in; whether to save money or spend it; whether to be neat or messy?”

Granted, sometimes a person’s “real personality” may not be evident right away. For example, a persona of bravado may merely be a cover for a deep-seeded insecurity. Some perceptive individuals can see through such a facade right away, but others are initially fooled and that can alter how someone views another, particularly a potential love interest.

“The reality is that these, and countless other quips and familiar ‘facts,’ are far from being true. Through examination of published scientific works and thoughtful discussion, we’ve asked ourselves: How and why did this myth originate? What evidence do we have that it’s (true or) false? What other falsities do I hold onto as a result of this?”

Bordner notes that not everyone shares her belief that deep down, most people seek mates with similar values and characteristics. In fact, most people say they prefer someone with opposite characteristics, according to a recent study published in the journal, Evolutionary Psychology. Yet, that study also shows the opposite is true: people generally prefer those who are similar in personality.

Other research — including a 2003 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences — shows that people generally reflect a “likes-attract,” rather than an “opposites- attract” approach to decision making in finding a spouse.

Bordner also points out that the compatibility algorithms used by online dating sites usually use similar values and traits as key indicators.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Coming soon: Do people use only a small part of their brains in everyday life?