Thursday, August 16, 2012

Five College Success Tips You Don't Have To Take

Should you take conventional college success advice? This post from a college professor gives you insider tips.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

New Blog Post Over on the New Site... Come Check it Out!

I'm talking about $30 course materials over in my new space:

Come on over and follow, comment, Like The Chatty Professor on Facebook so you can keep the information coming.

Just wanted to let you know that this blog has moved! See you on the other side!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Farewell... For Real! Tomorrow, New Blog Launches!

It's the real move this time! 

I know I've said it before, but my new blog/website is all ready to go.

Take a peek, if you'd like:

My first official Wordpress blog post will be out tomorrow. 

I appreciate the latest comments in the past week and I've responded to them in this blog space.

Can't wait to continue our conversations! 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Word. Wednesday. Say It Now. (Even on Tuesday!): "Everybody"

(I'm learning that amazing things take time! So, guess what? We're staying in the old space a little longer as I work through some technical adjustments. I want everything to be perfect as I roll out my new space. As a bonus, I figured even if I can't share the aesthetic changes just yet, at least I can preview some of my new content. So, here's my new Wednesday feature--but you can use it any day. How about today? I'll be giving you a word or phrase to say or not say in college... and the rationale behind it. 

One other quick note: Remember last week's post? Of course, you do! It was... just last week. Well, the house next door sold. In. Two. Days. I thought you might find that very interesting. I sure did. Can I just say that I toured the house and there were heated floors. Heated floors!!! Okay, enough about that... The walls went up and we survived. Now, let's get you talking...) 

What's the Word?


This week, I'm going to encourage you not to say this one! Here are variations of how "everybody" goes down:

"A bunch of other students don't get this assignment either!" 

"You know, other students disagreed with their grade, too."
Resign as the "spokesperson." It's okay!

"Everybody else is frustrated that we have our project due in just two weeks!"

In the public speaking section of my Intro to Comm course and in the persuasion section of my Public Speaking course, I teach "bandwagon fallacy." Think about when "nine out of 10 dentists say you should use Crest," how do we know that Crest didn't open up the roof of those dentists' office and rain down tubes of toothpaste (...while playing Marc Anthony and my fave Pitbull in the background "Let it rain over meeeeee"--okay, that's quite a visual, I get it!). 

Is that the reason those nine out of 10 dentists recommend Crest as the toothpaste to use? How do we know for sure?

When students come to me and suddenly become the spokesperson (megaphone?) for "everybody," bandwagon fallacy comes into play: "Everybody feels this way, and I feel this way, too!" It's not that I don't take students seriously when they tell me how "everybody" feels: Could "everybody" be upset about the curriculum? Sure.

Could a bunch of students be frustrated by a grade? Absolutely.

But due to privacy laws, fragmentation of facts, and bad renditions of the telephone game where the message gets muddier and muddier with every iteration, I just have to dial the student back to his or her individual problem

In fact, I tell the student straight out, "I appreciate you letting me know how 'everybody' feels, but right now, I need to focus on what is upsetting/concerning/frustrating you."

Because, really, I can't do one darned thing about other people's issues through the spokesperson who is representing everyone else in my office. 

Best example of this is grades: If a bunch of students are frustrated over grades, can I really talk to the spokesperson about that? No! I'd be fired! 

(Okay, I have tenure, so a long and tedious disciplinary process would first ensue, there would be hearings, paperwork, Venn diagrams, easels, flip charts, possibly lawyers... but you get what I'm saying, right? There would be consequences!).

So say this instead... 

First, when you see your prof, deal with your issue and your issue only!

Next, when you talk to your classmates, tell them to do the same. Say, "I think we'll have more power if we express ourselves individually." 

That's right! More complaints are more powerful! Your prof will take notice of a greater number of singular voices, rather than one person serving as the mouthpiece for a few or vast number of students. 

After all, we are never really sure how many students are really involved in the complaint. But if we hear from a bunch of students that they are struggling, then we know that we have to make an adjustment. Also, if we don't hear what each individual student's problem is, we won't know what exact curricular issue we need to target. Everyone's personal confusion could look very different.

Finally, once the prof resolves your issue, it is totally fine to report that back to your people. Say, "I talked to the prof and got my problem handled. I definitely encourage you to do the same."

Think about it, even if the prof totally went along with your spokesperson gig and said, "Awesome, thank you for telling me how everybody feels. I really appreciate it and I'm going to take care of the problem," would you go back to the entire class, stand in front of the room and say: 

"Um... can I have your attention, please? I spoke with Professor Jones and we're all good here!"

I don't think so (because if you took my class, you'd never start with "um!" Kidding!).

I know that it feels comforting to say that others are having the same issue. You feel less "out there," less on your own.

But please hear me out on this one: You are never on your own in college. Every single person who works there has signed on to support you. Even if you are the only person confused (and that is likely never, ever the case), there are tons of people whose entire job it is to be there for you!

Bottom line? Use your voice. Encourage others to use theirs too. I know that you can, so go for it!

(And I'm always glad to know what you think, so feel free to comment and tell me!). 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Changes: They Are Coming. For You. For Me. (And a Graphical Update on the House Next Door)

I've really missed my regular posting in this space and I hope you've missed it, too.

As a new blogger (my one year anniversary is only a few weeks away), I know that failing to post regularly is blog death. However, never fear, my absence and irregularity is for very good reason. I actually have quite an arsenal of pent up student-professor communication goodness just waiting to emerge for you.

For right now, change is afoot... Exciting changes. I bet you have new changes coming, too, as you move further into this academic year. Maybe you're readying yourself for graduation. Maybe you're finishing your first year. We'll talk about the talk associated with those changes in just a second. First, a little preview on the changes of which I speak:

-Say goodbye to this blog space. The Chatty Professor is moving to a fresh new home thanks to my work with Christian Hollingsworth (http://www.smartboydesigns--have you met him? Followed him? Read his work? Oh my goodness... you have no idea...). Christian is helping me take my social media presence to new and incredible places.

-I recently mentioned some new blog features, which will ramp up the tips I can offer to you each week. Here's a preview:

*Word. Wednesday. Say It Now: Quickie talking tips about your class, college, or other campus-related "stuff" you can use immediately. I'm planning for... guess which day... but you can use the tips any day!

*Let's Talk To: Interviews with experts about how they use communication in their respective fields. It's that "soft skills" training that rarely gets talked about. Well, I'll be talking about it and then you can use those tips to strengthen your abilities!

*Talk About This Today: News to raise your information excellence capital! No more will you want to text before classes. Instead, you'll be 'in the know' when you practice face-to-face communication with these conversation starters. Watch you go! (Okay, I won't be able to see you--that would be weird, but I know you'll write in and tell me about it!).

*And, of course, my regular commentary about all things student-professor comm-related. Don't worry: I'll still add my take on interpersonal communication and, at times, public speaking!

-My book, Say This, NOT That to Your Professor: 36 Talking Tips for College Success is less than 60 days away from release. That's all I'll say about that, but you'll hear more very soon!

-My final change is a little random, but I did promise to update about it in this post called "When the Walls Go Up, How Do You Avoid Getting Down?

Remember this picture? I'll bring you up to speed...

The former view standing on my front porch...
Vashon Island in the distance
My house is on the left. Bob the Builder
rolls in to prep the space. My 4-year old delights. My
husband and I cringe. But we knew it could happen.

We get a taste of what's to come.
No more Vashon Island from
the porch.. or from anywhere.
A few short months later, wallah!
A baby Office Max--er, ultra-modern
house is born. Okay, it's a little cute.
(I'll let you know when it sells.)

So, what's the communication lesson here? 

Even positive change can be stressful to talk about! Maybe you're going through some good changes, like that you're really comfortable with your classes, your degree program, your college, in general. Or maybe, you were thinking about leaving your college and now you're going to stay put. Or, you have changed your mind, but you feel very rooted in that decision (remember my tips here?).

Here are some ways I've messaged some of the happy challenges I've been going through lately:

-"There's an end and I know that. Only a few more weeks left and I can make it. I'm going to hold strong!" 

Nothing lasts forever. A college term has an end. So does a book deadline. I have personally decided that I hate the term, "Hang in there!" because it makes me feel like I have a rope tied in a not-good place. So, I'm replacing "Hang in there!" with "Hold strong!" because it just feels more powerful, more assertive, more positive.

(Remember, you can also ask for help if you need it a'la this post).  

-"It's amazing what the mind can adjust to." 

When our friends see the small office building that has emerged next door, they supportively express sadness for our loss (of a view... I know, it's not like we lost a family member or a pet--we do put this in perspective). But, honestly, a couple of weeks ago, as I was carrying laundry from one room to another (an every day occurrence around here), I realized that the lack of view wasn't really bothering me any more. My eyes adjusted to what was. My family isn't sad, though my son misses the diggers and the builders. The known is so much more freeing than the dread of wondering what would come.

-"This is a good problem to have." 

I have had very, very little sleep lately, thinking about book cover text, fonts, proper endorsement placements, edits, etc. And this is in tandem with other work I have happening. You are juggling work too, wonderful student--probably a lot of it, right?  

Let's put this in perspective:  YOU are in school... you have opportunity ahead of you... you may be working, and you're working toward something. There is every possibility in front of you. You are making it happen. 

I have a dream that I've had since I was a teen-ager about to come true. A dream that's eluded me twice already. A dream that one of my parents and two friends did not live to see. I'm in a pretty fantastic place in my career--this is a full-circle moment. 

Yes, we're both losing some sleep for different reasons. Yes, we're a little (okay, a lot) stressed due to our workload and concern over the quality of our work. But, hell, we're in... the... game.

What a great problem to have! So let's message our "stress" accordingly!

I'm going to end here. To leave this on a positive note, a graphical close:

Look to the right of small Office Max--er, ultra modern. More change may be
coming for potential owners... Other walls could go up later!
Small houses don't always stay that way in Seattle.

Last picture... view from my kitchen window
(back of the ultra modern house). Peek-a-boo view
of Vashon. I'll take it! 

Students, what positive changes are coming your way? I'd love to hear about them! And, of course, I'm always here to talk about those "other" changes, too... Wonderful readers, thanks for your patience with my delay over the past few weeks. See you in the new digs!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"Can't Everyone Just Shut Up and Let Me Work?": How to Communicate During Those Monster Project Periods

(I was MIA last week. I'm never MIA, but I was MIA. I'm going to be less gone here pretty soon... adding some new and more frequent blog features. That's right, even more communication advice, so stay tuned! In the meantime, my back was against the wall last week in a way that I haven't experienced in a while. I know my college readers can relate and I'm sure my non-college audience can, too. That's why I felt this topic was most appropriate. I'll be sharing exciting updates very soon about blog changes and book news! Now, let's talk. I've missed you in the past week!)

200+ pages.

When I was in grad school, in one particular term, the number of required papers added up to this number.

Now I remember that semester well. I rarely saw the light of day, my friends, my husband... clean clothes.

Big joke among my colleagues was that you pulled out the least stinky shirt/pants from the laundry heap and wore it without thinking twice. We tried be presentable without being offensive. Our focus? Doing well on our papers (so many of them!), hopefully getting to present at a conference or two, maybe scoring an early co-authorship on a publication, and maintaining high grades to keep our assistantships.

That's right... many of my classmates and I wore two (smelly!) hats: graduate teaching assistants/research assistants and college students writing an insane number of papers!

I remember I didn't necessarily have to ask for time to get my work done because my husband and I agreed together that I would go back to graduate school. We didn't have kids at the time, and we both accepted that sacrificing time from each other would pay off later.

And I wasn't smelling so great, so do you think my husband was really missing me? Just sayin'.

Fast forward 14 years and 10 days...

I was told by my editor of my soon-to-be-published book, "You need to cut about 100 pages from your manuscript." 

(A station break: For anyone reading this space for a while, you go right ahead and just revel... revel in your rightness... I knowwwww that brevity is not my strong suit. I own it. I'm working through it. Counseling is on Thursday.

I'm thinking lots of time away from family and friends to
get this move down... what say you?

Just kidding about that last part. Not that there's anything wrong with counseling. I love counseling!).

These days, taking that "cocoon time" to get work done isn't so easy anymore. I have two little people who demand my attention. I have a dual role on phase 2 of this grant project while I've stepped away from teaching through this academic year.

I'm The Chicklets roller derby carpool organizer. 

I have to exercise 6 days a week or risk gaining 5 more lbs.

My little guy needs a 4th birthday party planned.

We have no bread in the house to make yet another (*&%$#*!) peanut butter and jelly sandwich! (Ooh, did I say that out loud? Who doesn't love making PBJ... again?)

My husband has his own high-octane career and is traveling. Again.  Sigh.

However, I also have a dream. I have had a dream to write a book since I was a teenager.  This dream has slipped out of my hands twice already (I'll explain more in another blog post).

Now the reality of the dream is about 90 days away.

(Which hardly seems possible!!!!!!!!!!).

I had to find a way to close off my real life... and slip into a hole to do that head-down, hands-on, focused editing.

Students, you know what I'm talking about. You have to edit papers, do projects, study for exams.

You need your full concentration.

But your life, and the people in your life, need you.

School needs you, too. And just like I committed to write a book. You committed to college... and all the work and hours it entails. 

So what's the communication lesson here?

Sometimes you need others to leave you alone during those monster project periods! Or maybe you have other needs! But how do you do that? Here are some tips, which I just took myself...

-Tell those close to you exactly what you're doing: "I have to cut 100 pages from my manuscript!"

Saying "Damn, I have this huge project to do!" is too vague. I had no problem telling my close friends, casual acquaintances, Twitter pals, my running buddy, even the store clerk (okay, not quite) the magnitude of my challenge. Every time they said, "Hey, how's that editing going?" I felt a renewed determination, particularly at the moments that I really felt like giving up. I'm not a giver-upper in any sense of the word (hello, pudgy, penguin-y 1/2 marathoner here!), but I struggled... for sure! Those who knew kept me going.

-Ask clearly and directly for the "non-negotiables" to support your goal: "I'll need to be in my room where it's quiet so I can concentrate. I'm going to need about 20 hours to work on this, so you won't be seeing very much of me."

Be very specific about your needs! Saying, "Why can't you just give me some time to work?" or "I need quiet!" is too vague of a statement.

-Don't forget to ask for help at the second you realize you need it, and definitely give updates along the way: "I think I'm on track to meet this deadline. Here's what I've gotten done so far. I'm a little bit stuck on this other part, though, and I need help." 

My editor and I had largely been communicating via e-mail, but after a few back-and-forth's, I totally picked up the phone and asked for her help in the places I became stuck. If can put my tail between my legs and do it (does that quote ever get old?), so can you!

-When your project is done, use some repair words if you've neglected someone a bit too much, "I'm sorry I got a little short with you. I felt really stressed and worried about how I was going to get this done and I didn't mean to take it out on you." 

After literally not seeing me most of last week, my 8-year-old expressed considerable discontent. She missed me, and when she tried to curl up next to me quietly to do her homework or read, she was... well... distracting. Too distracting for the intense editing I needed to do.

Once I turned my "skinnier" manuscript in at 9:47 last Friday evening (on my 16-year wedding anniversary--talk about an on-board spouse!), on Saturday morning, I cuddled my little girl and tried to liken her third-grade teacher to my editor, and her Writer's Workshop stories to my book. I asked her what would happen if she had to cut 100 pages from her stories, and she said, incredulously, "That would take me three years!" After I explained myself, we did some reading, more cuddling, and I believe all was forgiven.

Have I had other big, "testing" deadlines or projects in the past 14 years that have forced me to shut myself away? Of course, I have. 

But, like my graduate work, this book feels intensely sacred, and so incredibly personal.

It represents many twists and turns in my life... failures and successes... and finally, after conceiving of the idea eight years ago, a full-circle moment.

And, just the idea of being the recipient of so much--gulp--criticism... brings me right back to those student years.

So, wonderful student, just like my editing marathon, and the next one that I'm sure will follow (and the one after that) won't last forever, neither will your current papers, exams that require hours of studying, or projects.

Talk about all the support you need:  Time, a well-lit, quiet room, a "check-in buddy" to ask how many more sources you found for your research paper...  a hamburger.

You just might get it.

And, hey, ask for a little help with the laundry, should you find that it's piling up.

Students, how do you get the time, space, and quiet that you need to get your studying or writing done? Colleagues, what recommendations do you have for students who don't have lives that seem to support the hours or environment needed for college work demands? 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Are You Sure it’s About You? Try a Perception-Check!

(A day late on blogging... juggling a grant project and continued book deadline—more exciting news on that very soon! Before I get into this week’s topic, which is back to some interpersonal communication fun, I want to give an important shout-out. First, a qualifier: I don’t stick my neck out quickly or easily. I never recommend anything or anyone I can’t fully wrap my heart and head around. So, if I’m ever “promotional” in this space, it is never in blithe spirit.

In that regard, I am excited to share news about Isa Adney’s countdown to her book release—Community College Success. This is an exciting day, not just for Isa, but for community college students everywhere. Community colleges are hugely under-represented in the college success book market! Isa, a Jack Kent Cooke Scholar, who faced many obstacles to her college education, is a true testament that community college students can end up with literally endless possibilities. Follow her countdown to her book launch at: I’ll be happily reviewing Isa’s book in a future post. Now, on to some perception-checking!)

When was the last time that you got into an argument with someone and you were absotively, posilutely certain that what they were saying was about you?

Let’s face it…

When you see a friend on campus and they suddenly don’t say hello to you or make eye contact, that has to be because they don’t like you anymore, right?

When you go out with someone for the first time, and they don’t ask you out again, it must be because you’re unlovable, right?

When the server at your favorite restaurant acts put out because you said your burger was too rare, they must think you’re a total pain in the ass, right?

Look how happy they are! On a slide and
I bet they've done a perception-check!
It all has to be about you!


What if your campus friend is just having a bad day, or he didn’t see you?

What if the girl you went out with lost your number or got really sick? (She’d better have gotten sick if she didn’t call, right?)

What if the server is having back problems or financial issues, or a co-worker just snapped at them?

Hmm… each of those scenarios have absolutely nothing to do with you!

When bad communication exchanges happen, we are hard-wired to make knee-jerk judgment calls: We think something negative about ourselves, or something negative about the other person.

(Psst… Usually, we start tearing ourselves down first, unless we’re angry at the other person.)

Then, what do we do? We usually lash out because we’ve been triggered! Arguments ensue and relationships become damaged… unnecessarily.

So what’s the communication lesson here?

Try a perception-check!

With a perception-check, you try to determine at least two alternate reasons why the person did what they did or said what they said.

You attempt to get away from the reason being “all about you.”

My students actually write a journal pondering about this. Want to give it a try? I know… how fun! Blog homework… here goes:  

We've all been in a communication exchange with someone where we automatically jump to conclusions over something that was said. Maybe you became triggered and responded in a way that you wish you could take back. Think of a time that you either did or could have done a perception check and answer the following prompts: 

1. Briefly discuss the situation.
2. Describe your initial (knee-jerk) perception (which is typically something negative about the other person, or something negative about us).
3. Describe two OTHER possible, but different, interpretations of the exchange?
4. Describe how you could confront the situation in a positive way to gain an accurate perception check.

I’ll do the homework, too…

The situation:  My daughter, age 3 at the time, was afraid of physical things, like going down a slide. Her preschool teacher felt that she needed an evaluation from a physician. Her last comment to me was, “Well, you know, she’ll never be a star athlete.”

My initial reaction:  1.  Many curse words in my head that would be inappropriate for me to say in this blog—yes, I’m a communication prof, but I’m a mother, after all; 2. That due to my own personal/family history with obesity, my daughter is going to have problems, too, and it’s already all my fault (she had no weight issue, just FYI).

Other possibilities:  1.  The teacher had no idea about my family history and couldn’t know that her words could trigger me the way they did; 2.  She was trying to be funny and lighten the situation. She wasn’t trying to hurt my feelings.

Describe how I could confront the situation: This is how I actually handled it. For fear of saying something I’d regret in that moment, I told the teacher I’d alert our pediatrician and I walked away. When I felt calmer about a week later, I said,

“Teacher (not her real name), I know you were probably joking when you said that Brenna would never be a star athlete, but I felt really triggered by that and then, because of that statement, I couldn’t hear you anymore. My mother is morbidly obese and I have lost a tremendous amount of weight, myself. I worry about my daughter and I only became a very physical person in my 30s. I realize you had no idea about all of that and probably didn't mean for the comment to have the impact on me that it did.

I also have to respectfully disagree that at 3 years old, we have no idea about Brenna’s physical possibilities—not that I necessarily need her to be a star athlete. But I will say that I really appreciate your care and concern about her physical well-being and I’m going to talk to her doctor.”

The teacher put her arm around my shoulder. I’m not sure to this day if the nonverbal message was that she was patronizing me or comforting me, but I didn’t care. All seemed well with the world again.

(In case you were wondering, my daughter is now almost 9. She was behind the pack learning to ride a bike… she struggles to pass swim tests at our local pool… but she did just voluntarily start “The Chicklets” banked track roller derby. So, she’s trying!)

Before I end this discussion, let me come full-circle to my student-professor communication message:

Perception-checking is huge when it comes to your relationship with your prof. So often, students get a poor grade or they read something negative into a comment the prof has made, and then they send themselves a completely negative message about themselves (or about what a jerk the prof is!).

So, next time you say to yourself, “My prof must hate me for giving me this C!” Or, “Does she think I’m some sort of idiot, based on this comment?”, do the perception-checking exercise I gave you above, and then go to your prof and say (with a smile, if you can):

“I just wanted to check in with you. I’m telling myself all sorts of things about what I think this grade/comment might mean and then I realized I should probably find out what it really means.”

Wonderful students and all of my readers out there, profs (and people in general) are so, so, so (so!) much more likely to set us straight on what they truly mean when we ask them to clarify… rather than when we just react to what we think they said.

The next time that you feel triggered, give perception-checking a try.

Maybe while you’re thinking of the two “other” possibilities, you can hit a park, and in the spirit of my daughter, slide down a slide, or swing on a swing.

If you try this strategy, I’d love to hear how it goes!

Have you Liked the Chatty Professor on Facebook yet? This blog could go right to your Facebook door!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Really? Six Hours of Research and You Couldn't Find Anything? What to Say Instead!

(Back to our regularly scheduled programming this week! Students, at this point in the term, you've probably had some assignment due that required research. Let's talk about how students often communicate about that with professors... and discuss a different way to approach it that gets you the help you need!)

It was persuasive speech season in my Intro to Communication course.

I always caution my students to avoid persuasive topics that are heavily overdone i.e., abortion, gun control, euthanasia, etc.  

My only exception to this rule? 

If students can come up with a super-fresh new angle on the subject, I'll rethink my position.

If you're spending enough time in the library, you'll be so
tired that you'll need to sit down... just not on the bookstacks.

Even with said warning, I always have one student who submits this topic proposal: "Today, I'm going to persuade my audience to stop smoking."

Or, in Student's case, the legalization of marijuana.

(Groan. That topic. Again.)

I reiterated to Student that a new angle on this idea was badly, badly needed, that there was little to say that the audience hasn't heard. If Student could do some research and come up with a new angle, I'd reconsider. 

So, what did I receive during persuasive speech draft time?

Your standard "why we should legalize pot" outline.

(Did I already groan?)

I sent the outline back to the student via e-mail, ungraded with this comment: "I thought we discussed that you need to find a new angle on this subject."

Student's reply? "I looked for six hours and couldn't find any way to change it!"

Now in the past 10+ years, I wish I had a nickel for every time a student swore that they researched for hours and hours and couldn't find anything.

Then, I go in and do one half-assed search of my own and I usually find something.

If I do a full-assed search (because that does exist, right?)--we're talking deep in the online library journal collections, etc.--I can almost always find the research that the student could have found!

Now, I know what you're thinking:  "Ellen, you have degrees. You have experience in research."

And that would be true. 

But, to be fair, every college student has access to people like me... right on the college campus! (And you know who they are!).

So when Student was saying that there was absolutely no new twist on legalization of marijuana--and Student searched for Six. Full. Hours., I took that as a personal challenge!

For the next few minutes, this nice Jewish girl from Brooklyn who has never even tried pot (really, now, haven't you caught on that food is my total drug of choice from my last blog posts?)... was all about pot...

...on my state computer!

(Which I've learned from my IT department is actually fine because, hey, sometimes the Human Sexuality profs have to look up some pretty interesting things, too... as long as it's in the name of teaching, and in this case, it definitely was!).

Within less than 20 minutes, I saw news that California was about to put the legalization of marijuana to its voters (this was a couple of years ago, by the way). Student could put a persuasive speech together giving some background on California's situation, and then doing a compare/contrast with Washington State. Essentially, if the student could find reasonable correlations between California (or even another state putting the option on the ballot) and Washington State, then the newly twisted argument could be that, for these reasons, Washington should follow suit.

So what's the communication lesson here? (Didn't you miss this over the past couple of weeks? I did!)

Don't just blanketly tell your professor, "I did X-hours of research and couldn't find squat!"

Instead, first and foremost... do the research and do it as well as you possibly can! Your prof is not going to want to hear how many hours you spent coming up with nothing; she's going to want to know what sites you've searched, if you've talked to your friendly neighborhood librarian, and any other measures you've taken!

That's right! The first question I always ask my students after they tell me how much time they spent finding nothing is, "Tell me where you've looked."

My next question? "What did the librarians say?"

The student usually looks away and replies, "Um, I didn't go to the library yet. I thought I'd try on my own first and see if I could find something."

By this point, your professor will probably think, "Why would you struggle on your own when you have a campus library and even neighborhood libraries--complete with skilled librarians--who can help talk you through your research?"

What should you say instead?

-First, tell your professor, "I have a list of the resources I've tried to look through already." Having a list of sites you've explored, books you've paged through (remember books you can hold in your hand? They still exist!), periodicals, etc. can help your prof see where you were trying to go, even if you came up empty. Then he can help focus your search.

-Next, keep the time out of it. This is college and you're supposed to spend a lot of time on research. It's what you signed up for.

It's not like your prof is going to give you warm milk and say, "Oh, you poor dear, you spent 10 hours searching and didn't find anything? Let me take that over for you." 

Or, a student who only says they spent two hours on research would hear, "No, no, no! You have eight more hours to go before I'll help you!"

Really, the time doesn't matter. The professor will react more positively to tangible evidence of your search (i.e., the list I mentioned above).

Some students will even print pages of articles, bring them to me, and say, "You know, I'm not really sure this one will work." I definitely welcome that type of evidence of what the student has attempted!

-Now, it goes without saying that before you tell your prof you've found nothing on your own, you will have gone to the library first for help. What happens then is you will likely have something in your hot little hand to show your prof. 

You can say, "I went to the library two days ago and the librarian helped me come up with this information. I'm not really sure how to incorporate it or if the content is even right for my topic. Would you be willing to take a look?" 

There! You've made a specific request and you've shown responsibility by discussing the course of action you've already taken!

While my message may seem a little direct, I do understand that many students have the habit of searching the Internet first before doing any other research. After all, it's convenient... you may already be at home, and you're in your fuzzy PJs (mine have cats holding umbrellas... uh oh... TMI?), and you don't really feel like you want to move from your laptop. 

I also believe that students perceive the amount of time they spend researching as far more as what they actually spend doing so. I know you may feel frustrated and hopeless when you can't find what you're looking for... or when you don't even know what you're looking for.

Wonderful student, I know it's hard to get in the habit of going to a library or a tutoring center for help when you need it. You may feel weak for even having to ask for help (remember this post? It was my second most popular one to date!). But, remember, if you knew all about research, then you should be teaching your classes, not taking them. 

Learning how to do efficient research is one of the most practical tools you'll ever learn in college. 


You may think you'll never use the strategies again, but you will. You never know when you'll be at work and need to find a piece of credible information. Practice in college. You'll be glad you did (and others will think you're brilliant when you can come up with great info quick-fast!).

In the meantime, let your prof help you evaluate research that you've already found yourself. 

Personally, I'd like to not search for the latest news on pot again. 


(Especially on my work computer).

Students, how's your research going? How is your term going? What are you struggling with? I'm always taking questions! Colleagues from all across education, what communication advice do you have for students requesting help with research? If I don't have the answers, I'm glad to do some research and find them! 

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Part Three: My Response (and Other Responses) to the Student Without Support

(It's another Tuesday! For the sake of blog brevity--which I've breached many times since authoring this space--I split the current discussion over three weeks. If you're just tuning in, and even if you're back (and thank you on both counts), I'll recap: 

In Part 1, I wrote about what happens when a student changes his mind about a major/career path and others are not supportive. I discussed that I'd been to an Urgent Care where I met a lovely student who told me about her path, which contained a number of changes. I reflected that there wasn't time for this person to tell me how those around her reacted to the change.

In Part 2, surprise, surprise: The Urgent Care receptionist remembered that I told her about my blog in passing. She accessed it, read about herself, and responded with more of her back-story. 
Now, that you're all caught up, here is my response to her...)

Dear Student,

I am SO glad that you wrote to me and, yes, you made such a positive impression that morning in Urgent Care. I apologize for the delay in this note, but I wanted to have the mental space (read: kids have been iced/snowed in until just two days ago) to provide a thoughtful response.

I am extremely sorry that your family member had that type of response to you. I bet this person does not realize the impact that it had. I'll get to that in a moment.

First, bravo, bravo to you for going for your goals, despite this person’s reaction. Your inclination is totally right--there are many ways to get to what you want to do. Also, genius is completely relative, isn't it? People are "genius" in many ways, and, "genius" and "creativity" hardly go hand-in-hand. I would say fortitude, drive, determination, commitment, etc. have more to do with any goal than being "genius." 

Sure, you need certain skills, but there are many paths to get to your goal. You already know that from your decision to not go into nursing, deciding that wasn't for you, and then looking into a different area of healthcare (which I realize also ended up not being the right path, but you were creative enough to find a way to stay the field in a different capacity, based on your current job).

Let the universe tell you what you need to know: Put your goal out there and see where the validation lands--and I'm talking about the validation that will come from getting into the program that you want, learning from experts in this field, etc. That will tell you what you need to know about your next steps. I am looking forward to hearing about it. I agree that when you feel something in your bones, you have to listen to that and go for it.

As you read in my blog this week, I didn't have a great amount of support either for my decision to teach. Read just the first paragraph or two on this Chronicle of Higher Education piece where I wrote about my grad school profs telling me how "wrong" my decision was: Like I said in the blog, my bio reveals that things worked out pretty okay for me.

I'm going to put on my other hat here for just a second: My interpersonal comm hat (you may have noticed that I write about relationships, also--it's a teaching area for me). I hope you will have a sit-down with your family member and discuss how the interaction made you feel. It sounds like this person is very special in your life; I would think that they would want to know how much their support means to you and the messages you sent to yourself when you felt you didn't have that support. It would probably be very healing, even if your family member maintains their position… but you ask for the support anyway.

(Disclaimer: In my original e-mail to the student, I didn't add this next dialogue, but I wanted to add it here and hope she will see it!) 

You can say, “We recently had a conversation that had a pretty big impact on me. I want you to know that your support has meant the world to me. Your opinion is also very important to me and has helped shape other decisions I’ve made in my life.

When I told you about my decision to change my major, I realize you had my best interest in mind when you said that a person has to be ‘genius’ in order to pursue that career. I know you were probably trying to protect me, though honestly, the message that I took away is that I’m not smart enough. I took that comment pretty harshly. I know it is my choice to react to it that way.

I appreciate your opinion. I’m going to pursue this path because it feels like the right situation for me. Even if you have concerns, I hope you will support me anyway. If my plan doesn’t go as I hope, I will really need your support. But I would rather at least try to move ahead and see where that takes me, rather than give up now.”

A conversation like this where you are keeping your feelings in “I” language will hopefully go far better than the harsh startup of, “You don’t believe in me!” or “You don’t care about me!” or “Oh, so you think I’m stupid?” (Which is the way many people want to react because it’s far “safer” to convey anger than pain, right?).

I will look forward to hearing some wonderful news about your path. I've been where you are and I know what things look like on the other side :-). You can make this happen! If I can do anything to help, please let me know.

I look forward to hearing from you again!



I couldn't just end this post without adding some of the amazing comments that readers had for this student. I'll paraphrase a few here: 

--"Even though you are sadly not getting the support you need from your family, I believe you can absolutely accomplish all of your dreams and plans. I love your resolve to take this negativity and turn it into fuel for the journey! Good luck!"

--"I have been in the same situation. No support, surrounded only by doubters. It is amazing that once one steps onto the path that we are destined for, how both doubt and encouragement become fuel. Doors do open when we follow our true calling. I was 30 years old before I found the faith to pursue mine. I am now almost 40 and realize that every hardship in my past has prepared me for each and every success of my present." 

--"I know quite a few people who are involved in computer programming and design. I think it really takes dedication and a love for what you are doing, both of which you already seem to have. In addition, I changed majors six times while I was in college, because I kept finding new things I loved. There is nothing wrong with spending some time searching for what you love, and once you find it, you most definitely should pursue it!"

So, students, what are you struggling with? I'm back to regular programming next week, but always taking questions at Also, remember that you can "Like" the Chatty Professor on Facebook and the blog will come straight to your FB door! Till next week, be well!!!

Monday, January 23, 2012

An Unexpected Update to Last Week's Post... Going it Alone When Your Support Isn't Supportive

“I didn't have a chance to ask this young woman how she communicated those changes to others in her life. Other patients began filtering in because it was a Saturday in an Urgent Care, after all.”

Remember this post from last week? 

Guess what?

The lovely receptionist I referenced remembered my blog, read about herself, and sent me an e-mail responding to the above! 

Quick recap, she decided to change her major and her career path several times… and is just about to get back into college. As you will see, the support she received when she conveyed her change of mind--and major--wasn’t exactly supportive.

Can you relate? I can! Read on...

She's alone... but going up!


I had the pleasure of speaking with you when you were in my Urgent Care.

I want to take this moment to appreciate you in all the ways that you have already helped me in my decision making. Even simple starter conversations can make such an imprint in someone else's memory, and for that I am very grateful.

By chance this afternoon I remembered your blog. I thought I would give you an answer to your question...which is a tad more complicated for just explaining on a Saturday morning. How did I explain my decision to my family/those close to me...

Truthfully, school has been out of reach in my family, but I have had a supporter in one particular family member. I hold this person, both personally and professionally, in the highest regard… until I shared this recent decision about my new major/career path.

I was expecting the usual acknowledgement and offer to help me plan that I’ve always received, but instead, the response was, “Those people are GENIUS. I don't think..."

I was so hurt. Hearing this doubt made me doubt myself. I have decided to use this doubt to push myself harder, and hopefully even if it isn't what I want, I'll get somewhere and the doors will continue to open for me like they always do.

I have also decided to inform no one of my decision. At this point I feel like I would be doing myself an injustice if I let their negative and doubtful opinions ruin my own support system that I have created for myself.

I have never felt more empowered to do something, and I feel like I can accomplish it. Why should anything stop me?

I hope this let you in on the dynamics of how difficult the choice can even be on oneself, let alone those around to influence.

In my particular circumstance I am grateful for the opinion of strangers who just want to listen, like yourself.  Thank you so much again, for even just the conversation, because positive affirmations are what count. I can safely say that I have never felt so good that someone like you was so interested in what I was doing...I felt validated and it really helped me. This week alone I have applied to four colleges.

I do hope our paths cross again, and I am now a devoted reader.

Thank you!

I’m going to hold my response to this student until next week. In the meantime, what would you say? Have you been in a similar situation, without support, but determined to find your way… alone? Let's get some discussion going!

Monday, January 16, 2012

How to Communicate That You've Changed Your Mind

(Two quick notes: First, college students, did you know that Zinch has partnered with HerCampus to create the "More Than a Test Score" $1,000 scholarship? Send in an essay about your dream!

Second, if you are a college student or parent of a college student, did you know that "liking" The Chatty Professor on Facebook will bring this blog right to your FB door? It's true!

Okay, now on to my mini-intro--and, yes, this post is a day early since I'll be away the next couple days...

With the housing changes that I wrote about in this post, I've been thinking about what it means when we feel uncomfortable and may need to make a change. Often, we're afraid to talk about it, much less take action. In phase 2 of your first year of college--a new term--the honeymoon of your major, and even the college, itself, may begin to end and you might think, "Hmm... something isn't feeling right." So, here we go... I'm ready to talk. Along the way, you'll learn a little bit more about how I changed my mind and fell into teaching! It's a long and windy story, but stay with it, if you can...).

Last year, I wrote this post that discussed my father dying when I tried to go back to college. I mentioned that it took me six years to return, which I didn't exactly plan. There was a huge gap in that post that I didn't discuss about my six-year hiatus.

I'm going to do a little gap-filling...

Is she telling her grandmother
that she's changed her mind?
I initially started college to go into journalism. I've always loved, loved, loved (just a little bit, can you tell?) writing, and I landed quite a few freelance gigs that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Then, my father unexpectedly died. My parents were already divorced, so without strong family support (emotionally or financially), I decided that my best course of action was to put a solid roof over my head. I was only 21 at the time. I could have continued my education, but having my own place to live seemed like a greater necessity.

So I used what little money my father left me (I'm an only child) as a down payment for a small condo. Then, I had to figure out how to pay the mortgage.

I saw a job ad: "Fast typist, flexible hours."

One of the greatest things my mother did for me was teach me how to type when I was around 9 or 10. She said, "If you can type, you'll always find work." She was taking a secretarial course; I was a pesky kid. With my fingers plunking, my mouth was closed.

By high school, I typed 110 words per minute. My mother was right: I applied for that job and was hired immediately.

Talk about falling into a career:  There I was, suddenly typing medical notes for a surgeon's office. Six years later, I didn't have a degree, but I did have my own medical transcription service. I enjoyed secure, stable clientele, and I was making good money.

I didn't really think about whether or not I liked the work. I was, by all accounts, doing well. I sold my condo and bought a small house at age 24. My parents never owned a home in their 15 years of marriage, so to them, and to my grandparents, I was living the high life.

But then, an opportunity changed everything: My local community college had an emergency evening opening for a medical transcription instructor. I had already been teaching some continuing ed classes on running a successful transcription business, so they tapped me. I didn't need a degree to teach because these were not transfer programs. I needed experience and energy.

Check and check.

The minute I started teaching, I knew that something in my life had been missing.

It was called career satisfaction.

I absolutely loved the energy of a college campus. I adored my students: Women who were striving to learn a trade that would enable them to support themselves well. I also relished the opportunity to publicly speak all the time (I had been a long-time Toastmaster).

After a year or so, the division chair said, "Your evaluations are fantastic. The students just love you."

I responded like a panting dog, "I love them! I want to do this full-time! What do I need to do?"

Then, she dropped the bomb: "Well, to teach on tenure-track, you need at least a Master's degree."

Crap. I didn't even have an Associate's degree at that point.

I found out what I had to do from others who knew more (the same advice I'm going to give you in a minute) and I did it. I kept my transcription business going. I kept teaching those classes at night. I went back to school... and took as many credits as I could stand (we're talking 15-20).

My family was not supportive of my decision, even though I was funding the education, just like I had before my dad passed.

I remember my grandmother saying, "Why do you need to change? You already have a good job."

I guess I didn't "need" to change... but I needed to change.

I am a complete and total extrovert, but I was sitting in my little condo 8-10 hours a day transcribing.

I am now a nine-time 1/2 marathoner (waddling, but still), but I was following my family's pattern of morbid obesity and inactivity.

I am currently in a career that I realize is every bit of my authentic self. And Oprah Winfrey (still love her!) says, "When you find your authentic self, the doors open."

That's what happened to me... Ever since I made the decision to go back to college and become a professor, the path has been paved with more and more opportunity and intense gratification. Just look at my bio and you'll see how lucky I have been. Not every moment has been easy, but even the hard parts have been fulfilling.

So why am I telling you all of this?

I just contributed to a piece written by those fabulous MyFootpath folks about what to do if you're a "major hater"--as in, you dislike your major immensely... not that you extensively hate the whole world. Then, I unexpectedly had to go to Urgent Care this weekend (I'm fine...), and another sign about this topic presented itself.

The lovely receptionist and I started chatting (I was the only one there... can you believe? For a Saturday morning?). She's 21 and about to attend one of our local colleges. I asked about her major and she paused, then said (I'm paraphrasing here...):

"Well, I thought I wanted to be a nurse, but then I realized I'm not the greatest at book learning. Then I thought I might want to go into banking, but that wasn't right for me either. Then I thought about going into medical assisting, but after finding out more about the medical field by working here, I changed my mind."

"So what did you land on as a major?" I asked, intrigued and full of admiration for her honesty.

"I have always been into graphic technology and I'm very good at working with computers and designing things. I would love to design video games and I'd even love to write."

"Well," I said, smiling. "Both of those things can happen."

I know they can. I, too, defected from a career that wasn't right for me.

I didn't have a chance to ask this young woman how she communicated those changes to others in her life. Other patients began filtering in because it was a Saturday in an Urgent Care, after all.

In my teaching, I try to help my students find out what's really involved in their potential careers: For their first informative speech, instead of researching a general topic, students dive into career exploration: What does a day truly look like? What salary can they expect? What soft skills should they acquire?

I have been amazed by how many students give this speech and then reveal that after doing some research, they've changed their minds or decided to go in an entirely different direction.

So what's the communication lesson here?

When my grandmother asked me why I needed to rock the boat when I was already in a "fine job," I didn't know what to say. I knew that my grandfather sacrificed a successful music career and ended his working years as proprietor of a washing machine service. I didn't think my grandmother would resonate with me suddenly realizing that I wasn't fulfilled.

If your family or friends likewise offer a bold or subtle opinion about your impending change, try to stick to facts, preferably, after you have some. Like I said in the MyFootpath piece, you have to do some investigation. Here's how those conversations can go down:

Professors/Those in the Field: 
Talk to a professor who is in the field you're thinking of leaving, as well as a prof in the field you're thinking of joining.

For the first prof, discuss your specific concerns. Say, "I have been rethinking this major/career path because I'm concerned that __________." This is the time to get out all of your rational and irrational thoughts. Get the facts!

For the next prof, discuss what you think are the facts. Say, "I'm thinking of changing course and I want to make sure I have the right information about this major/career before I make a final decision."

Also, you could ask each prof, "Could you refer me to someone currently working in this field so I can learn more?" Even a phone conversation could give you tremendous insight.

Your college probably has a career center, and that's another wonderful place to gather facts. In fact, if you are attending a university, you could certainly check into the career center at a community college... and vice versa. One of the things I loved about being a student is that it gives you such a beautiful excuse to do investigation. People hear, "I'm a student..." and they are often primed (and honored!) to share information.

Academic Advisers: 
Of course, you'll want to talk to your academic adviser and say, "How will making this change affect the credits I've currently taken? How will my overall course plan be affected?"

Your adviser for the new program can help, too. Ask, "Does this program allow elective credits so I can transfer some of my existing classes? How many credits are required for a minor in my former major area? Are there any possibilities for substitutions?" You never know until you ask, right?

Then, Your Family, Friends, or Anyone Else Who Cares About You
Now, let's talk get back to the most challenging part of communicating your change:  Talking to those close to you.

Always start with hard facts first. Logic tends to resonate with people far more easily than emotions, which can be so fickle. Tell your family or friends what you've already learned. Here is what I would have said to my grandmother if I knew then what I know now:

"Grandma, I really appreciate how concerned you are about me and I know that my job looks like it's a great fit for me. I didn't realize that it wasn't until I was able to try something else. I've done quite a bit of research and here's what I found out: I do need to go back to school to become a professor, and it is expensive. But, I can pay for my undergraduate degree while I'm earning money through transcription and teaching.

Then, if I do well in school, I can apply for a graduate assistantship, which will cover the cost of my Master's tuition and I'll make a small stipend. Granted, I'll have to work pretty hard since I have my mortgage and bills... I'll keep transcribing for my clients, keep teaching my night classes, and then I'll have to work at the university for the assistantship, but I am determined to try and do it.

The worst that will happen is that I'll decide to teach transcription at the college level, but at least I'll have the credentials for that with an advanced degree."

(Then, it's okay to insert some emotion before you close...)

"I feel pretty scared that I'm changing my mind this way, especially since I was so sure about my path. But I hope you'll support me as I continue to figure things out. I'm glad to answer any of your questions or concerns about what I'm doing. If I don't know the answers, then I'll realize I have more to find out, too."  

Defensiveness is a quick and easy go-to place for any of us. However, the more humility and realness we can show, the harder it is for someone to criticize.

As you know, I decided that I didn't even want to teach transcription long-term. My years in Toastmasters, the fact that I happily worked to rise up the ranks of the organization and I rarely missed meetings, told me that public speaking and communication was where I needed to be.

Interesting how some changes pan out, isn't it?

And I guess I've come full-circle to some degree:  Here I am, writing about my passion point--communication, students, college--now in my ninth month of blogging with over 13,000 visitors (abundant thanks to you!!!!).

I just landed a publisher (which I'll discuss in a future post) and am hard at work finishing "Say This, NOT That to Your Professor:  42 Talking Tips for College Success" for release this graduation season.

My career path was supposed to begin in writing, but then I was diverted... two times over.

I guess that other part of my authentic self is finding its way back. 

Students, are you struggling with any "major change"? What conversations would help you figure out your next move? Colleagues in education and out, what happened when you had to make some major changes in your education or career? I'd love to hear those stories, and even compile them for a future blog post!