The McKearn Fellow Experience

The beginning of the program seems so long ago, but I remember the question posed to each of the Fellows on the first day. “What are you most anxious about for this program?” My response was that I was anxious to do my best and to do what was expected of me. While I do have great material for my presentation on Thursday, I have come to realize that these 8 weeks have really been all about the process and not the result. That process has been shaped by the challenge to be a leader to others, the encouragement of living with other McKearn Fellows, the deepening of my knowledge for research in my field, the exceptional feedback from Kim Volmer, the continual guidance by the McKearn team and both of my mentors, and of course the generosity of John and Cassandra McKearn themselves. I want to say a thank you to each person listed for helping/challenging me to grow. Now that I am in the final week, I can look back and say that I managed to do exactly what was expected of me: develop myself as a leader, become proficient in presenting ideas to others, and engage in serving the community of DeKalb.

I will be able to use the skills that I learned through this program in various aspects of life, whether it be dining formally with an influential person, standing firm in my ethical principles when faced with adversity, being an example for others as a leader, presenting my future research in a concise but clear manner, or even just knowing when to take a break to recharge. 

For me, the biggest take away is the fact that anyone can be a leader, although it might take some people longer than others to be an effective leader. There have been enough individuals loosely titled “leader” so that there now needs to be a distinction between the run-of-the-mill leader and an effective leader. I would operationally define “effective” as someone who is motivated to continue to enhance themselves as a leader by being committed to strengthening any of the 5 practices of a leader mentioned in a previous post. I believe that the message that anyone one can be a leader is not spoken enough, and that if more people were told that they can be a leader in their everyday life, more people could start waking up to this idea of being a leader and develop themselves to help others come to this realization as well.

Projects and Personal Growth

My research project has been coming along quite smoothly up to now. Coming into the program, it was so easy to believe that these 8 weeks would be more project focused and that there would be more time each day to be able devote solely to my project. I quickly realized this fellowship encompasses much more than just my research. We have been attending multiple leadership development workshops as well as research ethics meetings and civic engagement opportunities.

As a result of these frequent yet useful personal development events, it has been a challenge for me to decide which parts to trim back for my project to be able to fit into the time constraints. This trimming has caused me to not complete as large or as comprehensive of research that I would have liked. As a result, I am quite nervous about getting my project done on time. I know I can do it to the best of my abilities with the time given, but just not at my high standard that I am used to producing work.

It has been a slow realization for me that 8 weeks is not enough time to complete my original idea for my project. I watched my fellow cohort members simplify their own projects to fit the time frame, but I had not adjusted my own project until recently because I refused to believe that I would not be able to complete my project in the manner that I would like. This process looks like continual simplification/removal of any part that is not necessary, and it has been difficult because research is research. I am used to all parts being necessary.

What I have learned through doing research this summer is that I must leave extra room in the future for the planning and time required to be able to complete larger, more complex research goals. Still, I am quite proud of the fact that I got as much accomplished as I did in 8 weeks, when a typical project (if given enough time) would take at least 4 months. Without being a part of this program, I would have never known that I can accomplish more that I was aware was possible to get done in this short amount of time. Go research!

The Practice of Being a Leader

The McKearn Summer Research Program series on leadership continues with an excellent 2-day leadership seminar by Dino Martinez. He really connected our readings from The Leadership Challenge with real life through plentiful amounts of life application and personal stories.

The book hinges on Five Practices of a Leader: Model the way, Inspire a shared vision, Challenge the Process, Enable others to act, and Encourage the heart. The one thing that stood out to me to work on, is the practice of inspiring a shared vision. Specifically the realm of enlisting others’ help in tasks. Quite often it is necessary to get others to want to complete a task that is beneficial to your own agenda. Sometimes it is relatively easy, and other times it is a challenge to trust others to complete the task at the standard that I want it completed at. I have learned to overcome this particular challenge by learning more about my audience (who am I trusting to complete this task) as well as giving others the opportunity to expand their own experience.

The various leadership workshops, NIU alumni meetings, and formal presentations that we have participated in have really helped to develop me as a leader. I am grateful that  learn alongside the others in this handpicked McKearn Fellow cohort. They really enhance my research experience, and I am continually inspired by them to become more proficient in my academic and professional life.

Lorado Taft Weekend Retreat

What have the McKearn Fellows been up to recently? We were all whisked away to Lorado Taft, a privately owned campsite of NIU, where we had the weekend to catch some down time, which was mildly interspersed with writing workshops.

As a response to our trip this weekend, we were asked to share an experience from this trip that has contributed to our personal, academic, and professional growth in life. I would like to share that with you now.

For me, the hurdle holding me back from growth was the challenge of realizing that what I might not find helpful may be necessary for others to achieve growth. I have been to a few  weekend retreats where an organization invites students to a woodland area. This is viewed by most as a way to relax by slowing down enough to allow reflection time. I don’t see anything wrong with others using this as a way of relaxation, but it has not worked for me. I assume that is because I already have learned to manage my time to leave room for reflection. So the result of any further time spent on reflection typically will leave me with time to reflect on the time that I would have liked to put towards my project.

Because of my experience this weekend and previous weekend retreats, I have come to realize this simple but largely overlooked quality in my life. There will be instances where plans that evoke productivity in other people will not always be good for me. I should be aware of that as a leader and implement those plans for the sake of others without holding back just because I incorrectly project my needs onto others. The Lorado Taft weekend getaway really helped drive this home for me; I am glad that I was finally able to realize that this time around.

The project that I am working on…

As I have described in my “About” section, the project that I am working on this summer is a self-paced reading intervention designed to strengthen peoples’ ability to learn and retain knowledge from scientific texts. As it turns out, people have difficulty completing this task correctly. Big surprise right? One article in particular that I am using as a reference for my research is one by Millis, Graesser, and Haberlandt (1993).

Now before I scare you off with any fancy jargon, I promise to explain everything that you need to know : )

“Connectives” is basically a fancy term for “language which indicates causality.” A few examples of the connectives used in scientific texts are “before” and “and then”, “which causes” and “which enables”, and “so that” and “in order that.” Simple stuff right? Now, back to the study from 1993. They looked at the role of connectives on inference making because connectives were thought to enhance the ability to create inferences in scientific texts. The reason to help readers generate inferences while reading is because act of creating inferences has been found to aid the processes of learning and retaining information from scientific texts (Tibus, Heier, & Schwan, 2012; Singer, Harkness, & Stewart, 1997; Singer, Halldorson, Lear, & Andrusiak, 1992).

From the study on connectives, it turns out that using simple, text-based directions (explicitly stated connectors) are not enough to help readers make the appropriate representation of what they just read (Millis et al., 1993). For that reason, I will be introducing my reading intervention, which will explicitly teach students to carefully attend to language indicating key elements and how they are related. In addition to instruction, the tutorial also provides practice with feedback.

Thank you for listening, I hope that I did not bore you with “sciency” talk. If you take anything away from this post at all, I want my readers to know that, while this may sound boring on paper, I am having a blast researching this summer and that I am very glad to have been able to be part of this program.

Ethos in everyday life

Screen Shot 2013-07-04 at 5.18.42 PMEthics: a code of understanding or principles that promote morality, peace, and good character. I will highlight just a few main ethical principles because there are many in my discipline of psychology. Some well-known ethics in my field are:

Beneficence and Nonmaleficence, Fidelity and Responsibility, Integrity, Justice, and Respect for People’s Rights and Dignity.

As a researcher, I am bound by the American Psychological Association to abide by these principles. Basically, anything that I can do that will protect the participant in any research scenario, I should ensure that it is done. The rights and protection of the participant always come before the importance of my study.

Some simple examples of ethical issues in my field that arise form time to time could be that a researcher is working with a grant at one school, wants to move to another school, and wants to continue with that same research. In many cases that is not allowed as that data is only to be used at the previous institution.

A second scenario is one concerning authorship. Not always, but quite often whoever puts in the most work on the research gets their name first on a publication. This often gets tricky, and there are numerous reasons why this may be. It could be that the lead person stops putting in as much effort halfway through or maybe a second person comes in and does more work than the first.

These don’t seem like they should really be a problem, but ownership is tricky and, from my experience, often goes unmentioned in my field until it is just before publication time. These issues can be resolved in a variety of ways, but for my two example issues, it simply requires looking ahead and being proactive about planning out ahead of time (and possibly have in writing) who will have ownership over the data or planning out who gets first author on the paper.

Throughout my research this summer, I will be policing myself to make sure that I carry out good research ethics. I have planned ahead for my research and have taken action to prevent any projected issues that might arise. In addition to me keeping myself in check, I have two highly trained experts in the field who have take on the roles of being my mentors. I continually learn so much from each of them, and I am extremely grateful to have each of their input and correction in my education. Through them, I am able to learn valuable principles and other research ethics that will be long lasting and beneficial to have as I move into my desired career as a researcher.

Etiquette training

It was noon on a Wednesday of the second week of the program while we dined on the 80th floor with a beautiful, wide-windowed view of Chicago. The purpose of our visit was to be instructed about etiquette by a professional trainer, Liz Bockman, so that we would be able present ourselves professionally at meals or business meetings both during this program and later in life. It was good of the McKearn Fellowship Team to create this learning opportunity for us Fellows because this will not only be valuable knowledge as we continue to dine with NIU alumni throughout this program, but also as we advance into each of our respective careers.

Screen Shot 2013-07-02 at 2.43.53 PMFor me, I really enjoyed finally knowing exactly what is expected of a female when she is asked to dress in “business formal.” Having never been to an occasion where it was required that I wear business formal attire, I was very curious to learn about that. Our dining etiquette was then put to use immediately after learning because we were scheduled to meet with three NIU alumni for lunch. It was still an educational experience for all of us, the alumni included, because Liz Bockman was at the meal with us to continue to teach us dining formalities. Far and away, my favorite part about the entire experience was connecting with Dave Hewson over lunch. I liked the smile that passed over his face when he answered my question of, “Did you ever imagine that you would be in this position as a college student?” To which he replied, “Not at all.”

The most important thing learned this week and in continuation of the leadership theme mentioned in the previous post, I wanted to add that the most important thing in leadership is to always be confident when you present yourself no matter what and to always dress appropriately.