August 2013

Navigating Graduate School

Thriving in Graduate School

How you connect with your department and the university community will help set you up for success during your graduate career and beyond. Learn how to move beyond just surviving graduate school to thriving in it…

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Managing Your Graduate Program

Learn the requirements of the most common graduate degrees so you’re aware of how the degree requirements are structured at UNL and which people will be able to help you along your way.

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Good Practices in Graduate Education

Quoting and Paraphrasing: How to Attribute Words and Ideas

Properly citing sources as you write provides a foundation for your argument and builds your credibility as a scholar. Understand how to summarize, paraphrase, and quote in your work to avoid plagiarism.

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Graduate Student Professional Development

Preparing for the Job Market

It’s never too early to think about your entry into the job market—whether you plan on taking an academic route or applying to jobs in the non-profit, government, or business sector. By thinking early on about how you’ll look to potential employers, you'll be prepared to differentiate yourself from other candidates.

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Learning the Elevator Speech

An elevator speech is a good way to introduce yourself and your work, whether it's to professional colleagues at a conference or a job interview or just explaining what you do to your neighbors and new acquaintances.

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NSF Graduate Fellowships

New graduate students at UNL conducting research in a STEM field may be eligible for a fellowship from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Benefits include three years of a $32,000 annual stipend, paid tuition and fees, and research and professional development opportunities.

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Teaching Tip

Using MyPlan

Find out how you can use MyPLAN (My Personal Learning and Advising Network) to help the undergraduate students you teach succeed.

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Understanding Who Your Students Are

Understanding the demographic makeup of your classroom will help you decide how to set expectations for your students and how to approach your material.

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The Graduate Writer

Subject–Verb Agreement

Subject-Verb Agreement can be tricky. Find out more about which sentence-subjects need special attention in your academic writing.

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News and Notes August 2013

Funding Opportunities August 2013

Calendar August 2013

Thriving in Graduate School

image of a sapling tree
A grad student is similar to a young tree.

A sapling is a young tree that's been growing for several years and begun to establish itself as a part of its community. It's demonstrated an ability to acquire the light and water it needs, and it has high potential to become like the more mature trees around it. To continue to grow and develop, however, a sapling must constantly acquire more resources. A successful sapling invests its energy in extending its root system.

A tree employing a "go deep" growth strategy extends roots as far as possible into the ground and has the additional benefit of increasing its resistance to storm winds and drought. It's best if this strategy is balanced by increased growth above the ground, which increases the plant's productivity (that is, the ability to convert energy, air, and water to a substantial, tangible material).

If a graduate student is a sapling, graduate school is a tree nursery. The trees are arranged in cohorts (often transplanted), and the nursery staff lends a hand by mowing the grass, looking after the trees' welfare, and helping them acclimate. Despite the external assistance that's available, each tree must actively take up resources and rely on internal processes for growth.

A sapling can survive by maintaining its initial state—acquiring enough to live another day. The very word "survive" seems to indicate a struggle for life. In contrast, a sapling exhibiting a healthy state, able to acquire necessary resources and turn raw materials into productivity, is said to thrive

You'll occasionally have people talk about "Surviving Graduate School," but that doesn't reflect the possibilities and opportunities for growth. It's possible for a graduate student to "survive" graduate school (earn a degree) by (1) working with an advisory committee, (2) meeting the minimum degree requirements, and (3) completing coursework satisfactorily. But as a tree, such a student would have very shallow, under-developed roots.

In contrast, the "root system" of a thriving graduate student would be deep and vitally connected to important resources on campus, in his academic field, and to members of the community. Such a student's "branches" would be healthy, upright, growing in many directions (in balance), and working to produce "fruit." It's possible to grow and develop in graduate school—to increase one's ability to learn, think, understand, and express oneself. And it's reasonable to expect to produce something of value in graduate school. If we can help you, contact us.

How to Thrive in Graduate School
  • Grow your professional network
  • Get involved in campus and community activities
  • Increase the breadth and depth of your knowledge, experience, understanding, and skill
  • Conduct your work with efficiency, objectivity, honesty, and accuracy (academic integrity)
  • Mentor other students
  • Set goals
  • Ask for help when you need it
schematic sketch of a plant's roots
What do YOUR student roots look like?

Managing Your Graduate Program

While graduate study is unique to every student, there are many similarities in the timeline across programs and departments. We’re outlining the requirements of the most common graduate degrees so you’re aware of how the degree requirements are structured at UNL and who will be able to help you along your way.

Remember that you bring your own experiences with a different college administration along with you; there may be key differences between your former college and UNL. Don’t hesitate to ask for clarification.

When you applied to UNL, you applied to both your department and the Graduate College. The Graduate College oversees all four campuses for the University of Nebraska: the University of Nebraska Omaha, the University of Nebraska Kearney, the University of Nebraska Medical Center, and, finally, the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Specific to the UNL campus is the Office of Graduate Studies. The staff in the Office of Graduate Studies support your department and will help you as you work to meet the requirements of the Graduate College.

The Office of Graduate Studies is here to help you keep on track, fulfilling the Graduate College’s requirements so that you can focus on your studies. Other resources include the Graduate Bulletin, which is available online at The Forms and Deadlines webpage at offers a quick overview of the main documents you need to complete your degree.

Support as You Work on Your Degree

There are a number of people who will help you on your way: Your advisor, committee members, graduate chair, graduate support staff, and the Graduate Studies Master’s Degree Specialist and Doctoral Degree Specialist will all help you at different points in your career.

When you begin your studies, you'll most likely meet with your graduate chair. The graduate chair helps you look at the course ahead and will also be a resource when you want additional advice. Once you have an advisor, you’ll be meeting with your graduate chair less, but he or she still plays a vital role in your success in graduate school. The graduate chair is particularly important in the beginning and will be available for clarification of steps as you progress. 

Your advisor will provide supervision as you complete coursework and will be your first contact for working on your thesis or project. It’s helpful to find an advisor in your first year, unless the graduate chair in your department serves as a temporary advisor during the first year for all students (this will be the case in many departments). You may already have an advisor when you entered your program due to receiving an assistantship. If you haven’t already been assigned one, find an advisor who researches in an area that may be interesting to you as a thesis topic, with whom you’ve completed some coursework, who knows your writing and learning style, and with whom you communicate well. Additionally, an advisor must have graduate faculty status. You can check this online through the Graduate Bulletin. Your advisor will continue to advise you on your coursework so that as you narrow down your topic, you are taking the courses that will help you build your general knowledge of your topic.

The graduate support staff person is housed in your department. Introduce yourself early in your first semester (or now, since we’ve told you!) and stop in regularly to see how he or she is doing. This person stays on top of departmental policies and can help you with paperwork or advise you about deadlines. If he or she knows who you are, and you’ve been cordial, it’s easier to get help when you need it so don’t be a stranger.

The Master’s and Doctoral Degree Specialists are housed in the Office of Graduate Studies, not your department. They will work with you one-on-one to make sure that you are meeting the requirements of the Graduate College. Additionally, they help you stay on track filing required documents with the Graduate College and can also help navigate the rules of the Graduate College and your department. 

Master’s Degree: Specific Steps

Before you finish half of your coursework, work with your advisor to complete a “Memorandum of Courses.” In this document you'll outline the coursework required for your degree program. You'll want to consider your interests, the things you need to learn to complete your degree, and the requirements of your degree.

You'll also need to determine which degree option is right for you. Each option has specific requirements; speak with your advisor and consult the Graduate Bulletin for details. Coursework can help you establish proficiencies for your thesis or project, and also for your future employment.

In your final semester, you will file an Application for Degree that should be completed in consultation with your advisor or graduate chair. Make sure that your thesis or requirements will be completed before the deadlines specified on the Forms and Deadlines page of the Graduate Studies Current Student site. The “Guidelines for Preparation and Submission of an Electronic Thesis” provides information about preparing and submitting your thesis.

You'll also complete the Final Examination Report Form four weeks prior to the oral defense or the deadline listed on the calendar of deadlines, whichever comes first. Visit the Graduate Studies Forms and Deadlines page to see the deadlines for the semester.

Doctoral Degrees: Specific Steps

Establish your committee before you have accumulated 45 credit hours by working with your advisor and completing the Appointment of Supervisory Committee Form. If necessary, you can amend this form later.

In the same semester you form your committee, complete a Program of Studies. This document outlines your coursework, which makes up your first few years at UNL. This document is not final—you can change it as needed. Check with your graduate chair about department-specific requirements.

In your second or third year you'll be completely (or nearly) done with your coursework, so you'll take your Comprehensive Exams (Comps) and apply for Candidacy. Comps look very different across departments, but the Graduate College requires a written element to the exams. Your department likely requires an oral component too, but check with your advisor or graduate chair for details. Your entire committee evaluates your performance on Comps.

Once you pass your Comps, you'll focus on your dissertation. Remember that while you research and write your dissertation, you must register for at least 1 credit hour each semester until graduation, or your program will be terminated. Begin properly formatting your dissertation early; this makes edits at the end much easier.

File the Application for Degree at the beginning of the semester you will graduate. You don't need to have your dissertation done before applying for graduation.

After your dissertation has been accepted for defense, you'll file the Application for Final Oral Exam. You must file this form more than two weeks before your defense, with signatures of at least three of your readers on it. Remember that your committee will need time to read your dissertation first. Communicate with your committee to know how much time each reader will need.

Expect to make some corrections and additions to your dissertation following your defense, and then deposit your dissertation according to the instructions given when you filed your “Application for Final Exam.”


While the road ahead has a number of steps, by becoming acquainted with it now, you have helped set yourself up for success. Should you ever feel off course, remember to check in with your advisor, graduate chair, or the Degree Specialist. They can each offer unique support and help you achieve your goal—earning a degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


Attributing Words and Ideas in Your Work

As a graduate student, you engage with diverse ideas and academic work. Writing papers for your seminars and later your thesis and dissertation require you to account for other voices while establishing your own academic voice. Properly citing sources as you write provides a foundation for your argument and builds your credibility as a scholar. You can make connections between your work and previous work through three techniques: summary, paraphrase, and quotation.

Summaries, paraphrases, and quotations, when used properly, also help you avoid plagiarism. At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the Student Code of Conduct defines plagiarism as: “Presenting the work of another as one's own (i.e., without proper acknowledgment of the source) and submitting examinations, theses, reports, speeches, drawings, laboratory notes or other academic work in whole or in part as one's own when such work has been prepared by another person or copied from another person” (Section 4.2.a.3). The key to avoiding plagiarism is making a clear distinction between the source’s voice and your own. Here are a few hints for properly quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing sources.

Summarizing allows you to quickly provide an overview to a section, chapter, or work. Generally, summaries allow you to provide background knowledge for your own work, whether you plan on building upon that work or refuting its main claims. To summarize the six-page introduction to The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White:   

E.B. White recounts the larger-than-life professor William Strunk and his most famous work, The Elements of Style, in the introduction to the 1979 edition of the same. White recollects the original handbook his professor created, which Strunk himself referred to as “the little book” (xiii). While small, this book continues to instruct high school and college students on concise and clear writing. According to White, Strunk singles out turns of phrase that are redundant, excessive, and needless for special attention and editing.

Note the use of “the little book” in quotation marks. It’s included in the summary because it plays a key role in White’s introduction. While “the little book” certainly isn’t original to White (or Strunk), here it’s a direct quote from White’s introduction. He refers to the Elements as a “little book” several times in the course of the introduction, contrasting the book’s deceptively small size with its greater impact.

Paraphrasing is a helpful tool when you're interested in the main idea a writer presents and you want to present the idea succinctly. When writing, you may choose to paraphrase a paragraph, section, or even chapter in a few sentences. 

In the introduction to The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, White describes the editions of Elements over the years and his own contribution to the current edition, including his updates to the volume with modern words and phrases (xiv).

When you are paraphrasing a source and you are using a term that they coin or one that is not commonly used by many in your discipline, make sure to attribute these words through a quote within the paraphrase. While “modern words and phrases” was a paraphrase, choosing to pull White’s original language makes the paraphrase more interesting:

In the introduction to The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, White describes the editions of Elements over the years and his own contribution to the current edition, where he updates the volume with words and phrases “of a recent vintage” (xiv).

The phrase “of a recent vintage” is pulled directly from White’s writing. Because it’s not commonly used (try typing the phrase into your favorite search engine—the first ten hits will be direct quotes of E.B. White), and it’s clearly being taken from the page being paraphrased, it’s important to properly denote the expression’s source. On the other hand, if you are using a phrase that’s common knowledge for someone in your field you don’t need to attribute a source: e.g., Byronic hero, automatic processes, or human gene patenting.

Finally, quotations play a central role in your academic writing. There are two examples of shorter quotations above, where a particular turn of phrase is not common knowledge (common knowledge includes information that most people know and indisputable facts, e.g., the date the Declaration of Independence was signed; the fact that the sky is blue). When quoting, make sure to introduce the quote and offer an explanation or interpretation for what your reader should note:

E.B. White’s introduction to The Elements of Style celebrates his former advisor through stories of grammar lessons and his “little book.” The two are closely connected for White: “It is encouraging to see how perfectly a book, even a dusty rule book, perpetuates and extends the spirit of a man” (xviii). In the pages of the Elements that follow, the reader can catch glimpses of Professor Strunk, made a little more visible when read through the lens of the classroom examples White carefully included in the introduction.

With a little practice, incorporating summaries, paraphrases, and quotes in your writing will help you properly attribute words, concepts, and ideas. Doing so not only makes sense in terms of academic integrity, but also develops your writing abilities and results in better scholarship.



Strunk, William and E.B. White. The Elements of Style. New York: Pearson Longman. 2000.



Preparing for the Job Market

You may be reading this on your first day of graduate school, but it’s never too early to think about your entry into the job market—whether you plan on taking an academic route or applying to jobs in the non-profit, government, or business sector. By thinking early on about how you’ll look to potential employers, you'll be prepared to differentiate yourself from other candidates. And no matter what type of a job you’re applying for, you’ll want to make the "first cut" (where employers read your CV or résumé and cover letter) and move on to the interview stage.

To stand out, think about what makes you unique. What experience do you have working with others? Do you have experience organizing events as well as researching? Have you held leadership positions? Thomas J. Straka encourages applicants to consider their leadership experience in graduate school because “hiring committees know that such graduate student leaders usually stand out. Don't underestimate yourself; don't think committee members won't know how hard some of those 'minor' accomplishments were. [1]” These experiences will be a part of your application, and you’ll want to show a single narrative formed by all of your materials.

Begin gaining insight into what employers are seeking as early as your second year of graduate school. Pull job lists from places like the Chronicle of Higher Education, H-Net, or your discipline if you’re looking to enter academia. If working in government is your goal, review postings from the Federal Government, check the job website at the International City/County Management Association (ICCMA), and don't forget to review job sites related to specific towns and/or counties you’d like to work in. Non-profit job sites like OpportunityKnocks and Idealist are also excellent resources.

Check on both minimum qualifications and specific preferred skills employers are looking for. If you have a few years until you graduate, think creatively about how you can develop those skills. If you’re going on the market now, consider how your work in graduate school qualifies you for a position. For example, if you’re applying for a job as a policy and planning assistant and the position requires a candidate who can research and analyze data under limited supervision, you might explain how research on your sociology thesis and writing up the data qualifies you for the job.

Ready to apply for a job? You’ll put together a number of documents to include with your application. Most jobs require a cover letter, a curriculum vitae (abbreviated vita or CV) or résumé, a description of future research plans and/or a teaching philosophy (if you’re applying for academic jobs), and a list of references (or actual reference letters).

Write Your Cover Letters

Each job you apply to requires a tailored cover letter. Make sure that your cover letter offers a brief introduction to yourself, and, if you're applying for an academic job, your teaching and research experience. Alternatively, if you’re applying for a job beyond the professoriate, you’ll introduce yourself and include your most salient qualifications. In both instances, comb the job listing and note specific words used in the listing and skills they are looking for. Incorporate these words into your letter, especially if you’re applying to non-academic jobs. Nowadays, Human Resources often uses software to scan cover letters for specific vocabulary. If certain key words are not there, no human eye will ever cast a glance at the rest of your application. Remember, you don’t need to write extensively about every qualification—you simply need to convince the reader that you’re qualified for the job and that you have the potential to be an interesting and supportive colleague.

Update your CV and/or Résumé

Coupled with your cover letter, your curriculum vitae or résumé shows your experience and your qualifications. As you go through graduate school and beyond, keep a master list of all your work experience, publications, and other information that may be relevant for applying to jobs. When it comes time to apply, you won’t struggle to remember specific dates or find a description of a position you’ve held.

A few words on the difference between a CV and a résumé: While both documents provide information about your work history and experience, the CV is a longer document that includes all information about your academic life. As you gain experience, your CV can grow to 10, 20, or even 80 (!) pages. All CVs start with your education, with the most recent degree listed first. A résumé, on the other hand, is a one-page document that provides an overview of all relevant experience. Your education may be listed as the final element, or you may not include your education at all. The most important element on a résumé is work experience. Whether you’re putting together a CV or a résumé, resist the urge to cram too much information on the page. Use white space to effectively guide the eye and make reading easier.

Request Letters of Recommendation

Academic jobs usually require three letters of recommendation with your application, although some academic jobs simply ask for a list of references. Most non-academic jobs will ask for a list of references. Before you list anyone, be sure to talk with them about the jobs you’re applying for. If possible, meet in person and bring a copy of the job listing, the cover letter that you’ve tailored for the position, and your résumé.

When you meet with a potential reference, explain why you would like to list the person and what aspect of your work or experience the reference has specific knowledge of. If you’re asking for a letter, ask well ahead of time. If the reference balks or is hesitant to write you a letter, be sensitive to the situation. “If a recommender declines your request, he or she more than likely has a good reason for it. Just respond with a polite note saying that you understand and that you appreciate their consideration. [2]” To reduce the number of letters a reference must write, open an account with Interfolio another dossier service to keep track of all your documents. If you’re applying for dozens of academic jobs, your letter writer can submit one letter that gets sent with every set of job application materials.

Create a Teaching Portfolio

Create a teaching portfolio even if the position you're interested in doesn't have a teaching component. Here's why: By organizing your portfolio into a coherent and organized presentation of your documents, you'll be better prepared to articulate your teaching style, the strategies and the methods you've used, and your goals for student learning. Documentation included in the teaching portfolio may be syllabi, teaching evaluations, sample assignments, annotated graded assignments, and teaching observations. It should also include a concise teaching statement describing: 1) what you want students to learn; 2) how you help them learn; and 3) how you assess student learning. Begin collecting this documentation early, as it’ll be hard to put together an effective portfolio that shows your development as a teacher in just a few weeks. Like your master list for the résumé, update your teaching portfolio every semester or year. Minimize and organize your portfolio. Add a table of contents so that it’s easy to give an overview of the contents.

When you apply for any job, make sure that the whole application reflects who you’ll be as a colleague and an employee. By starting early and investing time and energy into the materials, you’ll show that you’re an outstanding candidate and worth an interview.


[1] The Déjà Vu of Today's Application Files, by Thomas Straka at

[2] Dos and Don'ts for the Academic Job Search: Letters of Recommendation, by Julie Platt for

Additional Reading

Preparing for the Job Market Maze, by Ashley Wiersma for

PhD Academic, a resource from UC Berkeley Career Center

How to Find Job Postings from UCSD Career Services

How to Create and Maintain Your CV by Natalie Houston for

Developing Your Teaching Portfolio, by George Clark for


Your Elevator Speech

An elevator speech is a 30–60 second summary of your research interests, main findings, and their importance to society. It's a good way to introduce yourself and your work, whether it's to professional colleagues at a conference or a job interview or just explaining your work to your neighbors and new acquaintances.

Write it out

When composing an elevator talk for the first time, writing it out will help you organize your thoughts and identify areas for improvement.

100 words or less

Focus on the most important aspects of your work. Remember you have a time limit, and you need to use a normal rate of speech. "Differentiate what you do from how you do it….Start with the big picture of your research, give it context, and then proceed to the main points you want to convey1."

Use plain language (no jargon)

Even if you're speaking to someone of similar training and familiarity with the field, showing an ability to communicate clearly in plain language is an admirable trait.

Convert to speech

Once you have a good written draft, adapt it for spoken language—account for natural rates of speech, including pauses for effect or clarity. Consider how voice and body language can convey your message.


Now practice your speech orally—first to yourself, and then to friends and peers. Convey the interest you have in your work. Use and be open to questions. Adapt your talk based on other's feedback, which may include questions about the subject of your talk.

Prepare for questions

A good elevator speech will pique the interest of the listener. What you say can (and should!) give rise to specific questions about your background or findings. Anticipate those questions and prepare concise answers to them. Giving your speech a few times will help you identify what those questions might be. If you consistently get the same questions, you might want to incorporate the answer into future versions of your talk.

Start a conversation

An elevator speech is a means to an end: to share what's important about your work and to start a conversation.

Customize your message

Because you'll be talking with more than one group of people during your career, develop a few versions of your speech and know which one will resonate best with your audience (one version might emphasize the social benefit of your work, another the financial viability of your current research, a third focusing on practical value for future work).

close-up of finger pressing elevator button
Image by flickr|bogenfreund

A good elevator speech:

  • is brief but memorable
  • piques the interest of your audience
  • presents you and your work clearly
  • is a conversation-starter
  • is adaptable for different audiences
1Elevating Your Elevator Talk, by M. Schmer. CSA News, June 2012, p. 38.


NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

Graduate students new to the University of Nebraska—Lincoln who also research in the STEM fields may be eligible for a fellowship through the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF-GRFP). Research fields include Engineering; Computer and Information Sciences and Engineering; Materials Research; Mathematical Sciences; Chemistry; Physics and Astronomy; Social Sciences; Psychology; STEM Education and Learning; Life Sciences; and Geosciences.

Last year, over 13,000 graduate students submitted applications and the NSF made 2,000 offers (source: There are many benefits to receiving an award, including three years of funding through a $32,000 annual stipend, a $12,000 allowance that covers tuition and other costs associated with your education, and research and professional development opportunities. Additionally, receiving an NSF grant at the beginning of your career will make you a better candidate for future grants and fellowships.

Eligible graduate students for the 2014 Graduate Research Fellow Program will have either (1) started their graduate program in the Fall 2013 term or later, (2) started their graduate program in Fall 2012 and not yet earned a graduate or professional degree (like a master’s degree), or (3) been part-time students and have completed no more that 24 credits as of August 1, 2013. Additionally, applicants must be US citizens, US nationals, or permanent residents. See the NSF website for the full requirements for eligibility.

Applications consist of three reference letters; an academic transcript; and three two-page essays: a personal statement essay, a previous research experience essay, and a proposed plan of research essay. The reference letters and the essays should both address the NSF review criteria of Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts. All applications must be filed through NSF’s FastLane from August to November of 2013.

NSF-GRFP Workshop

For assistance in preparing your application, attend our GRFP Overview session on Wednesday, September 18 at 4:30 p.m. in the Nebraska Union. Attendees will have the opportunity to receive feedback on their essays. Email Elizabeth Edwards for details.


Using MyPlan

MyPLAN (My Personal Learning and Advising Network) is a campus-wide platform used for tracking student progress and facilitating student-instructor interactions at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Graduate instructors can manage appointments, learn more about their students, and promote communication between students and on-campus support services by referring students to the resources they need to succeed. 

Here’s an introduction, with hyperlinks to tutorial videos, to a few MyPLAN features. 

Learn your students’ names and faces before the first day of class by accessing their NUID photos on MyPLAN. By creating your own profile in MyPLAN, a student can also learn more about you and even search for you based on your research interests. 

Take advantage of MyPLAN's calendar (which syncs with Office 365) for all of your scheduling needs or only for scheduling office hours. Simply block off time for a one-time appointment or indicate that it’s a recurring block of time, like office hours. Students can only see the time you’ve allocated for student meetings (they can’t see other appointments), and they can sign up for an appointment. Depending on the length of appointments, you can set smaller blocks of time aside in your schedule in 15-minute increments. MyPLAN has the added feature of letting you schedule email reminders and send messages to your students about materials they should bring to the meeting.

Finally, to alert students and advisors to potential issues, you can flag students when their academic performance is not meeting expectations or when there is an attendance matter. Your student will receive an email letting them know of your concern. If a student receives three flags, in either your course or across courses, the student’s advisor will receive an email that there’s an issue that needs to be addressed. Flags can be particularly helpful for issues like missed classes or issues related to time management. Also, if your student needs help outside of class and you aren’t sure what to do, you can click the “refer” button. The student will be contacted within 24 hours by UNL staff prepared to address the issue and this staff member will stay in touch with the student until the issue is resolved. You can also send your student a kudos message for a job well done. 

By communicating through MyPLAN, you work as part of a team to support undergraduate students at UNL.   



Who Your Students Are

August 2013

World events and popular culture contribute to the shaping of each generation of students, making their collective identity unique. How well do you know the undergraduate students you'll be teaching this year? Do you know how many of them are new to Nebraska or the U.S.? Every year another few thousand students begin their studies at UNL, and how many you see depends on the classes you teach. Understanding the demographic makeup of your classroom will help you decide how to set expectations for your students and how to approach your material. The accompanying figures are created from the latest data (Fall 2012) published on UNL’s Institutional Research and Planning (IRP) website.

About one-quarter of the graduate students at UNL are international, but only 6% of undergraduates are international.

The average freshman that begins this Fall semester will have been born in 1995. They were two years old when Princess Diana died. In 2000, when your students were 5, they saw India's population hit 1 billion. Popular TV shows your students grew up with included American Idol and Hannah Montana, and they listened to Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift. Your students weren't alive when the Berlin Wall came down, and 9/11 happened when they were in the first or second grade.

As members of the "M
illennial" generation, your students are interested in learning by doing. They have grown up with instant answers through technology, which means that they expect emails to be answered quickly. While they may be "digital natives" who interface with technology seamlessly, your students have most likely not mastered difficult and multi-part searches through Google or the library website.

Subject-Verb Agreement

Number matters

When writing sentences, the verb conjugates according to the subject. The general rule of thumb for conjugating verbs is that if there's one person, place, or thing as the subject (not just one noun), then the verb is conjugated in the singular. If there are multiple people, places, or things, then the verb is conjugated in the plural. In other words, the verb and subject agree in number.

The student writes her dissertation.
You write your dissertation.

The students write their dissertations.
All of you write your dissertations.

When you have a compound subject (when you have a number of singular or plural nouns that are all the subject of the sentence), you need a plural verb. These compound subjects use the word “and” to link the list of nouns:

Suzy and Pete write their dissertations. (They write their dissertations.)
My cohort and I (we) will present our research. (We will present our research.)


Mass Nouns

Mass nouns, or uncountable nouns, use a plural form and take a singular verb. You’re most likely familiar with some of these from academia:

    • Mathematics
    • Dynamics
    • Statistics
    • Robotics
    • Aerodynamics
    • Linguistics 

Collective Nouns

Like mass nouns, collective nouns are made up of several parts but use a singular verb:

The family is new to the neighborhood.
The group works in the lab.
The herd grazes in the field.

Note that collective nouns use a singular verb in American English, but a plural verb in British English.

Take note! One salient exception to this rule is the word data. Depending on your discipline, data will be used as a singular or a plural noun. A Latin word, data is plural (the singular is datum). In psychology and other scientific disciplines that use data on a daily basis, for example, data takes a plural verb:

The data are inconclusive. (psychology)

But when used colloquially (such as in a news cast or in non-scientific settings), data may be used in the singular:

The data supports the politician's claim.

Learn how data is used in your discipline, and pick the correct verb conjugation accordingly. Because language is fluid and always developing, you may find that use of data as a singular will only continue to grow, just like the plural noun media (singular: medium. Media is also a word borrowed from Latin.)

Pronouns That Use Singular Verbs

Certain words can function as a subject in the sentence when used as a pronoun. These use singular verbs:

    • each, either, neither
    • another
    • anyone, anybody, anything
    • someone, somebody, something
    • one, everyone
    • everybody, everything
    • no one, nobody, nothing

Agreement can be tricky if you are writing long, complex sentences where the subject and verb are not side-by-side. To make editing easier, try reading sentences aloud. Often you’ll hear if something is off. You can also check for subject-verb agreement by asking which subject is doing the verb to find the subject, and then putting the subject and verb side-by-side. Remember to check if the subject is being used as a singular or a plural, or if multiple nouns are being linked together to form a subject. If you’re ever unsure about whether the subject needs a singular or a plural verb, look the word up in the dictionary. The definition will also include how to use the word in a sentence. 


Sources: (APA)