Steering towards graduate school, Michael’s advice

Spring has sprung and so has the time for March’s guest blogger! This month we welcome Michael Lindsey. Michael is a 2014 graduate of North Carolina State University where he received a degree in Mathematics. He is currently enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh where is he working on his PhD in the field. His recent navigation into graduate school has provided him with some great insight into the application and admission process that we hope our readers will find helpful.

Steering towards graduate school, Michael’s advice

“When it comes to senior year, expect a very important question from your professors, advisors, and definitely your parents, “What’s next?” Although somewhat daunting to think about, students usually prepare themselves to go one of two ways: landing their first job, or continuing their education via graduate school. While many are eager to jumpstart their career, I found myself among those who stayed in the lane of academia.

Graduate school is an exciting opportunity. It’s a time and place where you can really immerse yourself in the area you’re interested, study under exceptional professors and professionals, and get hands on experience with ground breaking studies. However, deciding when, where, and how to get to graduate school requires studying, researching, and planning.

Figuring out if and when you want to go to graduate school is the first step. Many students choose to attend graduate school immediately after completion of their undergraduate. This is the route most students take who know they are interested in pursuing careers that require an elevated level of schooling. However, that is not the only option, it is just as commonplace to pursue graduate school after working for a few years – you may even find yourself at a company that will help you pay for it!

After deciding you do want to go, deciding where you want to go graduate school is your next big decision, and one that, as I mentioned, requires you to do your research. Simply typing in “your field of interest” and “graduate school” into a search engine will yield thousands of results. So how do you narrow down, or even start making a prospective list? Factors you should and can consider are: what the school generally specializes in, what the department offers, school ranking, location, assistantship and fellowship opportunities. I chose to sort through schools based on a combination of their rankings and what they specialized in, and ultimately decided on which ones I would apply to based on how well they met my interests. I also tried to apply to schools that were well rounded because I wasn’t 100% sure what I wanted to concentrate in.

The advice I was given was to pick about two schools you stand little chance of getting into (but hey, you never know!), about three where your chance is about a 50/50 shot, and three safe schools – ones you feel at least 80% confident of getting into.

Just as there was when applying to undergrad, there are three important pieces to the application and admissions process.

  1. Test Scores

Unfortunately obtaining a degree from an accredited university isn’t quite enough to be automatically eligible for graduate school – just like you did with the SAT or ACT, you will have to take a standardized test. With the exception of the LSAT and the MCAT (reserved for law and medical students), you will either need to take the GRE or the GMAT. Studying for such tests can often put you under a lot of pressure, especially when you’re doing so in addition to your regular course load, so start early. There are multitudes of resources available depending on your learning style. You can find any and every kind of prep book via a simple Google or Amazon search, and there are tons of other free materials and tips available on the web as well. Some students also choose to take a prep course. These courses are widely popular and are available year around but probably most convenient to take the summer between junior and senior year. I recommend taking the tests at least twice. If you procrastinate, you may end up with a score you are not happy with and not enough time to retake before submitting applications. I chose to take my first attempt near the end of junior year. This gave me a baseline score, familiarly with the test, and almost 6 months of time in between to prepare and improve. I then took my second attempt in October of senior year. Although I was satisfied with my results, there was still time left if I felt I needed to retake once more.

  1. Letters of Recommendation

It goes without saying that the best letters will be from those who really know your intelligence and character. Choose professors who really know you on a first name basis, who you have worked closely with, or have taken multiple classes with. There is also etiquette to be followed when asking for a recommendation. Ask your professors well in advance of the application due date. I tried to ask at least two months in advance. Secondly, ask if they can write you a strong letter of recommendation. You might think just because you did well in their class means they can be a strong reference. However, this isn’t always the case. For a well-written letter, there are many more factors than just a letter grade. If they cannot write a strong letter for you, they’ll be honest with you if they think other faculty members might be better choices for recommenders. Schools will vary on whether or not they allow references to come from outside academia. If they do, think of people such as an internship coordinator or a coordinator of a community program you were heavily involved with.

  1. Personal statement

Here is your opportunity to tell the school WHY you want to attend and why you are motivated. An admission officer once told me that this is most persuasive document you can send in. If you have picked a school because of a particular program, say that! Express your enthusiasm for projects the department is working on, for professors you are keen on studying under, or research the school has produced.

Most application deadlines hover around mid December so make sure you give yourself enough time to confidently address all parts of the application. Then after finally hitting submit comes the waiting process, and to be honest, one of the most stressful times in my life – anticipation really does kill you. How quickly you hear back will vary from school to school and will most likely be affected by how large or small the program is. The earliest I heard back from a school was late January, most decision arrived in March, but I even received some through June.

If you’re still debating whether or not grad school is for you, or feeling overwhelmed by the process, reach out to the resources already around you. The professors in your department (or your coworkers) are a great place to start. Find out where they attended, where they have been for conferences, or if they know of schools that have programs similar to what you’re searching for.”

Micheal Lindsey

Michael

Have more questions about graduate school? Submit them for Michael in a comment below or contact him via his Facebook page!

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Twitter pecks at video-streaming app Meerkat

If anything is trending this week it’s that Austin, Texas is the place to be, and that Meerkat is/was (to be determined) the thing to be on.

Infiltrating Austin is the 22nd Annual South by Southwest Conference & Festival (SXSW). The weeklong event celebrates creativity and advancement in the fields of music, film, and interactive technology, with the goal of bringing a diverse group of “creative, innovative, and inspiring” people together to exchange and showcase ideas. While music and film are appreciated, communication minded professionals should really heed the Interactive Conference.

Each year SXSW Interactive brings together “cutting-edge technologies and digital creativity” by acting as a venue mecca for hosting sessions, tradeshows, and expos revolving around branding and marketing, global policy, social media, entrepreneurship, and of course technology.

Out of all that SXSW has to offer, this year’s most popular topic at the conference involves the ruffled feathers between the widely known social media platform, Twitter, and an up-and-coming video-sharing platform, Meerkat.

For those unfamiliar with Meerkat, the start up is a social network that allows for posting and sharing of live-stream video. The conflict arises out of the foundational intertwine in which Meerkat was built. Founder Ben Rubin, launched the app through Twitter’s application programming interface (API) — API’s are “programming language[s] that allow two different applications to communicate, or interface, with each other”. Using Twitter’s API, Meerkat was allowed access to Twitter’s social graph or “network of friends”, making it easy for Meerkat users to find one another and connect. So for example, when a Meerkat user started a live stream, the app pushed a notification to all of the user’s Twitter friends who also have the Meerkat app.

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However, while at SXSW himself, Meerkat founder, Ben Rubin got the call that Twitter was cutting Meerkat off from its social graph within a mere two hours.

Without access to the social graph Meerkat will no longer be able to automatically notify a Meerkat user’s Twitter followers that a live stream has been started. In addition, without accessibility of the graph, Meerkat will also have to ask people to build their own social networks from scratch inside the app instead of using the network that the user already maintained on Twitter.

The call to cut Meerkat off came just five days after Twitter announced its acquisition of Periscope, a very similar live video sharing app. Some claim that the move by Twitter is acknowledgement of just how successful Meerkat is, and could grow to be – success that would hinder the competitiveness of their own app.

“I get it that when you own the house, you own the rules,” Rubin says. “You can say, I’m about to launch my own app, and I don’t want you to have the graph. But I think the two hours was a little aggressive and not working toward building a community.”

A community, that on the surface Twitter claims to support. Last fall, the company launched “Flock”, a worldwide tour to promote more app develop for the platform via it’s own developer suite, “Fabric”. While touring, the company also announced “Hatch”, their first worldwide startup contest. In a press release, director of product for Fabric, says, “We believe the next great app can come from anywhere so we are going everywhere we can to help you learn how to use Fabric to build great apps.”

“…until they build a real great app, and then they shut it down,” says Rubin.

However, Rubin isn’t the first to become familiar with such a move by Twitter. “Unfortunately, it’s pretty typical of Twitter for the past few years,” said Gedeon Maheux, cofounder of Iconfactory, the company behind Twitterrific, “there are a lot of developers who develop for Twitter based on APIs they produce. And they are fine working with it until Twitter decides that’s a space they want to get into. And then the rules change.”

The overarching theme seems to be that Twitter supports you until they decide they want in on the success. A theme that leaves us to pose the question, “Have Twitter and Facebook turned into conglomerates of the internet like the Big Six have with broadcasting?” Between themselves, the two giants have acquired nearly 80 companies, including some of our other favorite social media outlets – Instagram, Vine, and WhatsApp. Do startup companies like Meerkat even have a shot at success when the giants are so easily able to push their own endeavors through the mergers that already exist?

However, choosing to cut Meerkat off at the opening of a conference designated for interactive technology wasn’t the smartest move by Twitter. The conflict has spurred major publicity and support for Meerkat. According to a Medium post, since being cut off from Twitter’s social graph the app’s user base has grown 30 percent. Despite not even being three weeks old, the app is boasting around 150,000 users with the expectation that those numbers will continue to rise.

The viral take off of Meerkat not only has us questioning if it is the next big thing, but also if the live streaming trend in general is the next big thing. The creative ways in which Meerkaters (yes, that’s what they call themselves) have already used the app show promising potential for a myriad of news, marketing, and social uses.

Thus far the app has been used by CNN’s Brian Steller for behind the scenes TV footage, helped to report live demonstrations in Ferguson, and has even caught on with celebrities and brands. Starbucks and Red Bull have taken to the app, Dane Cook and Tony Hawk have used it for impromptu performances, and the Miami Dolphins have also used to it as an outlet to speak to fans.

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Whether or not Meerkat can withstand its hindrance from Twitter remains speculation, along with whether or not the company will be able to withstand Twitter as a direct competitor once Periscope is released. Is Twitter justified in making the cut? Was the two hours notice a reasonable/professional move on Twitter’s part? Have you or anyone you know used the app? What impacts can you see live streaming having on your company or brand?

– Savannah Valade and Caroline Robinson

Fear – let it mobilize not disable you

You might feel it in the pit of your stomach, in the increase of your pulse, or in a flash of heat. This feeling is called fear; a distressing emotion of dread or apprehension. Many of us experience fear throughout our lifetime, and our professional career is no exception.

Change, big decisions, stress, and unfamiliarity are all triggers of fear and self-doubt. As young professionals deciding what direction to take our life, it is easy to encounter situations where these emotions occur. In fact, reflecting on this past year, I have found that I feared/am fearful of many things: not finding work, not progressing in my field, not living out my dream, not being successful…just to name a few.

Fear is a powerful emotion and if you let it, it can hold you back. So I want to take this time to go over what fear is and how you can use it to your advantage in your personal and professional life.

In order to do this lets look at the types of fears.

  1. External – fears caused by something outside of you
  2. Internal – fears caused by external events, however they “are not specific to any circumstance and are due to internal emotions.” For example, fear of failure.
  3. Subconscious – “fears that develop into limiting beliefs”, these fears filter how you see yourself and the world.

All of these types of fear can be experienced in the workplace, however the fears that are of the most concern are internal and subconscious. They are the type of fears that are a part of our mental mindset. But mindset is all they are. Oprah Winfrey once said, “Whatever you fear most has no power— it is your fear that has the power.” So whatever your fear is know you have the power to overcome and change it. Here are a few things I do to help myself overcome my fears and anxieties.

  1. Talk to a confidant. Some fears we don’t feel comfortable sharing, but some we can talk out. There have been many times I have spoken with a close friend and they have helped me minimize my fear.
  2. Make a plan. Start planning how you are going to overcome your fear or reach the goal you are fearful of not reaching. I find that if I do some research or logically think out how to accomplish what I’m scared of I feel more relaxed and in control.
  3. Don’t ignore your fear. (I am guilty of this.) If I am not ready to face something or am unsure of what to do I tend to put the dilemma in the back of my mind and ignore it (or at least attempt to). This can cause worry and even more stress so if you have a fear try to complete the “make a plan” part sooner rather than later.

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 From this post you might be inclined to think all fear is bad. However, we believe the contrary. Fear is a good instinct; it warns you when to be cautious and it causes you to slow down and question your actions. Facing your particular fears is a deeply personal decision, however, when you decided to do so, it’s also a decision that can be deeply gratifying. Rather than closing yourself off, allow yourself to become porous to the challenges you may find yourself timid of. Facing new environments/people/places will push you to be adaptable, allow you to gain experience, and will boost your confidence

Next time you have that knot forming in your stomach remember this quote from Dr. Henry Link, “We generate fears while we sit. We overcome them by action. Fear is natures way of warning us to get busy.”

What are some fears you encounter as a young professional? (Can be personal or in the workplace.) Is it public speaking? Networking? Transitioning to a new workplace? Check out some of Communication Minded’s previous post to get helpful tips on such areas.

Advice on…

Quitting your job

Getting Organized

Finding the right company culture

Advice for young professionals

– Caroline Robinson & Savannah Valade

Net Neutrality – what it is and why it’s important

If you’ve never heard it before, then you definitely heard it this week – “net neutrality”. Behind the newest buzzword seems to be a combination of rallying, criticism, jargon, politics, and overall confusion. What exactly is net neutrality? What was voted on? How does the ruling affect me? All questions that me, you, and the majority of Internet users have been trying to figure out – in comprehendible terms. So this week we have put together a post to help explain what the fuss has been all about.

What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality is the principle that says Internet Service Providers (ISPs) cannot base consumer’s access to Internet content based on favoritism of some sources over others. Also described as “open internet”, the principle maintains that all legal content and applications should be delivered on an equal basis.

 But what does that mean?

It means that ISPs (companies such as AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Cox, Time Warner) cannot charge content providers (companies such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon) for speedier delivery to consumers. It also means that ISPs cannot slow down delivery speeds of content from their competitors.

 What happened in court?

To understand the evolution of the recent decision, we first must look back a couple of years. In 2010, the FCC issued an Open Internet Order. The primary basis was much as discussed above, “to prevent broadband Internet service providers from blocking or interfering with traffic on the web… to ensure the Internet remained a level playing field for all.”

The order encountered various legal battles but the one that gained notoriety was in the January 2014 ruling of Verizon versus the Federal Communications Commission (FFC).

It was ruled that the FCC used a “questionable legal framework” to craft the order, and also “lacked the authority to implement and enforce those rules.” It was stated that the lack of authority was due to the classification of broadband providers as providers of “information services, not as providers of “telecommunication services”. This acted as the springboard for the ruling that happened last week.

On February 26, 2015, the FCC voted on a proposal pitched by FCC Chairman, Tom Wheeler. Stemming from rules from Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, the proposal reclassifies ISPs and wireless data providers as public utilities.

What was the ruling and what does it mean?

 The vote, split down party lines, passed in favor 3 to 2 by Wheeler and the two other democratic chairs.

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The ruling can be broken down into three main rules:

  1. No blocking – ISPs cannot block assess to any content, applications, or services as long as it is legal.
  2. No throttling – ISPs cannot slow down or diminish the quality of lawful Internet traffic.
  3. No prioritization – ISPs cannot give preferential treatment to some traffic over other, or show favoritism towards their affiliates.

Did you know that the ruling also had mobile implications?

In addition to regulating broadband providers, the proposal also includes mobile providers (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, etc). Just as with broadband providers, mobile carriers will also no longer be allowed to throttle your data or discriminate against certain services.

As we have known for years, the FCC recognized the influence that mobile holds in Internet access. The decision to include was based on the statistics that 55 percent of online traffic passes through wireless networks to phones and tablets.

Again, but what does this mean?         

It means, for example, that the application Google Wallet won’t be banned on your mobile device just because your carrier has a deal with Softcard. Another example is that you will be able to use whatever online video streaming service you want without worry that your carrier will block such use so that they can promote their own similar service – so Time Warner cannot discriminate against Netflix because it favors HBO GO.

What will the net neutrality rules NOT do?

Much has been written about what the proposal will do, but in trying to grasps all of the information being circulated, it’s also helpful to understand the ruling in terms of what the rules will NOT do. Below are a summary of the points Marguerite Reardon points out in her own article about just that – things that the net neutrality rules won’t do…

  1. They will not make your home broadband connection faster.
  2. They will not eliminate your wireless data cap.
  3. They will not stop your wireless carrier from throttling your service when you’ve reached your data cap.
  4. They will not add competition.
  5. They will not improve internet congestion.

Who is supporting net neutrality?

Content providers such as Apple, Google, Twitter, and Etsy have all voiced their favor of the ruling. Support for net neutrality has a range of valid claims. Etsy advocated strongly on behalf of the micro and small businesses the Internet supports saying that entrepreneurship cannot be fostered if large companies are able to push past independent ones.

Twitter also released on its company blog an extensive post of why it favors net neutrality. Citing various as to why safeguarding the open architecture is essential for both economic aspirations and freedom of expression, below is a quote from the company’s public policy manager.

“This openness promotes free and fair competition and fosters ongoing investment and innovation. We need clear, enforceable, legally sustainable rules to ensure that the Internet remains open and continues to give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers. This is the heart of Twitter. Without such net neutrality principles in place, some of today’s most successful and widely-known Internet companies might never have come into existence.”

Other supporters also include Yelp, Foursquare, Kickstarter, and Tumblr.

Who is against it?

Those not in favor of the ruling (mainly ISPs) are fearful of the reclassification specifically due to a section of Title II that grants the FCC authority to set prices. However, Wheeler has reiterated, “the rules would not dictate rates, impose tariffs, open up carriers’ networks to competitors, or meddle with their business”.

The fear also remains that overtime the government will take on a heavy-handed approach to the regulation. This includes the possibility of charging frees that companies claim will have to passed onto the consumer. Carriers are also claiming that the ruling will discourage investing and innovation of their network infrastructure.

Many have spoken out against the ruling and the issue of net neutrality as a whole. Nokia, Verizon, AT&T, Comcast have released statements about their dissatisfaction.

“What doesn’t make sense, and has never made sense, is to take a regulatory framework developed for Ma Bell in the 1930s and make her great grandchildren, with technologies and options undreamed of eighty years ago, live under it,” said Jim Cicconi, AT&T’s senior executive vice president-external and legislative affairs, in a statement.

In particular, Verizon made quite the statement when it published a press release written in Morse code following Thursday’s ruling. When the company did release a translated version for “readers in the 21st century”, it was presented in typewriter type and with a date of February 26, 1934.

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Echoing that of the statement made by Cicconi, the first line of the release reads: “Today (Feb.26) the Federal Communications Commission approved an order urged by President Obama that imposes rules on broadband Internet services that were written in the era of the steam locomotive and the telegraph.”

How is this going to affect me?

Well not a whole lot – you can still keeping on using the Web as usual – binge watching Netflix, spending hours on Pinterest, and keep on creeping on your ex on Facebook.

These new rules wont be official until summer as the regulations only become effective 60 days after being published with the Federal Register. It’s then deeply expected that the major telecommunication companies plan to challenge the rules in new court cases. There’s the possibility that a judge could put the rules on hold, or if the next presidential election yields a republication, it could also be expected this issue could be left to die.

What is your stance on the issue? Is the FCC overreaching? Is this ruling a needed protection? Is there a compromise that could be reached? Let us know in a comment what your thoughts and opinions are!

– Savannah Valade