Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Hangover: Facing the Job Market after Earning a Graduate Degree

What kind of cover letter catches the eye of a prospective employer?  How do you fashion a resume that stands out from a pack of hundred?  Under what circumstances should you ever wear a Dr. Pepper t-shirt at an academic job interview?  Dr. Tony Scinta, Department Chair of Social Sciences and Associate Professor of Psychology, addressed these and other pressing questions this past Friday as an invited speaker at the 23rd Annual Convention of the Association for Psychological Science. 

The four-person panel session, titled The Naked Truth: Navigating the Academic Job Market in Tough Economic Times, treated roughly 100 audience members to information, advice, and a handful of cautionary tales about the pursuit of an academic career in psychology. 

Guided by his service on 23 academic job searches, Dr. Scinta provided ample perspective on a host of issues, from the development of an application (“Clearly and succinctly demonstrate why you are right for the job – don’t make the hiring committee work to figure it out”) to the logistics of an in-person interview (“If at all possible, do not check your bag – if the airline loses it, you might wind up giving your job talk dressed like an extra from the movie Old School). 

The job market may not have improved during the course of the 60-minute presentation, but Dr. Scinta hopes that the fortunes of those in attendance got just a little bit brighter.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Multi-taxing: The Pitfalls of Task Overload

By Dr. Tony Scinta, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology

Photo Courtesy of andy_carter via Flickr
Chances are, someone is reading this blog on an exercise bike with a cell phone in one hand, a baby in the other, and a freshly changed diaper clenched in his teeth. A bit of an exaggeration, perhaps, but not by much – swap the baby with an iPad, the diaper with a bottle of vitamin water, and add a pair of headphones, and you have an accurate picture of the modern, middle-class American.

Fact is, we live in a multi-tasking society. If you’re not doing four things at once – I’m composing this as I iron my clothes, and I’m driving – you’re not doing it right. Lately researchers have begun to question this assumption. They wonder if the burden of relentless multi-tasking can make it more difficult for us to exert the will power needed to succeed in other areas of life, from the completion of course assignments to the maintenance of a healthy diet.

A recent series of studies attempted to demonstrate exactly that. The studies – five in all – showed that “frequently switching your mind-set or focus uses a lot of self-control.” In a representative study, participants who were forced to “multi-task” in an initial phase of the experiment performed more poorly on a subsequent task than participants who did not multi-task at all. The researchers behind the studies suggest that multi-tasking “can be taxing on the executive function of your brain and reduce your ability to use self-control in other areas of your life.”

Though the studies are recent, the concept being studied is much older than your Grandma’s flip phone. Related research has long examined the notion of “ego depletion,” which views self-control as a limited resource. Accordingly, if you drain your self-control by juggling a number of tasks at the same time, you’ll have left control “left over” when you need it do other things (Hagger, Wood, Stiff, & Chatzisarantis, 2010).

Studies have supported the idea of ego depletion, but, as I always tell my students, it’s important to consider alternative explanations and contrary possibilities. For example, though multi-tasking may lead to a momentary lapse of self-control and an ill-advised bowl of Ben & Jerry’s, might the long-term implications tell a different story? For example, the concept of “self-efficacy” is defined as “the belief in one’s ability to perform a task or to execute a behavior successfully” (Bandura, 1997). High self-efficacy, in turn, has been shown to improve a person’s ability to meet intended objectives (e.g., quit smoking). In that light, the ability to successfully multi-task should improve a person’s sense of self-efficacy and, presumably, his or her ability to manage other tasks.

Is there a clear moral to the story? Not yet. A definitive answer awaits additional research. In the short term, the only advice might be to rein in your multi-tasking tendencies until they reach a manageable level. Life demands multi-tasking, but sometimes it’s important to stop and smell the figurative roses . . . and not update your Facebook status while you do it.

Monday, May 9, 2011

NSC Students Headed to South Korea


Many of us have no idea what that means, nor will it ever likely be significant. But for four very excited Nevada State College students, “안녕하세요!” will become very important, very soon.

Ariella Youdelman, Elan Andruss, and Angelica Favela

Pronounced “ahn-yung-hah-say-yo,” 안녕하세요 is the formal greeting in Korean, the equivalent to the English “Hello!” NSC students, Angelica Favela (English), Ariella Youdelman (Occupational Science/Psychology), Trey Takahashi (Secondary Education - History), and Elan Andruss (Secondary Education - English) will be making use of it and many other conversational Korean phrases this summer, as they have been chosen by the City of Henderson to participate in a Youth Ambassador position in Dubong, South Korea.

Learning Korean, however, won’t be their main focus. They will spend most of their time working in summer camps helping to teach Korean students conversational English. Over the course of five weeks, the chosen NSC students, along with two CSN undergrads also chosen by the City of Henderson, will stay with host families and teach during the day, all the while acting as representatives of their schools, Henderson, Nevada, and even the entire United States.

Trey Takahashi
Not ones to be bogged down by such pressure, the four are ecstatic that they were selected from many other applicants to participate in this rare opportunity. “I’m not sure it’s really sunk in yet,” Elan Andruss said, “but the closer it gets the harder it is to focus on anything else!” Being the studious citizen she is, Angelica Favela has taken it upon herself to learn as much about Korean culture as she can before leaving. “I’ve taken to filling my free time with learning Korean phrases and trying to broaden my understanding about Korean society. We haven’t even left yet and already I feel like I’ve learned so much!”

While they admit that they won’t have much free time to devote until the semester is over, they eagerly await what will surely be the trip of a lifetime.

Monday, May 2, 2011

History Professor Publishes in the University of Southern California's Casden Institute Series

Dr. Peter La Chapelle, Associate Professor of History, just published an article in the prestigious USC Casden Institute series, The Jewish Role in American Life entitled ""Dances Partake of the Racial Characteristics of the People Who Dance Them': Nordicism, Antisemitism, and Henry Ford's Old Time Music and Dance Revival. " 

Dr. La Chapelle was awarded a research grant from the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for his recent research regarding connections between carmaker Henry Ford’s anti-Semitism and his promotion of “old time” music. 

Publication cover courtesy of Purdue University Press
This volume of the Casden Institute's The Jewish Role in American Life annual series introduces new scholarship on the long-standing relationship between Jewish-Americans and the worlds of American popular music. For more information about the University of Southern California's Casden Institute, visit their website here.

Dr. La Chapelle is also the author of Proud to Be an Okie: Cultural Politics, Country Music, and Migration to Southern California (University of California Press, 2007) which received an honorable mention for the Urban History Association's Kenneth Jackson Award for Best Book in Urban History.