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How to Successfully Work from Home

Working from home or “telecommuting” has become more prevalent over the years as companies continue to recognize its value. With no geographic confines, companies are able to attract a larger pool of talent, retain employees by providing flexible scheduling, and save money on things like relocation expenses and utility bills. While most telecommuters enjoy this work- life balance, there are some challenges with working from home, which is why it’s so important to establish “rules” or guidelines for a symbiotic relationship between employee and employer.

Below are some tips for a successful work-from-home arrangement.

Eliminate distractions.

Children, pets and other family and friends must respect that during 9-5 you are working just as you would if you were on-site in an office building. This means children should either be in daycare or you should establish another method of childcare during your work hours.

The same goes for other family and friends. You wouldn’t be taking multiple personal calls if your coworkers were sitting in a cubicle next to you. That should also apply as a telecommuter.

Be sure to draw a line with your pets, too. Just because you are home all day, doesn’t mean you and your dog have an eight-hour play date. Keep your pets in an area that won’t distract you. That way, you’ll avoid the embarrassing dog bark while you’re on an important conference call with your client or boss.

And, while we’re talking about distractions, don’t turn on the TV. By keeping your TV off, you’ll avoid the temptation of getting sucked into Dr. Phil or watching your favorite DVR’d shows when you’re supposed to be working. Let’s face it, daytime television isn’t very good anyway.

Stay connected with colleagues.

Since you’re not able to see your coworkers face-to-face on a daily basis, it’s important to stay connected in other ways. Instant messaging, video conferencing, and phone calls are important for keeping the communication window open and nurturing your work relationships.

Take a lunch break.

It’s important to avoid falling into the workaholic trap. Be sure to manage your time as if you were working in an office. In other words, take the time to step away from your desk and grab some lunch.

Get out of the house.

You’re probably thinking, “Get out of the house? Isn’t this article about working from home?” What we mean by getting out of the house is this: Working solo can be a bit lonely at times, so it’s important to continue to maintain some form of human contact. This can mean heading into town to meet your friends for lunch or happy hour, joining a professional organization, attending a networking event, or simply being around other people at the gym. The point is it is easy to become a hermit being at home all of the time, so make a concerted effort to get out of the house once in a while.

Don’t become a workaholic.

With your home as your office, the line between personal and professional can become blurred. It’s important to disconnect after the work day is over to enjoy some leisure and spend time with your family and friends. Relationships can suffer if your attention is always on work, so be sure to set boundaries so your work mode switch isn’t always set to “on.”

There are many benefits to working from home.  As long as you’re able to focus on your work, manage your time, meet deadlines, and separate your work life from your home life, you’ll enjoy home office bliss!

Do you work from home and have advice on how to do so successfully? Share your tips in our comments section below!

Creating a Professional Home Office

Whether you are a telecommuter, freelancer or entrepreneur, if you primarily work out of your home, your workspace should be professional, comfortable and conducive to productivity. While working in your pajamas on the couch in front of the TV all day may sound tempting, it is important to draw a line in the sand and set up a professional space for working from home.

Below are some tips for creating a professional home office.

Establish your space.

If you are fortunate enough to have an entire room to dedicate as your office, consider yourself lucky. You’ll have more flexibility when it comes to furnishings and things of that nature. However, if you don’t have the square footage luxury, you can still make do. Declare your office space by sectioning off a room in your home with a screen or curtain to create a separation between your personal and professional space.

Furnish and decorate.

Furnishing and decorating your home office can be fun even if you’re on a limited budget. Often, you can use things that you already own, like that lamp that’s been in your attic for ten years or that old table you picked up at a garage sale but never use. Don’t be afraid to ask your friends and family if they have any furniture they’re willing to part with, or check out Craigslist or your local thrift shops for great items on a budget.

Remember: Comfort is key. You’re going to be spending a lot of time in your office, and will need furniture that is comfortable and isn’t going to cause any strain or health issues. It is worth it to invest in a nice office chair, gelled wrist support pads and other ergonomic equipment.

And, if you work for a company, be sure to ask if you can expense your furniture and equipment!

Get the requisite office supplies and equipment.

Make a list of items that you’d normally find in an office, and start with the basics. You may not need a fancy three-hole punch machine, but you will likely need things like post-it notes, pens, notebooks, a calculator, paper clips, and a stapler.  Once you’re telecommuting for a while, you’ll be able to determine if you need to pick up additional items.

When I first started working from home, I started with the basics, going without some of the luxuries found in my previous office jobs like a printer/scanner and an additional monitor to create that “dual” monitor, multi-screen work station. That didn’t last long once I realized that I’d have to snail mail my onboarding documents to our human resources department and my productivity was diminished by not having an additional computer screen.

Again, ask if your company will purchase these items for you or if you can expense them. If not, save your receipts. You can likely write them off as unreimbursed business expenses when you do your taxes, but be sure to check with a tax professional first.

Create a good filing system.

If your job requires you to work with a lot of paper, you don’t want it cluttering up your space. What’s the adage? Cluttered space, cluttered mind? Invest in a filing cabinet, folders and even a label machine if you’re really OCD and like things extremely neat and organized. Check out these Priority Paper Piling tips for more information.

Even if your work doesn’t involve a lot of paper, a digital filing system is just as important. If you’re going to be sharing documents with coworkers, use a cloud-based storage system like Dropbox so that you and your distance-based coworkers can all retrieve files quickly and easily.

Do you have or are you planning on using a home office? Leave your tips in the comments section below!

Be sure to check back for our next post, “How to successfully work from home.”


Trends in Adult and Workforce Education

“It’s a simple fact: the more education you have, the more likely you are to have a job and work your way into the middle class.” – President Obama, 2013

In the President’s 2013 State of the Union address, he called on Congress to reform the Higher Education Act to make education more attainable and affordable. In today’s increasingly competitive economy, adult workers need to differentiate themselves and stay current in their fields. To do this, they need options for continuing their education and gaining additional experience.

Here are some current trends for continued learning for working adults:

Employer-Sponsored Training & Tuition Reimbursement Programs

Many companies are offering their employees specialized training and are even paying for them to go back to school. Some employers offer tuition assistance vouchers or have partnerships with colleges and universities to provide discounted tuition rates. In a recent article for, Northcentral University‘s Dr. Lee Smith, dean of the School of Business and Technology Management details the importance of providing employees with professional development opportunities.

“Supporting professional development initiatives during tough economic times makes more sense for most companies than not doing so,” says Lee. “To stay ahead of the game, it is incumbent on these organizations to ensure that their key employees are trained in areas that will advance company performance.”

Certification Programs

Certification programs are increasing in popularity among workers who’ve earned a college degree but want more specialized training in a given occupation. Skills can be developed at both the occupational and industry level. Individuals seeking certifications can look to traditional post-secondary education at colleges and universities or find certification opportunities through industry and professional associations.


Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are a hot topic in education today. Individuals with Internet access can take courses online for free at some of the nation’s top universities. While most MOOCS do not offer credit for course completion, there are circumstances that allow for a certificate of completion. If you want to enroll in a MOOC, be sure to check whether or not a certificate option exists, and whether or not they charge a fee.

Adult Internships & Volunteering

Adult internships and volunteering are on the rise. Short-term work and volunteer assignments can help adults gain experience and skills in areas they may be lacking or to get their foot in the door at a certain company or industry. Often, internships are unpaid, but they are a great way to determine whether or not you’ll enjoy a particular occupation or industry and can be great resume boosters as well.

Webinars and Conferences

Other options for continuing workforce education are webinars and conferences. Webinars are seminars or lecture presentations conducted over the Internet, often sponsored by one or more companies looking to gain visibility and demonstrate thought leadership in an industry or occupation. They are a convenient way to keep up with industry trends since all you need to do is register, and you can listen from anywhere you have Internet access. On the other hand, conferences are carried out in person and can also be more costly (webinars are generally free), especially if travel and overnight accommodations are required.

Northcentral University to Attend NAFSA 2013 Annual Conference

I'm Exhibiting at NAFSA!

If there’s one thing we’ve learned during our 17 years in higher education, it’s that the education field is incredibly diverse. That’s why we’re so excited to join the NAFSA: Association of International Educators community at the NAFSA 2013 Annual Conference & Expo in St. Louis, Missouri, May 26-31.

As a graduate-focused online university serving students and working professionals around the world, Northcentral University shares the goal of providing diverse students with increased access to higher education opportunities. Not only is Northcentral University regionally accredited, but by not requiring physical residencies or in-person sessions, students have the opportunity to earn an advanced degree while working with highly credentialed faculty from all over the world.

“Online education can garner the best of professional minds who cannot gather in one place (Arizona), but can be reached easily through the Internet,” explains NCU Dissertation Chair Dr. Daphne Halkias.  “Most of last year, [my husband and I] lived in a remote location in the desert. Were it not for technology, I wouldn’t be teaching nor doing research.”

Alina O’Connor, senior director of business development at Northcentral University, will be on hand during the conference in booth #301 to share more information about building an alliance with NCU and the benefits of online learning from a global perspective.

“I’m really looking forward to presenting NCU to a global audience,” says O’Connor. “Every institution is so unique, and I enjoy learning what it is that each college or university needs from an alliance, and work with them to help fill those needs, whether it’s educating faculty members who want to earn a doctorate, professional training and development opportunities, and student and alumni benefits.”

Honoring the Silent Ranks on Military Spouse Appreciation Day

We know there has been a lot of appreciation floating around the nation lately (teachers, nurses), but today is just as important: Military Spouse Appreciation Day!

This day holds special meaning because military spouses play such a huge role in supporting our dedicated men and women in the Armed Forces. They often have little control over things like their location and/or must take on additional responsibilities within the household, which could mean putting their own education and career dreams on hold. They do it willingly, supporting their spouses wherever their military life takes them. It’s an admirable quality, and one we here at Northcentral University admire so much.

Today, we thank YOU for your service.

If you’ve never read the poem The Silent Ranks (some people say the author is unknown, some say it was written by Shiela Gault), we’ve posted it below. It’s a great testament to military spouses and the role they play in the armed forces. Please substitute husband/wife, he/she, his/her, and man/woman as appropriate for your spouse (be advised it won’t rhyme quite the same)!

The Silent Ranks

I wear no uniforms, no blues or army greens.
But, I am in the military, in the ranks rarely seen.
I have no rank upon my shoulders. Salutes I do not give.
But the military world is the place where I live.
I’m not in the chain of command, orders I do not get.
But my husband is the one who does, this I can not forget.
I’m not the one who fires the weapon, who puts my life on the line.
But my job is just as tough. I’m the one that’s left behind.
My husband is a patriot, a brave and prideful man.
And the call to serve his country not all can understand.
Behind the lines I see the things needed to keep this country free.
My husband makes the sacrifice, but so do our kids and me.
I love the man I married. Soldiering is his life.
But I stand among the silent ranks known as the Military Wife.

Happening Now: Trends in K-12 Education

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, enrollment at post-secondary, degree-granting institutions in the United States hit 21 million students in 2010. Millions of students, from hundreds of cities, thousands of school districts, and countless different schools all with one common goal: the desire to better themselves with higher education.

Right now, you’re wondering what this has to do with K-12 education, and the answer is simple – everything. The foundation for a successful educational career is laid in the halls and classrooms of every K-12 school across the country. In order for that foundation to be as strong as possible, standardization of the years of education spent in preparation for success in higher education – and life in general – is a must.

With this in mind, we took the time to gain insight in to the U.S. Department of Education’s Common Core Standards Initiative from course designer, successful author, and Northcentral University faculty member, Dr. Casey Reason.

Q: What is the Common Core Standards Initiative?
A: Put simply, the Common Core Standards is a national standard for math and language arts performance that allows every state to work in a way that allows every student to be competitive. The goal of this initiative is to bring into alignment the curriculum expectations for the United States.

Q: What makes this superior to previous efforts for standardization in K-12 education across the United States?
A: In the past, we resisted offering a sense of clarity about exactly what educators were supposed to be teaching and how. The Common Core Standards are far more explicit and even go so far as to describe how to get to the articulated standards. This is unprecedented.

Q: Northcentral University’s School of Education has focused its efforts on properly preparing teachers for success in the classroom. In your opinion, how will Common Core Standards impact teacher education?
A: The Common Core Standards will improve our ability to prepare teachers. These standards give us the ability to give teachers the specific tools they need to be successful in the classroom. In addition, Common Core Standards level the playing field between schools, districts and states, giving us the consistency that will make preparing teachers much easier.

Q: What changes, if any, can parents expect?
A: The biggest change for parents will be overcoming the notion that their children are being taught in a manner which is not consistent with the way they were taught as children. Schools who are implementing the Common Core Standards Initiative have to work overtime to let parents know that the approach will be different. Some schools, for example, are asking parents to take classes in the Common Core Standards Initiative so that they are of greater assistance in helping with homework. It will undoubtedly result in some bumpy transitions along the way, but I truly believe that this is progress and we will be better off for it.

Tips for Building a Positive Relationship with Your Online Academic Advisor

Asking for help is not always easy. Online learners tend to be (or at least need to be to some degree) more independent learners. However, this does not negate the importance of forming connections with your fellow online students and faculty members in your field of interest who can serve as great sources for networking and support during your academic program.

However, there’s another person who also plays an important supportive role in your academic journey: your academic advisor.

For online students, academic advisors may help with scheduling, provide insight on faculty, courses and university policy, and serve as a point of communication within the university. While you may think it’s easier just look up a policy in the catalog, or try contacting someone higher up on the food chain to get your issue heard, the reality is that you may be doing yourself a disservice by not reaching out to your academic advisor, whose job it is to help you in these ways.

“A positive working relationship is achieved by both of us (the advisor and the student) communicating on a regular basis with one another,” notes Northcentral University Academic Advisor Donna Bellina. “Sometimes advising is just words of encouragement when the student is struggling. Sometimes it’s giving the student a better understanding of policy, and sometimes it’s going to bat for them to find resolution when they are having issues with their instructor, their course accessibility or just life in general.”

In an online learning environment, it’s easy to get caught up in weekly assignments, without ever thinking that you may find yourself in a situation where you could use the support of an academic advisor. But if you’re the type of person who likes to be prepared, one of the best things you can do is to start building a solid working relationship with your academic advisor right out of the gate.

Try these three tips to help you get started:

  • Reach out early with any concerns regarding your course experience.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
  • Communicate things that are going on in your personal life that may hinder your academic progress.

Working through Graduate School Burnout

You’ve started your master’s or doctoral degree program and you’re ready for the challenge! All you can think about is how great your new degree will look on your resume, all the doors it will open for you, and how it’s so awesome you can do it all from your own home.

You put the pedal to the metal for your first three courses, running on a potent mixture of adrenaline, passion for new knowledge, and encouragement from friends and family. You’ve earned a pristine 4.0 GPA to date, and you’re preparing for your next course.

Then you hit it. Your wheels are spinning, but you’re going nowhere.  You never saw it coming, and that brick wall is hard! Welcome to your next challenge – finding a way to break through the wall and emerge on the other side as a graduate.

The proverbial brick wall has the ability to crush any unsuspecting student, but those who prepare for it will prevail. So, take a few mental notes from these quick tips and file them away for when that wall suddenly pops up for you, whether it’s during your coursework, while working on your dissertation, or simply trying to balance your life responsibilities with school.

Mix Up Your Study Style

While the study nook in the corner of your living room may have played host to some of your greatest academic achievements to date, the brick wall has moved in and is cramping your style! Take your studies to the park, the library, or even just try a new corner. The change in scenery might just inspire you.

Slow Down, Enjoy the Ride

Your degree program is a marathon, not a sprint. Try taking a step back, focusing on one assignment at a time, and rewarding yourself each time you click the ‘Submit’ button. Breaking it down in to manageable goals gives you small celebrations to enjoy along the way.

Start the Countdown

Remember the feeling you got in high school when your summer vacation countdown finally hit zero? Bring that emotion back by starting a countdown to graduation. Count down courses, assignments, weeks, or days – whatever motivates you. As your number gets smaller, you’ll find yourself accelerating toward the finish line.

What You Need to Know about the Doctoral Dissertation Milestones

Have you heard the statistic that says only about 50 percent of doctoral students in the U.S. actually finish? I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s not by choice. While a select few may be satisfied with passing their Doctoral Comprehensive Examination and joining the ABD Club (all but dissertation), most are committed to beginning the dissertation writing process with the goal of conducting research and defending their dissertation to earn a coveted doctoral degree.

With that in mind, we touched base with Dr. Eve Mika, assistant dean of The Graduate School at Northcentral University, to help shed some light on each of the doctoral dissertation milestones and what you can expect from the process.

Concept Paper (CP)

The Concept Paper is the first dissertation milestone document and is basically a “pre-proposal.” “The CP gives students the opportunity to obtain feedback about the feasibility and worthiness of their dissertation topic,” explains Dr. Mika. “Students are expected to highlight the scholarly research that has been published on the topic to-date, document a research-worthy problem based on this literature base, and then outline a basic methodology for data collection and analysis.” Depending on whether you are pursuing an applied doctorate or PhD, your topic should make either a theoretical (PhD) or practical (applied) contribution to your field.

Dissertation Proposal (DP)

“The Dissertation Proposal builds on the initial concept,” continues Mika, “and it is here that students explain the methodology and design they plan to use to implement their study in greater detail.”  In other words, the DP is the basis of your actual research and demonstrates your research design in a way that anyone who reads it would be able to replicate your study.

Institutional Review Board (IRB) Application and Approval

Upon final approval of the DP, the candidate applies to the Institutional Review Board (IRB). All research endeavors involving human subjects must be approved by an IRB committee to ensure the study is ethical. “This process is designed to protect researchers and their affiliated institutions from undue risk and ensure the safety, welfare, rights and dignity of all research participants,” she notes. No data may be collected until IRB approval is obtained.

Dissertation Manuscript (DM)

“Once IRB approval is obtained, students can begin collecting data,” reveals Mika. “It is this data and the analysis of the data that helps make up the final elements of the Dissertation Manuscript (the bulk of chapters 1-3 is from the DP).” The DM includes the study findings and the student’s recommendation for future research as well as practical applications. 

Oral Defense/Presentation

The oral defense (presentation for applied doctorates) is the final formal step prior to completion of the doctorate. “The student presents to their doctoral committee the highlights of the study, key findings and limitations,” she explains. “The student must demonstrate expertise on their dissertation topic and research design, and field questions from their committee. The committee then decides whether the student has sufficiently completed the requirements for a doctorate.”

It’s important to keep in mind that while dissertations are a staple for doctoral programs, each college or university more than likely has its own requirements for different portions of the dissertation, including length, review, research methods and committee assignments. The best thing you can do as you’re preparing to begin the dissertation process is find out everything you can about your institution’s requirements and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.

Active Reading Strategies Can Improve Reading Comprehension and Retention

How do you most enjoy reading? Maybe you would prefer to be stretched out on a sunny beach or curled up on the couch with a book. However, when it comes to reading that takes serious focus, you need a different approach

Before tackling any textbook or dense academic material, it’s important to know where to start, how to grab the main points, and delve more deeply into the text. Rather than just diving in, first consider using strategies to develop a critical reading process. Critical reading involves actively engaging with the reading material.

Simon Lei, lead author of “Strategies for Improving Reading Comprehension among College Students,” notes that, “Students can get overwhelmed easily with text-based material.” However, “There are many strategies, both in class and at home, to improve reading comprehension.”

One formalized approach for active reading is called the Know, Will/Want, Learned (KWL) method. KWL is a great tactic for individual or group study. With this method, before you begin reading, make a list of what you already know about the topic. This exercise lets you see what background information is available to you now. Next, look at the table of contents, charts, graphs and diagrams of the reading material to get an overview of the material; write down what you will or want to learn from the text. Last, while you read the text, list out what new information you are learning, either section by section or after you’ve completed the entire assigned reading.

Similar to the KWL method, the SQ3R technique also involves pre-reading and asking questions before jumping straight into the text. SQ3R stands for survey, question, read, recite and review.

  • Surveying the text involves quickly skimming through the headings to understand the main points.
  • Ask questions as you survey the material to create an active reading approach to learn more from the material.
  • Once you begin reading, search for answers to the questions you had asked when surveying the topic.
  • After reading the material, close the book and try to recite the answers to the questions. If you don’t quite have the information memorized, open the book and the text again.
  • Finally, review the content to determine whether you memorized the main point and made connections with the overall subject matter.

Although we would probably all prefer to read under a beach umbrella, passive reading is not the best approach for dense academic material. These strategies to become a more active reader can help improve your understanding of the text and aid information retention. Consider giving one of these examples a try and see if it works for you!


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