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Organizing Your Research


Writing a dissertation requires managing hundreds of citations and sources. Careful organization will save you countless hours rummaging through your research, but the million dollar question many students ask is “how do I do that?”

To answer this question, we asked NCU students, faculty and alumni — via Facebook and LinkedIn — how they keep track of their research. Their recommendations: Mendeley, Zotero, EndNote, Evernote, and of course, RefWorks:

  • Mendeley organizes documents and references, suggests related research, shows readership statistics and allows collaboration with groups. The basic version is free, but premium features can be added for a cost.

“I have been using Mendeley… it is great for being able to access material from different devices such as my iPad.” Denise Parker (Ed.D., Educational Technology & E-Learning, candidate)

“I use Mendeley as my main repository for articles and citations…I find that this is the perfect way to keep track of my materials.” Alan Jackson (D.B.A., candidate)

  • Zotero is available as a Firefox plugin or as a standalone application. By creating an account, you are able to sync your research information with other computers and an online library that is accessible from any computer connected to the Internet. Zotero is capable of identifying bibliographic information on web pages and, with a click, automatically saves it.  In many cases, Zotero will automatically capture citation information.  Items saved in your library are searchable. You can identify duplicates and insert citations directly into your research paper using a word processor plugin. There is a $20/year charge for 2G of server-based storage, but up to 300MB of storage is free.

“Zotero.” Susan Stillman, Ed.D. (NCU faculty)

  • EndNote groups citations into libraries with the file extension *.enl and a corresponding *.data folder. Access to certain searchable library catalogs and free databases are included in the software. EndNote offers automatic citation formatting with a list of 2,000 different styles. You can purchase EndNote for $113.95.

 “I’m a big fan of EndNote. It allows for organization and filtering by name of the author, title, year, etc. It allows you to take notes right through the program or you can attach your own notes to each article. For each reference I pull in I attach the PDF file, a notes page and a bibliography at the minimum.” Christopher Boulter (Ph.D., Psychology, candidate)

  • Evernote allows students and researchers to collect information from anywhere and save it in one single place: from notes, web clips, files, images and more, on any device. They offer MAC and Windows versions. Evernote offers free and premium accounts.

“I used and continue to use Evernote. Great for annotated bibliographies that are easily searchable – and by always using proper APA format, I only have to type the full citation once. The other times are just copy and paste.” Wayne Perry, Ph.D. (Director of Clinical Training, School of Marriage and Family Sciences, NCU)

“I tried EndNote and just didn’t find it to be a good fit for me (no specific issues, just felt a bit too structured). I ended up keeping references and notes in Evernote, which I could use from anywhere including on my phone and iPad. I saved PDFs into a system of folders set up by topic, and often used the Spotlight search feature on my Mac to search within these for authors or keywords.” Russell Walker (Ph.D., Business Administration, 2012)

  • RefWorks is a research management, writing and collaboration tool offered through the NCU Library’s institutional subscription. NCU began offering RefWorks in 2009. Workshops and tutorials on RefWorks may be accessed from the Library Workshop Videos or Quick Tutorial Videos pages.  Or, check for the availability of live training on RefWorks by visiting the Library Workshops Schedule page.

“RefWorks is a good tool for organizing research within the Library and is commonly available among databases making it easy to export citations directly into a RefWorks account. Within RefWorks you can organize citations into folders for easy reference and quickly produce an APA formatted reference list as well as create in-text citations within a document. Although we highly recommend students still consult the APA manual for confirmation.” Ed Salazar, M.A. (NCU Librarian)

 “When I wrote my dissertation, I used RefWorks. While there is a learning curve, it also provides the greatest amount of flexibility in the longer term. However, today I generally use Zotero for scholarly/academic work. While there is a free version, it is worth the $20 per year charge for the security of having a cloud-based backup of your reference database and notes.” Frank Cervone (Ph.D., Business Administration, 2007)

“RefWorks has developed a tool called Write-N-Cite, which not only converts Word’s XML file and synchronizes it to the online references, but allows in-text citation and reference list building in APA 6th ed. format. I highly recommend Write-N-Cite, because then your citation database isn’t limited to your device. There are drawbacks with this setup, as you must edit and organize your citations through RefWorks online.” David Czuba (Ed.D., Leadership in Higher Education, candidate)

*Originally published in Higher Degrees Fall 2013.

Tips on Effective Communication for Online Students

One of the most difficult skills for online students to perfect is communication in the virtual classroom. From emails to instructors to discussion posts and final papers, the online student communicates almost entirely in the written word.  For those weighing a few options for advancing their education, this can be an intimidating realization. Whether you’re already an online student or are pondering the possibility of becoming one, help yourself form a few great habits by browsing the tips below.

Be Professional

This may seem like a no-brainer, but making sure there are no errors, using a proper greeting and closing, and maintaining a professional tone in all communications will help you stand above your classmates. Also, remember to proofread your submissions, no matter how insignificant the assignment, discussion post, or email might be. Your instructors will appreciate the respect given, and your classmates will admire your attention to detail. Want an added bonus? Your professional habits in the classroom are sure to carry over to the workplace!

Stick to the Academics

If you’re required to participate in threaded discussions or you’re communicating via email with your instructor, remember you’re in a classroom, not a chat room. Just because you found a little extra courage by hiding in the protective technology bubble doesn’t mean anyone wants to read details of your latest family argument, how your best friend totally stabbed you in the back, or the fact that your 2-year-old is getting an F- in potty training. In other words – stick to the academics. Your audience – no matter who that may be – will appreciate it!

Avoid the Frantic “HELP!” Emails

Having trouble with an assignment that’s due in 3 days and not sure what to do? Don’t stress out on the details for the first 2 days, and then frantically email your instructor five hours before the submission deadline. As soon as you find yourself questioning your ability to complete the assignment, reach out for help! This helps you avoid the stress while giving your instructor ample time to give you the help you need to complete the assignment successfully.


You’ve taken the time to craft the perfect discussion post or email, so do yourself a favor and save it somewhere! Try creating a folder on your computer or on a flash drive for every class you take – then use it. Emailing your instructor? Copy yourself and file any response you receive in your class folder. Receive some particularly awesome (or scathing) feedback on a paper? Save it. As you move along in your academic journey, you may find the advice, feedback and general support you received from your instructors helpful in future courses.

Tips for Managing Your MFT Practice

If you are managing your own marriage and family therapy practice or you are considering starting one, you know there is more to it than simply counseling patients. Private practice marriage and family therapists need to also be business savvy when it comes to managing their practice.

These are some things to consider for MFTs starting a private practice and a reminder for those who already have one.

Invest in a Good Website Design
Since a growing number of people research goods and services online before making any kind of purchasing decision, it is important that you have a professional website for your MFT practice. Take the time to develop a professional site so that it positively represents you as a professional. There are a number of free website templates you can use, or consider hiring a professional to develop your site if you have the budget.

Attracting Clients
So you want to help individuals, couples, families and other groups struggling with mental, emotional, behavioral or relationship problems, but where are these people and how do you let them know you’re here to help? Once you establish your practice, you need to attract people to it. You can either do it yourself or hire someone with marketing experience such as an individual consultant or a marketing agency. Depending on your budget, it may make sense to hire an experienced marketer so that your attention can be solely focused on your patients; however, that may not be feasible initially.

There are a number of DIY marketing campaigns you can manage yourself that allow you to set your own budget. One of the easiest and most effective marketing channels you can take advantage of is Pay-Per-Click advertising on Google and Bing. You can identify keywords prospective patients would likely search for on search engines, bid on how much you’re willing to pay for a click for those keywords, and then create ads that send users to your site to fill out a contact form for more information. Be sure to list your business address and website domain on local directory sites like Yellowpages and Yelp. Also, consider taking a free course online or attending a seminar in your area on small business marketing. Sites like Coursera and Udacity offer free online courses in a number of disciplines.

If you’re a member of AAMFT, you can be included in the association’s online directory of MFTs. also offers tips on how to effectively market your practice online.

Licensure: A Therapist and Business License
In addition to keeping your professional credentials up to date, NCU’s Dean of the School of Marriage and Family Sciences, Dr. Branden Henline, notes a good therapist must “commit to continuous improvement and be willing to keep learning.” The number of continuing education credits may vary by state so be sure to adhere to your state’s MFT standards. The type of business license you need also varies by state. Check the U.S. Small Business Administration website to help you determine what kind of license is required for your state.

Insurance can be a bit tricky. You’ll likely need some type of liability insurance to cover yourself as a professional, and you’ll also need to determine what kind of patient insurance you will accept as payment for your services. Do your homework on both of these areas to ensure you’re protected financially.

Investing in Staff and Software
Once you’ve maintained a certain client threshold, it may make sense to hire administrative staff to help you manage your practice. In addition, you may want to invest in software to help you schedule patients and reconcile the financial aspects of your practice like billing.

Keeping the business side of your practice organized can enable you to spend most of your energy on helping your clients.

Do you have tips for managing an MFT practice? If so, please leave them in the comments section below!

5 Ideas for Random Acts of Kindness

With a constant assault of bad news in the media, it can be easy to forget that there are good people too, and that for every bad thing that happens, there are even more good things we can do. If you’re interested in making a positive difference in the world, but don’t know where to start, consider one of these five ideas for random acts of kindness.

Pay for the person behind you.

Have you ever pulled up to the drive-thru at Starbucks only to find out that the person in front of you paid for your drink? While it’s probably not a huge expense (unless you ordered a venti, triple shot, double whip, mocha frappuccino), it was a simple act of kindness that made you stop and think, and maybe even consider paying for the person behind you the next time you are at Starbucks, getting fast food, a toll road or bridge crossing.

Leave a great tip or small gift for a service provider.

There is something to be said about great service. Have you ever received excellent service from a waiter/waitress, hairdresser, mailman/mailwoman, or even a receptionist or assistant?  Consider leaving them a larger than average tip (where appropriate) or getting them a small gift to show your appreciation. Even the smallest of rewards can put a smile on someone’s face and encourage continued great performance.

Go out of your way to do something for someone else.

I recently watched a man stop and help an older woman load her groceries and purchases into the trunk of her car. He even took the shopping cart and walked it over to the nearest cart return in the parking lot. It probably only took five minutes of his time, but I have no doubt that his kindness made a lasting impression on the woman he helped. The truth is you don’t have to look very far to do something for someone else. Maybe it’s giving up your seat on a bus or subway to someone who needs it. Maybe it’s stopping and helping someone change their flat tire. The possibilities are endless.

Write a note of appreciation.

When you take the time to tell a friend, family member, coworker, or even the kid at the sandwich shop who always serves with a smile how much you appreciate them, you have the chance to really make someone’s day. Words of appreciation may be something that you hear regularly, but not everyone does. Keep this in mind in your daily life, and consider thanking someone for all they do. You never know, it could be the only words of appreciation they hear that day.

Pick up trash and throw it away.

How many times have you walked by a parking spot and seen trash that someone obviously threw on the ground? Do you actually take the time to pick up the trash and walk it to the trash can? Maybe you do, maybe you don’t, but what do you think would happen if someone saw you pick up that trash, throw it away and walk back to your car or continue into the store? They’d probably take notice and consider doing the same the next time they walk by trash on the ground.

While these five ideas may get you started, the opportunities for random acts of kindness are everywhere! I encourage you to add your own ideas in the comments section, and challenge you to perform at least one random act of kindness over the next week and share with us what you did to make a positive difference in someone’s life.

The Impact of Pets on Your Health

Pets: They are our dear, loyal companions and integral parts of our family. They bring us joy (and sometimes frustration when they chew our favorite shoes), but can they actually be good for our health?

Many studies were conducted analyzing the effect pet ownership has on human health, psychological well-being, and longevity. But, there are conflicting results. Some studies demonstrate a positive impact on our health, while other researchers state this claim is merely an unsubstantiated hypothesis.

It may make sense to think of the way pets influence our mood and thus mental health. Since mental health issues like depression and stress can impact our physical health, does that mean there could be a positive correlation?

An article on the popular medical information site WebMD, titled 5 Ways Pets Can Improve Your Health, argues in favor of a positive impact on health.

The article explains that individuals who grew up in homes with pets had less risk for allergies and asthma due to the exposure to pet dander and fur.

Another benefit the article notes is aiding in the treatment for depression as the interaction with animals can elevate levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain.

Companionship and increased exercise are also benefits explained as canine owners must take their pups for walks frequently.

Finally, the article discusses how pet ownership can actually be good for your heart. One study example provided indicated that pet owners have been linked to lower blood pressure as a result of decreased levels of stress.

Whether or not you agree with the results of clinical studies, one thing is for sure: Most pet owners could not imagine life without their beloved furry pals.

Common Core State Standards: Helping or Hurting K-12 Education?

If you’re a K-12 educator, you’ve likely been discussing the Common Core State Standards with your school administration and what it will mean to you as a teacher and to your students.

According to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, “these standards have the capacity to change education in the best of ways – setting loose the creativity and innovation of educators at the local level, raising the bar for students, strengthening our economy and building a clearer path to the middle class.”

However, not everyone shares our Secretary of Education’s point of view. There have been mixed feelings about the Common Core State Standards since they were introduced in 2007.

Some feel that the implementation of such standards is a federal takeover of schools (even though the federal government did not create them), while others feel that having more rigorous, high-quality learning standards evens the playing field among states and will benefit our students and our country long term.

What They Are

Figure 1 Image from

Figure 1 Image from

The Common Core State Standards is not a federally mandated program. In 2007, a group of governors and state education leaders created the Common Core Standards “to establish a single set of clear educational standards for English-language arts and mathematics that states can share.” The standards were designed in part due to the declining rank of America in education and in college completion rates. The Common Core strives to prepare students to be college and career ready so the U.S. can compete in a global economy.

Today, 45 states, the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity voluntarily adopted these standards; however, many states have not fully implemented them. For example, Pennsylvania adopted the standards July 2, 2010, but they are not expected to fully implement them until school year 2013-2014.

According to Duncan, “When these standards are fully implemented, a student who graduates from a high school in any one of these states – who is performing at standard – will be ready to attend and succeed in his or her state university without remedial education. Historically, in far too many communities, more than half of those who actually graduated high school needed remedial help in college.”

The Impact on Teachers

The Common Core State Standards are just that – standards. In other words, this is what students should academically know by a certain age. Common Core is not a change to curriculum, which is what teachers teach to help students meet academic standards. By law, the federal government is prohibited from creating or mandating curricula.

Dr. Renee Aitken, director of assessment for the School of Education at NCU, explains, “Teachers are encouraged to be more creative in reaching the standards. For K-12 teachers, the Common Core Standards will require evaluations, but each state is responsible for making up the evaluation points.”

According to, “Standards do not tell teachers how to teach, but they do help teachers figure out the knowledge and skills their students should have so that teachers can build the best lessons and environments for their classrooms.”

The Impact on Students

With Common Core, students will be required to demonstrate more critical thinking skills so this may change how and what they are learning. The goal is to fully prepare students  for college and a career in today’s environment as more jobs require a deeper level of thinking and comprehension.

“Common Core is a touchy subject for some diverse groups – parents, teacher educators, teachers, administrators, government officials, and concerned citizens,” said Aitken. “It is very early in the adoption process to know if implementing it is a good or a bad thing.”

Are you a K-12 teacher, parent or administrator? If so, we’d love to know what you think about the Common Core State Standards in our comments section below.

The Differences between a DBA and a PhD in Business

When it comes to choosing the best business doctorate program for you, how do you decide between a PhD in Business or Business Administration and a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) degree? Both are doctoral programs, both are going to get you that coveted title of “Dr.,” and both can be attained online or at a traditional brick and mortar college or university.

Ultimately, your decision may boil down to where you see your business career in the future. Do you see yourself teaching at a University? Conducting research and publishing a book? Utilizing your skills and knowledge as a CEO of a Fortune 500 company? Your career goals are an essential part of choosing which doctoral degree you are going to pursue.

Dr. A. Lee Smith, dean of Northcentral University’s School of Business and Technology Management talks more about the difference between a DBA and PhD in Business in the video below. You’ll learn about why one is considered more of a professional doctorate, why a student may choose one degree over the other, and the answer to that age-old question: Does a DBA student have to defend their dissertation?

Sound Off: What made you decide to choose one business doctorate over the other? Let us know in the comments section below!


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