Skip to content

Tips for Mastering Academic Writing


Academic writing is one of the most difficult skills for graduate students to master. Combining hours of research, condensing your learning  onto a few pages and ensuring it reads effortlessly – versus a string of citations and paraphrases strung together – is not an intuitive skill. It is a learned ability.

But believe it or not, almost every student struggles with the writing process at some point in their academic career. Even the best writers are not immune to receiving feedback.

Current NCU student and Senior Marketing Manager, Alexis Castorina, has learned the value of applying instructor feedback. “Since receiving [constructive] feedback, I’ve been more actively reading economic news and finding ways to apply what’s going on in the world as supporting information in my papers,” Castorina explains.

For advice on how to become a more effective academic writer, Higher Degrees reached out to Susan Krause (M.Ed.), NCU’s Writing Center Coordinator. Krause’s daily interactions with students seeking advice from the Writing Center has given her an inside track to the most common mistakes graduate students make in their writing.

Over time, Krause has developed the following list of helpful academic writing tips and resources:

  1. Good academic writing starts with critical reading. Learn to think critically by questioning everything you read and you will become a better writer.
  2. Understand what plagiarism is by reviewing the NCU Academic Integrity section in the NCU Writing Center.
  3. Read and apply the feedback received from your instructor. There will be room for improvement on every assignment.
  4. Bookmark Chapter 3 in the APA Manual (6th ed.). It contains valuable information on clear and concise writing that all students can benefit from.
  5. Keep a copy of The Academic Writer’s Handbook (3rd ed.) by Leonard J.Rosen by your laptop.

*Originally published in Higher Degrees Fall 2013.

6 Tips for Holiday Harmony with the Family

The holiday season is a time for family, good food, recalling holiday seasons past, and making new memories. At least that’s what it’s supposed to be like.

Let’s face it – not every family’s holiday celebration is straight out of a movie. If your family gathering feels more like World War III than a celebration of holiday joy, you’re not alone. Help make this holiday season a little more bearable by using the tips below.

Put Your Best Foot Forward

If you walk in expecting chaos, you’ll get it! Take the time to mentally prepare for the time you’ll spend with family. Make a conscious effort to go with the flow and not let the drama affect your mood. Having a positive attitude about holiday get-togethers is the first step toward harmony.

Make a Game Plan

It might sound silly, but having a game plan for the occasion is a must. Think about how you’ll answer the awkward questions your Aunt Sue will ask, who you’ll sit next to for the meal and even your limit on glasses of wine. The only person you can control is yourself, so having a plan for the tough moments is a good first step.

Think Before You Speak

Are you irked by a comment your sister, cousin or uncle made at last year’s holiday feast? It’s probably best not to re-hash the details over this year’s meal. Make an effort to stop, breathe and think before you speak. Just think – you may have been spared 364 days of hurt if Uncle Joe would have counted to three before embarrassing you in front of the family!

Find a Holiday Season Buddy

We all have that one friend who can bring us back from the brink, right? No, not the one who agrees with every word of your rant, but the one that calms you down and gives you a little perspective. It’s time to enlist their help for the holiday season. You don’t have to bring them as a plus one to the party, just have them on standby for your most stressful moments. Once you step out the front door, pick up your phone and let it all out – they’ll understand!

Plan Breaks

Having a small panic attack about the marathon family party circuit you’re about to start? We all love our families, but sometimes we just need a break! Make sure you plan for a little alone time before party season starts. Whether you call your Holiday Buddy to vent, watch a movie, read a book or just stare at the stars after a long night, the guests at your next event will reap the benefits of the time you spent unwinding.

It’s Okay to Say No

Every family goes through rough patches. If it’s been a particularly stressful year, it might be best to take the holidays off. Choosing to spend your holiday season with friends rather than family doesn’t mean you love them any less, it just means you’re choosing not to stir the pot. So, go have some fun with friends and hope for a more positive 2014.

When Is It Time to Find a Career Coach?


Career coaching and professional development businesses are becoming more popular as professionals seek solutions to help them stand out in a crowded job market, refine existing skills and explore career options. Whether you are looking for a new job or want to improve in your current role, the career coaching experience can continue to pay dividends for coachees for many years following a completed program.

What is career coaching? Is it similar to a mentorship program?

Career coaching helps individuals clarify their career goals, present themselves in the best manner in professional situations, and even search for a new job or career path, in order to attain a more satisfying career and personal life.

According to Elisabet Rodriguez, founder and president of Rodriguez and Associates, a Pittsburgh-based firm specializing in career coaching for women’s advancement, career coaching and mentorship are very different. “Mentoring is an ongoing experience and relationship. It is one of teaching and learning,” she said. “Coaching is more short-term. It is to address a specific issue and to correct it.”

Rodriquez is actively involved in executive leadership programs for multinational companies, teaches a women’s executive leadership program at Duquesne University, and is author of Can You Afford to Ignore Me? How to Manage Gender and Cultural Differences at Work.

Mentoring involves networking for career development and strategic thinking. Career coaching addresses a very specific situation that, if not corrected, can derail you or prevent you from performing at your best, according to Rodriguez.

“A good example of a situation in which someone would benefit from career coaching is if a person claims, ‘People say I come off as aggressive in meetings. I want to modify my behavior so people do not perceive me as being aggressive.’”

A career coach will help you to rationalize the situation and can help provide a clear analysis of the situation or behavior you want to correct.

How do you find a career coach? What is the cost?

If there are behavioral traits that you would like to change about yourself or there is a situation at work that you would like an objective opinion on in order to help you find a solution, then a career coach may be a good investment for you.

There are thousands of career coaches across the country. Each coaching service is different. Some only focus on certain attributes in professional development. Additionally, while there is a certification process for career coaches, it is not required, and a person can present themselves as a career coach without being certified.

The range in price can vary according to your needs and your role within a company, but hourly rates for career coaches can range from an average of $150 per hour to thousands of dollars per hour for very senior level professionals and executives.

If you’re employed at a mid-sized or large organization and are interested in a career coach, a good first step is to contact your immediate supervisor and human resources department. Many companies contract with career coaching services, and if they don’t, can offer recommendations based on your goals.

What to expect from career coaching?

“Typically when you’re working in a corporate environment, the experience lasts six to eight months,” she said. “However, the length of time depends on why the individual sought out coaching in the first place.”

During the coaching process, the coach will provide homework and guidelines to modify the behavior of the coachee. The coachee provides their coach with examples of how they are behaving in certain circumstances. The coach will then measure progress to see how a behavior is being changed.

Rodriguez noted that the coachee must sustain a sense of awareness and be alert in order to change a behavior. “A good coach can help you stay on a very clear path, and when you’re experiencing difficulty, a safe place to go, and provide direction on how to move forward.”

*Originally published in Higher Degrees Fall 2013.

Career Q&A with Dr. Diane Hamilton


Diane Hamilton (Ph.D., Business Administration, 2008) is an alumna with more than 25 years of business and management-related experience in software, pharmaceuticals, corporate training, finance, and real estate.

Hamilton currently teaches at several universities, is a contributing writer for business-related websites like, and is the author of three books: It’s Not You: It’s Your Personality: Skills to Survive and Thrive in the Modern Workplace, How to Reinvent Your Career: Make Money Doing What You Love, and The Online Student’s User Manual: Everything You Need to Know to be a Successful Online Student.

Higher Degrees caught up with Hamilton to learn more about the topics she has written about including online learning, understanding personalities in the workforce, and reinventing your career.

Higher Degrees:
How does a person who has just finished a degree change his or her career path?

Dr. Hamilton:
If you want to change your career path, it may require some additional training and experience. Some people get degrees in a specific area and then change their minds about what they want to do when they graduate. If a degree is broad like a business degree, there are more options than if the degree is not, for example, Portuguese Communications. It may be as simple as adding a certificate or as complicated as obtaining a post-graduate degree. Many schools have added career planning as part of their training. I teach one course where students must take personality assessments and do assignments within a career center.

Higher Degrees:
What role does someone’s personality play in the workplace?

Dr. Hamilton:
I believe personality plays a big part in whether someone is successful in their job. Many companies administer assessments like the Myers Briggs MBTI. This may be very helpful to determine whether tasks fit personality preferences. I have a strongly extroverted personality which helped me when I was in sales. Now it helps me because I can give lectures and share insights in class.

Higher Degrees:
How can people make a living doing what they love?

Dr. Hamilton:
It may not be possible to get rich doing what you love (at least initially). Sometimes you have to pay your dues in jobs you do not love in order to finally reach the level you desire. Many people are unrealistic in their expectations for what jobs pay. It is important to have a clear goal prior to entering school if possible. If you do not discover what you love until you graduate, it may be more challenging. However, as with any goal, there may need to be smaller more attainable goals set to reach the overall goal. For example, I am a better teacher now than I would have been had I gone directly into teaching in my 20s. All of my experience led to my ability to add more to the classroom discussions. I had a lot of jobs there were not wonderful. However, they all taught me something that has helped me in my dream job that I have now.

*Originally published in Higher Degrees Fall 2013.

4 Ways Eating Candy Can Help You Get More Out of Your Study Time

Eating candy can help you become a better student! Wait, haven’t you been trying to tell your parents that since elementary school? Well, as it turns out you were right all along. Indulging in sweets (in moderation, of course!) might actually help you get the most out of your study time. If you’ve been holding off those sugar cravings for years, sweet relief is finally here!

In order to maximize the benefit of each delicious bite, it’s best to have a game plan (and shopping list) in place. So before you grab your wallet and run, take a few minutes to browse the advice below.

Sugar-Induced Willpower

If you think you’re doing yourself a favor by opting for the sugar-free version of your favorite study time snack, you might be wrong. As it turns out, just a little bit of sugar may go a long way in helping you power through to the end of your coma-inducing reading assignment. In fact, recent studies show that not only will you get to the end with a sugar boost; you’ll have focused better throughout. Now, rejoice and grab that bag of candy you’ve been eyeing. Anything with sugar will do!

Chocolate-Flavored Mood Booster

Ah, chocolate. The taste alone can help brighten even the darkest days, but did you know it contains a chemical called phenylethylamine (PEA) that can actually enhance your mood? In fact, it’s proven to help relieve signs of depression. So, what does that have to do with your study time? You get to enjoy those M&M’s you’ve been dreaming about while writing your next paper, of course! But seriously, think of it this way – if you’re in a better mood, you’ll study longer. If you study longer, you’re bound to get better results on those papers and tests!

Peppermint-Powered Focus

Having trouble focusing on the task at hand? Grab a peppermint! Studies at the University of Cincinnati show that you’ll concentrate better and even become more alert, not to mention the added benefit of having the freshest breath around. If a bag of peppermints isn’t your first choice for a sugary snack, try stopping by Starbuck’s for a peppermint hot chocolate or grabbing a piece of Ghirardelli Peppermint Bark for a mood-brightening bonus!

Gum-Smacking for Stress Relief

For many students, battling stress is an everyday occurrence. If you find yourself battling anxiety, try chewing a piece of gum to ease the pain. The repetitive nature can help release nervous tension, letting you focus on the task at hand. If you’re a little skeptical, check out a little research on the benefits of chewing, then pick up a pack of Wrigley’s Spearmint gum and start reaping the benefits. And don’t forget – none of that sugar-free stuff!

Should You Consider a Certificate Program?


Certificate programs are an efficient way to expand your knowledge without committing to the time and cost of an additional degree. They can be completed for fun, or as part of a career development strategy.

David G. Moore Jr. (Ph.D.), curriculum and assessments faculty in NCU’s School of Business and Technology Management is a self-described collector of diplomas and certificates. Moore holds undergraduate certificates in culinary arts and bartending, plus commercial and workplace Spanish. This is in addition to Project Management Professional (PMP) and Certified Software Development Professional (CSDP) certificates.

Although he has completed certificates for personal knowledge, Moore is a staunch believer that certificate programs allow students to revise their career path without completing a second or third degree.  In fact, according to US News & World Report, “for some… a certificate or just a few courses are enough to get a promotion – and a raise.”

“Let’s say a student has an undergraduate degree in computer science and has been working in software development for several years,” says Moore. “If they decide they want to move into a managerial role, a certificate in project management would be perfect for them.  It augments their existing technical skills with the necessary project management skills to start seeking a more supervisory position.”

While some, like Moore collect certificates for fun, for others they become part of a licensing requirement.

Shannyn Stern, vice president and controller at Northcentral University is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). In order to maintain her certification, Stern is required to complete a minimum of 40 hours of continuing professional education each year. Enrolling in a certificate program allows Stern to fulfill her annual professional education hours while at the same time adding a new certificate to her resume.

Although educators are not required to complete professional development courses, it is an expectation that they will do so. Taking coursework to gain endorsements on top of their teaching certificate is a way for teachers to ensure continued professional growth.

NCU’s Assistant Dean of the School of Education, Karen Ferguson (Ph.D.) asserts that “academic certificates demonstrate content mastery, a dedication to lifelong learning and professional development.  Certificates… demonstrate to school leadership that [teachers] are dedicated to continuous improvement and learning.”

With the demand for fast and convenient education solutions rising, countless 100 percent online certificate programs are now available in almost any professional field out there. In fact, Drexel University offers an online graduate certificate in creativity and innovation!

*Originally published in Higher Degrees Fall 2013.

4 Tips on Dealing with Holiday Stress

Remember being a kid and looking forward to the holiday season each year? There was nothing more exciting than getting time off school, spending time with family, listening to cheerful songs on the radio, eating great food and opening presents, lots of presents. Ah, the good old days! Now you’re all grown up, and the holidays represent something completely different. Sure, all of the excitement is still in the air, but there’s something about having to plan, cook and host it all that makes the season just a little more stressful.

Don’t let the thought of everything you need to do to prepare for the holiday season become overwhelming! You can get back to enjoying the final days of 2013 by properly preparing for the stress the season brings. Take a few moments to sit down, breathe and take in these suggestions for making your life just a tad easier.

Plan Your Time

If you’re anything like the rest of us, your holiday to-do list is a few miles long. From shopping to baking and family time, the last few weeks of each year are packed full of preparation for can’t-miss gatherings. Planning for the chaos is your best defense against obligation overload, so use this opportunity to start a positive time management habit – calendar blocking. Then, make a commitment to stick to your plan.

Set a Strict Budget

The holidays emphasize the spirit of generosity and it feels good to share your holiday spirit with others. If you’re stressed about fitting all of the gifts, food and charity contributions in to your budget this year, you’re not alone. Holiday spending (and the stress that goes with it) can get out of control fast, so take the time to set a strict budget. Not sure where to start? Check out this how to article complete with budget worksheets and tips on tracking, tweaking and limiting your spending.

Make a Holiday Playlist

When you’re out fighting crowds and standing in the checkout line for hours, it’s easy to forget that the holiday season is really about family, friends and being thankful for togetherness. If you find yourself standing at the edge of a holiday breakdown, try listening to a few holiday songs that can bring you back from the brink. In fact, it might be a good idea to be proactive and craft a holiday playlist ready for blasting through your headphones at a moment’s notice. If you’re in need of a few suggestions, try browsing Billboard’s list of hot holiday songs.

Spread the Holiday Spirit

There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get from giving back to your community. Volunteering for a local food drive, food bank or church not only helps your community, it helps you to become more grateful for the gifts you have in your life. If you’re having trouble finding a volunteer opportunity to feel passionate about, try With a database full of opportunities to give back across the country, you’re sure to find something close to home.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,496 other followers

%d bloggers like this: