July 10, 2014
by Ellen

Follow Up: Learning a Language

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how learning a second language can boost your career and earning potential. (You can read that fantastically written piece here.) I suggested you take some classes or look into Rosetta Stone to facilitate your learning — great suggestions that require a financial investment. Since then, however, I have stumbled upon an exciting and FREE way to learn a language.

It’s called “Duolingo” – a free app for your smartphone that you can also access online. It really is free — “100% free forever” as they say on the website. I looked into it, and apparently the program was created as a way to give non-English speakers in impoverished areas free access to a language learning program so they have a fair shot at getting higher-paying jobs. To fund the program, there are various documents posted on the website as “immersion” activities. The documents range from newspaper articles to form letters to Wikipedia pages and are translated, one sentence at a time, by advanced Duolingo users. The documents are crowd-sourced work that Duolingo sells — providing the needed revenue to keep the program alive. It’s brilliant.

Ok, so it’s free, but does it work? I was kinda skeptical at first — I mean, how effective can a free service be? To test it, I started the German program. As an English teacher who once lived and worked in Germany, I figured I could pretty easily judge the quality of the instruction. I was pleasantly surprised. The course has really refreshed my knowledge, and the app itself is addictive. It’s set up like any other gaming app, bells and whistles included — I have been sucked in for over an hour more than once.

While I was re-learning German, my ten-year-old son started the Spanish program. He has absolutely no experience learning a foreign language, but since most of his friends are native Spanish speakers, he’s pretty motivated to do it. He’s about 1/4 of the way through it and already able to carry on very basic conversations with his friends (“My name is…”, ‘I like to eat apples..” etc). That a 10 year old is catching on quickly is a great testament to the accessibility of the program. If he can do it, so can you!

Duolingo is effective because it integrates reading, writing, hearing, and speaking, which is awesome because in order to learn a language you need to be able to both understand and replicate what you are seeing and hearing. It also focuses on the basic outline of the language, rather than extensive lists of words to memorize. In other words, it shows you how the language “works” — how sentences are structured (the proper order of nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.) — and it gives you the basic vocab you would need to tell someone about yourself and to get around in the country as a tourist. The creators of Duolingo claim that by the time you complete the program, you will be functioning in the language at a “high intermediate” level (able to read with a dictionary, converse slowly and simply, and pick up words watching TV programs or listening to native speakers). From there, your fluency becomes a matter of adding vocab and increasing speed.

Duolingo is a great place to start learning another language, even if you’ve never tried before. Check it out.

July 3, 2014
by Ellen

My Controversial Summer Reading Recommendation

Whether you’re on the beach, by the pool, or taking a break at lunch, summer reading is a must. What better way to keep your brain working than a little controversy?

You may have heard some rumblings a few months ago about the publication of French economist Thomas Picketty’s new book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. There has been no lack of heated debate over Picketty’s detailed analysis of  “a unique collection of data from twenty countries, ranging as far back as the eighteenth century, to uncover key economic and social patterns” surrounding the accumulation and distribution of wealth. Picketty argues that economic inequality, the gap between rich and poor, is on the rise and has reached levels greater than any other period in history.

As you may imagine, there are armies of economists both supporting and refuting his contentions, many of whom have written extensive reviews of the book. The most heated debate has been between Chris Giles of the Financial TimesPiketty findings undercut by errors – FT.com) and Picketty himself (Thomas Piketty’s Response To The Financial Times). The debate has also been summarized and further discussed in other publications such as the New York Times (Everything You Need to Know About Thomas Piketty vs. The Financial Times) and Forbes (http://www.forbes.com/sites/scottwinship/2014/06/02/financial-times-vs-piketty-on-us-smoke-no-fire/). And there are many, many others weighing in on the debate — just google “Picketty Capital” and you will see what I mean.

I bet dimes to donuts, at least a few of your colleagues have read the book, so why not see what all the hoopla is about? (If you can find a copy, that is — it has been sold out in most stores since the day it was published!) It could make for some interesting conversations. At the very least, it will expose you to points of view you never knew were out there.

June 27, 2014
by Ellen

Encore: CPA Study Tips

Yay, you’re graduating! But the celebration is a bit short-lived — now you have to take the CPA exam. Fear not, I have a plan that will see you through to the real celebration. Have a look at my earlier post on studying for the CPAs, and if you need help coming up with your own, personalized plan, shoot me an email and I’d be happy to sit down with you. You can do it — this time next year, it will all be behind you. You just need to stay focused for this last push toward your career. Good luck!!

June 20, 2014
by Ellen

Imposing Order on Chaos: Grad School Style

Time management is one of the most important skills to have in graduate school. The amount of intellectually challenging work to be done can be daunting, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. When we are overwhelmed, we tend to miss important details and deadlines and fall into the procrastination trap. So how can you avoid all that? One word: organize.

1. Clean up:

When I start to feel like my brain is tripping over itself and the amount of work to be done seems, well, insurmountable, it feels so good to clean up. There’s just something so calming about a clean house. Make your momma proud and clean your room (and the bathroom, kitchen, and rest of your apartment). Pay extra attention to your workspace – make a nice, neat place where you can sit down and be the genius your grad school career is grooming you to be. If you don’t have them already, get a desk and a bookshelf. And don’t forget the office supplies (remember how cool it was to get your school supplies as a kid — nothing better than new pens and blank notepads!). Your desk should always be cleared of clutter and the books and textbooks you need for the semester should be together on your bookshelf. Get a decent desk chair, too, so you don’t have the backache excuse to stop working.

2. Calendar everything:

There are all sorts of calendaring options on your computer, phone, etc., but I still believe a paper calendar is best — you can see all levels at once. But that’s just me. Find something that works for you, as long as you are able to enter both long-term and short-term schedules and deadlines. Here are the essentials for good calendaring:

  • All deadlines, from now through next year. Yes, next year. For example, you know you will have to complete your FAFSA and apply for financial aid by a certain date next year — write it down in your calendar. The deadline to apply for graduation — kinda important. When do you need to apply to sit for the CPA? What are the start and end dates for the next few semesters and when do you need to register for classes? These are important deadlines to remember, and having them written down in your calendar now will save you the anxiety of trying to figure it out later, when you may not have enough time to prepare for it or end up in a mad rush to get it done.
  • The deadlines and assignments for each of your classes. The beauty of syllabi — you already know what to do and when. Write it all down in your calendar. Having it all in one place enables you to see what your workload will be in the coming weeks and when assignments from different classes clash, so you can plan ahead and save yourself the stress of trying to get it all done at once. Plus, planning ahead will increase your chances of doing well on each assignment, rather than rushing to turn them in on time.
  • Free time. You need to block out free time for yourself, so you don’t burn out. Be sure to give yourself a nice block of time to do things you love — movies, sports, video games, best sellers, lounging around, etc. When do the Blackhawks play?  Write it down, so you see what work needs to be done ahead of time so you can actually enjoy the game guilt-free. You do still need to be a person, not just a brain, so tend to those needs, too.

3. Shake procrastination:

We procrastinate on tasks when we feel overwhelmed by them or we just plain find them boring. Calendaring, alone, will help you avoid procrastination by scheduling specific time for you to work on assignments, but sometimes we need a little more help to get it done.

  • Baby steps: Break a large project into smaller tasks and put them on a “to do” list. For example, when I started writing my dissertation, I was so overwhelmed by the herculean effort required that I spent a few months in a daze, unsure how to start. Then a friend of mine suggested I forget about the completed product for a while and just do a tiny piece of a single section — something I could to do right then that would “count” as dissertation work. I had already found about 50 articles I needed to read and summarize, so I grouped them into topics and then took one group at a time. I made a list of the articles, read them, summarized them, and then checked them off the list one-by-one. Finishing the first group felt really good, and my momentum continued to build with each article I checked off.
  • Incentives: Set a goal and then treat yourself to a reward when you reach it. I love that Aspen Leaf yogurt place, so I told myself that each time I finished a group of articles, I would take an afternoon off, grab a yogurt, and sit outside enjoying it. Create incentives for both small and large milestones. A good friend of mine had always wanted to go to Disney World. She decided that when she finally finished her dissertation, she would go (and she did!). Just as your allowance motivated you to do your chores as a kid, creating an incentive to complete a task will get you there (even if you whine a little while doing it).

Grad school is tough, especially when you’re just getting started, but if you take a little time to impose some order on your new, chaotic life, you will be surprised at how great you do.



June 13, 2014
by Ellen

Dress for Success

Knowing what to wear to work can be difficult, especially when you have little or no experience in the business world. Two words: simple and conservative. Your outfit should not be distracting. When you make that presentation in the conference room, you want people to pay attention to what you are saying, not what you are wearing. Now is not the time to show off your straight-off-the-runway, haut couture fashion sense. Stick with the business basics — a nice suit with classic lines. Women’s accessories should be unique but not flashy. For men, a nice watch is a must, but it should be understated — leave the bling at home.

Working in a more formal environment is relatively easy — wear a suit — but figuring out what qualifies as “business casual” is a different story. There is no real standard for business casual — it’s typically something less than a suit but more than jeans (although in some workplaces, “nice” jeans qualify). What do you do? Pay attention to what your boss wears. In most cases, his/her wardrobe will set the standard. There are, however, situations where your boss is a little eccentric or clearly less formal than the rest of the office. In that case, take stock of what most of the other higher-ups are wearing and follow suit, so to speak. When in doubt, go more formal, not less. No one will be offended if you are overdressed, but wearing jeans when everyone else is in a nice skirt or dress pants will draw some disapproving glances and may even result in an embarrassing conversation with your boss about appropriate attire.

If you’re really lost, turn to the experts. For men, a trip to Jos. A. Bank is a good idea. The salespeople there are well-versed in the necessities of the business wardrobe, and there are frequent sales that make a good wardrobe within reach. For ladies, Ann Taylor is your best bet. It’s pretty pricey, though, so you may not be able to stock up on their styles. Look around, take a few pictures, and then go to the discount stores (TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Nordstrom Rack, etc.) to find similar items. For more ideas, check out these helpful suggestions:  5 Ways to Dress for Success on a Budget-Kiplinger

Other things to think about are fit and color. According to wardrobe and image consultant Amanda Sanders, once you have found clothes that are appropriate for the workplace, you should have them professionally tailored. Obviously, if something is too long, you need to have it hemmed, but tailoring is more than hemming — your clothing should skim your body, which means having seams taken in or let out. Color is also important, particularly when it comes to accessories. As image advisor Tom Henske notes, we’ve all heard of the red “power tie,” but other colors are equally important. For example, blue suggests loyalty, intelligence, and honesty, while pink shows friendliness and caring. For additional fashion advice from Sanders and Henske, check out this video on the WSJ website: How To Dress For Success in Business

Be simple, conservative, and more formal, not less. When it comes down to it, you want to get noticed because of your work, not your outfit.