Category Archives: Advice

Two Sides of Online Learning: A Dual Perspective as a Student and Teacher

By Minghan Shelley Sun 

Edited by Natalie Grace Sipula

[4 minute read]

During the Covid-19 pandemic, it seems that we spend most of our time switching between screens while taking classes, socializing, or completing  work and internship projects. The digital fatigue we get from constantly looking at screens has eliminated the enjoyment and happiness we are supposed to receive from these activities or events. Because of this, a new question has been raised: How can educators infuse more excitement and motivation into online classes? Currently, I am taking online classes for the second semester in a row at the graduate level. I’m working from China and am also a student-teacher for a class at the USC International Academy. Therefore, I’ve gone through the process of adapting to online learning from both a student’s and a teacher’s perspective, and luckily, I’ve gained some insights and hope to shed some light on this issue for everyone who is also facing this issue.

Perspective as a graduate student

During this past semester (Fall 2020), my online classes seemed to always have group discussions and tasks. Having participated in many Zoom breakout rooms, I became aware of a sense of separation occurring when being grouped with different classmates. One experience I remember in particular is when I was in a breakout room with three classmates I’d never spoken to before. When we first entered the breakout room, no one started the conversation but just stared at their screens. I wondered to myself, ‘What are they doing?  Are they checking the rubric or looking for something?’ Eventually, I couldn’t stand the awkward silence so I broke the ice by saying “Hi, guys. Have you found the work document?” which started our conversation. Although we pretty much finished our assigned task, our discussion was superficial and did not really reach my expectations for that class. I was genuinely disappointed and felt upset about what I felt was a loss in value of that class time.

However, there was another time when I was grouped with a classmate who was talkative and willing to share their ideas, and that experience was totally different. From the beginning, our greetings naturally warmed up our discussion, and some common thoughts that we expressed about the class deepened our conversation and elicited more thinking and sharing. This experience showed me that if all of the members of a breakout room are willing participants, the conversation can be great.

Perspective as a teacher

Recently, I was granted the opportunity to observe as a student-teacher in a class. Student-teachers at the graduate level typically learn to teach by observing the host teacher’s practices and teaching micro lessons in real classrooms. This is what I did at the USC International Academy during Spring 2020 and Fall 2020. Due to the sudden shift to online learning, I’ve noticed a drop in student engagement and motivation in the classes I have assisted, especially compared to the behavior of students that I observed in in-person classes during Spring 2020. In particular, I noticed one odd but common phenomenon in breakout rooms: although the teacher had carefully explained the activity the students were about to perform before going into breakout rooms, the students tended to keep silent when they first entered the room and still needed some time to discuss what the task was about. Even though the teacher had asked if the students had any questions before they joined the breakout room, sometimes they even started the breakout room discussion by asking “What are we supposed to do?”. Even though they performed better in group activities after several weeks of class, communication efficiency distinctly decreased compared to in-person classes.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash
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Advice For ph.d. students

By Wei Gao

Edited by Natalie Grace Sipula

[3 minute read]

Are you a Ph.D. student? If you are, or you are considering pursuing a PhD, I have some advice for you. I am currently a PhD student, and without receiving advice from different individuals in my life, I wouldn’t have the outlook I do now. I want to share one particular word of advice that had a great impact on me, which I think could have an impact on any PhD student.

To fully explain why the advice I received was so important to me, I must introduce the person who gave it to me: meet my friend Tanya [ˈtɑːnjə]. Tanya is from China (the Chinese pronunciation of her name is Tanya [tán yǎ]). I met Tanya for the first time a few years ago in 2016 at an academic conference in Shanghai. As a graduate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Tanya was certainly a rising star in academia. I was responsible for her reception when she came to my university as a guest for the conference. Since it was such a rare opportunity to speak one-one-one with such a distinguished scholar, I asked her, “Tanya, I plan on pursuing a Ph.D. degree in the near future. Could you please give me some advice about how to do good research?” She replied, “Lady Gaga is a great singer; a real artist. You should listen to her music.” Then she left. Needless to say, I was confused after hearing that. I thought to myself, “So does she mean I should listen to Lady Gaga’s music to become a good researcher?” Following her suggestion, I started to listen to Lady Gaga’s music. However, after I listened to all of Lady Gaga’s songs, my research skills had only marginally improved.

Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash

One year later, someone told me that Tanya hadn’t published any papers this year. I couldn’t believe it, but after checking her website I realized this person was right. Soon after, I heard people starting to gossip, “Tanya is not a rising star any longer,” “Tanya flops”, “Tanya isn’t what she used to be”. I was genuinely worried about her, and I kept wondering what had happened.

A year later, I met her in person again at another academic conference in Washington DC. After some small talk, I had to mention, “Tanya, I have been following your research, but it seems that you haven’t updated your website for some time.” Although I didn’t ask directly why she hadn’t published anything notable, she quickly understood what I meant. Then she said, “Remember a couple years ago when I asked you to listen to Lady Gaga’s music? Here’s why I did that. Lady Gaga had a commercially successful career for several years. Then, she flopped in 2013 when she released her album Artpop. So what happened? Instead of just satisfying the public, Lady Gaga was trying to produce an album created from an artist’s perspective. Thus, the album Artpop was not accepted by the majority, although it had a large influence on the music industry overall when we look back at it today. The subjects of this album, art and pop, can be considered by many to be antithetical. She caused a stir with her pop fans when she picked sides. Lady Gaga chose art, but that came with a cost.” 

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How to Look Good on a Budget

By Samhitha Saiba

Like most young people, I have a lot of ambitions and a lack of funds to make them come true. Such is the life of a broke (or more accurately, on-a-budget) college student. But while there are plenty of resources on the Internet on how to sustain an affordable lifestyle from self-described food, beauty, and wellness gurus, we don’t talk nearly as much about how hard it is to dress well on a budget.

Sure, Target has a clothing section. And sure, most of us can still fit into some of the stuff we wore 5 years ago. But if you’re like me, you care just as much about dressing well as you do about getting dressed at all. Many of us have personal styles that brands such has Target do not always cater to, and most of us have tastes that have evolved as we have gotten older. Not to mention that going to USC — or going to school in L.A., period — can make us more self-conscious of the way we dress, as well as make it harder to look the way we want when every purchase feels like a sucker punch to our bank accounts. Most of us want to look good but just haven’t found an affordable, easy way to do it.

But in my experience, this ambition of ours doesn’t have to be fruitless. Clothing shouldn’t have to take up a huge portion of your budget, and there are plenty of ways to achieve the style you want while also staying fiscally conscious. While I’m personally still trying to perfect my system of doing this, I thought I’d share a couple of tips I have found useful along the way.

1.  Avoid fast fashion (as much as possible)

Photo by Fernand De Canne on Unsplash

Obviously, fast fashion is popular for a reason: it’s cheap. While avoiding cheap clothing may seem counter-intuitive to our mission of saving money, it can actually save you a lot in the long term. I learned the hard way that while clothes from brands like Forever 21 and H&M can seem like hidden gems — cute, cheap, and trendy — they’re usually made of cheap materials that shrink or show wear after just a couple of uses. This forces us to repeatedly restock our closet, but because we keep restocking it with cheap clothing, we fall into an endless, expensive cycle of buying clothes that don’t look that good after three or four wears, anyway.

I encourage you to look into brands that produce clothing from quality materials that will last you a long time. Some of my favorites at the moment are Levi’s and ASOS, but you can do research on which brands best suit your taste. While buying from these brands means you will have to be more careful where you spend your money, it will also help assure you that it was money well-spent.

2.  Go thrifting

Photo by Becca McHaffie on Unsplash

L.A. is a thrift-store hub, but most towns and cities will have some form of a second-hand clothing store. These stores can be great for finding both trendy clothing at a cheaper price as well as vintage items that you wouldn’t find elsewhere. And if you’re a sucker for oversized dad-sweaters like me, you’re pretty likely to strike gold.

Because there are now online thrift stores, you can even thrift without having to risk in-person shopping during quarantine. I personally use Poshmark when I want to thrift online, but thredUP and Depop are also popular options.

While thrifting can be rewarding and even fun, this method of shopping isn’t for everybody. Finding good clothes in a thrift store can sometimes take hours, and obviously not everyone’s schedule will allow this. Still, I encourage you to try thrifting at least once and figure out if it could fit into your lifestyle.

3.  Scour other people’s closets

Photo by Sarah Brown on Unsplash

While this option might seem weird, it’s a great way to rediscover pieces that other people in your life may no longer have any use for. I personally do the occasional raid of my mom, dad, and sister’s closets, especially around when they’re planning to donate some of their older clothing. If you’re looking for very trendy or new-looking clothing, this might not be the best option. That being said, because 80s and 90s fashion are currently having a comeback, you might be able to find some pretty unique peices.

4.  Upcycle what you have

Photo by Jazmin Quaynor on Unsplash

If you’re creative and want to make the most of what you already have, I encourage you to try upcycling some of your clothing. Upcycling simply means taking old pieces and making them more applicable to your current tastes. This can be as simple as cropping an old tee shirt or taking in the waist on loose jeans. If you’re looking to take more creative risks, you could try embroidering a breast pocket, painting your white sneakers, or even whipping out a sewing machine and changing the purpose of a clothing item altogether. Recently, upcycling has become quite popular on Youtube and there are many videos out there explaining how to epicycle your closet from home. I recommend checking out Bestdressed on Youtube. I personally think she’s the current queen of upcycling.

That’s all the wisdom I have to offer on this subject. Hopefully these alternate ways of finding clothing that fit your taste will help you upgrade your closet just as I’ve used them to upgrade mine. Just remember that looking good doesn’t have to be expensive, even if this is what luxury brands may want you to believe. All a good fashion taste takes is a little bit of patience, cash, and the right amount of creativity. Oh, and I would recommend checking out Bestdressed on Youtube. Seriously.

Featured Image by freestocks on Unsplash

Samhitha is an undergraduate student studying English with an emphasis in Creative Writing. She is Indian-American but lived most of her life in New Jersey before recently making the transition to the west coast to attend USC. As an avid writer, she loves exploring different creative outlets through film, literature, and comedy. Aside from writing, she also loves exploring L.A., trying new boba places, and being around nature, whether that means hiking or simply visiting the beach with friends. Samhitha has basic understandings of Telugu and Spanish but is open to meeting with anyone who wants to improve their English. She is happy to help you in any way she can–whether that means going over essays, preparing for interviews, or simply practicing your conversation skills!