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Staying Professional Online

What was the last crazy thing you did? What about the most embarrassing thing you've done all year? Is there photographic proof on Instagram? Would you show those photos to a parent? What about a college admissions officer?

Do I sound paranoid? I prefer "realistic." Believe it or not, more colleges are checking out students online when they're making their admissions decisions. They're reviewing social media, including Instagram, Facebook and Twitter - but don't forget they can also access sites like If it's on the Internet, it's public. Admissions officers say they're seeing more posts online that make them reconsider applicants. That's right: what you put online can impact your chances of getting into college.

Does this mean the best approach is to stay off social media altogether? Experts say there's no need to throw away your phone. Teens socialize and have fun, and in today's world, it's perfectly normal to document those experiences online. Just remember to stay professional!

Posting content that shows your interests outside of school can show colleges and potential employers that you're a well-rounded person. You want your online presence to be something you can be proud of down the road.

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Peaceful Careers

Did you know that September 21st is recognized as the International Day of Peace? I didn't know about this day, but I'm glad to learn it exists! The United Nations established this day in 1981, and devoted it to "commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace within and among all nations and peoples".

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary describes peace as "a state of tranquility; freedom from civil disturbance; harmony in personal relations; a state of accord and agreement between governments".

Everyone understands the importance of peace. But we know that living in harmony takes effort. So, the International Day of Peace is a good reason to explore careers devoted to keeping things calm.

In the business world, peace-relations skills are used in all areas of government, private industries and non-profit organizations.

It is a common practice for companies to hire a mediator to resolve disputes about employment, business contracts and other claims. Many public and private institutions employ an ombudsman whose duty is to investigate and resolve complaints made by individuals. They play an important role in helping an organization maintain the public's trust. Large corporations might hire a labor relations negotiator or an arbitrator in an effort settle disagreements and avoid strikes.

In the community at-large, police officers are often referred to as "peace officers". Their duties are to maintain law and order. Often, the mere presence of a police officer is enough to bring peace to an excited situation.

Ever hear of a justice of the peace? This is a type of judge who hears cases that involve civic complaints, like small-claims court, or minor criminal complaints and also performs marriages.

On a global level, there are thousands of peacekeepers assigned to troubled areas around the world. They navigate between conflict and peace to help countries and their citizens.

Are you interested in a peaceful career? If you enroll in a peace and conflict studies program, you will learn the art of tact, diplomacy and negotiation--crucial skills when handling negotiations between people.

Here's to peace! Let's pursue it and appreciate it.

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Back to School Resolutions

I don't know about you, but I always loved the start of school. At first, it was all about fashion and socializing. Returning to school was a time for new clothes in richer colors and cozier fabrics. It was the chance to reconnect with friends and fill my social calendar with plans and parties.

Then classes started. Shopping and mingling gave way to studying, and before I knew it, I was a student again -- albeit a better dressed one.

Fortunately, I liked school and loved learning things. However, it always took a while to figure what worked for me when I was studying. Sometimes, I learned the hard way, like the time a bad mark on a physics test taught me that studying while watching Wonder Woman reruns wasn't the best idea.

Now is a great time to make some resolutions about your own study habits. Try thinking back to last year to figure out the areas in which you can improve.

Did you allow enough time for studying? If not, you might want to have a good look at a typical week's schedule, perhaps starting with your TV viewing. (I speak from experience.)

Were you able to concentrate on your work? If focusing was a problem, think about your study environment -- are there a lot of distractions? Get some tips on making the most of your study time from our article Successful Study Techniques.

Did you have trouble keeping up with your schedule and were you often surprised by due dates? Learn to manage your time with the article Time Management 101.

Did you have a hard time figuring out "the point" of an assignment or required text? It could be time to brush up on your critical thinking skills. Find out what this means in How to Improve Your Critical Thinking Skills.

Take it from me: a little thought now can go a long way towards a successful academic year. Good luck!

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Fear, Phobias and Careers

I came across a great word the other day: phobophobia. Do you have any guesses about its meaning?

You probably recognize the last part: phobia. A phobia is an intense, often disabling fear of a specific thing. I have written about my own arachnophobia before -- that's a fear of spiders.

Almost everyone is afraid of something. Some common fears include fear of speaking in public (glossophobia), fear of snakes (ophidiophobia) and fear of flying (aviophobia).

There are many strategies to cope with fears. Take fear of speaking in public as an example -- I am not crazy about it myself, but I have learned some ways to become an effective speaker.

Fears can interfere with a person's life. Many students write to me wondering how their fears could affect their career plans. Some are afraid their fears will hold them back from succeeding at their chosen career. One student wants to be a pediatrician, but is worried about a fear of blood. Another wants to be a singer, but is afraid of performing.

Does that mean they should put their plans on hold? It's an individual thing, of course, but I believe that doing a little research can help. Each student could talk to someone in their chosen career to find out about strategies for dealing with their fears. If they have really intense fears, talking to a counselor or a physician is a good idea.

Other students have a different fear. They're afraid of committing to a specific career path. That's an understandable fear. After all, it's a big decision! Here is another instance when a little research can be a good prescription. The more you know about a career, the less scary it will seem. If you're afraid to choose a career because you're not sure you will make the right decision, do some research! Talk to other people, read our articles, consult with your school counselor. You don't want fear to hold you back.

So what is phobophobia? It makes sense if you think about it: fear of phobias!

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Committing to a College

It's crunch time for many high school seniors. This is the week they must decide which college to attend. I get many questions about which is the "best" college. Before we get to that, here's a quick quiz:

1) What is the best flavor of ice cream?
2) What is the best topping on a pizza?
3) What is the best book ever written?

And here's the bonus question: What are the odds your entire class gave the same answer?

If you said that the odds are pretty low, you're probably right. Take the first question, for example: I read that the most popular flavor of ice cream is vanilla, with 29 percent of ice cream lovers choosing it. That means 71 percent of people prefer other flavors.

Saying something is the "best" can be tricky. The best college for one person might not be a very good choice for another. It's a very personal thing. Take the size of the school, as an example. Some students thrive in small colleges; others want to experience larger campuses.

If you're trying to decide which college offer to accept, you may want to look at our article on selecting a college or university. There are lots of factors to consider. But in the end, the "best" choice is the one that works best for you.

Each student's preferences are different, but the key is to know the factors most important for you, such as camps size, financial-aid or career development as you examine your options.

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Put Your Skills to Work for the Earth

A quote in our article Alternative Energy Researcher caught my eye the other day:

"If you are thinking, 'I will never use this,' during Grade 12 math, I can't tell you how many times I had to go back to a textbook to remind me how to solve a problem," says Craig Dunn. He is the president of a geological consulting firm. "Do your math homework, it may help us save the world!"

Does that seem like an exaggeration to you? Doesn't saving the world involve things like remembering to recycle?

The truth is that skills like math are an important part of helping our planet. As more workers become aware of their impact on the environment, we have to find new ways of doing things. And that means using math -- and science and English.

Math is a broad field. The skills you learn can form the basis for a future in environmental science, ecological engineering or waste reduction. Check out the Real-Life Math exercises in these articles to see how eco-friendly workers are using their math skills.

If your skills are more about reading and writing than 'rithmatic, you can still put your talents to use. Environmental law, political lobbying and even journalism are just some of the fields in which you can use your powers of persuasion to help the Earth. Those researchers need to let the public know about their discoveries.

Artists are also using their skills to bring attention to the Earth. Many are using recycled materials and environmental themes in their work. Fashion designers are also looking good in green these days.

So, if you think that sitting in a classroom isn't really helping us reach the goals of Earth Day, remember that you're acquiring tools that can help you save the planet!

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April is Poetry Month

Do you have a favorite poem? If you do, write it out and put it in your pocket for April 18. That's Poem in Your Pocket Day. It's all part of National Poetry Month in April. Celebrate by sharing your favorite poem with others!

Not sure if you have a favorite poem? Do you think poetry belongs in dusty libraries, to be studied by serious scholars only? That's a perception that poets would like to change. Poetry is a dynamic, evolving art, and today's poets are writing about events and feelings happening in the modern world.

If you've never written a poem, now is a good time to try. You might be surprised to find it's a good way to get some feelings out. Historians believe ancient peoples told stories in rhyme because rhyming words were easier to remember -- ever notice it's easier to remember rap lyrics than a political science text?

Poetry has a lot to offer today's readers, but are they listening? Stats show that not many people are buying poetry books, and it's harder than ever to make a living as a poet. In the past, some poets were like today's rock stars, adored by fans who followed their every move.

Maybe you love poetry: your journal is full of poems, your rhyming dictionary is dog-eared, and you're starting to think in iambic pentameter. Can you turn your art into a career?

Many of today's poets find they have to supplement their writing with other higher-paying jobs. Some teach writing in high schools or colleges. Others use their flare for words in creative positions like copywriting or writing greeting cards.

Even if you're not sure you want anyone to read your poetry, writing a poem can be satisfying and even therapeutic. Why not celebrate Poetry Month by writing about what's going on in your life?

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Scholarships: Free Money?

Are you handy with duct tape? Planning a post-secondary education? Wondering how you're going to pay for that education?

If you answered "yes" to all three questions, you might be interested to know that there are actually scholarships that recognize students' duct-taping skills.

What's a scholarship? Governments, schools, companies, social groups, and even individuals hand out millions of dollars to deserving students for free through scholarships. That's right -- free money. And some of it goes unclaimed.

Many people think you need a perfect academic record to qualify for a scholarship. However, students who won't qualify for an academic scholarship should investigate non-academic scholarships. You may qualify for an athletic scholarship if you are a great athlete with decent marks. Or you may be a talented musician or writer. Or you may have shown a strong commitment to volunteerism.

You may also qualify for a non-academic scholarship if you want to go into a certain profession, come from a certain profession, win a competition, show severe financial need, come from a certain part of the country - or have any number of unique qualifications.

If you're interested in applying for scholarships, you'll have to do some research. You'll also want to keep an up-to-date record of all your accomplishments and interests. A good starting point might be taking an inventory of your volunteer and recreation activities.

Be sure to talk with your school counselor if you're researching the right scholarships for you. They might know of scholarships that are a perfect fit. If you have a parent that is or has been a member of the U.S. military, you might qualify for a military scholarship or some other type of financial-aid assistance.

As with anything involving money, you'll want to be a little cautious. There are scholarship scams out there. A good rule of thumb is that you shouldn't have to pay money to get money.

Think about your skills and what makes you unique. Invest some time in researching your scholarship options. Develop a network, starting with your school counselor, to help you research. The end result just might be some help paying for your post-secondary education!

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Pi Day

Why would a mathematician sit down to a big piece of apple pie on March 14 every year?

Math fans around the world have started a tradition of eating pie on that date. The day was created to celebrate the mathematical constant pi. The day falls on 3/14 since three, one and four are the first three digits of pi, or the ratio of any circle's circumference to its diameter. (The exact ratio for pi has been calculated to 2.7 trillion digits -- but this blog only has so much space!)

Pi Day was first celebrated in 1988 in San Francisco. Schools are starting to recognize Pi Day. Enterprising bakers take the opportunity to market -- you guessed it -- pies.

Who would have thought a holiday could arise from a mathematical concept? It's a good example of how people like mathematicians can make math come alive.

Each career profile identifies the level of math-related skills for the job.  Check the Skills You Need tab to know how math is used in the career. For some careers, like statisticians or accountants, the use of math is obvious. But we've discovered that even the most unlikely careers draw on math skills. I was a bit surprised that auto racing mechanics can use the concept of pi in their work, for example!

Not everyone likes math. But as you'll soon find out, we draw on our math skills every day, often without even realizing it.

Next time you drive across a bridge or through a tunnel, you're relying on the work of civil engineers who worked with pi. That's another incentive behind Pi Day. It's not just an abstract concept or an excuse for a piece of coconut cream, apple, blueberry and/or cherry pie! If you'd like to learn more, Pi Day is a good starting point.

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Easily Confused Careers

We have over 900 careers profiled in the Explore Careers section, so it's not surprising that there is sometimes a little confusion about which careers do what. Trust me -- it's hard to keep them all straight! I've noticed there are a few careers that cause more confusion than others. Sometimes the spelling of one career is close to another. Other times, we can blame the media for giving us the wrong idea. Here is a list of some commonly confused careers to clear up any confusion.

Psychologist, Psychiatrist: This is a tricky one. People in both careers treat mental health issues. But psychiatrists are medical doctors with a medical degree. That means they can prescribe medication. There are many different types of psychologists since this is a broad field. In general, psychologists study human behavior. Some diagnose problems and emotional or mental disorders. Some may set up laboratory tests, while others are involved in counseling. However, because they are not medical doctors, they cannot prescribe medication.

Physiatrist: To further confuse us, physiatrists are also medical doctors. They specialize in the practice of physical medicine and rehabilitation. Personally, I have to really look closely to distinguish between the words psychiatrist and physiatrist but, as you can see, their specialties are quite different.

Careers in Crime: If you watch a lot of crime shows on TV, you might think the same good-looking person investigates all aspects of a crime, from gathering evidence to testing for DNA to interrogating witnesses. According to our article Track Down a Career in Forensic Science, there are actually many different careers involved in investigating a crime. And most crimes aren't solved within an hour!

Zookeeper, Zoologist: Again, these are similar words, but different careers Zookeepers., as you might expect, work in zoos. Their duties may include feeding animals and cleaning up after them. Zoologists could also work in zoos, but many do research. Their work emphasizes the study of animals, and they might find work as a director of a zoo or in a university. Many zoologists have PhDs.

Radiologist, Radiologic Technologist: People in these two careers both work with X-rays and other diagnostic equipment. Radiologic technologists are the people who would work directly with the patient getting the image. Radiologists are the doctors who analyze the results and make a diagnosis. Obviously these two work together a lot, but there is a big difference in the amount of education required: 13 to 15 years to become a radiologist, and two to four years to work as a radiologic technologist.

Esthetician: Estheticians can do a lot of different things, so it's easy to get confused about this career. Estheticians can also be called cosmetologists. They can apply make-up, give facial and skin care treatments and remove unwanted hair.

I hope I've cleared up a few things! If you have other questions about careers you're not sure about, don't hesitate to e-mail.

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Thinking About Thinking

I was thinking about my brain the other day. (I can't look at that sentence too much, or I get confused. Can a brain really think about itself?)

Our brains are busy all day long, even when we're just hanging out and staring into space. Think about it: just reading this entry takes a coordinated effort from an army of neurons, but it's something we usually take for granted. Our eyes and our brains work together so smoothly that we're not really aware of what's going on.

I heard a fascinating story that really made me aware of how little we really know about this interaction. Don Karkos is a veteran of the Second World War. In 1942, he was blinded in one eye by a piece of shrapnel. In the following years, many doctors looked at his eye, but nobody could cure it -- until he was kicked in the head by a horse. The horse apparently kicked Karkos in exactly the right spot to restore his sight. Now he can see again!

Neuroscience, the science of studying the brain, is a fascinating field. As Karkos' story demonstrates, there is a lot left to discover. In some senses, the "final frontier" is within us. That means there are a lot of career possibilities in working with the brain. (Maybe that horse should be thinking about a career in neuroscience....)

Neurologists treat problems of the brain, spinal cord and nerves -- the central nervous system. As you might suspect, this is a very complex field with a lot of responsibility. Since we're always learning more about the brain, neurologists must update their skills constantly. New advancements make this an exciting career.

Doctors who operate on the brain are called neurosurgeons. Personally, I can't imagine the hand-eye coordination that would require. (Of course, I have difficulty hemming pants, so fixing someone's brain seems pretty overwhelming.) In other words, you need a first-class brain to work on brains.

Some of the most interesting work on the way we think doesn't involve the human brain at all. Knowledge engineers create computer programs that are supposed to think like human beings. This process involves something called "fuzzy logic." Fuzzy logic does not refer to a really bad solution to a murder mystery, but to the way that humans think. In contrast, computers usually use "mathematical logic." Confused yet?

If you'd like to know more about how our eyes work to take in the world, check out the field of ophthalmology. Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who treat vision issues.

After doing a little research on careers related to the brain, I've started to develop a healthy respect for my own. Sure, there are days when I wish it would do a better a job of remembering where I parked my car, but it's served me well so far. If you'd like to learn more about what makes your own brain tick, check out some related careers!

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Culinary Careers and the Holidays

When you think of certain holidays, do you think of some favorite foods? Birthday parties and chocolate cake, July the 4th and potato salad, Hanukkah and latkes, Christmas and eggnog... I could go on, but then I would have to go and get a snack!

This a great time of the year to indulge in some delicious meals. Not only are there are lot of social gatherings, but something about the colder weather makes me want to head into the kitchen to whip up some comfort food.

In my family, we somehow started a tradition of eating trifle (a yummy concoction of custard and cake) on New Year's Day. I can't even remember how this started, but I like trifle enough not to question it.

It's interesting: for most of the year, food can be very trendy. Any chef will tell you that it's tough to keep up with food trends. But on holidays, many people like to stick to what they know. That's one reason why my mother gave me a cookbook she created filled with family favorites. What a great gift!

The first cookbook appeared in Rome about 1,600 years ago. A print edition of this book called De re coquinaria (Latin for "on the subject of cooking") came out in 1483. The recipes apparently involve a lot of salt and honey -- most likely because the chefs of the past didn't have refrigerators.

The directions in ancient cookbooks were pretty vague. Historians don't think they were intended to give specific directions for cooking meals. And that makes sense if you think about the structure of society back then. People who could read well were often in the upper classes, so they hired cooks. Cooks talked about various cooking techniques amongst themselves, rather than reading about them.

The recipes gave directions like, "Walk 20 times around the field," instead of giving specific cooking times. Once the cook circled the field 20 times, the dish was finished.

We've come a long way since then! Today's chefs study in culinary programs, where they can expect a healthy serving of theory and hands-on learning.

After their training, they can labor over boeuf bourguignonne or flip burgers. Chefs can create works of art in chocolate (and hopefully send some to me) or develop vegetarian delights. Entrepreneurial sorts can even build a business around their favorite family recipes! Food lovers can specialize in any number of culinary styles: the world is hungry for cooks and chefs!

I hope you have a safe, fun and delicious December!

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I'm a Word Nerd

There is a murder of crows outside my window as I write this. Should I call a crime scene technician? Or an animal control officer?

Actually, I would need an ornithologist. A murder of crows is the way we refer to a group of crows, just as we say a herd of elephants or a flock of birds. The word "murder" is the collective noun we use to refer to a group of crows.

Some of my other favorite collective nouns include a sleuth of bears, an ostentation of peacocks and a mischief of mice (if you've ever had mice in your house, that one will really seem appropriate).

I think learning new words is fascinating. For one thing, building my vocabulary helps my Scrabble game and makes it easier to complete crossword puzzles ! But it's also great to look at language and how it evolves and changes.

Lexicographers study new words. They're the people who decide to add new words to a dictionary. Did you know the word "zoodle" was recently added to the dictionary that I use? That addition was the work of a lexicographer. They would also write the definition: a long, thin strip of zucchini that resembles a string or narrow ribbon of pasta.

Linguists also study language and how we use it. More high-tech companies are calling on linguists' knowledge as we incorporate the concepts of human speech into new technology. If you think the rules of grammar are stodgy and outdated, just look at how speech patterns can be incorporated into things like robotics.

Now... what goes inside a zoodle casserole?

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