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The Five Stages of Grief Writing a Final Paper

A sad panda

Sad panda

For some, the final paper is even more dreaded than the final exam. At least with an exam, you can only do so much work in the time given. With a paper, there’s this sinister feeling that you always could have done more. So naturally, you put off thinking about it as long as you can.

I was reading the other day about the Kübler-Ross model, better known as the Five Stages of Grief. I thought I’d overlay the same ideas onto the process of writing a final paper. The comparison was uncanny.


“Professor ____ gave us the final today, but I’ve got like 2 and a half weeks to do it. Plenty of time.”

The student engages in a conscious or unconscious rejection of the situation. The disruption of his/her schedule is seen as an opportunity for more active forms of procrastination. His/her sense of time is distorted. The student seeks constant social interaction to avoid engaging with vague sense of impending doom. Bravo reality TV programming suddenly becomes fascinating.


“What is this crap? 15 freaking pages of this? She barely even covered this in class.”

When the student is ready to engage with the assignment, he/she initially rejects the terms of the assignment as unreasonable. Feelings of outrage may be directed as the instructor, the institution, noisy neighbors and roommates, friends who keep sending emails and texts saying they’re going out tonight, the stupid library, stupid Internet, and stupid Microsoft Word, or perhaps even at the student’s stupid self for signing up for this stupid class in the first place.


“Okay, I’ll start in the morning. One more party tonight, then I’ll get started in the morning, I promise.”

Students may attempt to bargain with themselves, e.g., offering an hour of work in exchange for an hour getting out of the dorm/apartment. They may also attempt to appease a higher power, sending emails to the instructor testing  the flexibility of the page count or appealing for an extension.


“I can’t do this. This is impossible. What is wrong with me? Why did I wait until today. Guhhh…”

The student becomes silent and stares blankly at his/her monitor. Posture is slumped. Head may be flat against desk or keyboard. In the earlier stages, comments may be left on social media networks looking for sympathetic responses. In the later stages, acts of procrastination will no longer feature any elements of fun. The blank Word document will be opened and stared at for an indeterminate period of time.


“I haven’t slept in 36 hours. I’ve eaten three consecutive meals of Kraft mac n’ cheese and Dr. Pepper. I have no idea what I wrote. But it doesn’t matter. It’s done.”

After realizing he/she doesn’t even have the time to be depressed anymore, the student begins the assignment. Without any energy to devote toward emotional reactions anymore, the student pours out a series of stream-of-consciousness thoughts onto his/her keyboard. Stray glances at the clock only confirm that there isn’t time to look at the clock. Upon completion and submission of the assignment, the student receives an inexplicable surge of energy, later followed by an exhausted crash. Sometimes this happen in reverse.

To Walk or Not to Walk on Graduation Day?

gradcapWhen it’s time to graduate, while you’re sitting there sweating through your academic robes in the summer sun, you’ll start to listen to the names of your class (or department, depending on how your school does it), anticipating friends’ names so you can cheer a little louder.

The odds are pretty good that you won’t hear at least one name you expect to. Some people just plain don’t want to walk.

While the majority of you probably wouldn’t even consider skipping, a number of your classmates have no interest whatsoever in attending graduation. A few of them might even take off as soon as finals are complete. Justifications will vary. Some will say they’re just sick of school and can’t wait to get out of here. Some will be taking off out of obligation to their vacation plans (that they easily could’ve scheduled later in the first place). But whatever the argument, the people who don’t want to walk simply don’t see much value in pomp and circumstance.

And that’s totally valid. If you’re one of the minority that would rather just take off as soon as you’ve completed your last final, then by all means, take off. If the ceremony isn’t for you, then it isn’t for you. No need to feel guilty about it.

That being said remember that only about 10% of the ceremony is actually intended for you and the rest of the graduating class. The rest is for your families. So before you make any rash decisions about skipping, run it by your parents, siblings, grandparents… whoever plans on coming. And defer to their judgment. Just as you only get one chance to walk, your family only gets one chance to see you walk.

Is Using Siri While Driving As Bad As Texting While Driving?

siriA recent study out of Texas A&M University concluded that sending hands-free, voice-activated text messages impairs driver reaction times just as badly as actually typing them out.

“In each case, drivers took about twice as long to react as they did when they weren’t texting,” Christine Yager, who headed the study, told Reuters. “Eye contact to the roadway also decreased, no matter which texting method was used.”

Now, being distracted behind the wheel is obviously a serious problem for a lot of drivers, so I don’t want to cast doubt on the accuracy of the study, especially if it could save a few lives. But I do have to take some of the conclusions with a grain of salt. There are two other things Yager said, one I totally agree with, one which I’m not so sure.

Totally Agree

The biggest concern is that the driver felt safer while using voice-to-text applications instead of traditional texting, even though driving performance was equally affected, she said.

This may lead to a false belief that texting while driving using spoken commands is safe when in reality it is not, Yager said.

This part makes perfect sense to me, and seems to me like the most important thing to take home from this study. If drivers are just as unsafe using voice-to-text software as thumb-typing, it’s not because of the inherent danger in using a mobile device, but because of a misplaced confidence boost. Drivers need to be educated and disciplined enough that they keep their focus on the road. As terrible an idea as texting while driving is, only the most reckless of reckless drivers wouldn’t be aware of how dangerous they’re being while they’re doing it. Maybe that actually leads to an extra layer of caution drivers using voice-to-text don’t have.

Not So Sure

“You’re still using your mind to try to think of what you’re trying to say, and that by proxy causes some driving impairment, and that decreases your response time,” Yager said.

While I’m not doubting this from a technical perspective, I’m not sure what conclusions we’re really supposed to take away from this. I mean, I use my mind all the time while driving. It’s how I keep from dozing off during my hour commute into work. I listen to music or audiobooks. I think about stuff I’m going to do that day. I daydream. If I have a passenger, I talk to them. But if something comes up that requires my unbroken attention, I’ll stop doing those things and refocus.

I guess I’m just not entirely convinced that all types of distraction are inherently bad. There has to be a benefit to keeping your mind active while doing a monotonous activity.

Everyone needs to remember how new and unpolished this sort of technology is. As it gets better and as we get more comfortable using it, there will be less fiddling with the device, less need to make corrections, and less false confidence that it’s 100% safe. Then our phones will do a better job at helping us get through a long drive instead of distracting us.

10 Things to Do on St. Patrick’s Day That Don’t (Necessarily) Involve Beer

By and large, college students have turned St. Patrick’s Day into a holiday celebrating the sanctity of large quantities of alcohol. Problem is, the day’s plans often begin and end with “drink beer.” That’s especially problematic for the people who don’t drink. How are they supposed to spend the hours as their classmates focus on becoming less and less coherent?

You might want to consider adding one of these activities to the day’s schedules. Of course, there’s no rule saying you can’t add a glass of Guinness to any of items on the list below, we’re just providing options for those who’d rather not. These will either keep you from being bored or, if you don’t intend to abstain from drinking, keep you from falling asleep on your friend’s couch by 4 pm.Saint_Patrick_(window)

  1. Read up on St. Patrick himself. Aside from the legends (banishing snakes and whatnot), he was a pretty fascinating guy. Here are a few facts worth knowing:
    • He was a born to a Roman family living in Britain.
    • When he first came to Ireland, he was a slave.
    • He’s also the patron saint of Nigeria.
  2. Bake some Irish soda bread. It’s actually quicker and easier than many kinds of bread (as long as you have access to an oven). Nowadays people have mostly tried to dessert-ify this ultra-practical dish, so as long as you’re not too worried about being super traditional, you can play pretty loose with the ingredients, adding fruit, honey, or whatever else you want to the mix.
  3. Cook up some corned beef and colcannon. What you normally hear is “corned beef and cabbage,” but if a big plate of steamed cabbage leaves doesn’t sound too appetizing, colcannon (buttery mashed potatoes with a bunch of leafy greens mixed in) might be a tastier compromise.
  4. Irish rock karaoke. There’s something about Irish rock bands that works perfectly with horribly awesome karaoke renditions.  I’m pretty sure the only way to sing “Zombie” by the Cranberries and “Pride (In the Name of Love)” by U2 is belting it out with a bunch of other people who don’t know all the words.
  5. If you’re living in a city, there’s probably a parade. The odds are even higher if you’re in an east coast town.
  6. Dress some poor dog, cat, or baby up like a leprechaun. I’m by no means condoning this kind of behavior, I’m just saying it’s technically an option.
  7. Irish movie marathon. Not just movies that touch on some Irish themes. I’m talking about legitimately Irish movies, with Irish actors or by Irish creators. Movies like Michael Collins, My Left Foot, Once, Waking Ned Devine, or The Commitments.
  8. …Or just movies set in Ireland. Classic films like The Quiet Man or Ryan’s Daughter might not be as authentic as the above movies, but they should still count for the purposes of your marathon.
  9. …Or movies about Irish-Americans. Of course, The Departed is a great gangster flick, but Gangs of New York is probably a better fit for the day, since it focuses on the immigrant experience. If you’re looking for something that doesn’t have the bloodshed of those two, there’s always the more low-key In America.
  10. …Or maybe just movies with Liam Neeson. If you really just want an excuse to watch Darkman again.

The Problem With Grade Inflation (and the Problem With Fighting It)

grade_inflateThere’s a problem at a lot of well-known, hyper-competitive schools. As it turns out, when you get thousands of very successful students who’ve made their way into a top-tier college by getting straight A’s, they don’t want to stop getting straight A’s just because they’re suddenly surrounded by kindred spirits. Suddenly, just about everyone‘s getting A’s for doing a comparatively average job and the grades start to mean very little.

The consequences are far reaching. The more grades get devalued, the more a college education gets devalued as well. If you ask Google whether or not you should include your GPA on your résumé, you’ll get wildly differing advice. That’s too bad, because it shows how little faith many employers have in what’s supposed to be a standardized marker of academic achievement.

The data on grading trends is pretty shocking. Take a look at the chart below. You’ll notice a huge spike in A’s through the ’70s, then another slow but steady climb starting in the early ’90s and not stopping. You’ll also notice that private schools have a steeper slope than public schools. Not sure if means there’s more grade coddling at private schools or if it’s just because those students are most likely in a better socioeconomic status.



So a handful of schools, notably Notre Dame and Princeton, have decided to combat this practice by setting limits on the percentage of students who can earn A’s.

At least Princeton seems to be going about it intelligently. The school recommended that no more than 35% of students should earn an A. But rather than pulling A’s from students who’ve already earned them, they’ve been pressuring the faculty into being more conservative with their grading. Consequently, they’ve been able to bring the total number of A grades down from nearly half to just above their goal.

I hope other Princeton’s practice of setting goals, not quotas, becomes the model solution. Quotas pit students against each other in direct competition while taking all the responsibility out of the hands of the professors. Goals, on the other hand, give incentive to professors to hold their students to a higher standard.

Bookbyte Contests — The Best Winter Storm Photos #NemoPicsBB

Over the weekend, Winter Storm Nemo smashed into the east coast, dumping over 30 inches of snow on New England. I used to live there, so I know that when those states are canceling classes because of inclement weather, things have gotten real.

To the students who spent the weekend buried in, we want to see the photos you took while making the most of the winter storm. That means photos of :

…or whatever other more creative things you can think of.

The Prizes

Winner gets a $20 Walmart gift card. We’ll post all of our favorites on the blog.

How to submit

We’re taking submissions in two ways. For the people who have Twitter, send us a link to the uploaded photo with this hashtag:


…or if you don’t have a Twitter account, you can just send an email to

Please DON’T send us:

  • other people’s photos you pulled off Tumblr, Pinterest, Reddit, or wherever
  • photos you pulled off a CNN slideshow
  • satellite imagery (unless you own a private satellite, then go nuts)

We’re thinking about doing these sorts of contests regularly, so even if you’re warm and happy in Southern California right now, let us know with an email or a comment that you’d be interested in participating in future contests. After all, more interested people means bigger prizes.

The Books We Got in a Pizza Box

We genuinely had no idea this story would become as big as it did. Here’s the full story in one place, for the curious:

Browsing Reddit the other day, I came across a posting titled “Sell books back like a true college student” with this picture:


When I zoomed and squinted, I noticed that the label said Salem, OR. Which could only mean that these oven fresh books were coming to Bookbyte. I printed out the photo and brought it down to our shipping department, telling them to let me know whenever this arrived.

So sure enough, the box arrived. And inside were two engineering books. Which, when I think about it, is probably the least surprising detail in the story.

I wrote back to the guy who sent them in letting him know how much we appreciated his box breaking up the monotony of our day, and now the email and the photo of the box are currently duking it out with King Richard III’s bones for upvote supremacy on Reddit.

Here’s a few more photos of the book in our warehouse:

pizza_box_buyback_05 pizza_box_buyback_07 pizza_box_buyback_01 pizza_box_buyback_03


Do Colleges Teach Individualism More Than Teamwork?

Futurama Fry meme: "Not sure if I hate group projects or just hate people."

Futurama Fry meme courtesy of

A professor at Northwestern’s management school recently published a study critiquing the cultural effects of encouraging independent work and independent values at colleges. The paper argues that middle- and upper-class students thrive in an environment that pushes independent values — like “express yourself” and “do your own thing.” Students that are the first in their family to attend college, however, thrive in environments that push interdependent values — like “work with others” and “do collaborative research.”

Leaving aside the stuff about socioeconomic status, how true is this? Do colleges do a better job at teaching individualistic students how to succeed than collaborative students? Do students even want schools to focus more on collaboration?

Before any hard research, I asked Google its thoughts. When I typed “college group assignments” into Google, this is the headline on the first hit I get:


Well that doesn’t bode well. Let’s try “working in a group college”. The second hit was: (more…)

15 Examples of Insane Textbook Writing

Writing textbooks has got to be pretty tedious work. So you can hardly blame the writers when they slip in something that seems a little bit… off. My theory is that one of three things happens:

#1. The writer slips something in to see if anybody notices.

A word chart that says "OMG WTF STFU PWN3D"

Best optometry chart ever.

A word problem with the heading: "When am I ever going to use this?"

The heading asks a very good question that the problem doesn’t really address.

A picture of a family posing with somebody in a Spongebob Squarepants suit. Caption: "Here is an American nuclear family comprised of mother, father, and two children. Please note that the large yellow kid with the poor complexion is not a member of this nuclear family."

Just don’t tell Spongebob he’s not a member. He’ll be crushed.

"This chapter might have been called 'Introduction,' but nobody reads the introduction and we wanted you to read this. We feel safe admitting this here, in the footnote, because nobody reads footnotes either." Whoever wrote this is my hero.

“This chapter might have been called ‘Introduction,’ but nobody reads the introduction and we wanted you to read this. We feel safe admitting this here, in the footnote, because nobody reads footnotes either.” Whoever wrote this is my hero.

Crying: (def) what you feel like doing after writing statistics textbooks.

This explains every other entry on this post.


10 Things College Students Should Never Share on Facebook

Facebook has always had a weird relationship with colleges. It was created by a college student and originally exclusively used by other college students.  And even though a billion people are on the network, there’s a general sense that it’s mostly young people who’re using social media.

Despite (or maybe because of) its origins, college is both the best and the worst possible time to use Facebook. A very large percentage of the things the network tempts you to share are the very last things you want to be seen doing right as you’re entering the work force. I dare you to find one person who hasn’t done something while in college that they would never share with an employer.

Just like our guide to things not to do during finals, we’re back with another reference list of bad ideas. If you’ve started your job search, here are some things you should purge from your wall (or probably just never put up there in the first place.)xed_out_solo_cup

  1. Under 21? No pictures with alcohol. This should be a no brainer. If this is the first time you’re hearing this, then please, please continue reading this list. You’ll need it more than the rest of us.
  2. Over 21? Only incredibly tasteful pictures with alcohol. Just because you’ve hit the legal drinking age doesn’t mean your future employer wants to see photographic evidence of that night you were undefeated in Flip Cup. Treat your pictures like they are beer commercials. Holding a beer is probably fine. Chugging from a bottle, lying in a pile of red Solo cups,  playing drinking games… they’re all probably not. (more…)

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