Just the Bear Facts

To help you get your bearing in Grad School.

Month: February 2016

Becoming more Academically Competitive with the Presidential Scholar Program

When Dr. Larry Lyon, Dean of the Graduate School, arrived at Baylor in 1998, he immediately recognized that the school had to become more competitive. He knew that to achieve that goal, he must first create additional incentives that attracted larger numbers of highly-qualified doctoral candidates to Waco. A few years later, the Presidential Scholar program was underway. It has increased from the two awardees of the original class to double digits recipients in the last few years. Despite this increase, becoming a presidential scholar has remained extremely competitive. Program directors of potential candidates contact the graduate school about their students who they believe would benefit from being a member of the distinguished program. Dean Lyon then reviews the applications and chooses the best of these applicants to receive the designation. While making his decision, Dean Lyon looks for high GPAs and GRE scores, research experience and publications, and professional resumes, but, most importantly, excellent letters of recommendation.

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The presidential scholarship, one of the main benefits of the program, is the highest stipend awarded to doctoral students at Baylor. Its purpose is to help make attending graduate school and moving to Waco financially viable for these students and their families. Chris Tweedt, a recent doctoral graduate (and now instructor) in the Philosophy Department and former presidential scholar, spoke about how this extra stipend made his experience at Baylor possible. The father of four wrote, “I wouldn’t have been able to survive as a grad student and support my family without the help of the presidential scholarship.” Ryan West, who is in the last year of his post-doctoral studies and helping to support a family of five, added that “it would have been extremely difficult to make ends meet during graduate school without the stipend and health insurance coverage provided by the program.”

However, the stipend is not the only advantage of the program. It also opens the doors to boundless opportunities. John Duncan, a fourth year Ph.D. candidate in Religion, attested to his time in the program by mentioning that he and his fellow presidential scholars “have increased opportunities to meet, converse, and network with senior officials at Baylor, including President Starr, Lyon, and the Associate and assistant Deans in the Graduate School.” A first year candidate in Philosophy, Christopher Tomaszewski, can already agree. He stated that “by being able to list the Presidential Scholarship on my CV, I’ve gained some opportunities with the help of the prestige of the scholarship in terms of gaining admission to research seminars and summer programs.”


The Presidential Scholar program has succeeded in making Baylor’s Graduate School more competitive. With many of the recipients graduating and moving on to faculty positions at other universities and with the number of awardees continuing to rise, it seems that Presidential Scholars will continue to make the university stronger for years to come.

By Matthew Doyen

Gradvice: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Gradvice is a series that discusses the difficult decisions that graduate school applicants must make. Hopefully, our thoughts and experiences will help guide you to the right course!

Human beings like to stay with what they know. I only get the tuna sandwich at Subway. My dad only buys Honda vehicles. My sister only watches romantic comedies. We are confident in these decisions because we know that they will be reliable and enjoyable. The same can be said about graduate school. Once you finally decide on a graduate program to pursue, it’s only natural that the first school you research is the one where you received your bachelor’s degree. After all, you have turned that once foreign place into a cozy home for the last four years. As the search continues, however, you may find that a program located halfway across the country seems like it is the perfect fit. But do you really want to leave everything that you have become familiar with at your undergraduate school? Or do you want to take a chance and experience a totally new place and culture?


My friend, Sarah, earned her bachelor’s degree at Baylor and decided to stay in Waco to pursue her master’s. As we were walking past Fountain Mall, I asked Sarah to share what she thought the advantages and disadvantages of receiving her undergraduate and graduate degrees at the same university were. Personally, as a graduate student who moved to a completely new state to continue my education, I found that her experience was completely opposite to my own and that most of our differences center around one thing: relationships.

Sarah stressed the importance of continuing the relationships that she had started during her four years as an undergrad. During that time, we all had our favorite professors who found us abusing their office hours just to chat about life and to sink into their comfy leather chairs. Since deciding to stay at Baylor, Sarah still has the ability to do that every couple of weeks. She also continues to volunteer at the same places and to further develop current relationships with the same directors that may end up offering her a job in the future because of their strong past. Finally, she can still enjoy hanging out with the friends that she has made who have not yet graduated or who have decided to stay in Waco for grad school.

I can understand all of what she said and try to overcome the fact that I’m at a different school and don’t have those advantages as best as I can. For instance, I still remain in contact with my old professors through the occasional email. I still volunteer, but at new places and with new faces, which helps broaden my list of professional connections. I still spend many nights talking to my old friends and planning when they are going to come to central Texas, while leaving time to enjoy the new friendships that I have made at Baylor.  Everyone seems genuinely happy that I made the choice to move on to a different school, as it can give the impression of moving onward and upward rather than staying stagnant.

The decision to stay at the same school for both undergrad and grad school is perfectly understandable and works out fine for a good amount of students, including Sarah. She enjoys the safety net of her old friends while strengthening the relations that she has already started with professors and professionals in her field. While going to a different school does make those relationships harder to continue, it also shows which of them are most important to me and provides an opportunity to increase my list of contacts. These types of decisions are difficult to make when deciding where to go for graduate school. But, if you take the time now to figure them out, then you know your future graduate school won’t clash with what you were expected!

By Matthew Doyen

Talking to Bears: Porter Ellett

Talking with Bears is a series where we take a few minutes each week to talk to some of the current graduate students at Baylor and discuss their experience at the university and in Waco.


Hometown: Loa, Utah

Undergraduate Degree: Economics

Undergraduate University: Brigham Young University

Graduate Degree: M.A. in Sport Management

Expected Year of Graduation: 2017


What was the biggest factor that persuaded you to attend Baylor for graduate school?

They have the structure necessary to support my program. I came and visited the campus along with Dr. Petersen, and everything exceeded my expectations. I was really leaning towards attending another university, but the visit sealed the deal. The people of Waco were very kind and genuine, so it eased the tension of being halfway across the country from home. I also like the family values that seem to flow through the culture of Waco. That was big for my wife and me.

What is one thing that has surprised you about graduate school at Baylor?

How engaging the learning process is. Almost every single student in my program is working outside of class in a sport management related field. It is a great plus to the program.

If you had to describe your graduate school experience (so far) in three words, what would they be?

Stretch, manage, and understand.

If you were Dean Lyon for a day, what would be two things that you would change?

  1. Allow students to handle aspects of attraction more. I think student led tours and things are great, but adding student led marketing campaigns could boost the profile of the grad school. Youth would aid in being in tune with social media and other modern marketing thoughts and trends.
  2. He is really cool so getting him in front of the student population more could do wonders. If undergrads heard him speak or interacted with him, I am sure some would be swayed to pursue a grad degree.

What activities are you involved with outside of the classroom?

I work for SMG McLane Stadium and am active in the Sport Management Association. A few less official things include exercising at the SLC and attending athletic events.

What does your average Saturday look like?

My wife and I get up around 6:30 or 7:00 head to the gym and we usually spend the day enjoying sporting events either on TV or in person. The evenings we usually try to go somewhere new for dinner then catch a movie.

How has the city of Waco impacted your time during graduate school?

It is fun place to explore with its own unique culture, but I think the people have impacted me more than anything. I have yet to meet an unkind person in my time here. It sounds like an exaggeration, but it’s the truth. It has made me a kinder person and helped me appreciate the important things in life a little more.

What is your go-to lunch spot in Waco?

We have tried a lot of new stuff, so I haven’t repeated too many meals. Torchy’s Tacos may have recently become my go-to.


If you could give one piece of advice to prospective graduate students that are interested in Baylor, what would it be?

Join us!

Compiled by Matthew Doyen

SET: Bad Sleep in Good Students

Baylor’s Academy for Teaching and Learning (ATL) holds a series of lectures every semester titled “Seminars for Excellence in Teaching.” These seminars help graduate student teachers, tenured professors, and everyone in between to meet the university’s historic expectations for teaching in the classroom. These are my accounts.


After a long morning that included a trip to West for some freshly baked kolaches (and resulted in me wearing a beanie all day), I attended an afternoon seminar entitled “Bad Sleep in Good Students: Costs to Learning and Recommendations for Instructors.” This particular session caught my eye not because I have a class of sleepy students, but because I’ve recently found myself yawning along to their same undergrad tune. Dr. Michael Scullin, who came to Baylor two years ago and started a graduate student peer review journal, was my host for the afternoon.


There have obviously been a multitude of studies researching sleep and its effects on the human brain, a good number of them done by Dr. Scullin and his Baylor associates at the campus’s Sleep Lab. Because of these studies, we now know more about this vital organ than ever before and continue to uncover its amazing abilities. Despite contrary belief, the brain does not shut down when we are sleeping. During our dreams, the brain is restoring and preparing for the next day. Memories that are made during the day are replaying subconsciously as the brain tries to remember their important details.

The talk was actually less about what the brain does while we are sleeping, but more about what it fails to do without a good night’s rest. Sleep loss, which is when someone doesn’t make it to the recommended sleep duration of 7-9 hours/night, primarily affects the prefrontal cortex. If you forget your high school anatomy class like me, I’ll remind just as Dr. Scullin did that the prefrontal cortex is directly behind your left temple. More importantly, its main functions are reasoning, concentrating, problem-solving, and encoding memory – essentially, everything that makes a good pupil. Without a proper night’s shuteye, the prefrontal cortex will be just as tired and as unable to perform as us.

Dr. Scullin went on to discuss different problems that college students face when trying to go to sleep (some their own doing and some evolution’s doing). Most of us, not just college students, get into bed, turn off the light, and grab our smartphones or tablets. This is a big no-no. The bright light from these devices, including TV screens, tells the brain that the sun is about to come up and that we should, as well. In scientific terms, the light decreases melatonin production, which then in turn unsynchronizes our circadian cycles, which then in turn forces us to stay up all night finishing season 5 of Game of Thrones for the sixth time.

It has been proven that young adults are on a different biological clock than their professors. This makes complete sense when I think about how I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning during my undergraduate years watching the antics of Craig Ferguson on late night TV, but now can barely make it to the evening news. Dr. Scullin suggested eliminating 8:00 am classes, which an approximate 40% of BU students are enrolled in, because of this very reason that is no one’s fault but our evolutionary process.

Dr. Scullin then provided tips for professors to give to their students and signs to look for in a tired pupil. He reminded us that students may not be doing well not because they are unintelligent, but because their poor sleep habits are finally catching up to them. He concluded by saying that it is nearly impossible for someone to catch up on sleep on the weekend, that we should stay far away from coffee after lunch, and that when you wear a beanie everyone knows it’s because you didn’t shower.

Even with a lifetime of sleeping experience, it seems that I still have some learning to do!

Check out the full schedule of ATL’s Seminars in Excellence for Teaching.

By Matthew Doyen

Bears v Longhorns


On Monday night, I tuned into ESPN (because a Monday night tip-off is not ideal for graduate students to attend) to watch the much anticipated Baylor-Texas men’s basketball game. As I listened to Brent Musburger skillfully narrate the intense action and to a full house fervently cheer on our boys in green and gold, I became curious as to why these two schools form one of the biggest rivalries in the country.

My first thought was location. BU and UT are located less than 100 miles from one another and it seems that every school that falls within that radius is a rival to Baylor (TCU and Texas A&M). The close proximity means that fans can easily travel on I-35 to any and all away games. The cities that the two schools call home are also vastly different. UT is located in the state capital of Austin. The city is known for being very hip (and “weird”) and has a great selection of parks, shops, and music venues. Waco, on the other hand, is the little brother of sorts. It is about half the size of its larger counterpart to the south and is just now coming into its own by being “wacko.” A lot of what Waco strives for, even down to its slogan, can trace its roots to Austin, which can account for some of the spite.

My second thought was academics. These two schools are the largest in central Texas and are ranked 52nd (UT) and 71st (BU) in U.S. World News Report’s most recent rankings. UT has been labeled as one of the “public ivies,” which implies that one can get an Ivy League education there for the price of a public school. Baylor, meanwhile, is strictly private and doesn’t have to create such titles. Over 50,000 students are enrolled at UT, while we have a little over 15,000, which creates a cozy atmosphere. Despite the disparity in the student population, both schools are known for their current research with Texas accruing a large research endowment and Baylor opening its BRIC operation just a couple of years ago; both also have general endowments over one billion dollars. The academic rigor that is paralleled at both institutions can only add fuel to the rivalry fire.

My final thought, and probably the one that should have come first, was athletics. BU-UT teams have competed in heated rivalry for decades (check out the 1963 football program at the bottom of the page courtesy of The Texas Collection), despite the fact that the Longhorns have had an enormously historic advantage. In recent years, however, they have been caught and the Bears are now consistently competing on the football field and basketball court and baseball diamond and on and on and on. The intensity brought by this transition of power has made the rivalry ever more intense, which can only enhance to the competitiveness.

While the basketball game continued to unfold in the background of my “research,” I kept hearing Mr. Musburger say two words that perfectly sum up the relationship of BU and UT: passion and respect. Perhaps the reason that this tandem has become so fierce is because we see a lot of the same qualities in each other. We are both located in Central Texas and proud of it. We are both continually improving our level of academics and research. We are both desperately passionate for our team. Because of those facts, a mutual respect has grown and, even though it may seem that we despise each other’s existence most of the time, we are only making each other better.

ooWhile these programs have become a bit less offensive, some things, like the intensity of the Baylor-Texas rivalry, will never change.

By Matthew Doyen

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