Just the Bear Facts

To help you get your bearing in Grad School.

Author: ben_murray

5 Celebrities With Graduate Degrees

Have you ever wondered how many of your favorite celebrities have graduate degrees, but simply couldn’t find the time to Google it and see for yourself?  Well, fret not, the Baylor Graduate School does have the time and we’re about to dish out some knowledge regarding Hollywood’s most knowledgeable figures.  It’s always good to know that if your grad school plans don’t work out, you can just move to Hollywood and hope for success there.  Here’s five celebrities you (maybe) didn’t know had graduate degrees!

  1. James Franco


Though Franco has a penchant for playing the happy-go-lucky stoner (Freaks and Geeks, Pineapple Express, Spring Breakers, etc.) he seems to sport a surprisingly big brain.  In 2006, Franco reenrolled at UCLA and received permission to take as many as 62 course credits per quarter (the regular amount is 19).  I’m pretty sure 62 hours is completely impossible to handle without some serious help or leniency from the university, but it’s still impressive that the guy even wanted to take classes in the first place.  He graduated in 2008 and went on earn his MFA in Writing from Columbia in 2010.  The most recent info I could find on him says that he is currently enrolled as a PhD student at Yale.  According to Mr. Franco, staying in school helps him stay grounded and he enjoys being around people who share his same interests.

  1. Shaquille O’Neal


For those who don’t know, Shaquille O’Neal (Shaq) is one of the most dominant centers to ever play the game of basketball.  His interests, however, are not limited to sports.  He’s also a rapper, actor, reserve police officer, and get this…doctor. He earned a bachelor of arts in general studies from LSU, received his MBA from the University of Phoenix in 2005, and earned his Ed.D in Human Resource Development at Barry University.  Shaq currently serves as the newest member of TNT’s halftime show along with NBA legends Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley.  Although Shaq’s commentary is somewhat lacking at times, he’s usually good for some slapstick humor which is only punctuated by his 7’1, 350 pound frame.  See here.

  1. Meryl Streep


Meryl Streep is one of the most respected and awarded actresses of all time.  It comes as little surprise to find out that she was properly trained for the profession.  She received her BA from Vassar College in 1971, earned an MFA from Yale’s drama school in 1975 and was given an honorary doctor of arts degree in 1981.  I won’t list all of her accolades here, but believe me, they are legion.  Suffice to say, furthering your education never hurts—no matter which profession you choose.

  1. Ken Jeong


You probably recognize this guy from his over-the-top roles in movies and television.  Jeong is best known for his parts in NBC’s Community and The Hangover trilogy.  But were you aware that he is a licensed physician?  Dr. Jeong graduated high school at 16, completed his undergrad at Duke and earned his M.D. from UNC Chapel Hill in 1995.  He then practiced medicine for a few years in Los Angeles before landing his breakout role in Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up.  Jeong’s success proves that med school can indeed teach you to find the funny bone (I stole that gem from somewhere online).

  1. Rowan Atkinson


Who could’ve guessed that one of the dumbest characters ever created would be portrayed by one of the smartest actors?  Well, that’s exactly what happened with Rowan Atkinson.  He received his first degree from Newcastle University in Electrical Engineering and continued on to earn his M.Sc. in Electrical Engineering from Oxford in 1975.  After appearing in several skits and programs throughout British entertainment, Atkinson revealed his breakout character “Mr. Bean” in 1990 and became a household name shortly after.

So, there’s five random celebrities with graduate degrees. Next time one of their names pops up, you can dazzle friends with your strangely specific knowledge of their education. Just make sure to give the grad school credit. We did all the Googling after all.

GradFocus: Dr. Michael Scullin


By Ben Murray

I recently met with Dr. Michael K. Scullin, Director of the Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory in Baylor’s department of Psychology.  Scullin is something of a newcomer to our university, arriving here last December.  He began his education at Furman University and graduated in 2007 with a B.S.  After finishing at Furman, he moved to St. Louis where he attended Washington University and completed his doctorate in the Behavior, Brain and Cognition program.  Scullin then worked on a post-doctoral fellowship in the Neurology and Sleep Medicine program at Emory University’s School of Medicine before finally landing at Baylor.

Our meeting was about a project that he actually started about five years ago.  During his time in graduate school, Scullin took on a leadership position with the American Psychological Association (APA)—the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the U.S.  They asked him to chair a new science committee at the school.  He says he was unsure of his role at the beginning, but after being told to “dream big,” Scullin began to plan for a new project.  He recalled some of the frustrations that he had encountered during the publishing process.  When he submitted papers to journals, Scullin often found the reviews from his future colleagues to be unhelpful and pedantic—frequently littered with arbitrary corrections and unnecessary edits.  He realized that the peer review process could be greatly improved, and with this realization he decided to start his own peer reviewed journal for graduate students, by graduate students.

Fast forward five years and TPS (Translational Issues in Psychological Science) is a full-fledged, critical issues translational journal, with each issue focusing on a different topic representing multiple viewpoints on psychological science.  Scullin says the journal’s road to completion was not easy.  At first the idea was met with substantial resistance.  He explains that “journals marked as graduate student journals are usually not considered to be reputable.  This is because they are always put on by small agencies and never sponsored by large, reputable publishers.” TPS is unique in that it is backed by the APA.  This basically acts as a stamp of approval and legitimacy for scholars.  Perhaps the most innovative element of TPS comes from its website where a training portal is available for those who are new to peer editing.  The portal begins with general info such as the peer review process and why it is important.  Then, it goes into depth on how to write an effective, constructive review.  For example, how to avoid unhelpful critiques, evaluate theories used, and frame constructive comments.

In the past, when people were asked to review papers, they would often mimic the types of responses they themselves received when their papers were reviewed.  Too often, these new reviewers would repeat the same bad habits as reviewers before them because they didn’t know any better.  TPS’s program is designed to break that cycle.  When a graduate student writes a review, their review is reviewed (ha) by experienced post docs who operate under an established professor.  This forces reviewers to watch what they write because they know that their work will be evaluated by a second set of eyes.  As Scullin says, “Peer review is essential to every scientific article that’s ever been published, and how the author’s results are finally reported can be greatly altered by their editors.  Teaching individuals at an early stage in their career to give effective, non-arbitrary reviews will not only improve the process but will also help to improve science in general.”

Dr. Scullin is excited to see Baylor students get published in future issues of TPS.  The journal is an excellent opportunity for them to gain experience and is surely a resume booster for anyone involved with the publication.  It’s great to hear about innovative ideas that can really change academics for the better.  As always, we’re grateful for Dr. Scullin’s time in explaining his groundbreaking work here at Baylor.

GradFocus: Lindsay Wilkinson


By Ben Murray

The coolest thing about working at the Graduate School is that it allows me to meet a variety of people who have dedicated themselves to an array of different passions. Talking to these people is a rewarding experience because their excitement is often contagious and directs my interest to areas I would have never thought to look.  The most recent example of this phenomenon? Gerontology.  For those who don’t know, Wikipedia (don’t judge, it’s a good source) defines Gerontology as the study of the social, psychological, cognitive and biological aspects of aging.  It turns out that studying the aging process can provide us with some great insights on how to live a healthy and fulfilling life.  I met with Baylor’s Dr. Lindsay Wilkinson to discuss this interesting topic in more detail.

Dr. Wilkinson hails from Rofford Illinois (not far outside Chicago for the southerners who know nothing about other states [me]).  For her undergrad, Lindsay went to Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa where she double majored in psychology and sociology and minored in gender studies. After much deliberation as to whether she should go the psychology or sociology route, Lindsay chose sociology and was accepted into the masters program at Purdue.  In her time there, she received PhD’s in both Sociology and Gerontology.  She says she was initially interested in studying inequality but didn’t know which direction to take it until her mentor mentioned that she could study health inequality.  Lindsay says that this was something of an “aha!” moment for her.  She had never thought of health in those terms before.  As she explained to me, health is really the ultimate form of inequality.  “Everyone is going to get older and die some day and so that carries a lot of significance,” Lindsay said. “If we can understand that better, we can improve our quality of life.”

As a medical sociologist, studying health inequality means a lot more than simply going over people’s medical records. For Lindsay’s most recent project, she looked at the great recession and its effect on adults 51 and up.  She wanted to understand the effect that money strain can have on an individual’s mental health (turns out it has a big effect).  Her work earned her the junior scholar award—a national honor handed out by the Gerontological Society of America. To gather data for her study, Wilkinson used the largest source of information on older adults: a massive 30,000 person study funded by the National Institute of Health.  The study has gathered detailed records on the same people’s lives every two years since 1992.  Thanks to the success of her previous project, Lindsay will now be able to take the next step in her research.  She plans to look at resiliency amongst the elderly during these difficult times.  This means analyzing participants whose mental health was unaffected by their difficulties and trying to discover which characteristics set them apart from the rest.  Answering this question could have exciting implications in learning how to maintain a healthy state of mind when challenges arise in our own lives.

Dr. Wilkinson currently teaches research methods, sociology of aging, and will soon begin a health class in the fall. When she’s not conducting research or teaching, she enjoys relaxing with her husband and two dogs Pax and Lexi (named after Chicago sports legends), going to sporting events and watching good movies.  We’re very thankful to Dr. Wilkinson for her time and look forward to hearing about the discoveries she will make on the next project!

GradFocus: Nicholas Pruitt

Scales, Pruitt, and Maxwell, 2015 2bhhs_panel_2

By Ben Murray

A few weeks back, I sat down with Nicholas Pruitt, a PhD student in History, to discuss the Baptist History & Heritage Society conference he attended in Nashville, Tennessee.  At the conference, Nicholas gave a presentation along with Baylor’s own Dr. Laine Scales and Melody Maxwell—assistant professor of Christian Studies at Howard Payne University.  Their topic of discussion centered upon the important historical role Baptist women have played in improving race relations in the U.S. According to their panel, Baptist women were decades ahead of male religious leaders in this aspect.  They pointed out that personal friendships between black and white Baptist women actually date back to 1901 when the Women’s Convention and National Baptist Convention joined to fund two African American Missionaries.  If you would like to know more about what went on at the convention, click here.

Nicholas’s path to this unique subject began at Wayland Baptist University in Plainview, Texas.  It was there that he earned a BA in History, then moved to Waco to earn his MA in Church-State Studies from Baylor in 2009.  After teaching for two years back at Wayland, he returned to Baylor for his PhD and will graduate this year.  He says his time at Baylor has been great and that he has enjoyed the close community of graduate students within the history program.  Nicholas’s area of focus involves twentieth-century American religion and its relationship to social, cultural, and political trends.  He hopes to continue teaching in a Christian setting and looks forward to seeing what the future holds for his career.

The 7 Wonders of Waco

By Ben Murray

During my time at Baylor, I’ve heard a variety of opinions regarding the city of Waco.  For many people, Waco is great.  They like the rural beauty, nice people and small town vibe.  Others, however, complain that there’s little to do outside of school and have even gone so far as to call this place downright boring.  Well, to all the Waco haters out there: maybe this city is boring.  Maybe it’s a run-down little town with nothing to do in it except stare longingly at the sky wishing you were in Austin or Dallas. A place where fun cannot be found, happiness is impossible, and good times are expressly forbidden.  Or maybe, just maybe, you’re a boring person who hasn’t given Waco a chance.  It’s time to remember that we live in a unique location with its own set of attractions.  It’s time to recognize the 7 wonders of Waco.

  1. McLane Stadium

In case you’ve been on a media fast for the last few years, let me introduce you to what has become the crown jewel of Waco.  I’m talking about an 860,000 square foot, $250-million-dollar shrine to the greatness of Baylor football. It is one of the most modern, high-tech stadiums in college football to date and it is where you can find more than 45,000 screaming fans every game-day during the season.  The new location features 93 acres of tailgate space, a 5,018 sq ft scoreboard, hundreds of concession stands, escalators, elevators, sail-gating and more—all within walking distance of campus. Though it has only been open for a year, McLane Stadium has already begun to make history as the site of the Bears’ second consecutive Big 12 Championship and what has to have been one of the greatest comebacks to ever happen in collegiate sports (61-58).  McLane Stadium is more than just a place to play football.  It is the spark of a revolution taking place at Baylor and in Waco.  The stadium is the largest project in the history of Central Texas and has the potential to transform the city—creating new hotels, restaurants, and shops for the game-day crowds along with nearly 6,000 jobs in its first year alone.

  1. George’s

One thing that big cities have over Waco is a vast array of dining options.  But who wants to go to some stiff, cookie-cutter, chain restaurant for every meal out?  Though Waco has several food gems, there is one place that stands above the rest.  George’s Restaurant and Bar has been filling the stomachs of Wacoans for 85 years.  With a track record that long, how could it not be awesome? The restaurant serves everything from burgers and fried chicken to quesadillas and catfish—all of which are good.  They’ve been in the same building all these years, so the atmosphere has a warm “broken in” feel that is just plain comfortable.  When you sit at one of the old, scratched up tables eating a placemat-sized chicken fried steak and gulping down a “Big O” (an Arthurian goblet of beer unique to George’s), you can almost sense the generations of Baylor students who did the same exact thing years before you.  To put it simply, George’s is a special place.  There is no better location to watch the game and have a few beers with friends.  Just make sure to get there early.

  1. Cameron Park

Many undergrads make the mistake of neglecting to explore the natural beauty that can be found in Waco.  One useful way to keep your head from exploding due to coursework is to take a trip to Cameron Park.  More than 100 years ago, the William Cameron Family donated the 400-acre park to Waco and residents have been enjoying it ever since.  Located right along the Brazos River, Cameron Park features a zoo, disc golf courses, picnick areas, hiking/biking trails and scenic views which are excellent for life contemplation.  The park also holds parties, festivals and other events on a fairly regular basis.  It’s a great place to go for a run or just hang out and it offers a much-needed escape from the daily grind.  If you’re not visiting Cameron Park on a weekly basis, you’re missing out—it’s a five minute drive from campus!

  1. The Hippodrome

Are you fond of food, drink, movies, live entertainment or historic buildings?  What if I told you that all of these great things could be enjoyed simultaneously in the same spot?  For those of you who aren’t aware, The Hippodrome offers all of these amenities to Wacoans every day of the week.  Here’s the coolest part: the theatre’s opening night was just over 100 years ago in 1914—featuring a live seal act, a magic act and a five-piece orchestra.   This stately theatre has gone through its fair share of closings and openings, but it seems to always land back on its feet. In 2012, local developers Shane and Cody Turner bought the place, renovated it, and re-opened its doors in 2014.  The Hippodrome now has a retractable wall that allows for two films to be shown at the same time.  It also features two kitchens, a concession stand, a full service restaurant and a bar on the 2nd floor.  So next time you’re looking for something to do, head on down to 724 Austin Ave. and catch a show!

  1. Dr. Pepper Museum

What is the oldest major-brand soft drink in America?  If you guessed Coca-Cola, YOU GUESSED WRONG.  Dr Pepper holds that claim and this beloved soda was originally concocted in…..you guessed it…. Waco, Texas.  The beverage was conceived at Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store in the late 1800’s by a young pharmacist names Charles Alderton.  The Dr Pepper Museum commemorates Alderton’s accomplishment and features a multitude of artifacts from Dr Pepper’s historic life.  Opening in 1997, the Museum is home to the W.W. Clements Free Enterprise Institute that educated people about the economic system that underlies American life.  Though I can’t say the Dr. Pepper Museum can provide you with hours of entertainment on a regular basis, it is certainly worth checking out.

  1. Suspension Bridge

As far as Waco scenery goes, this one has got to be near the top.  It sounds corny, but there’s a reason every single sorority event takes pictures here.  It is beautiful.  The 3-million-brick bridge spans 475 feet across the Brazos River and has been there since 1869.  To give you an idea of how old that is, travelers along the Chisholm Trail had to use a ferry to get across the river before it was built.  Today, the bridge is not as crucial as it used to be.  But it’s an awesome place to stare dramatically at a sunset, propose to a future spouse, or yell at boaters.  Also, for those grad students who aren’t familiar with Baylor traditions, I should probably mention tortilla tossing.  This activity is exactly what it sounds like and can be performed in three simple steps: 1. Buy tortillas 2. Go to the Suspension Bridge  3. Throw tortillas off the Suspension Bridge and try to land them on the pillars sticking out of the river.  If you’ve always wanted to insanely throw Spanish flatbread off a high place without judgement, now is your chance. NOTE: The Baylor Graduate School does not condone yelling at boaters, wasting food or staring at the sun.  These are merely a collection of possible activities that can be performed at the Suspension Bridge.

  1. Dichotomy

If you’re a coffee lover, you may surprised to hear that some of the best coffee in the U.S. can be found right here in Waco.  Then again, if you’re a coffee lover, you’ve probably already done your research and are infinitely more aware of the exact ingredients that go into Dichotomy’s drinks than I am.  All that aside, Dichotomy is a relatively new coffee shop/bar that has already begun to be seen on “greatest coffee shop” lists.  Though I’m no coffee drinker myself and know nothing about the process of making coffee, I can tell you a few things about the place.  First of all, it looks really cool inside.  The place has a 40’s drugstore vibe mixed with a modern aesthetic.  There’s a massive marble bar that covers most of the downstairs—complete with a bunch of brass, steampunk-looking contraptions and laboratory glassware that I can only assume are essential for crafting fine coffee.  The shop is manned by a team of friendly coffee fanatics who look like they would get along well with Mumford and all of his sons.  There’s also an area with tables that is great for studying and an upstairs porch that offers a scenic view of downtown Waco.  Bottom line: If you like coffee, you will like this place.

And there you have it: The 7 Wonders of Waco.  Now, get off the couch and start exploring!

Baylor YouVisit

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a virtual tour would surely be worth a novel or two.  For years, the graduate school has written to prospective students telling them about the great environment and opportunities at Baylor.  Sometimes, however, words simply cannot do it justice.  It’s easy to talk about the magnitude of the Baylor Science Building or the beauty of Armstrong Browning Library, but unless you’ve been to campus, it is difficult to really get a feel for life at Baylor.  That’s why the Baylor graduate school recently teamed up with YouVisit to give people a chance to see campus the way it was meant to be seen: through the eyes of a student.

YouVisit is a company that helps universities design and create virtual tours for prospective students.  Their work allows viewers to walk through a university’s campus without ever having to leave the comfort of home.  Baylor’s tour is equipped with clickable arrows that take you to various destinations around campus along with a virtual tour guide who provides information about the different stops.  YouVisit also features 360 degree pictures that are great for looking inside buildings or getting your sense of direction on campus.

For the Baylor Graduate School’s tour, we wanted the experience to be as authentic as possible.   Rather than hiring a YouVisit actor to put on a Baylor shirt and read lines, we did the majority of the production in-house.  The tour was given by Baylor theatre graduate student, Kayson Murphy, filmed by Baylor Film and Digital Media student, Pedro Rosas, and written by…..us!  So, if you’d like to learn more about Baylor, or you’re simply interested in seeing what our campus looks like, click this link to check out the tour.  It’s almost as good as actually going to school here!

Environmental Science Student Wins Prestigious Science Award

Each year, the American Society of Agronomy (ASA), Crop Science Society of America (CSSA) and Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) select one exceptional graduate student for the Future Leaders in Science Award. This year, that honor went to Baylor University’s very own Zack Valdez—a Ph.D. Student in the Ecological, Earth and Environmental Science Department. BLOG PICThe award recognizes students that have a vision for impacting policy and science.  Zack first learned of the award opportunity at a conference in Long Beach, CA, where he won an elevator speech contest. An advocate for the ASA, CSSA, and SSSA Future Leaders in Science Award was impressed by Zack’s speech and encouraged him to apply.  Good thing he followed his advice! As this year’s winner, Zack will enjoy an all-expense paid trip to Washington, DC to participate in the 2015 Congressional Visits Day in March where he will receive advocacy training and meet with Congressional representatives.

According to Zack, it was the unique interdisciplinary approach of the EEES program that initially attracted him to Baylor.  Eventually, he hopes to pursue a career in alternative energy, but has decided to hone his skills in Environmental Science, Geology, Chemistry and various other disciplines first.  The majority of Zack’s research time has been spent working on carbon cycling, which has to do with ethanol fuel made from corn.  He is also an avid traveler and has been around the world more times than Carmen San Diego doing research and attending different Soil Science conferences in order to stay up-to-date with current developments in his field. When he’s not traveling the world or conducting research, Zack enjoys playing club soccer and enjoying the outdoors.

He looks forward to his trip to DC and is most excited to meet with congressional leaders to see how scientific research is implemented by policy.  While he loves to research within his discipline, Zack also feels his ability to speak and interact with people will allow him to be an advocate for progressive use of alternative energy and make a positive impact on our planet.

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