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William C. Bonaudi Library's Down the Research Rabbit Hole: Sarah Bauer and Cognitive Learning | Issue 1

by Rhonda Kitchens on 2020-02-26T20:15:00-08:00 in Education, Library and Research Skills | 0 Comments

William C. Bonaudi LIbrary Down the Research Rabbit Hole with two photos of Sarah Bauer

Interview with:  Sarah Bauer, Chemistry Instructor, Big Bend Community College



Do you remember the precise moment, book, or class that cognitive learning captivated you?

I have always really loved learning about the science of just about anything: the science of habit formation, the science of willpower, the science of memory, etc.  I love to know the “why?” and the “how do we know that?” about things. My favorite things to read tend to be along these lines: "The Science of..." books.  And of course, as a teacher, I have always been interested and in love with learning. The precise moment when I realized that I could merge those two interests into one passion was when I read Teach Students How to Learn by Saundra McGuire.  It really inspired me to want to become a resource for students and faculty on learning and I have been captivated ever since. 


In your educational research, you have found frustration to be more of a happy place than how many of us might describe frustration.  What advice do you have for learners that hit that wall?


Oh heavens, I hate being frustrated and I have had to come a LONG WAY in this.  In the past, my tolerance for mistakes and frustration was pretty low; it did not take much struggle before I was devastated, probably in tears, and convinced that I couldn't do it and never would. If I stuck with it, I eventually would see progress and feel better and keep going. I've experienced this "despair/elation" cycle enough to realize that the messy "middle act" is part of my journey and I have to accept it and walk through it to get to the part that feels good again.  I also read Mindset by Carol Dweck and had to really face the way my mindset and fear of failure were limiting me and also making me rather miserable and obnoxious.

My advice for learners (which is all of us) is going to sound pretty Pollyanna-ish, but I mean it with every atom in my body.  (It's also research-based too, of course!):

Remember that mistakes, frustration, and struggle are an absolutely critical part of the learning process.  It’s the messy, middle act. They mean you are trying, that you are challenging yourself, and it is frustration that triggers the brain to engage in the hard work of long-term learning. Frustration means you are on the right track.

  • Watch your self-talk; do not let the mean voice in your head have a megaphone; remember to argue against it.  Only talk to yourself the way you would to a friend in a similar situation.
  • Give yourself permission to make mistakes and not be perfect.  Let go of your 4.0 and focus on learning.  I mean this.  Write yourself a literal permission slip if you have to.
  • When the frustration feels too big, take a break.  Go for a walk, do some mindfulness etc.  Frustration can lead to cognitive tunnel-vision, which can block the creative process.  Step away and do something else for a while. 


What is something people are surprised to learn about you?

Probably that I really struggle with imposter syndrome sometimes, with the deep-down feeling like I do not belong here; that I am a fraud, a charlatan, that has tricked everyone into thinking that I am intelligent, that I know things, that I am a good teacher; and the fear then that someday people will figure it out.  I’ll do or say something, fail at some project, and everyone will suddenly realize the truth: that I am just a country bumpkin who received free lunch in school and never really left her hometown, who pretends to know things but actually just knows a few things and says them with confidence, who is embarrassingly directionally challenged, cannot remember names to save her life, and really isn’t that special after all.

However, I believe in the importance of wrestling with our demons, naming our struggles, and removing their power by confessing them out loud; and so while I do scuffle with these feelings often, they are not currently winning or defining me.  One of my favorite quotes of all time (which I have framed in my office as a reminder) is from the author Neil Gaiman:

"Some years ago, I was lucky enough invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things.  And I felt that at any moment they would realize that I didn’t qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things.

On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall, while a musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, “I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.”

And I said, “Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.”

And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did. Maybe there weren’t any grown-ups, only people who had worked hard and also got lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for.

                It reminds me that we are all imposters, which means of course, that none of us really are." (Alan Baxter Tweet)


 A suggested reading list of 3-5 things including cognitive learning passion and anything else.


Everything.  Read it all.  Read as much and as often as you can.  I love audiobooks for this reason so that I can be “reading” while I am driving or cleaning or running.  I take breaks from reading too much and am always happy to remember how much I love it when I do again.  Here are a few that you must:

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