Author Archives: Melissa Foster

About Melissa Foster

Melissa Foster is a doctoral student in Counseling Psychology at West Virginia University in Morgantown, WV.


Keep Calm and Beagle On

My heart belongs to a beagle. And considering his desire for attention/affection, he will be delighted to know he’s the topic of discussion in this post.

My dog’s name is Beckett and my husband, Craig, and I rescued him three years ago this summer. As a graduate student in psychology, Beckett is a vital facet of my self-care. He is sweet, chill, and smart as heck. He loves belly rubs, long walks, and baby carrots. He also loves me unconditionally and serves as my unofficial therapy dog. I’m pretty much obsessed:

I should mention Beckett is spoiled. Spoiled. Rotten. I mean, his bed is nicer than ours. I dare say he’s unabashed by the steady stream of attention, grain-free treats, and seasonal collars. He comes by it honestly.

Being strong-willed/spoiled, Beckett can also be naughty as all get out. I’m serious. Within the last month, he has knocked over trash cans (thanks, dude), escaped from my parents backyard by climbing poultry wire (three times!), marked his territory on a girl’s backpack at the park (#mortified), and ate seven dyed Easter eggs.

“You’re welcome,” said the hound to the Mel.  

Currently (and until we are 80+ years old), my husband and I are both students in the counseling psychology doctoral program at WVU. Despite his #beaglemonster ways, Beckett is a constant source of joy for us. That said, and nothing personal to my baby boy, he’s an additional responsibility on top of our academics, research, clinical work, finances, and jobs. In this post, I wanted to provide my perspective on having a dog in graduate school. Frankly, my perspective is one of many but if you’re considering adopting a pet in graduate school, you may find the challenges/benefits below helpful.

Side note, they teach us in psychology to be aware of our biases. Therefore, I will own up front that my opinions about pets will always lean toward the benefits.

Challenges (“Growth Edges,” as we say in psychology) of Pet Ownership:

  • Time commitment – feeding, quality time/attention, taking them out, cleaning cages,  training, etc.
  • Financial responsibility – vet visits, annual exams, nails, baths, supplies, adoption fees, etc.
  • Pets, like humans, can sometimes be on “bad behaviors” (as Craig says) and need to lose some privileges (e.g. my dog)
  • Much more difficult to coordinate care of the animal if you don’t have someone to help you (= me during my first year when Craig and I lived 10 hours apart)
  • Can’t just pick up and leave, always need to arrange accommodations (which can be pricey)
  • Minor annoyances – dog takes forever to do his business, dog wants to sniff EVERYTHING, dog refuses to do his business in the rain/sleet/snow, dog fakes an injury when owner makes him go out in the rain/sleet/snow, etc. (not that Beckett would ever commit any of the aforementioned misdemeanors.)
  • The answer to, “Did I turn off the straightener?” becomes more important
  • Losing a pet is so hard, I know this from personal experience
  • Dog may pee on backpacks (ugh)

Benefits of Pet Ownership:

  • The feeling of unconditional positive regard (see what I did there?) you receive from loving a cuddly (or scaly, fishy, feathery, etc.) being
  • Promote self-care and wellness
  • Provide entertainment/laughter
  • Help you keep a routine
  • Have someone to binge-watch Unbreakable with Kimmy Schmidt and Workaholics with regardless of the time/day
  • Can motivate you to stay active if your pet enjoys walks
  • Companionship/loyalty
  • Keep your feet warm
  • Can assuage feelings of loneliness/isolation
  • Always have someone to talk to even if you’re just talking to yourself
  • Can promote better time management (though I still feel I’m always running from one thing to the next)
  • Can cause you to be less “me-focused” in graduate school
  • Great distraction for long paper writing (cough, dissertation, cough, cough)
  • Owning an animal can be a solid/go-to topic of conversation (e.g. this post)
  • Socially acceptable excuse to take/post lots of pictures on social media
  • Can connect you to a fun/supportive community of fellow helicopter parents (e.g. the dog park)
  • Potentially rehabilitate an animal (you wouldn’t believe it now, but Beckett was skittish, withdrawn, and anxious when we first got him)
  • Contribute to positive social change by demonstrating responsible pet ownership
  • And of course, the opportunity to rescue

Welp, those are some of my thoughts on pet ownership in graduate school. Above all else, if you’re considering adopting a pet, please make it a thoughtful and responsible decision. And to all my fellow animal lovers out there:

Keep calm and love animals on.


Editor’s Note: Melissa Foster is a second year doctoral student from Virginia Beach, VA. She is studying counseling psychology at West Virginia University. Check out her lifestyle blog, Method to My Melness.



Speak Up: Giving a Memorable Presentation

Business-MeetingGrowing up, I dreaded public speaking. Despite my efforts to keep a safe distance in the back of the classroom, presentation day would eventually rear its ugly head.

Heart racing. Palms sweating. Butterflies fluttering.

Head down, I would make my way to the front and read my presentation verbatim from a stack of meticulously crafted index cards. I didn’t dare make eye contact with my peers. I got through my presentation as quickly as possible and hurried back to my seat.

Over the years, I have learned to quiet my inner teenager and trust myself. With age and experience, I’ve become less afraid of making mistakes. I’m by no means an “expert” speaker. My presentation style and delivery is under a constant state of construction. Like any skill, public speaking takes time and practice.

I don’t think my story is unique. I know many people who also fear public speaking. However, effective interpersonal and public communication is vital in our field. In graduate school, I encourage you to seek opportunities to enhance your communication skills. Challenge yourself to engage the audience beyond the podium (not behind it), experiment with different visual aids, seek feedback, or present a poster at a conference. Small steps can make a big difference. My belief is graduate school is inevitably shaping us into the practitioners, researchers, and psychologists we will become.

Below you will find some tips and resources that have helped ease my fear of public speaking. This is certainly not an exhaustive list so please comment on this post with any additional ideas. Cheers!

1. Make it a Conversation
I find it easier to talk with a friend over coffee than speak in front of a group. I like to apply this concept to presentations. I pretend I’m conversing with a friend. This results in a more natural, extemporaneous, and genuine delivery.

2. Speak with Intent
If you exude interest in your topic, your enthusiasm will come across to the audience. When planning, I like to think about what kind of presentation I would want to experience as an audience member.

3. Step away from the PowerPoint
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE PowerPoint. Designing a PowerPoint or other visual aid allows me to express my creativity. Too often, however, I see presenters rely on their visual aid by reading directly from text-heavy slides.

My recommendation is to keep bullet points short and sweet. There are several formulas out there for the number of words each slide should have and the number of minutes you should spend on each slide. Personally, I don’t ascribe to these rules. I see memorable presentations as being more fluid and less black-and-white.

Ask questions of your audience, incorporate interesting pictures into your slides, and demonstrate appropriate eye contact. Have fun with your presentation. Remember, a visual aid should complement–not substitute for–a good presentation.

4. Seek Feedback
Our hard-earned graduate degrees will be made of blood, sweat, and feedback. Graduate school is teaching me to embrace constructive feedback from my peers and professors. Practice your presentation in front of a trusted friend, colleague, or family member and seek their feedback openly. If you’re feeling especially daring, ask them to record your presentation and then watch yourself. This can be one of the best ways of identifying verbal and nonverbal habits you may be unaware of.


Presentation Zen

TED Talks

JMU Communication Center

Talking the Talk: Tips on Giving a Successful Conference Presentation (Abby Adler), APA

How to Give a Great Presentation: Timeless Advice from a Legendary Adman, 1981 (Maria Popova), Brain Pickings

10 Things You Can Do Now to Make Public Speaking Effortless (Robert Locke), Lifehack

Editor’s Note: Melissa Foster is a second year doctoral student from Virginia Beach, VA. She is studying counseling psychology at West Virginia University.