Friday, June 28, 2013

Where to Buy or Rent Textbooks?

Textbooks are expensive in the U.S., and they may cost around $1000 per term. Now I will share some tips to save money on textbooks.

Before you buy the textbook, you need to check the ISBN, names, authors and edition. You can find this information from course guide, which lists textbooks/other materials required by the instructor. After you have registered the class, you can also find this information from Wolverine Access>Student Business>Student Center>Backpack/Registration>My Class Schedule>Textbook List View. Then you will see the textbook requirements for all registered classes.  

A used book is always cheaper than a new book, and most used books are still in good condition. If you want to save money, you can buy a used book from a bookstore or online. When you buy a used book from a bookstore on campus, you can check the condition of the book, but this is not feasible if you buy a book online. In that case, you need to pay attention to the condition listed by the seller. For example, a book in good condition means all pages are intact and it is a clean copy but may show some signs of wear especially on the spine. You can find the list of conditions for used book from this webpage 

Buying textbooks from bookstore is convenient but costly. There are two bookstores on campus, Ulrich's and Barnes & Nobles. As long as you know the course number, you’ll be able to find all textbooks for that class. You may rent some textbooks, which is cheaper than buying a book. In that case, you need to return the textbook to the store at the end of the semester. 
Buying/renting textbooks online is cheaper and more popular. It usually takes a couple days to receive a book. Before you receive the book, you may read it in the library. If you rent the book, you need to send the book back to the company using a prepaid shipping label at the end of the semester. I list some popular websites selling or renting textbooks.

Rent Textbooks:

Buy Textbooks: (Amazon Student offers shipping benefits free for six months, including FREE Two-Day Shipping for eligible purchases) (A price comparison website)

You may also borrow textbooks from your friends, or go to the Book Exchange at Michigan Union, which was usually hold at the beginning of the semester. 

Written by Yu Zhang
Graduate Student in Psychology

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Winter Activities in Michigan

While many people might consider winter as their least favorite season in Ann Arbor, I love winter especially if it is snowing. There are a variety of activities you can do to enjoy Michigan in the winter.  For instance, you can either go skiing or snowboarding.  While I enjoying skiing, or at least attempting to ski, it is expensive, and is usually something I do only once a year.  There are several ski resorts in Michigan, but to get to any of them you will require a car.  Also, a lot of the nicer ski resorts are further up north, and thus require renting a hotel for at least one night.   However if you can, I highly recommend going to a ski resort at least once with your family and/or friends.  It is a good break from all the tests and projects.

However, there are cheaper snow activities such as snow tubing, sledding, and ice skating. Like skiing, you will need a car to reach sites where you can rent snow tubes, since they are outside of Ann Arbor.   Snow tubing is when you go down a hill while sitting/laying down on an air filled tube. Below is an image of people snow tubing. 

One possible site where you can rent snow tubes is Hawk Island Snow Park, which is near Lansing Michigan.  While the price is reasonable, it is about a two-hour drive from Ann Arbor.  Sledding is a little bit easier to do for people without a car, because during winter you can easily buy cheap sleds in stores such as Meijer and Walmart.  You can also buy your own snow tube, but it requires a little bit more maintenance than sleds. Once you have your own sled or snow tube, you can go sledding/snow tubing anywhere you see a hill (so long it is not on private property).  Usually a good place to go is to a park with a decent hill.  In my undergraduate college, we use to take lunch trays and use them to go sledding down a hill.  Just be careful of any cars or trees that might get in the way!

Yost Ice Arena, which is owned by University of Michigan, has public skating times.  The total cost of admission and skate rental should be less than $10; costs are lower if you go skating at noon on the weekdays rather than in the evening or during the weekend.  In addition to being a relatively cheap winter activity, it is near central campus, and if you prefer taking transportation, you can take Bus 6 or 36.

As you can see there are several activities you can do during the winter.  Some like skiing/snowboarding are more expensive, while others like ice skating and sledding are easy to do in Ann Arbor.  Hopefully during your time in Ann Arbor, you will be able to enjoy at least one of these activities.  Just remember to dress warmly for the winter

Written by Sonja Grinfeld, graduate student in Pharmacy

Monday, June 24, 2013

How to choose an undergraduate major?

Hey everyone! My name is Yihan Sun. Sorry for starting off with a serious topic, but I am sure many undergraduate students will find it as something they have to think about in the near future. 

Unlike universities in China or other Asian countries, undergraduate students in the U.S. have privileges to change majors as many times as they want until they find their perfect fits. Therefore, you may find your incoming classmates as “undecided majors.” Some people treat this privilege as an advantage, while some may find this freedom confusing or even frustrating. I belonged to the latter group. To re-orientate myself, I asked the following questions that helped me make a reasonable decision.
What am I interested in?
This question helps you reflect on what you enjoy studying and doing. For me, Biology was my favorite class in high school. I find Biology is a fascinating field that is constantly changing and shaping how we see the nature. And I believe Biology can have a big impact on human well-being.
What is my ultimate goal?
This question helps you match your interest with a major that can prepare you for your dream career. For me, I hoped to help patients by taking advantages of our advanced knowledge in Biology. So, a health care profession sounded good to me. Then, I found out that a Biology degree could prepare me for any type of health care professional schools after graduation.
Am I open-minded?
This question helps you think about possible alternative majors. If possible, try to take some classes that you may not think you would like initially. You may find you change your mind later. At UM, you can drop or add classes until the end of the third week of each semester. You can use this grace period to see different classes.
Where can I get help?
This question helps you think whether a major is right for you. Talking to your academic advisor and professor, taking hands-on experiences like volunteering and internship, and connecting with alumni are ways to get useful insights. For me, I volunteered at the outpatient pharmacy in the Iowa City VA Hospital and also worked on a research project with a cancer biology professor for my honors thesis. I enjoyed these experiences, and I thought Biology and pre-Pharmacy were the right majors for me.
Where do I want to work after graduation?
This question is especially helpful for international students. If you want to work in your home country, you may choose a major that will help you launch a career there. If you want to work in the U.S., you may want to explore majors for jobs that are in high demand.

I hope these questions would be helpful when you are thinking about your major! While searching your major, you probably will meet professors fairly often. How to interact with them? How to get help from them? In the next few weeks, I will have a blog about how to develop a good relationship with your professor. Stay tuned! J

Written by Yihan Sun, Pharmacy professional student (Pharm.D) at UM
Bachelor of Sciences in Biology, the University of Iowa (2007-2011)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Places to Work Out

Love looking your best? Here are some popular working out options in AA! UM-Facility: There are 3 major recreation building: CCRB, NCRB, IMSB. From their website you will discover a lot of facilities they provide, from swimming pool, to badminton court; from weight training to climbing wall (IMSB). Running: You will see people running around town all year round, rain or shine. Here are some places to start: Mapmyrun runners upload their trail maps on line. Boarder to Boarder trail is a popular trail among Ann Arbor runners. So is the Gallup Park Trail . The Arboretum is a pretty park located right on central campus where running along Huron River Drive can be the answer to a pleasant afternoon activity. The Runningfit hosts running groups where people at different level meet and run together in various groups depending on your speed. A nice way to combine social and exercise together. There is more information on Rec Sports website. Biking: Ann Arbor is a bike-friendly city. If the weather is nice, you will see plenty of people on their bike. Mcycling is a somewhat competitive group that does both mountain biking and road cycling. The trail between Ann Arbor and Dexter is an especially nice choice for noncompetitive bikers. Spinning: When the weather gets rough or if you'd like more control of your biking experience, spinning becomes a good option. There are plenty of spinning centers in town. Here is the one I have been and would recommend to others: Bodies in Balance is periodically featured on Groupon--it is a good deal and gives you the opportunity to try different instructors, who all have their own styles of leading the spinning. U-fit class: You will, at some point, receive an e-mail about U-fit class. They usually have discounts for students. My friend took classes (Yoga, Swing dancing) from them and liked it. IntraMural Sport: Love basketball, soccer, football volleyball frisbee etc? Join the IMLeagues! Your department may have something organized already. For example, the math department (grad student) has a basketball team, football team and soccer team. You may also create your own team if there are enough people or sign up as a free agent for the captains to recruit you. Swimming: CCRB, NCRB, IMSB all have swimming pools. In addition there are summer outdoor swimming pool and community swim groups. Master's swimming is a coached swimming workouts for community members. Skating: My very favorite way to exercise/have fun! Rackham organizes ice skating event every term when you can skate for free. But it is quite cheap to try out yourself. There are two rinks that I usually visit and they also host drop in hockey. Yost Ice Arena locates near central campus and was renovated last summer. The ice skating social event Rackham hosts takes place here. Ann Arbor Ice Cube is further away but has a better rink, where some Olympic ice dancers are trained here. Written by Wendy Shang Ph.D. student in Mathematics

Monday, June 17, 2013

Which Cell Phone Companies & Plans Should I Choose?

There’re four big cellphone carriers, AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile. These companies own the masses and have national coverage (you can check the coverage online). These companies usually have individual/family plans and prepaid plans. There are also some smaller cellphone carriers, such as Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile. These small carriers may cover only parts of several states, but they have hot phones on cheap plans.

For big cellphone carriers, each of them has advantages and disadvantages. It’s always good to compare different plans before you sign up a contract. When I first came to the U.S., I chose to use a prepaid plan, which gave me more flexibility over the expenses. However, there is a definite difference in the coverage & quality & service of prepaid vs. contract. In my experience, prepaid is second to contract. Each carrier has several contract plans, including individual & family plans. Contract plans usually last 2 years, and you can’t switch carriers within 2 years. One benefit of signing a contract is that you can spend less money buying a new but locked phone. To compare various plans offered by different carriers, check this websitewhich helps you compare different plans. After clicking the link, you can choose desired features from the left column. Then it will give you a detailed comparison among several carriers.

Family plan is a good choice if you can find friends (up to 5 people) to share the cost. At the same time, you share voice and text on your account, and you can select specific data plans for each device. For voice/minutes, there’re four parts, anytime minutes, nights & weekend minutes, mobile to mobile minutes and additional minutes. Anytime minutes are the minutes that you can use anytime, and shared among several lines on one account. Night & weekend minutes are off-peak calling times. For AT&T, night & weekend calling times are from 9:00 p.m. - 5:59 a.m. Monday through Friday and all weekend. Mobile to mobile minutes are calls made to and from other wireless customers of the same carrier. When you choose your carrier, ask you friends about their cellphone carriers. If most of your friends are using AT&T, you may save money by signing up a contract with AT&T because calls made between AT&T customers are unlimited, and it’s included in your plan. I signed a 2-year contract with AT&T after I found friends to share the minutes. We had four lines and shared 700 minutes/month. Since most of our friends are AT&T wireless customers, we never need additional minutes (minutes in excess of the Anytime Minutes or Night & Weekend Minutes). Personally, I recommend AT&T as the best choice if you want to share a family plan. It has stronger signals than T-Mobile, and it’s cheaper than the other two big carriers.

If you prefer a no contract plan, you may check some small carriers. Currently, I’m using Virgin Mobile, which provides affordable plans and acceptable coverage. The price of my plan is $30/month, and it includes 1500 minutes, 1500 messages and 30MB data.

  Besides cellphones, there’re other ways to contact your friends and families. I talk with my family using Skype, which provides free Internet calls and cheap calls to phones. I also use an application WeChat to send messages to my friends.

Written by Yu Zhang
Graduate Student in Psychology

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Online Shopping Tips

I have to admit that I like shopping. Clothes, food, skincare, cosmetics, digital products, lab equipments (;P) etc. It’s totally fine to just grab and go when you are in a shopping mall/supermarket (my dad and some of my friends definitely do it!), but for me, a female graduate student who live off a stipend and has a tight schedule but still want to have fun clothes, skincare of good quality, advanced digital products-online shopping, especially for clothes, skincare, housewares, is my top choice.

There are several huge advantages I value very much about online shopping over mall shopping in Ann Arbor. Here are the top two of them.

1, Convenience:
We all have a busy life. Online shopping provides us the opportunity to shop in comfortable pajamas on the couch at home. Especially when you just arrive at the States and you don’t have a car, it’s kind of a very time-consuming way to get to the shopping centers by bus. Besides, the only free time you probably get would be nights and weekends when the public transportation in Ann Arbor runs less frequently.

Most of the brands the malls in Ann Arbor carry have very mature online shopping options. Just google the brand you like, you will be lead to the online store.

Here are some affordable brands me and my friends (both international and domestic) usually go to.
Clothes and shoes (casual): ASOS, UrbanOutfitters, J.Crew, Gap, Banana Republic, Express, Forever 21, American Eagle Outfitters, Hollister, ALDO…
Skincare and cosmetics: Sephora, CVS, Origins, Clinique, Estee Lauder…
Department stores: Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Lord & Taylor, Von Maur, Bon-Ton…
Fun place: Woot (deals and fun T-shirts with nerdy geeky designs)
Of course, you can almost find everything on =D

2, Better prices via price comparisons and consumer reviews
It’s the information generation, everybody talks on the Internet about the stuffs they bought. So when you are eyeing on a piece of clothes or some new products you have never tried, go read those consumer reviews and make your wise choice afterward. It’s much easier for you to compare the price on different websites (some sites even do the comparison for you!) and get the same stuff with lower price.

Especially with computer and digital goods purchase, the product review sites, such as CNET, are very thorough and helpful. There are also a lot of review videos on YouTube. Go check them out before you spend big bucks!

Deal websites such as Groupon, Livingsocial have daily deals. The best way to get informed about their deals is to subscribe to their email lists. To my knowledge, almost all of the online stores have email lists you can subscribe to. Basically, you will get emails from the stores about their promotion events and coupons etc.

There are websites that will give you cashback when you shop. Personally I use Ebates. By clicking on the shop button to open a tracking ticket by Ebates, the stores give Ebates a commission for referring traffic to them and Ebates shares a portion of that commission with you. Briefly speaking, you get some cash back for using Ebates to enter other stores.

It seems that I can talk about online shopping forever=P

Here are some points to keep in mind when you do online shopping.

1, Sizing
Since you can’t try things on, it seems a little bit harder to get the sizing right. US sizing is very possibly different from what you are used to in your home countries. For example, I’m 5’8”, medium-build. I would only go through the Large rack back in China, but I’m definitely Small or Medium in the US. You can go to the mall first to try on clothes for a sense of the sizing or find the online stores which have free returns service and buy the clothes in two adjacent sizes and just try on at home and give the one that doesn't fit back. Sizing could be tricky anyway, but I believe you can figure it out!

2,  Fabrics, materials, ingredients and so on
I do research based on my budget and characters of a product I’m looking for before shopping. It’s a way to make myself more confident and informed (people can be very helpful, but also misleading sometimes!) Since I’m not born and raised in the United States, there are some products or ingredients I don’t recognize. Online shopping makes it easier for me to consult dictionary or Wikipedia anytime to avoid buying wrong products.

In the end, keep track of your spending, sometimes since you can’t realize how much money you spend by simply clicking on one button on your computer, the credit card bill could be a shocking surprise at the end of the month.

Happy online shopping!

Written by Ping Guo
Ph.D. student in Chemistry 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Tips on using library resources

Welcome to the University of Michigan and to an experience unique of its kind. An integral part of your experience at the university is going to be the library and its vast resources. Learning how to get the most out of those available resources is very important and I’m here to try to walk you through simple basic tips that will get you comfortable navigating the MLibrary. Having said that, getting to know everything at this stage is not the expectation of this brief article. Self-exploration and diving is the way to go after this.

To begin with, the first thing you will visit the MLibrary website for is searching for books. In the search space on the website, you would need to hit on the word “Catalog” first, and then you can choose to search by a keyword, title, subject, call number, …etc. Then, you type in what you are looking for e.g. the subject chemistry. This will get you into a results page where you will have a lot of icons to filter your search results and order them by date or relevance. You can as well do another search.

Now suppose you found the book you are looking for, what’s next? Under the title of each book in the list you will notice some information on the location of the book (i.e. which library has it), its status (on shelf, checked out) and its call number. If you want to check out this book, then if the books is on shelf, all you need to do is to write down the call number e.g. QD 31.2 .C79 and go find it in the library that has it. All libraries have maps for the stacks and organizations of books according to call numbers. Understanding how to read call numbers is the way to an easy search for books. This might be daunting at the beginning but with time you will enjoy it. And remember, that at circulation desks there are people who enjoy helping you and will walk you through this process if you could not manage it yourself. If you are not in a hurry and don’t want to go through this, you can hit on the Get this icon. With this, the library staff in around 24 hours will process your request and according to where you wanted to pick the book, they will send you a notification to come collect your book. If the book is checked out, you can put a hold on it by hitting the Get this icon. This will send a recall to the patron having the book asking him to return the book with a new due date. As soon as the book is returned they will notify you to go collect the book at location you opted to get the book at.

As a senior undergraduate or graduate student, you will need to read peer-reviewed scientific articles. This time you need to hit in the home page of the library website on ArticlesPlus. You can search by a complete known title, part of a title, an author name, a subject heading or a keyword. After typing in your search entry, this will lead you to this page. As you can see, next to each article, there is an MGet it icon which is what you will hit on if you need to get the article. Sometimes, you might not find the article you are looking for in the MLibrary, what can you do then? This is what I will begin with in Library tips part 2. Stay tuned!

Rasheed Alameer
Graduate Student
Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Transportation in Ann Arbor

Arriving in Michigan for the first time in January, I was fortunate to get a ride from a friend from the Airport. However, after moving into my apartment, I faced the daunting task of moving around campus and the city of Ann Arbor. This I came to realize was one of the simplest things to achieve.

The University’s bus system, the Blue Bus enables one to connect virtually from your doorstep to all major locations on campus. Sounds exaggerated but that’s the fact of the matter. With bus stops located at convenient places all over campus, the blue bus affords one the luxury of easily moving from classrooms, halls of residence, students’ unions, research labs and the like. The good thing about them is their punctuality. I have the UMBus application on my phone and thus receive real time locations of every bus and estimated time to every bus stop.

Movement out of campus to Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti has been made easy thanks to AATA’s ‘The Ride’. Even most residential areas are covered so I hardly worry when visiting friends living in such areas. However, the key to moving out of campus is planning the journey. I accomplish that with the help of the Ride Guide which gives me the schedule of each bus, routes plied, arrival times, final destinations and the major stops along the I use maps on my phone to get a precise location of my final destination while on the bus. You need all the help you can get!

I didn’t know the AATA bus schedules were revised seasonally until I once missed the last bus of the day. This brings us to the subject of Taxis. There are a lot of private cab services that run in the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. Some park in front of the Michigan Union and near the Michigan League. You only need to furnish them with your present location and destination by a phone call. And the best part, they arrive in record time.

I initially planned on purchasing a bicycle but upon spending a week on campus, I realized the blue bus served my needs perfectly. But hey, that shouldn’t deter you from purchasing a bike. For recreational riding with that loved one, exploring the serene campus, being late for a class, a bicycle is most likely to be your best friend. The University of Michigan is a very bike-friendly institution with bike lanes, bike parking and lots of fitting shops to get that tune-up when necessary. The AATA buses are also equipped with a mechanism to attach your bike to the bus for those of you who get tired along the way.  An added advantage is the burning of calories so you can effectively kill two birds with one stone!

This website provides you with a comprehensive list of ways to move around. Be sure to take a peek at it! 

Written by Robert Lawson
Graduate Student
Aerospace Engineering

Monday, June 3, 2013

Where to shop for groceries

            One of the first things I wanted to know when I moved to Ann Arbor was what grocery stores were closest to my apartment.  Hopefully this blog entry will help anyone who has similar concerns/questions.  There are several big grocery stores around Ann Arbor and they are organized below based on their location to central campus.  Also included are the bus routes that either stop right next to the store or in their general vicinity.   However, please remember that this is not a comprehensive list of every single grocery store in Ann Arbor; it is a list of several of the main stores.

North of Central Campus

Address: 2641 Plymouth Road
Probably one of the best places to buy food if you are on a tight budget
Transportation: Ann Arbor bus route 1 and 2

Address: 2020 Green Rd, Ann Arbor, MI ‎
Slightly more expensive but their fruit and vegetables are fresher
Transportation: Ann Arbor bus route 2

Way 1 Supermarket
Address: 2789 Plymouth Road
Huge grocery store that sells Asian food products
Transportation: Ann Arbor bus route 2

East of Central Campus

Address: 3825 Carpenter Road
Probably one of the best places to buy food if you are on a tight budget
Transportation: Ann Arbor bus route 5C and 22

Address: 3200 Carpenter Rd
Probably one of the best places to buy food if you are on a tight budget
Transportation: Ann Arbor bus route 5C and 22

Trader Joe’s
Address: 2398 East Stadium Boulevard
Fresh fruit and vegetables
Good place to shop if you like to buy organic food products
More expensive
Will need to walk a bit if you plan to use the bus
Transportation: Ann Arbor bus route 4 and 14

Whole Foods
Address: 3135 Washtenaw Avenue
Fresh fruit and vegetables
Good place to shop if you like to buy organic food products
Good place to buy cake
More expensive compared to Kroger and Meijer
Transportation: Ann Arbor bus route 4, 7, and 22

Galleria Asian Market
Address: 3111 Packard Road
Transportation: Ann Arbor bus route 5D and 7

South of Central Campus

Address: 1919 South Industrial Highway
Probably one of the best places to buy food if you are on a tight budget
Transportation: Ann Arbor bus route 6 and 14

Address: 3145 Ann Arbor-Saline Road
Probably one of the best places to buy food if you are on a tight budget
Transportation: Ann Arbor bus route 16

Whole Foods
Address: 990 West Eisenhower Parkway
Fresh fruit and vegetables
Good place to shop if you like to buy organic food products
More expensive compared to Kroger and Meijer
Transportation: Ann Arbor bus route 16

West of Central Campus

Address: 400 South Maple Road
Probably one of the best places to buy food if you are on a tight budget
Transportation: Ann Arbor bus route 8, 12A, and 15
Written by Sonja Grinfeld
Doctor of Pharmacy