Virtuosity 11.11

Where words become worlds…

Archive for the tag “Grad school”

From Here to There – A PhD Student Timeline

mountain-1510951_960_720The stages that grad students go through in order to earn their PhDs is somewhat of a black box for people looking from the outside. This is partially because everyone’s timeline is different; people may take longer to complete one part of their program over another. For example, my comprehensive exams took longer to complete because I was figuring out exactly what I wanted to research. My dissertation proposal stage, however, took only a few months to complete because my comprehensive exams gave me a very strong foundation. In fact, my comprehensive exams provided the backbone for the two chapters of my proposal! For those who are curious, here is a rough outline of my own journey through my PhD program:

First 2 years – PhD classes, along with an assistantship that paid my tuition and a stipend. I also took a research apprenticeship, which helped me understand the research process in social science.

Years 3-5 – Comprehensive exams. The comprehensive exams helped me specialize in my field and gave me a very firm background in online learning theories. To me, these exams were very tough, because after I took my coursework, I moved away from my university and my academic community. In doing so, I was rather isolated from having conversations that could have really helped with my thinking. I had three professors on my exam committee who read and graded my exams.

Years 5-6 – Thesis proposal and proposal defense. The thesis proposal took me five months to write and rewrite (Aug-Dec), about and three months afterward (Jan-Mar) to go through the actual proposal process. When a PhD student finishes their exams, they immediately begin forming their thesis committee, which is made (at a minimum) of their academic advisor, one external professor (who is either outside of your department, or outside of your university), and two other professors who have some expertise in your field.

For me, I have four advisors: my academic advisor, who is an expert on virtual research and digital ethnography; a professor who is an expert on learning theory; a professor who is an expert on theory and virtual research (my external committee member); and a professor who is an expert on qualitative research design. Once you complete the thesis proposal, your committee reads it, and decides on whether there needs to be changes to it, or whether it is good enough to defend. Sometimes (like in my case), the committee provides suggestions or questions that you must read and address — these questions strengthen your research framework. If you get the green light to defend (which I received in January, after the committee had a month to read the proposal), the university assigns an independent chair to your proposal. The independent chair is someone in the university outside your department who reads the proposal, and determines whether it is fit to defend. They are there to ensure that the proposal was graded fairly, and they oversee the proposal defense.

The proposal defense itself consisted of a 15 minute presentation where you address any questions or suggestions that your committee had. Then, everyone discusses the methodology and helps you finalize everything before you start your study. So in a way, your written thesis proposal may not quite look like your actual research study once it’s been discussed by the committee (as in my case).

After the proposal defense (if you get approved), you go on to the next stage, which is to submit your research proposal to the review board for ethical review!

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Scrivener and Nonlinear Writing

I find that the beginning of any academic paper is an intimidating place to start writing. For some reason, blank screens constipate my mind, and the ideas stop flowing. I can barely get past the second word on my first sentence before I feel like blowing the whole thing up — except there’s nothing there to blow up to begin with!

To solve this rather peculiar problem, I write the findings first. It’s easier to write what has already been said, rather than (how I feel) making things up in the intro. Although programs like Word almost force you to write from the beginning, I’ve found that Scrivener’s nifty way of breaking each part of the paper down, so that you can start at any section, and go for it!

You can read more about how grad students can use Scrivener by checking out the DoctoralWriting SIG blog, which is chock full of helpful tips.

Happy Writing and Researching!

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Be fearless, or at least fake it ’till you make it

As long as it doesn’t hurt other people, don’t be afraid of being yourself. You were born uniquely you, but that’s a moving target.

Learn to face the fear, and be courageous. If it’s worth doing, than do it.

You can be afraid. Most of us are. However, don’t let that stop you from reaching your goals.nik_wallenda_trains_for_june_23_2013_grand_canyon_walk_at_nathan_benderson_park_sarasota_fla-_june_7_2013

Tomorrow never comes

You have today. Tomorrow is always just a dream. However, we do today to the best of our abilities, with the hope and dream of tomorrow.

Make today a present. Make today present. …Get my meaning?

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Breath, reflect, then get to work!

Don’t waste time worrying. Or at least, catch yourself doing it. Instead, roll up your sleeves, and get to work. Put in the time, put in the commitment.

The things that are worth it in your life are worth it, because you put your worth into it!

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Cut it out

Cut the ties to all things not needed anymore.

They only weigh you down.

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The present

todayToday is a gift. What are you doing today that is getting you closer to your goals?

What do you plan on doing tomorrow?

 

Summarize your articles

book-1091628_640.jpgI use a variety of things to keep track of what I read. Some things are more effective than others. One thing that I found VERY effective, however, was always summarizing my papers in one paragraph. I even have a template that I created (and you can download it blow) for journal article summaries.

The most inefficient use of your time is to read an article in detail, then forget where you put the information, forcing you to read the article yet again (not saying re-reading is a bad thing, but it’s bad when you’ve got to repeat your work). So, make sure when you’re done reading, that you’ve put what you’ve learned into a system that makes it searchable. There’s a variety of ways to do this, but find your flow!

As for the template, here’s a guide to start:

  1. Read the abstract and intro and discussion. Depending on why you are reading the article, this may be all you need.
  2. Skim the rest.
  3. Write a one-paragraph (yep, just one) summary of what the article was about. Be sure to include (along with the page number):
    • The research question
    • What they did, and to whom
    • How they did it
    • What they found
    • What they concluded

If you’re reading a particularly seminal piece of work, summarize each section and highlight important quotes –  don’t forget to list the page numbers you’ve found them! Mendeley has a nifty annotation feature in their program. However, I still use my word template for important studies.

Happy Researching!

Journal Summary Template

My grad student software toolbox

On any given project, I use a LOT of programs! For example:

Research Phase:

  • Word – To summarize papers
  • Mendeley – My reference data base
  • Scrivener – To keep track of memos, and to upload my word summaries
  • Evernote – To make all my PDFs, post-its, whiteboard notes, and handwritten notes searchable
  • Topnote (on the iPad) – For hand-drawn diagramming and brainstorming
  • Inspiration – for digital brainstorming
  • Xmind – for mind and project mapping

 

Planning Phase:

  • Asana – To keep track of all my tasks and to do lists
  • Google Calendar – To track all my meetings and appointments
  • Apple Reminder – For things like, “Water the plants on Wednesday”

 

Analysis Phase:

  • NVivo – for qualitative coding
  • Excel – to track codes
  • Word – to generate the codebook, process memos, and any stray thoughts

 

Writing Phase:

  • Scrivener – for writing papers and keeping track of references
  • Mendeley – again for my references
  • Word – to finally polish up my document and send it out.
  • Google Docs – to collaborate with others

 

Presentation Phase:

I’ve learned how to use these programs smoothly to help with my workflow — similar to tools in a toolbox. Some of these programs overlap functions, but I’ve never been able to find just one program that does it all efficiently. Some programs do things a lot better than others. For example, for collaborations on writing projects, I use Google Docs because it’s the least buggy — even though both Word, Evernote, and Scrivener have these functions, as well).  It makes me wonder, though, whether other grad students also use multiple programs to get the work done, as well.

What are the programs that you use, and what’s your workflow like?

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Organize your references with Mendeley

So you’ve pulled your PDF file from your library and it’s sitting on your browser. Now what?

I’ve talked about reference management software before in previous posts. Today, I’ll show you a quick and dirty way to bring them into Mendeley.

1. If you haven’t done so, download the Mendeley desktop app. It’s free, and what I love about it is that I can access my references through my browser, phone, or my other computers, too!

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2. Next, download the Mendeley Web Importer plugin for your browser, and activate it. For me, it shows up as a tiny little “M” to the right of my browser address bar.

3. Then, through your Google Scholar search, bring up the PDF article that you want to use. Click the Mendeley plugin button (note: Sometimes this works. When it doesn’t, there’s a work around that I’ll mention later below).

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4. If it works, Mendeley will bring up a side window with the article info. However, this isn’t always perfect, and you may need to edit the information from here, OR, you’ll need to right click, download and save your article, then import it through your Mendeley desktop (drag the PDF file and drop it on Mendeley).

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For info on importing your PDFs directly into Mendeley’s desktop, click here.

Happy Researching!

 

 

 

 

 

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