Virtuosity 11.11

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Archive for the tag “grad student life”

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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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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Are you chronically stressed?

“Relax?! How do I do that???”

Grad school stress stems from feeling that: (a) your work is not good enough; (b) you are not good enough; (c) you have to do A-Z; and/or (d) you should be reading/researching/writing. Whether you feel one of these stresses or all of them at any given time, it’s  important to give yourself moments to consciously RELAX.

I say this with a small chuckle in my head, because as a high-strung, INTJ-type of person, relaxing for me has become a very difficult thing to do. It is an easy habit to learn how to live with this constant stress in your life. However, if you don’t keep things in check, this stress can become chronic, and can lead to all sorts of other problems (high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, constant muscle pain, etc).

Please, as you are working, put breaks into your day, where you can stop for a moment, and consciously tell your body to breathe deeply, relax, and let things go. Better yet (and essential to your well-being), make time to take care of your body. With the winter months keeping me huddled by the warm heater and my computer, going out for fresh air is difficult. Here’s some ways that I’ve found to help me try to relax, and forget my stresses for a bit:

The Sworkit App – has 5-10 minute workouts (including yoga) that you can do in between your sprints.

The Three-Minute Breathing Space – is a way to consciously assess your mind and body, attuning it with your breath.

Rodney Yee’s AM/PM Yoga – I found these short (10 minutes of meditation and 28 minutes of yoga) sequences of videos to start off the morning, and end off the evening on iTunes. Sitting in your chair for hours on end isn’t good for those cramped muscles. Stretch them a bit, and then, relax.

Other things that you can do: moving meditation as you work out or run, play with a pet, be completely mindful when you clean or cook, make a “no electronics” time before bed so that you can unwind, take a bubble bath, watch a movie marathon, or splurge on a massage, facial, or pedicure.

In other words, build some time to really, really let go and not think about your work for a bit. Pamper your body. Believe me, your work will be there when you get back!449509

 

 

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

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!

 

 

 

 

 

Tutorial – Tying Scholar to Your Library

Most academic libraries these days are tied to online data bases where you can quickly find the articles you need by using Google Scholar. Here’s how you set Google Scholar to your library settings:

  1. Go to Google Scholar. Hit the Settings button on the menu bar.

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2. Next, click the “Library links” in the left column.

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3. In the bar, type in your university, and hit enter. If your library is linked to Scholar, it will come up beneath the bar. Then click on the boxes with your options (you can add more than one library to Scholar).

4. Then click the “Save” button.

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5. Last, go back to the Google Scholar main page. Type in the article that you are searching for. When your search results come up, you will see a library link to them either on your right (like in the picture below), or it will show underneath the “More” selection beneath the article summary, if there are other options.

(For example, I can pull articles from both Iowa State as well as the University of Rochester. So, ISU links show on the right, and the U of R will be under the “More” link when I click it.)

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Happy Researching!

 

 

 

Search literature efficiently

There is no such thing as, “never been done before.” Humankind as written about every subject, and it is the job of the grad student to find out the extent to what we know, and push just a little further.

You can get so easily lost in the forests of knowledge that within a matter of minutes, you’ve compiled enough reading material to last for weeks. It’s not humanly possible to get though it all. Yet, it feels expected of us.

Today, I offer a breadcrumb trail to lead you to the cottage in the woods (we all know the story, but even though we know, we must follow, anyways, don’t we?). When looking for literature:

  1. If you are having trouble finding articles, look at the key words below the abstracts of papers, and in the titles of works cited in the references. Ask your advisor and fellow grad students for suggestions on a few papers to get you started.
  2. When you find the “magic words,” your search will change from being pithy to incredibly overwhelming. That means you’re on the right track!
  3. Look at number of citations, dates, and abstracts. If you know nothing about your subject:
    • Pick the papers with the most citations to start on first. Usually these will be older, yet key papers in your field. Use the abstracts to help guide you to what’s relevant.
    • Next, go by the recent (in the past year or two) papers. Skim abstracts. Usually they will tell you what’s hot/new/developing in the field.
  4. As quickly as possible, bracket your search. This can be difficult if you’re still learning about the field. However, the faster and more definitely you can define what you are looking for, the easier it will be to look for only papers that pertain to you.
  5. Avoid jumping down rabbit holes. This is coming from someone that spent a year in critical discourse analysis before switching to a year reading about online learning. Still, if I were talking to less experienced me, I’d tell her: STICK TO YOUR BOUNDARIES. It can be hard to do! Save interesting articles to read later, when you have time (HA! We never have enough time!)
  6. Prioritize what you will read first. Start with broad, theoretical papers to get a feel for the field. Then go to the narrow, empirical studies, ordered by most relevant to your topic.

By the way… it is normal to feel completely overwhelmed and lost. It is part of the cycle of being a grad student (think of a roller coaster). Get yourself “unlost” as quickly as you can, but understand that even when they are calling you DOCTOR, you’re going to have moments where you’re going to feel lost. That’s how we grow.

Happy Researching!

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