Virtuosity 11.11

Where words become worlds…

Archive for the tag “graduate 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!


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

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!


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

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.


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


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.


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.)


Happy Researching!




Organize to minimize stress


The mess of my desk

My life is constructed from different projects in varying stages of completion. Usually, the biggest project materializes itself as papers spread all over my desk and floors. Smaller projects wait quietly for their turn in folders and books piled in the corners. Oddly, I have found a rhythm to working in this way – a metaphor that parallels the clutter in my mind.

When I’m fully concentrating on a project, all the thoughts need to be  out in the open for me to scrutinize, critique, and organize. Surprisingly, I can move through the mess, tagged by multi-colored post-it notes, very quickly and easily — weaving together my work into drafts and final reports. I don’t have to go hunting for files when it’s all there, and I have yellow notepads strewn all over, to capture errant thoughts that might surface as I brainstorm and write.

Then, when the final project is completed, I put it all away. It may take me several hours to clean up — sort through the small notes, discard what’s unneeded, while creating a digital, searchable record of my efforts. I take the time to scan and snap shot my work. It gets put into Evernote, and my database — everything in folders, everything tagged and backed-up. Meanwhile, I clear off my desk – papers filed away, desk wiped clean.

I take a moment to look at the now nearly empty desk, allowing myself a moment to feel extremely satisfied at a project done (even if it is only at a temporary stage). I breathe. Sometimes, I’ll walk away from my desk for a bit, then return to marvel at the open space. I just put away my hard work mentally, through this ritual.

Then, when it’s time to start the next project, I open my files, make the mess, and begin again.

Write Before Coffee

It took me nearly two years to cultivate a daily writing habit that worked. First, I went with word count, then I went with designating an amount of time for writing each day. Both of these goals were too overly ambitious, and they ended quickly.

Although I’ve written in far more detail about how to form a writing habit in a previous post, here, I will outline the two main tenants that helped me:

(1) Form new habits around the habits that you already have.
You will be more successful in creating a habit when it is associated with a habit you already have. For example, I write first, before I get my coffee. I’m a coffee addict, so there’s no way I’d forget to get my coffee. Thus, by forming a habit whereby I may not have my coffee until I’ve written, coffee becomes a reinforcing reward for the writing I’ve done.

(2) Your goal is not on productivity, you must focus on forming a habit, first.
Word count or writing for a set amount of time to move a project forward are very good goals for productivity. However, if you have not formed an addiction around writing first, achieving the productivity that you want can be difficult. Hence, the first thing you must do is form a writing habit that becomes an addiction. To do this, make your habit-forming goal reasonable and consistent. For example, I freewrite for 10 minutes every day. JUST 10. This means I know that every day, I will be writing. It doesn’t sound like much at all, but believe me, it’s not the amount of writing you do that you are trying to achieve. What you are trying to do, is accomplish the goal of getting the writing done. Every. Day.

So, for today’s writing prompt:

Think about your habits and addictions (e.g., brushing your teeth, getting coffee, taking lunch at a particular time), then schedule your writing before your normal habit. When will that be for you? Second, what’s a reasonable goal that you want to achieve in order to get this habit to work?

Need a push? Here’s some other posts I’ve written on the subject of writing sprints, journaling, and habit formation:

Welcome to February!

Yesterday, you revisited your goals and did some reflection. Today, it is time to move them forward!

How are you doing? How are you feeling, today?

For me, February is my least favorite month of the year. It is the time where the days are short, the nights are too long, and every day is too cold. I spend a lot of time this month being quiet and withdrawn, because I find it takes extra effort to keep the winter blues away. So, for the month of February, I dedicate my posts to focus on personal well-being, while still maintaining the momentum to move forward. Thank you for joining me on this journey!

Together, I know we’ll make it through the month, and blossom in the spring.


Revisit your lists

Each month, take the time to revisit your year goals.

It’s the end of January. Are you where you wanted to be? If not, what will you do now? Reassess and make your plans!


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