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3 Tips for Success in Graduate School

DR. WILLIAM SAYS: Expect lots of reading and writing

You may read a book per week per class, and have to discuss it in depth, or even turn in a paper each week.

Learn the basics of how to dissect a book’s content and get a quick overview of its thesis.

My history professor wheeled a cart full of books into class one day, a different book for each student in class. He handed out the books and announced, “At the end of this hour, I want you to turn in a one page book report on this book!”

Talk about a crash course in how to get into the content of a book without actually reading it.

This is what I learned from that experience:

  • Read the basics first
  • Start with the summary on the back cover
  • Peruse the table of contents and chapter titles
  • Scan chapter titles and subheads
  • Read the forward and introduction
  • Then move into reading chapter one or the first page of each chapter.

You’ll be amazed how much you can learn about a book and its thesis from these basics.

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DR. DAN SAYS:  There’s a veritable litany of suggestions people will give:

  • Work hard
  • Make good use of your time
  • Socialize
  • Find a balance
  • Find a really good coffee shop/Indian restaurant that delivers, etc. etc. etc.

These are all excellent pieces of advice, and I encourage you to take them all to heart.

That said, though, I would recommend treating grad school like college (unless you had one of those “Four-year-house-party-with-a-$50,000-cover-charge” kind of experiences) in that you should get involved.

It can be tempting to see grad school as your first entry into the ivory tower, calling you to countless hours in the library/lab, but your experience will be richer if you embrace the fullness of where you study.

Depending on your role, you will be a teacher, a student, and a researcher. In this trinity, recognize that your identity and the expectations leveled at you will be fragmented.

Sequestering yourself in one role alone can result in a soul-sucking experience.

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DR. SANDY SAYS: Just Do It!

I have yet to meet any person thrilled with the dissertation process. It is one of the most frustrating endeavors we go through to earn our credentials. And to some extent, it is designed that way! The best way to handle it is to just do it!

My dissertation topic was on professional development for educators, a relatively new specialization at that time. I was the coordinator for such programs in my school district and hoped to use my dissertation to help my colleagues throughout the state benefit more from the new state requirements for professional development.

As with many new things in one’s field, most of my professors, including my advisor, didn’t really understand what I was trying to do. The old notions of what constituted professional development were too embedded.  No matter how much research I presented on the various theories and principles that formed the basis for effective professional development, that old concept of the speaker on the first day of school and workshops on nothing particularly related to the classroom needs of teachers colored his understanding of my design.

I had reached the point of deciding to be an ABD when my superintendent came to my office for a chat. “It’s an exercise,” he reminded me. “Forget trying to break new ground. Forget everything except meeting the expectations of your advisor and committee and just do it!”

I ruminated on that for a few days before acknowledging the truth of his statements.  Then I resubmitted my original proposal, tweaked the way my advisor wanted it, and within two weeks it was approved and I was on my way.  Six months later, I received that coveted letter from the dean’s office acknowledging that I had fulfilled all requirements for my doctorate.

So when you’re frustrated with rewriting your proposal for the umpteenth time, when you can’t make your advisor understand what you’re trying to do, when your desire to make breakthrough contributions to your field get the better of you, remember that this is all an academic exercise. It is your admission ticket so that you can do what you really want to do in your chosen field. It is the beginning of the next phase of your career, not your ultimate contribution.

If you decide to seek help, find a good dissertation editing service to advise you.

Then, take a deep breath, refocus on the goal—earning your doctorate—and JUST DO IT!

 

APA Editing Tips

 

To borrow a trite analogy, learning to use APA [or any documentation style, for that matter] is like learning to ride a bicycle. Once you understand the mechanics, including how to shift, balance, and stop, the rest is easy. The first step is to purchase, and actually read, an APA manual, either APA5 or APA6, depending on your university’s requirements. Granted, it is not a riveting work but essential. If the thought of reading a reference book causes chills to dance down your spine, it is likely time to seek professional dissertation editing help … not for your phobia but for editing your work.

Based on many years of editing dissertations, I can offer a few essential points that candidates frequently overlook. The top fifteen below may be helpful:

References

  • All references in the text must have a comparable listing on the reference pages and vice versa. Each mention of an author’s name must have an identical spelling for each use.
  • Et al. is Latin for ‘and others’; thus, it applies only to three or more authors of the same work. All authors [unless a number in excess of six] should be listed for the first in text citation; if the citation is for two or three authors, all names should appear in each citation.
  • All direct quotes in text must have a page number (p.). Page numbers are not required on paraphrased material.
  • If referring to the same author in closely connected sentences, it is not necessary to use the author’s date in subsequent citations.
  • If websites have no author, begin the reference with the title of the material you retrieved and use that information as the in text citation.
  • Listing databases [Ebsco, LexusNexus, etc.] as a source of retrieval is not required on the reference page. The website address is required.
  • If you are using APA6, it is not necessary to use a retrieval date on websites.[Retrieved from http://xxxxxx]
  • If you are using APA6, locate the doi number, if available, on periodicals. Add it at the end of the citation without a period. [doi: xxxxx]

Writing Style

  • Eschew passive language but tread lightly. It is not enough to employ an active verb if the subject of the sentence is incapable of the implied action [anthropomorphism].
  • If you are creating a proposal, refer to your work in future tense; if you are writing a completed dissertation, refer to your work in past tense.
  • Normally, all references to previous studies are in past tense.
  • In qualitative dissertations, you should avoid personal pronouns. Although it is sometimes necessary, to employ the rather stilted phrase, ‘the researcher,’ it is preferable to using I. Qualitative dissertations offer more leeway on author referents but ‘playing’ with sentence construction can help you avoid using either I or ‘the researcher’.

Mechanics

  • Double check your Table of Contents not only to check correct page numbers but also to confirm identical wording as your text headings.
  • Tables have labels at the top; figures have labels at the bottom.
  • Let the computer work for you. If you are using Word, you can go to file and page setup to indicate consistent margins throughout your document. The paragraph tab under format can produce clean margin indentations and create a hanging indent for those pesky references. Under the insert tab, you can indicate page breaks, which rid your work of widowed headings and subheadings.

To keep your bicycle and your dissertation editing running smoothly may require additional maintenance. In the case of your dissertation, this means discovering whether your university committee or graduate school has exceptions to APA and tweaking your work accordingly. Normally, the exceptions relate to spacing and specific required headings within each chapter but, occasionally, there are exceptions to tense selection or other peculiarities. If need be, seek the help of a dissertation editing service.

This should provide a starting checklist for your work. But it’s no substitute for the manual. So if you’re a grad student or scholar, pick one up and enjoy it! Joke. It can be pretty dense reading, but that’s the name of the academic game.

 

4 Key Points About Writing a Dissertation Proposal

It’s your third year in the doctoral program. You’ve taught like a god. You’ve written seminar papers that have made your teachers weep (in a good way). And you’ve logged more time on airplanes and in hotels than in seminar rooms. The world is starting to know you and your ideas.

You’ve passed comps or prelims.

What do you do now?

Pat yourself on the back. You’ve taken your warm up laps, and now it’s time to get ready for the marathon that’s ahead of you. It’s no secret. But nobody seems to know it. Unlike law school or med school, academic grad school is really two programs.

There’s the coursework, which you’ve aced.  Right? That’s all great stuff, but it’s over and you’re on your own now. You’re doing your own stuff. This is the FUN part of graduate school. You’re basically a baby professor at this point.

Now, what most of the dissertation editing books don’t tell you about this part of graduate school, the dissertation stage, is one little word:

Entrepreneurship

What, you may ask, if you’re in the sciences or, god help you, the humanities, does dissertation writing and scholarship have to do with MBA stuff. That’s the stuff you didn’t want to do.

The short answer:  Everything. From here on out (and you’ve already been doing it in coursework, teaching, and conference presentations) everything is about pitching and selling ideas.

Everything.

Does the thought of selling really make you queasy? Get over yourself! Ideas mean nothing if no one wants to read them.

The dissertation phase is about pitching your ideas to your advisor, your committee, and, if you get lucky, fellowship committees.

So, get ready to sell!

It’s time to write the dissertation proposal: the truly condensed version of your dissertation. It’s short and sweet. Usually, it’s about five to ten pages. So, how do you write the proposal?

First off, this is one of those chicken or egg kind of questions. You have to enough to write the proposal. But you won’t know enough to write the whole dissertation. Generally, what you want to do in the dissertation proposal is to  frame a question.

You need to be very bold here. Make arguments and assertions, the bolder the better. You also want to present a pretty clear outline of what you intend to do in the dissertation itself. Obviously, you’re in a weird situation here. You don’t know a lot. But you know some things. It’s best to err on the side of audacity. Make your arguments as bold as possible and as clear as possible.

You need to know the current state of your discipline quite well. That’s a given. And you have to announce to the world what you want to do. How are you going to be making a new intervention in the world of scholarship that you know well? That’s what people are going to want to know. What’s new and or exciting about what you want to write?

Start off with a one paragraph argument.

This first paragraph should state what your argument is and probably what you’re basing this argument on. Who are the major players in the field, and how is what you’re writing addressing gaps or problems in their work?

Then write your sub-arguments and conclusion.

Each paragraph that follows (and these can be huge, whopping big paragraphs) can list your sub-arguments. Then, after that, you have to propose a conclusion to what you’re writing.

The secret about a proposal

Would you like to know a little secret about the proposal?

It’s generally pure fiction.  What you really write about in your dissertation may or may not conform to what you’re writing about here. That’s just the way things are in this world. But you absolutely do have to write this proposal.

You’ll submit it to your advisor and your committee members and everyone will sign off on it. And then you can get started. Now, you may or may not get full buy in from your committee. Generally what I found is that most of your committee members really won’t care one way or another about what you write. They’re too busy writing their own stuff. So, you can generally sneak your own writing in under their radar.

Score a Fellowship

Do a very good job on the proposal because it can serve as the basis of fellowship proposals. And, baby, you want a fellowship.

Why?  Because if you get one of those puppies—anywhere between about twenty thousand dollars and fifty thousand dollars, you can have a very nice year. You can go wherever you want to write the dissertation. Imagine writing on a beach somewhere down in Mexico.

Fellowships are your friend. And they also mean that you don’t have to take time out to teach those pesky undergraduates unless you really want to.  They can also set you up for being published, and they make you look like a good candidate for a job. So, do everything that you can to win yourself a dissertation fellowship.

OK, let’s say you’ve written a killer proposal. Your committee says, “My god, this is the next big thing.”  And of course I knew you could do it.  You edit the proposal slightly and win yourself a fellowship. You’re in like Flynn.

What do you do next? It’s not a bad idea to find a good dissertation editing service to be sure your proposal is well-edited before submitting it.

Then, you have to write the dissertation, of course—which we’ll start tackling the next  installment.

 

What Is Plagiarism?

It is plagiarism when you take something out of a book and use it as your own.  If you take it out of several books then it is research. — Ralph Foss quoting Wilson Mizner

One moon shows in every pool, in every pool the one moon. – Zen Proverb

As a concept, plagiarism is easy to grasp: you take someone else’s work and pass it off as your own.  In practice, plagiarism can be a slippery little sucker, eeling away to hide amongst quotations, fair use, common knowledge, and figures of speech.

Even worse, there is a distinct difference between academic plagiarism and the kind that happens off-campus.

Fortunately, the complexities of plagiarism can be navigated with confidence as long as we remember that the crime is a combination of theft and fraud.  The value of the stolen object comes from the originality of its idea and/or the quality of its prose.  The level of fraud depends on what is extorted from the victim.

In school, plagiarism occurs when the student tries to defraud the teacher of a grade by convincing the teacher they created something actually written by someone else.  It does not matter if the actual author – such as a friend or a Website – agrees to this fraud.  That only makes them an accomplice.

Professional plagiarism, however, requires that the original author does not give permission for the use of their work.  For instance, an unknown song writer gets their tune stolen by a popular band.  Even if the ditty turns out to be a dud, the song writer is the victim of theft, regardless of whether the song were copyrighted.

However, people who take from the author with permission are not plagiarists. Speech writers, ghost writers, and the like may give or sell their work if they want to.  While the public may feel defrauded when they learn some actor’s “autobiography” was actually written by someone else, well, cry me a river.

But, you may ask, what about when the original author is dead?  The moral answer is that passing off any dead guy’s work as your own is definitely plagiarism.  The real answer is to get a lawyer to check if the estate holds a copyright.

So by understanding just what plagiarism is, we can tell when and how plagiarism occurs.

Scenario 1:

John gets an assignment in his history class to write a five-page paper on Thomas
Edison.  He goes to Wikipedia and copies and pastes five pages of stuff.  The only thing he actually writes is his name.  Then he puts the whole paper inside quotation marks and lists Wikipedia on his Works Cited page.

Has plagiarism occurred?

No.  John indicated exactly what he took and where he got it from.  He still gets an F for being a lazy twit, but he hasn’t violated the honor code.

Scenario 2:

Jane writes an article for the local newspaper on pollution in the drinking water.  Stressing to meet her deadline, she goes into the paper’s “morgue” and finds an article written twenty years ago by some guy.  She takes a few lines about the responsibilities of the government to keep the public safe.

Has plagiarism occurred?

Yes.  She’s stolen from the author and defrauded the newspaper.

Scenario 2 -a:

Jane writes an article for the local newspaper on pollution in the drinking water.  Stressing to meet her deadline, she worries her last paragraph is really dull and livens up her prose with a famous but unaccredited phrase from Shakespeare: “to thine own self be true.”

Has plagiarism occurred?

No.  Jane assumes that the reader will recognize the quote and that no one will think it’s her original phrase.  The credit to Shakespeare is left out because she deems it unnecessary, not because she’s being deceptive.

Scenario 3:

Jose get an assignment in his third grade class to give a presentation on choo-choo trains.  He goes home and asks his parents about it, then he watches a couple of shows on TV about trains.  His friend has a father who works on trains, and he shows him some drawings of the inside of a locomotive.  Jose eventually draws his own picture of a train and shows it to the class while telling them about the things he’s learned.  He gives no credit to anyone but himself.

Has plagiarism occurred?

No.  Though the information was new to Jose, he gathered up common knowledge and presented it in his own words.  No one in the class thinks he’s pretending he invented trains or is the first person to talk about them.

Scenario 4:

Josie is writing a dissertation on President Bill Clinton.  She’s fortunate enough to get a personal interview with him.  It lasts for hours.  She puts sections of the interview in her book, taking care to attribute them all correctly.  She particularly likes his discussion of regulation and its effects on the economy.  Worried that the dissertation is getting “quote heavy,” she takes several of his sentences explaining the basics, substitutes a few words, and leaves off the quotation marks.

Has plagiarism occurred?

Yes.  Changing a few words still makes Clinton the co-author of the sentences, and removing the quotation marks means the reader will assume the passages are wholly original to her.

Scenario 5:

You are writing a seven-page research paper on the history of origami.  You want to include information you found on the specific qualities of good origami paper.  While this information is new to you, it may well be common knowledge in Japan.  You decide to put in the information without citing a source.

Has plagiarism occurred?

I’d say no, but other teachers might say yes.  Why take a chance?  When you’re unsure, ask your teacher. Consult with a dissertation editor. Ask your dissertation editing service to run a report and/or flag any suspicious passages.  If you’re finishing the paper the night before and can’t ask, cite your source.  Nobody ever got sent to the principal for  being too careful with their quotes.

7 Tips for Doctoral Candidates to Get a Head Start on the Job Market

If you are at work on a dissertation or doing your dissertation editing, chances are you’ll be on the job market for your discipline at some point in the near future. How can you prepare now to make the job application process as easy as possible?

1) Update your CV

Include degrees, teaching experience, administrative and/or research experience, conferences attended, publications (scholarly and otherwise), scholarships and fellowships, committee work, certifications, and anything else relevant to your discipline. If any sections look a little light, work on adding some more items while you’re still in school. Start investigating ways to get your CV online. A dissertation editing service could be of help to you.

2) Publish

Follow calls for papers and submit anything you have that’s relevant. It takes an average of 2-4 years for an edited collection to come out, so the sooner you submit, the better. Don’t think your work isn’t ready. Leave it up to the editors of the journal or collection to decide that. Speaking of editors, be sure you find a good dissertation editor!

3) Prepare the people you will ask for recommendations

It’s probably best to wait until a few months before you start applying for jobs to ask for the recommendations, so they are as fresh as possible, but you can start grooming the recommenders now. Let them know you’ll be asking. Start to compile a handy list of highlights in your relationship for them to consult when the writing the letter.

4) Keep everything related to your teaching experience

You will need to scan and upload it to make it available to hiring committees.

5) Set up an account at Interfolio or a similar dossier service

Start uploading documents, such as a revised and polished writing sample (or a few for different types of jobs), your CV, certifications, student evaluations, peer observations, transcripts, teaching philosophy, and sample syllabi.

6) Find peers and mentors who can give you advice on your documents

The more feedback you can get, the better. People who have served on hiring committees are especially insightful. And again, a good dissertation editing company is almost a must.

7) Look into alternative careers

Hopefully, the current economic conditions will continue to improve, but if not, knowing about alternatives to the traditional tenure-track position will only empower you.