Tips for Graduate Students

10 Wise Steps in Writing a Dissertation

Step 1

    • Ask your department chair if you can skip the dissertation and get a Ph.D. solely on the strength of your winning personality.
    • Okay, so it’s never worked before. It’s still worth a shot, isn’t it? Think positive!
    • Or, if not your winning personality, some previous work, work experience, body of work—anything at all!
    • Okay, so that rarely works either—but it does and has worked for some people, depending on the strength of that previous work.

FRIENDS JOEY AND CHANDLER REGRET NOTHING

Step 2

  • Make a plan and stick to it!
  • Plan to spend more time finding a manageable dissertation topic than researching that topic, and more time researching it than actually writing the dissertation.
  • Plan to spend more time revising the dissertation than writing it, and more time writing it than researching it.
  • Spend more time researching it than finding out what your topic is.
  • To help with the organization of your thesis, consider hiring a logician. I did.

that's the plan dr. horrible neil patrick harris

Step 3

  • Make sure you and your thesis advisor are on the same page.
  • Make sure to tell your thesis advisor what page that is.

matt bomer always on same page

Step 4

  • Abandon all hope of reading everything that’s germane to your chosen topic. Eventually you’re bound to discover that somebody has already said everything you want to say, and in the very words you were going to use. Scary!
  • However, don’t be alarmed by this. Remember: “There is nothing new under the sun,” and “Of the making of books there is no end,” and “So, the heck with it, what’s one book more?”

silver linings playbook throwing book out window

Step 5

  • When you’re ready to write, strike while the iron is hot.
  • If the iron is not hot, heat it. By … any … means … necessary!
  • If you don’t know what the iron is, forget about a career in academia. Consider becoming a professional golf caddie, instead. (“Here’s your 5-iron, Tiger.”)

jim carrey bruce almighty typing

 

Step 6

  • Be sure to follow all of your department’s specifications for formatting your thesis, no matter how difficult they are.
  • When in doubt, hire a reputable editing service to do this for you.

Andy-Samberg-Wink-SNL

 

Step 7

  • Prepare for your thesis defense as if your life depended on it. As a matter of fact, your career does.
  • Anticipate every possible question. Now is the time to do the research I told you not to do back in Step 4. Quickly, quickly.
  • However, on the day of the defense, relax. You’re as ready as you’ll ever be. There’s nothing more you can do.
  • Try to enjoy your defense. If you have some ability to make people laugh, make your committee members laugh. If they’re having a good time, the defense might be a breeze.

 i've got the power boom bruce almighty jim carrey

Step 8

  • Answer each and every one of their questions politely and thoroughly.
  • If, after 45 minutes of politely and thoroughly responding to each and every one of their questions, they still maintain that you’re talking gibberish, remember your Samuel Johnson. Say, as haughtily as possible: “Sirs,  I am required to furnish you with an explanation. I am not also required to furnish you with an understanding of it.” (This will sound twice as impressive if you happen to be wearing a powdered wig.)

samuel johnson book perplexed

Step 9

If at some point you find yourself at a complete loss for words, quote the lyrics of some Broadway or Hollywood musical. I have found that there are surprisingly few things in life, academic subjects included, that have not at some point been made the subject of a song. A comforting thought, no?

Step 10

Okay, here it is, my final word of advice, the fruit of my years of experience as a dissertation editor: take pride in writing your dissertation and do the very best you can do. It’s a reflection of you. So cherish, respect, and enjoy the entire process for it should be a labor of love. If it’s not, then you’re not doing what you should be doing with your life. Tough love words, I know, but the absolute truth of the matter.

big bang theory sheldon that's how its done

Deciding Where to Publish Your Scientific Article

You and your colleagues have spent months, maybe even years, conducting experiments to either prove or disprove your hypothesis. You spend weeks writing up the results into a publication with your Introduction, Materials and Methods, Results, and Discussion. Then you spend more time self-editing, re-writing, having your collaborators read and edit. You may have even employed a professional academic editor. Finally ready to submit your manuscript for publication.

Throughout this process, it is important that you take time to consider where it is best to publish this research manuscript.

Most research results are published in academic journals. An academic journal is a peer-reviewed periodical that presents articles relating to a particular academic discipline or methodology. Academic journals serve as forums for the introduction and scrutiny of new research and the critique of existing research. To maximize your chances of impact, it is important to pick the right one.

Here are five things to consider when deciding where to publish your manuscript:

1) Do you want to target specific readers?

Thousands of journals have monthly or quarterly publication schedules. Some are for specific disciplines and others are for general, but highly noteworthy, science. Learn what journals your preferred audience looks to for important publications. Do the people that you want to reach tend to reference certain journals? You will want to publish in journals that will engage those in your field of science because this may increase your chances at gaining new funding, setting up collaborations, or finding that new career position.

2) Will the impact factor of the journal have an effect on your career?

Just for review, the impact factor of an academic journal is a measure reflecting the average number of citations to recent articles published in the journal. This number helps readers determine the relative importance of a journal within its field. Journals with higher impact factor numbers are deemed to be more important than those with lower ones.

In some academic and professional circles, the more publications you have with a high impact factor, the better your chance of promotion.

3) Journal standards and efficiency with respect to the quality and timeliness of publications

The quality of the journal content is critical. When we speak about quality content, we mean both visual and language aspects. Items to consider when reviewing the visual quality include text format and sharpness of images. Language quality includes ease of reading and correct grammar. If you read articles in the journal and find that the grammar is subpar, consider selecting an alternate journal.

Good science and writing takes time and each scientist wants to be the first to publish new findings and ideas. One of the keys to success is publication of your article as soon as your work is completed. You want to publish in a journal that people look to for current scientific topics.

To have timely publication of your data, make sure the journal is organized in overseeing the article review process. Efficient journals can have your article reviewed in three months or less, whereas inefficient journals may require you to be relentless in your efforts acquiring deals with them. It is important that the journal you select can publish the article as quickly as possible after acceptance of your article.


The journal you choose reflects on your skill and status as a scientist. If you select a journal that allows poor grammar, takes months to finally review and consider your work, has low quality text and graphics, and is publishing articles on topics that are no longer relevant, then this has a negative impact on your work, possible promotions, and future funding status.

4) Cost of publishing

Many journals do require a per-page charge and even have more fees for color images (graphs, photos, etc.). Part of your decision as to where you will publish your research may depend on cost related issues. Can you afford to publish in a particular journal of interest? Unfortunately, this is the question you must ask if you are publishing in journals that charge for publication.

5) Financial stability and leadership of the journal

At first thought, the financial stability and leadership of the journal do not seem to be of much importance. However, journal publication, like most other areas of activity, is a competitive business. If the journal is not financially stable, it may go out of business, lose coverage (both online and in libraries), and possibly become inaccessible thereby making your article difficult to access.

The leadership of the journal includes the editors and management. If the editors are not devoted to turning out a quality product then people may lose interest in reading articles in that journal. If the management does not ensure timely editorial reviews of manuscripts and rapid publication of those accepted, readership declines and the number of people who may read your work could drop precipitously.

So after you have taken the time to complete excellent research, carry out numerous document edits and revisions, and spend considerable time formatting data, the journal you choose needs to reflect your efforts and those of your research collaborators.
What factors do you feel are most important in deciding where to publish your manuscript?

Four Keys to Writing the Best Elevator Speech

Every entrepreneur, sales person, policy-maker, and project manager knows the importance of having a well-written elevator speech. This elevator speech has two major components. First, this speech, also known as an elevator pitch, is a short summary used to describe a person, profession, product, service, organization, or event. Often, the second component is the most important part of the elevator speech since it discusses the monetary value or need relating to the topic. Over time, the elevator speech was refined to require no more than thirty seconds to two minutes for delivery.

Some people confuse the elevator speech with a sales pitch. A sales pitch has props (the product or item being sold) and can take up to 30 minutes to deliver. The elevator speech is all about using a brief amount of conversation time to deliver an interesting idea that will add value to the business of the person with whom you are speaking. It is in those few seconds that you want to get the person hooked on your idea so that you can continue the conversation, exchange business cards, or schedule a meeting.

Elevator Pitch
Here are four keys for writing success related to your Elevator Speech:

  1. Keep it Simple.

Select each word carefully. Time with your thesaurus is critical for success in writing your elevator speech. Choose words that are well known. The elevator speech is not the time to try to wow the listener with big words. You want to write a speech that everyone with an eighth grade education or higher can understand. Realistically you are pitching to people who have a higher level of education but in this quick delivery, you may not have their full attention so you want something that they can listen to, understand, and get excited about without deep thought.

  1. Keep it Flexible.

Have three to five elevator speeches prepared. You may need one that speaks to the technical level of the project, idea, or product. This version is best delivered to people with a higher appreciation of technology. In my experience, you need the following types of speeches ready: 1) technical, 2) earnings/income potential related, 3) amount of time it will take to deliver on the concept or product, 4) who you need on the team to help make this idea a success, and finally, 5) what resources you need. Once you have delivered the speech and captured your targets attention, you need to be ready to speak with others who will be brought into the conversation and you need to seize their attention quickly.

  1. Have it written out so you can practice the delivery.

Use a 3 x 5 index card and have your speech typed out and ready for you to review and practice for delivery. You may be standing in line at a coffee shop and see a person that you want to walk up to and deliver your elevator speech. Having a 3 x 5 card with your speech written out lets you have a quick review and gets you prepared for your delivery. In addition, it is critical that you practice the delivery aloud.

  1. Grammar matters, but Flow is critical.

Grammar is important but our speech patterns can sometimes be different from what we write on paper. Do not focus on the comma or semicolon in writing out your elevator speech. Most importantly you need to make sure it is easy to say/recite and that you are completely comfortable sharing your idea. One additional idea is to have a friend or family member deliver your elevator speech. If they have trouble with the delivery, your flow is not yet right.

Follow these four keys and you will be able to have success in delivering your elevator speech. When in doubt, seek professional help from speechwriters, editors, others because a great elevator speech might help you get your idea across and lead to your next promotion.

5 Tips for Managing Unruly References

As authors research information to help support the work in their paper, they spend a great deal of time reading references. All too often we wind up with a stack of papers or computer files full of references. These references are important so that authors can cite the information from other sources that they wish to use to either support, acknowledge, or contradict their research. How do we organize and choose the correct references? In this blog we share five easy steps for managing references.

 

1. Sort your references into categories.

 


Most papers have an introduction, materials and methods, results, and conclusion/discussion section. It is best if you sort your references into those categories. The introduction should use references that provide historical information relevant to the paper topic. References used in the materials and methods should help the reader know why the author decided to use particular methods and how those methods are best utilized. When we select references for the results, they can be sub-categorized into those that support or contradict the data. The conclusion/discussion section draws once again on references that support the historical context necessary to understand the work and these references must also aid in the discussion of the relevant data.

editing proofreading service references

2. Use quality references.

It is important to use the most original reference possible. Additionally, authors need to use up-to-date and reliable references. The authors want to use references that have been peer-reviewed by leaders in the topic field. Peer-reviewed references have been checked for errors by knowledgeable reviewers well-versed in the field being studied.

3. Select references that are easy for people to access.

As our ever-expanding world of technology makes more information available, this is an easier step to manage. Still, we most often should select references that are in the same language as the paper being presented and easy to access by everyone with either access to the internet or a library.

editing service references writing

4. Keep the references to a manageable number.

Unless you are writing a review article and need to tie in the information you are sharing with an extensive number of other papers, select only the most pertinent sources. If a point needs to be validated by external references, this is most often accomplished by referring to three or four sources from unique author sets. Using a few select but widely accepted references that trace back to experts in the field will help readers of the paper being presented better understand the importance of this new work to the field of study.

5. Have all your references printed or in electronic format and easy to access.

In this new day and age there are multiple electronic programs that can be used to sort, catalog, and manage references. All too often people focus on getting the references into these bibliography programs and forget that it is the content of the reference that is critical. Authors need to have the abstract and a few notes about the paper easily accessible and a copy (printed or electronic) of the complete paper should be available. By having the information readily available, it alleviates improper citations and the possibility of plagiarism.

Follow these five suggestions and you will find that managing your references becomes less of a chore!

Graduate Student Survival Guide

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You know those kids from high school, the ones who couldn’t decide what they wanted to do with their lives and got full time jobs straight after graduation? They looked at you with a twinge of envy as you headed off to college while they loaded up on dress suits and sensible shoes. They were certain they’d be following after you in a couple of years; you were certain they’d spend the rest of their lives picking up the boss’s dry cleaning and making coffee for high-powered executives.

graduate school tips

Now, however, you are beginning to doubt yourself. After four years of undergraduate life, a crummy part time job, and riding the bus everywhere, your friends’ lives are starting to look rather enviable. Their full time wages dwarf your measly graduate student earnings and their lifestyle clearly sits a few rungs higher up on the socioeconomic ladder than yours. Resist the urge to start comparing accomplishments because, at this point in your life, you won’t come out ahead.

Help me I'm poor

Your friends in the outside world have been working for a few years now, and they have the consumer lifestyle to prove it. They drive around in the latest hipster-colored micro car while you are still riding the bus on a student pass. They dine out at restaurants with tablecloths and menus that change with the seasons, while you subsist on microwave dinners and cafeteria food. Their clothes reflect the latest fashions and they hang out at trendy bars sipping expensive cocktails. You live in jeans and khakis, topped with t-shirts bearing such witty slogans as “Come to the nerd side. We have pi.”

Come to the nerd side, we have Pi

Your version of a night out on the town is Two Dollar Tuesdays at the student pub, where the antics of freshmen students reveling in their newfound freedom long ago ceased to be entertaining.

wolf of wall street

Your friends rent condos in the heart of the city, furnished with matching sofas and chairs, big screen TVs, and bathrooms all to themselves. You, on the other hand, are possibly still living with your parents, accepting home cooked meals and complementary laundry service in exchange for house rules that haven’t changed since you were 15 and frequent interrogations regarding your study habits and social life. Or perhaps you are sharing a shabby rental house with five other students who are equally cash-strapped and lacking in domestic skills, and with whom you compete for hot showers and space in the refrigerator.

dorm life

Yes, compared to life as a graduate student, your working friends out there in the Real World seem to be doing very well. But trust me when I say that this is merely an illusion. What you need is a glimpse into the future to put things in perspective…

It’s twenty years from now and your friends are mostly married with children. The earnings that seemed like a windfall fresh out of high school aren’t so flush now that there are mortgages, health and life insurance premiums, and kids who need orthodontic work. Your friends long ago gave up their fancy bachelor pad rentals downtown and now live in cookie-cutter subdivisions way out in some far-flung suburb. They traded in their micro car for a minivan but they commute by public transit because it’s faster and less expensive. At work, they are still waiting for the fourteen guys ahead of them in seniority to either retire or die so they can move up the career ladder, but the most they can hope for is a lower management position because the upper ones are filled exclusively by those with—you guessed it—college degrees.

dead end job

Oh, they didn’t plan it this way. But you see, you were smart: it’s easy to decide on a few more years of student poverty when that’s all you’ve known since graduating high school. But when it came time for your friends to consider going back to college, they were already living lifestyles that were hard to give up. The idea of going back to pizza nights and dormitory life was too difficult to endure, so they put it off and put if off and now most of them are just looking forward to retirement so they can finally do something interesting.

grad student survival

So hang in there, graduate students. The grass may seem greener on the Real World side of the fence right now, but in a few years you’ll see that you made the right choice. You’ll find that, since your friends were too immature to save any of that money they were earning while you were in college, in the end they didn’t come out ahead of you at all.

What like it's hard? Harvard grad student

And while you now have an enjoyable and upwardly mobile career ahead of you, they are waking up to the realization that they inadvertently made a career out of a job that was supposed to be a holdover until they decided what to do with their lives. Try to keep that image in mind the next time you see one of your acquaintances looking all sharp and fashionable on their way to the newest club. You’ll have your revenge one day, I promise.

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