Tips for Graduate Students

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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Peer-reviewed research article vs. dissertation

Peer-reviewed research article vs. dissertation: How to write a great paper for publication

You’re writing your dissertation and want to publish your first research article. What is the difference between your dissertation and a publishable article? Working at a peer-reviewed journal, I have seen manuscripts of all types including those that look like they were copied and pasted from a dissertation. Research articles are concise summaries of your work directed at readers who are experienced in your area of research. Dissertations serve as a platform for an evaluation of your expertise and work. If you keep this in mind, then you will have a much better chance of having your work published.

How to write a great paper for publication

First, let’s review four sections of any research paper: introduction, results, discussion, and methods. I have not included the abstract, as this requires an entire blog on its own. Second, I will give you a strategy to develop your paper that will put you on a path for success.

Introductory section

Roles of a dissertation include demonstrating an in-depth knowledge of your field, assessing your ability to define a problem, creating a hypothesis, and designing an appropriate tool to test it. When you are writing a paper for publication, all of these are already assumed. The readers are experts and not on your committee. Your introduction should include a few points to orient the reader as to what is known, what you are aiming to determine, and how. The last sentence of your introduction should state that the objective of this research is to determine whatever you are interested in by using your selected tool.

Results section

The results that are discussed in your research paper need to be restricted to those that are relevant to answering your objective. No matter how interesting a particular experiment may have been, if it isn’t directly related to your research question/objective, it will detract and ultimately sabotage your efforts to have your work published. It will prompt reviewers to question the structure of the research plan and lose focus on the objective. They may even envisage a different paper centered on a new objective. Keep it simple.

Discussion section

The discussion section must not repeat the results. If you repeat the results, then you have consumed your word count unnecessarily and bored your readers. The discussion is the opportunity to address your objective. The discussion should take in account your data, as well as data from supporting studies. It must elevate the work so it can be applied by other researchers. A discussion should include the most relevant limitations of your work and provide an intelligent conclusion.

Materials and methods section

The methods section must include the sufficient detail for someone experienced in your area to replicate your study. It must be concise and should reference previous work, so you don’t have to repeat details. The steps for performing a routine experiment don’t need to repeated, it is adequate to say what was done in a general way with any unusual details expressed explicitly.

Choose your journal and manuscript type carefully

An author must know the audience. In the case of writing a research paper, you must know where the article will be submitted before you start writing. It is imperative that you go to the website of your selected journal and read the instructions to authors. Ideally, templates will be provided so your document will be correctly formatted. Be sure to correctly select the type of manuscript you are intending to write (e.g., original research, review, etc) and verify the word count. These two factors will have a tremendous impact on your manuscript and need to be carefully considered. You may want to switch journals at this point, if it isn’t what you were expecting. I have returned manuscripts to authors without review, because the author failed to submit the article in the correct format or has exceeded the word count. If an article does proceed in the wrong format or with an elevated word count, then it may fail at a later stage simply because the senior editors and reviewers are distracted by the flaws in the manuscript preparation. If you didn’t care to format it properly, then the reviewers are wondering what else is missing.

A practical strategy

With the correct journal, article type, and word count in mind, you should start by writing the results section. Considering the study objective, prepare tables or figures and/or write the results in a concise manner to support the objective, and in parallel, write the methods. Only include the necessary experiments and details. This preparation will logically lead you to write a discussion of the results (not a repeat of the results), limitations, and enlightening conclusion. After reviewing what you have written (results, methods, and discussion), you will see that there are a few sentences required to orient the reader (i.e., someone with expertise in your area) in the introduction. Write the introduction, which will end with your objective statement(s).

Edit for grammar and style

Now that you have prepared first research paper, have it properly edited for grammar and style. Send the instructions to authors with your manuscript when having it edited. When a paper is written poorly, the editors and reviewers are distracted from the content. A good research paper can be rejected, because its message is lost in cumbersome language.

The 5 Keys for Self-publishing Success

Writing a novel, short story, or technical manual is on many of our “Bucket Lists.”  With the advent of Self-publishing through Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, or many other avenues it has become easier to self-publish.  Regardless of whether or not you plan to sell millions or just a few copies to achieve fulfillment and happiness, you need to follow these five important steps to be successful in book writing and publishing.

1) Use a content editing service

Find a friend, fan, or professional editor who will read your book for content.  This person should be familiar with the genre of your book and be able to help you by suggesting areas that need improvement.  Some areas that a content editor might be able to identify as needing work include character development, storyline flow, and historical (if appropriate) accuracy.  It is also important that your content editor make sure your story is unique.

2) Develop an eye-catching cover

The first thing a potential reader sees for your book is the cover.  As people scroll through eBooks or on bookshelves, the cover is what catches the eye.  If your cover telegraphs the content and excitement of your story then people will pick up a copy and start looking in more detail to determine if this is a story worth their time or money. Choose a designer wisely and budget for a good one. Elance is a good way to find freelancer designers, as is Behance.

3) Have a Table of Contents

With a Table of Contents, it is easy for people to see what your book offers.  Interesting chapter titles or descriptions of the technical chapters helps the reader immediately assess the value of your book.  In our fast-paced society, a book without a Table of Contents might be set aside because it would take to long to determine the value of the book.

4) Employ an excellent book editing service

If you have spent any time reading book reviews you will notice that many reviewers comment on spelling errors, typos, and poor grammar.  It is critical to the success of your work that you have the book edited.  A good book editor will find punctuation issues, spelling and grammatical errors, formatting problems, and he or she can help you keep readers happy and providing you with four and five star reviews.  Poorly edited books often receive one star reviews and this can absolutely stop any sales of your book.

5) Write a catchy book description

After the cover grabs the potential readers attention, your book description needs to convince them that your book is going to be a wonderful read.  You must tease the reader, activate his/her imagination, and capture his/her attention.  Often a beta reader or a book editor can help you write the book description.

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11 Steps in Writing a Publishable Scientific Research Paper


A rewarding yet difficult aspect of graduate work is writing that first scientific research paper to be published in a peer reviewed journal. The reward comes from knowing that you have the opportunity to tell a story (at least in part) relevant to your thesis or dissertation hypothesis. How to actually develop the paper and put your story into words, tables, and figures can be the difficult part.

It is important to remember that the peer reviewed scientific research paper may not be in the same format as your thesis or dissertation chapter. Your goal should be to get the scientific research paper published and then you can concern yourself with the necessary thesis editing and formatting to prepare this work for inclusion into your graduate thesis.

My first scientific paper draft consumed many hours with little or no success. I would write a few sentences, then edit, wordsmith, and check grammar so that every word was perfect. I lacked any idea of how to go about presenting my scientific data. Sure, I was experienced with writing essays and graduate research papers for class, but this was different. Now with over 30 peer reviewed papers published, I have a system that makes this process easier. Within three days of gathering the final pieces of data, I can have a draft document into the hands of my colleagues and this is how I succeed.

Know the preferred presentation style of your colleagues.

Take the time to read a few papers written by your major advisor and collaborators. Understand what styles and journals they most often choose and how they go about laying out the data and the story. If your work developed from a grant proposal, review that document and think about the hypothesis. In the beginning, your advisor and collaborators are going to use what is most familiar to them and you will have to prove yourself competent in writing peer reviewed scientific papers before you can develop your own style. Have the relevant literature easily accessible as you write.

Collect and present your data.

Often we want to start with the introduction. That is the wrong approach. Start with compiling your data and putting it all into tables, charts, and figures. Have your data in nicely formatted and easy to review “pictures.”

Write the Results section.

Once your data is presented nicely, write the results associated with each figure, table, or chart. Do not just reiterate what is presented, but help the reader understand the relevance and connectedness of the data. This is where you succeed in walking the reader through your data, just as you would tell a story.

Write the Materials and Methods.

Once you have the data presented in the Results, it is time to write the Materials and Methods. Describe how you performed the experiments. Refer to previous literature and be succinct. In your thesis or dissertation writing, you can add extra details.

Draft five or ten key points about your work.

Put into words the key ideas you are hoping to present with this paper. These do not need to be lengthy paragraphs but rather statements that summarize the crucial elements of your work.

Share the paper with your collaborators.

Now is the time to have collaborators, your advisor, or knowledgeable friends review this work to see if everyone agrees on the selected data and the key points. Ask for quick feedback and select the scientific journal you will submit your work to for publication.

Revise based on collaborator suggestions.

With collaborator suggestions, you can then perform some research paper editing. Edit the document to address the issues or ideas brought up by your collaborators. With your target journal in mind, this is the time to go back and make sure your tables, figures, and charts are in the proper format as specified by the journal.

Write your Discussion.

After you have edited the Results and Materials and Methods sections based on collaborator input, write your Discussion. You can use the five or 10 points you developed earlier as the basis for the discussion.

Write your Introduction.

With the rest of the document prepared, write your Introduction.

Put together your References Section.

Finally, format your references per the guidelines of the target journal.

To Be Certain of its Excellence, Hire an Editing Service for a Final Check.

Once all the above is completed, you must now make sure all the collaborators and your advisor read and comment. Edit and make necessary changes as suggested by the rest of the team and then write the abstract. If you’re not 100% confident in your paper’s excellence, employ a professional editing service staffed by PhDs in your discipline to go through it one more time for you. Edit911 has edited over 1200 scientific papers for publication.

How To Use Quotations In Dissertations

Using quotations in a Dissertation

Dissertations serve a two-fold purpose.  They are the final projects for doctoral candidates, the last step before degree conferral, in which these individuals may show their knowledge of their specific areas of interest and of their ability to identify and propose solutions to problems within their fields.  Dissertations are simultaneously the transition from students to contributors within their fields by engaging in original research and adding to the body of knowledge.

In writing dissertations, authors must demonstrate their thorough understanding of their particular areas of study.  One way to show that understanding is through the use of quotations garnered from previously written works in their field or in related areas.  However, overuse or inappropriate use of quotations may have the opposite effect, suggesting a lack of understanding.  Therefore, authors must use quotations judiciously.

The number and length of quotations may vary from one academic field to another.  For example, students examining Shakespeare’s use of figurative language in his various plays will need to include specific quotations from the plays for each type of figurative language discussed.  Such quotations may range from one word to several lines.  Students conducting qualitative studies based on extensive interviews of research participants will also need to use numerous quotations from those interviews to support whatever themes they discover through their analysis of those data.  However, inclusion of quotations from other experts in the field of study should be handled differently.

In the proposal, concept paper, and the final dissertation, candidates must demonstrate their familiarity with the research in their field.  This is the primary purpose of chapter 2 in most dissertations.  Some of that background material is also revealed in the first chapter to set up the problem and to show the significance of the study.  Additional background material is revealed in chapter 3 to show an understanding of the chosen research methodology and its appropriateness for the study in question.

In these chapters, authors are not only giving information pertinent to their studies but also showing their ability to grasp ideas, analyze material for its strengths and weaknesses, and synthesize material from various sources to create the foundation for their particular study.  Therefore, quotations should be used only when that is the best and clearest way to provide information to the reader.

Consider the following two examples:

Example 1:  According to John Smith, “The best thing about this concept is that it is easy to understand compared with other concepts in this field.”  He went on to say that “scientists will be able to use this new knowledge to create new technology for this field” and that “people will embrace this technology very quickly.”  Therefore, “companies that wish to increase their profitability” should begin investing in “this new scientific venture” so that they “will not lose out” on this “golden opportunity.”

Example 2:  According to John Smith, this new concept is easier to understand compared to others in the same field.  Because of this, new technology will be forthcoming, which people will be eager to purchase.  Therefore, he advises businesses to invest in this research as soon as possible.  Failure to do so may result in their decreased profitability.

Although not taken directly from actual dissertations, the formats of these two examples shows what edits often find in dissertations.  Both examples deal with the same topic and make the same essential points.  Yet the second one clearly shows the writer understands the material drawn from John Smith’s work; the first does not.  The first one is simply a copy of John Smith’s words interspersed with innocuous connecting phrases.  The writer in the first example has not attempted to analyze, synthesize, or summarize the meaning of Smith’s words.  Instead, the writer has found material that fits the topic being discussed and quotes from that material, expecting the reader to figure out what it all means.  Unfortunately, many candidates use this type of format.  Variations include inserting block quote after block quote, often from the same source, and quoting single words that, in and of themselves, hold no special significance.

Authors who use quotes judiciously reduce verbiage and redundancy, demonstrate their thorough grasp of the material, and often show the connection of their original research to the rest of the field more clearly.  If they include quotations at all, they do so to emphasis a particular point.  Using quotations in this way is ultimately more powerful.

After deciding to include quotations, authors must also handle them correctly.  The following points are not all inclusive but represent some of the more common problems editors find in dissertations.

1.     Introduce most quotations.  Seldom should a paragraph begin with a direct quotation.  Many university style guides require authors to introduce quotations, although there are exceptions.  However, when in doubt, error on the side of introducing the quotation to prevent any misinterpretation of the material.  Use one of the following constructions:

    1. a full sentence with the quotation placed after a colon;
    2. a short introductory phrase such as “according to” followed by the person’s name, a comma, and the quotation (e.g., According to Smith, “Businesses must take advantage of this golden opportunity”);
    3. the person’s name, an appropriate verb such as “stated,” and the quotation (e.g., David stated, “I am hungry”).

 

2.     Reproduce the quotation accurately.  The quotation should be written the same way it is written in the source from which it is being taken.  However, there are exceptions to this rule, depending on the style guide candidates are required to follow.  For example, writers may correct minor grammatical problems within a quotation as long as those corrections do not change the meaning or are not needed to demonstrate a particular point.  This avoids overuse of [sic] to show that the author knows the errors are there and makes it easier for the reader to follow.  It also acknowledges that the errors may or may not have been in the original quotation but are the result of transcription by a third party.

 

3.     Alter the capitalization of the first word of the quotation to fit the syntax of the sentence in which it is placed.  Generally, if the quotation follows direct attribution, the first word is capitalized (e.g., David said, “He goes to my school”).  However, if the word that is included, the first word is not capitalized unless it is a proper noun (e.g., David said that he goes to my school).  If the quotation is a block quotation and comes after a colon, capitalize the first word (see Example 1).  If it is a block quotation used as a continuation of the sentence, do not capitalize the first word unless it is a proper noun (see Example 2).

Example 1.

He recited the Gettysburg Address:

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

 

Example 2. 

The new law states that

any person entering another individual’s domicile without the express permission of that individual is trespassing and is subject to the fines and levies as defined in Section 3 subsection 1 paragraph 1.

 

4.     Use appropriate punctuation.  Be sure to punctuation the quotation correctly as it is used within the dissertation.

  1. All run-in quotations must begin and end with quotation marks.  Block quotations are not placed within quotation marks.
  2. Periods and commas always go inside the closing quotation marks (e.g., Patty bought “The Isle of Man,” the bestselling mystery novel).
  3. Other forms of punctuation go outside the closing quotation marks unless they are part of the actual quotation (e.g., Did he just say, “I’m going home”?  I asked, “What do you have for lunch?”)
  4. If a quotation contains a quotation, be sure to enclose the secondary quotation in single quotation marks (e.g., He stated, “I have just read the story, ‘The Scarlet Ibis,’ for the tenth time”).  Note that in block quotations, secondary quotations are punctuated with double quotation marks, not single, because the doubles are not used to define the beginning and ending of the major quotation.

 

5.     Use ellipses correctly.  Ellipses (. . .) are used to show the omission of wording from a quotation.  However, ellipses are not needed if an author chooses to delete the first portion of a sentence being quoted or the last part of a sentence being quoted.  Only material deleted from the middle of a quotation is noted by an ellipsis.

  1. Correct: He began reciting the Gettysburg address:  “Four score and seven years ago . . . perish from the earth.”
  2. Incorrect: He began reciting: “. . . and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal . . . .”

 

6.     Use attributions correctly. Here, attributions refer to the verbs used to indicate how the speaker is speaking (e.g., said, stated, noted, etc.).  Be sure the verb used is possible.  For example, a person can shout words but cannot grimace words.  In dissertations, stick with simple verbs that allow the reader to move into the quotation as quickly as possible without having to consider if the verb makes sense.

 

7.     Cite, cite, cite. Citations are attributions of a different kind.  Be sure that each quotation is cited accurately.  Citations should include the author of the source, the year of publication, and the page number in the source on which the wording may be found.  Although it is possible that a quotation may split between two contiguous pages (e.g., pp. 9–10), seldom will a quotation span more than two pages unless it is an extremely long block quotation.  (If it is, see the previous discussion about appropriate use of quotations.)

 

8.     Avoid single word quotations.  Generally, these are terms and should be italicized in their first use in text and not punctuated at all in subsequent use in the paper.  If a word was coined by the author of the source being quoted, incorporate a phrase or a sentence in which the word appears as a quote rather than using the single word.  This assists in eliminating the tendency to place the term in quotation marks every time it is used in the paper.

 

Finally, remember that overuse of almost anything minimizes its effectiveness.  This is as true with quotations as with any other writing technique.  Use quotations sparingly.  Be sure that the information cannot be conveyed as effectively or as accurately through paraphrasing, summarizing, or synthesizing it with other material.  Be accurate, use appropriate punctuation, and cite the source properly. If you’re in need of assistance, consider hiring an excellent dissertation editing service, such as Edit911, to check everything for you.