The ticket to full steam ahead

image of list of things to remember throughout the dissertation writing processNearly a year ago I attended a workshop on maintaining healthy habits throughout the dissertation writing process. Boy am I glad I did. This fall I’m taking time off from teaching to focus solely on writing my dissertation–oh, annnnnnd applying for jobs. Fun stuff. It’s all writing-based, deadline-oriented and, at times, pretty stressful. So I’ve found myself putting some of the tips from the workshop into practice each day.

I’ve included a high-resolution image of the all-important workshop handout above. (Sorry it’s crinkled. It hangs above my desk and occasionally gets knocked about by a bored cat or two.) I reread the tips often. Among the most important and oft-used tips for me are:

  • Recognizing the dissertation writing process as stress laden. Once I get into the groove of writing I actually find it quite fun and satisfying. But the writing process contains both hills and valleys. Recognizing this as I begin each day is key to sticking to the task at hand without getting discouraged. As long as I work to the best of my ability each day, I know I’ll meet my goals and everything will be “okay.” P90X leader Tony Horton’s mantra ain’t no joke: “Do your best and forget the rest.” Worrying only hinders your work. Let it go as best you can each time you sit down to work.
  • Tips 1-4 are critical. Progress in writing requires an unwavering commitment to a well-defined writing schedule. Before I began writing I devised a very detailed plan of action. I committed to specific hours to be at my desk each day, distraction-free, and I hold myself to that schedule each and every day. My writing hours are my priority and everything else–dentist appointments, household chores, e-mail, extracurricular activities, other academic duties–yields to my writing schedule. Yep, my place gets pretty messy sometimes by week’s end. C’est la vie. I also take time each week to define and assess my daily, weekly, monthly, and semester-long goals. Of course, sometimes I get distracted or a new idea leads to the reorganization of a chapter or section and I need to readjust my goals. But again, hills and valleys. When I encounter setbacks, I remember to…

Tony Horton meme: Do your best and forget the rest!

  • Get support. For me this includes not only keeping family appraised of my work schedule so they don’t wig out because they haven’t seen me in a while and think maybe my husband murdered me (he wouldn’t); it also includes seeking out support and advice from others who know what the writing process is all about. Like many Twitterstorians, I am fond of using #writingpact and #TeamPhinisheD. Although, for privacy reasons, I don’t use the hashtags every time I sit down to work, they are wonderful options for maintaining accountability for daily goals and for both getting and giving support during the somewhat lonesome writing process.
  • Tips 16-19. For me, this set of tips is on equal ground with tips 1-4 because tips 1-4 aren’t possible to achieve without holding yourself to tips 16-19. In the current culture of overwork self-care all too often falls to the wayside. While I was completing my master’s thesis, I was simultaneously struggling with a tragic, untimely death in my family, many late-night/early morning phone calls to help family members through the difficult time, and feelings of not being understood/not belonging/not being accepted into academic culture based on my first-generation, low-income background. I had few healthy work habits and came very close to full-on burnout. Since then, self-care has become a high priority as I complete my PhD. I’ve worked hard to develop a wide variety of healthy habits to keep my history mojo flowing sure and steady. A well-defined work schedule IS critical, but it won’t get you anywhere if you’re too weak and stressed out to think. Self-care isn’t a distraction from writing or something only the uncommitted do. Self-care enhances your ability to do your best. Plus, massages, runner-highs, ice cream, and beer are awesome.

See you next time.

“Demystifying the Publication Process” workshop notes

Dr. Denise Cuthbert, Dean, School of Graduate Research, RMIT University, Australia
Dr. Denise Cuthbert, Dean, School of Graduate Research, RMIT University, Australia

Below are my rough notes from an excellent workshop I attended last week. The workshop, entitled “Demystifying the Publication Process,” was sponsored by UNL’s Office of Graduate Studies. Dr. Denise Cuthbert, Dean of RMIT University’s School of Graduate Research was the workshop’s leader. Few workshops I attend got me as excited to get started on a project as this workshop. I can still hear Dr. Cuthbert’s charming Australian accent, spurring us on to publish!

Demystifying the Publication Process, September 4, 2014

  • Your publishing plans:
    • need to consider what your article is about in tandem with where you plan to publish it (and why)
    • should have a mindmap of the key journals in your field
      • which are prestigious, which will reach local/national/regional audience, which are more theoretical, etc.
      • go to the editorial page and/or website of journals to help map out your field
        • particular approaches, research will be good for one journal and not another
    • too late to begin thinking about all of the above after your paper is finished
  • Workshop goals:
    • learn more about the academic publishing system & how to target the right journals
      • big reason articles get rejected
    • talk about a range of writing techniques to help you refine your abstract (important writing tool) and get your paper to draft form
    • how to handle the submission and peer review process
  • publication = “the ultimate destination of all of your work” “It’s really not research until it’s published.”
    • “Research seeks to advance the stock of human knowledge and academic publishing is the key way in which knowledge is disseminated and shared amongst researchers. This occurs primarily through peer refereed scholarly journals, books and conferences.”
    • key feature of academic articles:
      • contain original research/findings or reviews
      • are blind peer-reviewed or validated
    • Cuthbert believes reach of journals = better than edited volumes, book chapters due to the digital reach of journals, potential and ability for “generating citations” of your work
  • Why publish during the doctorate?
    • Major change over time, within the last 30 years – changes in the purpose of the doctorate
      • leave grad school only with completed dissertation = no longer enough
      • 2-3 published papers whether published or “in the pipeline”
  • Academic publishing – Why is it so hard?
    • Kamler and Thomson (2006):
      • writing is a social practice → solitary nature of writing = deceptive. “We write ourselves, but we write for others.”
        • goes back to point of WHO are we writing for?
  • have an outlook that emphasizes writing for publication
    • to publish, you need to have something to say, but how will you know?
    • Discuss with your supervisor how to position your research
  • What makes a good paper? LESS is MORE
    • don’t make it more than it should be → keep it small, contained, focused, targeted
      • can briefly describe the larger project, but make clear which one to two major ideas/theses you’ll be focusing on
    • one great idea/significant finding/compelling argument = one good paper
      • see journals in your field, will see these examples
    • don’t make the mistake of attempting to put too much in a paper
    • a publication plan for a given paper should slice of ‘bits’ of the research and craft them into publishable papers
    • you cannot fit a whole thesis into a paper
  • “Fit the article to the journal, not the other way around.”
  • “Plan your publications before you start your research and experiments.”
  • Be prepared to go through many drafts as you exercise the “less is more” principle.
  • Making abstracts concrete:
    • through the writing process, the abstract is a living document
      • a very disciplined form of writing
    • concise “road map” of paper you intend to write/are writing – but modifiable as the writing process shows a better way through
    • a good abstract can keep you “honest” as a writer
    • on completion of paper, abstract needs to be revised and finalized to accurately reflect the paper now completed
    • good abstracts do not undersell or oversell the paper they describe
    • good abstracts will invite appropriate audience(s) to read paper
  • Responding to readers’ reports:
    • stay calm! → “blind review process = a brutally honest process”
      • also need to understand the “economy” of the reviewer process → reviewers not paid for their work – taking papers on a volunteer basis, on top of all their other work and duties
    • Accept – rarely happens that a paper is accepted outright (only twice in Cuthbert’s personal experience)
      • minor revisions
      • major revisions
    • reject (for that particular journal = the end, move on to another journal)
    • highlight main criticisms (major vs. minor)
    • criticisms versus suggestions for improvement
    • scope of journal, IF etc.
    • re-read the next day (not the same day you get the paper back)
    • send to co-authors (assign tasks with deadline)
    • track changes
    • usually several weeks to revise – thinking time!
  • building your C.V.
    • aim for both breadth and depth
      • get some runs on the board – not all need to be high-ranking
      • don’t ignore quality though
      • conferences
      • book chapters – can open a wider range of publication options (but often less accessible for citation purposes)
      • look for opportunities to publish different kinds of articles – i.e. review, methodological, results, etc.
    • consider time to publication (often longer than journals estimate; usually about a year)
    • cast a wide net
  • Finding the right journal
    • about 25,000+ peer reviewed English-language academic journals
    • different categories:
      • peer reviewed/non peer reviewed
      • subscription/open access
      • disciplinary/cross disciplinary audiences
      • special issues/standard issues
      • influential/not so influential
    • What are the journals that you’re currently reading, that you keep coming back to?
    • What are the key journals in your field?
      • Impact factor
      • average number of citations to articles per journal
      • journal rankings
    • particularly when you start out, consider not aiming too high and risking disappointment → take advice
  • look at the journal for:
    • aims
    • scope
    • nature of contribution sought
    • intended readership
    • editorial board members
  • also ask your supervisor(s) where they publish and why
  • Write early, write often:
    • from day one
    • “identify do-able chunks of writing that could form the basis of an article, say 700, 1000, 1500 and up to 3000 words on a specific topic or theme”
    • build up a body of writing by accretion – i.e. small bits at a time, one article after another
    • “Treat writing as research planning and development: Don’t turn what should be molehills into mountains.”
      • treat writing as exploratory, contingent, provisional → should always be able/open to revising, re-packaging for another process
      • every article is just another idea – not the whole thesis
    • get over perfectionism and masterpiece syndrome
      • good writing = heavily vetted writing
      • “there’s no such thing as perfect”
      • this is an attempt to give an account – the very best attempt one can give at a particular time, but an attempt nonetheless
  • Thinking things through:
    • many criticisms have merit, ask: Did the reviewer make a good point? Did you write clearly?
      • Sometimes reviewers miss the point, don’t appear to have read the paper carefully → if you really disagree with a criticism of the paper, you can argue your case—politely and respectfully—to the managing editor (be judicious, be polite)
    • keep a detailed list of all the revisions made, which reader (A, B, C) recommended → use when sending paper back to managing editor to explain what you’ve done
    • consider more experiments, major rewrite versus submitting paper elsewhere
    • bear in mind, overwhelming majority of the papers submitted through the peer review process are improved as a result of the process
  • What makes a good abstract?
    • “abstracts” key, salient features of the paper: it does not retell the paper in miniature
      • the what, why, how and so what statement of the research paper
    • What is the paper about? From what larger project does this paper arise?
    • Why is the research reported here necessary and important? So what? Why the paper addresses a significant gap in knowledge.
    • How was the research reported in the paper conducted?
    • Generally this statement is between 150-250 words
    • every word counts
    • consider vocabulary of abstract and keywords: accuracy and web searchability are key considerations (in BOTH abstract and the title of the paper)
      • you want people to find your paper
      • Cuthbert in favor of “non-poetic” paper titles – keywords, searchability over poeticism
  • examined abstracts submitted by workshop participants

“Identifying and Applying for Grants and Fellowships in the Humanities” workshop notes

Below are my notes and several handouts from a University of Nebraska-Lincoln Office of Graduate Studies-sponsored workshop I attended last week geared toward offering tips for locating and writing successful grant and fellowship applications. The workshop was led by panelists Katherine Walter (Co-Director of UNL’s Center for Digital Research in the Humanities and Professor and Chair, Digital Initiatives and Special Collections), Margaret Jacobs (Chancellor’s Professor of History, UNL), and Colin McLear (Assistant Professor of Philosophy, UNL). Each panelist began with a brief introduction of themselves and their entry into grant-writing, then the workshop progressed into discussion of specific prompt questions, and concluded with a Q & A session.

Identifying and Applying for Grants and Fellowships in the Humanities

Dr. Jacobs: applied for first grant not long after getting her first job, had small children, a 3-3 course load, no time to write at length (book chapter, article) BUT had time to write a grant proposal

  • started small & local –> great way to gain experience, build the resume, less competition than a national grant, university = eager to help one of its assistant professors with international travel for research
    • small grant won, helped build knowledge to write better applications for larger grants
    • rarely get a large grant the first time –> be persistent, rejection isn’t the end, revise, be attentive to reviewer comments, and resubmit

Dr. McLear: first grant = a Heidelberg exchange grant

  • admits he “didn’t plan very well and did everything last-minute” & learned this is not a good idea
    • e.g. Fulbright application takes about 18 months of advance planning
  • get to know people in other departments –> there may be something that comes up elsewhere that can help you with your research

Dr. Walter: first grant = not a university fellowship, was related to urban planning and based on federal guidelines

  • this grant required her to help administer smaller grants –> showed opportunities for funding in other places

Prompt question: What are some of the hallmarks of a successful grant/fellowship application?

Dr. McLear: don’t start late, plan ahead, learn to communicate with non-specialists effectively –> why is it important? make this clear in your application. what projects can you pull out of a dissertation?

  • network – especially with host institutions or persons –> can help if you are in good standing with the people behind grants/fellowships
    • can even e-mail them “out of the blue” or make contact through another party

Dr. Walter: working well in teams is crucial

  • Does your research fit the category? If you aren’t sure, call the grant specialist
  • echoes McLear’s recommendation to start as early as possible –> give yourself more time for dealing with snags (getting in touch with people you need to ask questions of, your letter writers, …)
  • pay attention to the various components of a grant too –> narrative isn’t the only important part
  • let other people read your grant
  • if rejected, read reviewer comments and reapply!
  • if get a grant, be sure you do all the required follow-up work (very often a component of federally-funded grants)

Dr. Jacobs: served on NEH panels reviewing applications

  • good applications = crystal clear in the 1st paragraph, written in non-specialist language (resist theoretical jargon) –> be straightforward
    • show that you have a realistic plan –> don’t overstate what you can do in the time given
    • how does your work engage with other scholarship? –> be humble and respectful of other scholarship, show yourself as a collaborator, give credit to the shoulders you stand on
    • demonstrate that you have the skills to accomplish the work –> reference specific examples from your c.v. in your application

Prompt question: What advice would you offer to graduate students writing their first grant proposal?

Dr. Walter: Jacobs’ suggestion to start small = good

  • also look at the UNL library website under e-resources for a section on further advice for grant/fellowship applications
  • keep in mind that often you must request reviewer comments –> do so
  • work with faculty on grants when you get the chance, suggest it –> gives you experience to propel you forward

Dr. Jacobs: “show, don’t tell” when you write –> model these things in your grant proposal

  • be sure you write impeccably
  • find ways to make yourself stand out & then quickly move into what you are doing, why your project is important
  • YOU know how important you research is, but others don’t: show the readers why your work is important – don’t just state it

Dr. McLear: know who, in your department, is/has been successful in writing grants (especially in your area, but outside too)

  • they = your most likely draft readers & they’ll know about the process
  • be prepared to revise your proposal several times
  • be aware that the norms of writing conference proposals, journal articles, dissertation proposals = very different from successful grant-writing
    • in some ways, you must learn to live & communicate in two worlds

Q & A session:

Tips for figuring out more about the audience for your proposal/application? Concerns about backgrounds of different reviewers, academics versus funders, investors, members of the business community

  • Dr. Jacobs: pay attention to their mission, language
  • Dr. Walter: federal agencies won’t tell you a lot, other than reviewers = from a lot of general disciplines
  • Dr. McLear: look at and e-mail award winners from previous years

Tips for how to choose the best letter of reference writers?

  • Dr. Jacobs: people who know you really well, dissertation advisor = really important, want the letters to be very specific, long-term relationships are important
  • Dr. McLear: people who know you and your project very well
    • give your writers a copy of your proposal so they can integrate that into their letter (+ this = a good way to show potential writers you will follow through)
  • Dr. Jacobs: agrees with McLear –> make it easy for your letter writers and it will pay off

Handout, “How to Win a Graduate Fellowship”

Handout, “Grant-Writing Tips for Graduate Students”

Handout, “Preparing Fellowship Applications”

“Healthy Habits During Dissertation Writing” workshop notes

Below are my notes and a handout from a workshop I attended yesterday morning on maintaining healthy habits while writing a dissertation. The workshop was sponsored by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Office of Graduate Studies and was hosted by licensed psychologist Dr. Scott Winrow, who did an excellent job summarizing some of the most recent research on stress management and wellness practices.

Managing Stress During the Dissertation Writing Process

  • highly recommend the book, Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: A Guide to Starting, Revising, and Finishing Your Doctoral Thesis by Joan Bolker
  • your dissertation = unsupervised work
    • avoidance is a common problem, which is why 15 minutes per day is always a good starting point
      • even on days off, 15-20 minutes of work can be good to keep your focus on your work, keep your thoughts flowing
      • scheduling = also critical –> don’t let other things eat into the time you’ve set aside for your dissertation work
  • plan out goals of different lengths
    • daily, weekly, monthly, semester goals
    • focus just on daily goals can lead to tunnel vision and/or missed bureaucratic deadlines (keep your eyes on paperwork deadlines!)
    • milestone goals = when chapters are to be finished, drafts to readers, etc.
  • consider different writing approaches
    • e.g. don’t edit when just beginning to write your dissertation –> free-write and then go back, so that you can get your ideas flowing
  • be sure you can say “no” to other people to protect your writing time
    • look for balance, set priorities –> with friends, yes, but with your advisor too
  • get your writing space set up the way you need it –> figure out what you need
    • be aware of avoidance behavior and correct it when you notice it
    • communicate your needs to your advisor (especially if you are working from home and they may not see you around as much –> make sure they are aware you are working)
  • take some breaks – after one or two hours of work AND at the end of the week
    • but don’t reward yourself if you don’t do the work
  • break away from social media if you are the type of person who needs to do so
  • keep perspective: your dissertation is not your magnus opus!
    • most people average two years or more to write their dissertation
    • be hesitant about trying to add too much as you go and/or about going back and changing things –> this can drag the writing process out (and your expenses for attending graduate school, missed job opportunities)
    • get support from peers — especially if your family and/or friends have never been to graduate school
      • writing groups can also be good –> you may need people to “call you out on your B.S.,” on your avoidance behaviors (in a healthy way)
    • maintain contact with your advisor and/or committee members –> be active in seeking out support from these people and also be aware of avoidance
      • find other mentors if you need to, if you aren’t getting what you need from your advisor
      • follow up if you don’t hear back in a reasonable amount of time –> can also be proactive by setting a timeline when send e-mails
      • keep track of your advisor’s ideas for your dissertation
        • taking notes helps clarify the changes they want you to make (and whether or not you’ve done what they want)
    • take the time to take care of yourself: you will be more productive in the long-run –> all research supports this
      • taking care of yourself is NOT competing for your time — it HELPS you
      • this includes exercise, eating well (especially breakfast –> otherwise your brain doesn’t have the glucose it needs to move things into long-term memory)
      • adequate sleep = crucial –> even 1 night of less than 6 hours of sleep impacts your brainwaves for 3 days (takes 3 full days to recover from 1 bad night)
      • plan rewards but ONLY for getting things done
    • keep in mind that it’s normal to feel inadequate, overwhelmed from time to time: “imposter syndrome”
      • “you know more than you think” so give yourself credit for it
      • these fears^ = healthy as long as you keep them in perspective
    • come see the folks at CAPS if you need help
      • about 40% of their clients = graduate students (perhaps in part because assistantships make student health insurance visits “free”)

Q & A session:

  • What if your dissertation is done but your advisor keeps getting “ideas?”
    • enlist the help of Graduate Studies in reminding your advisor (as a 3rd party) that there are time limits involved, financial burdens to you taking more time to finish your program
    • sometimes profs get used to you being here, doing things, don’t want to let you go
    • can ALSO turn drafts of your dissertation in extra early, may give them the time they need to suggest revisions in time for you to graduate on target
    • also try stopping by your advisor’s office in person, rather than e-mailing
      • try sending e-mail first thing in the morning, cc other committee members, to increase the chances that your request goes to the top of their “to-do” list

Handout, Managing Stress During the Dissertation Writing Process

Don’t be a snob: “How people use language is how language works”

The quote above is one of the central points Mary Rolf makes in her excellent Medium.com post, “Why I Stopped Being a Grammar Snob.” In the post Rolf, a self-described recovering English major and former grammar snob, discusses the major lessons she learned from a course entitled “Introduction to the English Language.” Rolf’s shift in perspective is something anyone who aspires to maintain a healthy level of behavioral self-regulation and humility can take to heart. But her arguments about the hierarchies inherent in grammar and the negative impact of grammar snobbery strike me as particularly crucial for those of us who are educators to bear in mind as we encourage our students to learn to express their ideas and arguments in writing. Below are some of the highlights from Rolf’s initial post, as well as from a follow-up post in which Rolf addresses the “grammar police” directly.

The most important thing I learned, though, was that there is no such thing as ‘standard English’ with a capital E. Instead there are many ‘englishes’ with a lower case E. There is the english of the Caribbean and the english of the southern United States and the english of Oxbridge and the english rappers use in their music.

A prescriptivist believes in the idea of standard English and sees mistakes everywhere. A descriptivist sees many englishes, and none of them are standard.

The way people speak and write is based on a lot of factors. Geography, for one. The various communities you belong to are also a big influence. Most of us belong to several communities and speak a little differently in the context of each one, whether that community is found at work, on a sports team, in a particular ethnic group, or in a religious community. We’re all fluent in more than one english, for example the language of our peer group and the language of our parents’ generation.

When you judge people for what you consider to be poor grammar, you’re judging them for not being as good as you at something that might be a challenge because they didn’t have the advantages or experience you did. Maybe they haven’t had the luxury of worrying about their grammar. Maybe their use of language is right in line with their community.

We don’t live in a grammar police state. Vigilantism clobbers the creative and communicative intention of language because it derails the conversation. And who are you to pass judgement on other people at all? Language belongs to all of us.

Language and grammar seem to be one of the few areas we still celebrate intolerance. Grammar Police, you can be so self-righteous that you’ve managed to warp grammar into a moral thing. You’re right or you’re wrong, and if you’re wrong you’re not just stupid, but also bad and the Grammar Police has license to judge you accordingly. No. This is denies the very essence of language, which is that it’s organic and continually evolving.

“Writing a thesis or dissertation,” UNL History grad student retreat workshop notes

Grad Student Retreat, Fall 2013

Notes, 8.23.2013, “Writing your thesis/dissertation”

  • starting with M.A. thesis
    • Dr. James Garza recommends beginning writing in your 3rd semester
    • defense dates come in March or early April
    • need time for revisions
    • gave his students about 3-4 weeks to write a chapter
    • some people on your committee will want the entire thesis all at once
    • don’t worry too much about the organization at first b/c you can change the organization around
    • the earlier you start the writing cycle, the better it will be
      • write a “skeleton” first chapter if you need to
      • hang your primary sources on it as you go
      • anything you write for a prospectus will eventually be part of your thesis/dissertation in some form – don’t think about it as a “throw away” writing exercise
    • remember that you’ll be preparing applications for the PhD programs too (and your professors will also have deadlines related to these)
      • M.A. thesis will be part of your application SO leave time to do corrections
    • be aware of all the technical things you have to do for your thesis
      • all the formatting is your responsibility to figure it out
    • Graduate Studies wants a copy pretty early –> doesn’t have to be finished
      • they are mostly checking the formatting
    • your M.A. thesis is also “for your future advisor”
      • it will reflect on you AND on your committee members
    • even if they aren’t all completely developed, write a few paragraphs per day
  • Dr. Carole Levin on dissertations
    • writing anxiety = something most academics suffer from (even at professional level)
      • “one of the most difficult obstacles to finishing a project”
    • she’s telling us how to write the “good enough dissertation” NOT the perfect dissertation
    • two mantras: (1) “It does not have to be great. It just has to be good.” (2) “You can always revise it for the book.”
      • you DO need to get publications out of your dissertation: either book or series of articles
      • chapters do NOT have to be ready as articles; nor does your dissertation have to be ready as a manuscript
      • dissertation = “a step, not the endgame”
    • finding a topic early in your grad career = good but it’s important not to latch onto a topic just to have a topic
      • you have to be excited about your topic, you will spend a lot of time on it
      • what are the questions you want to start digging around in?
        • think big, then narrow over time
        • think about how you can add to the scholarly conversation
    • “get a committee you can work with”
      • who will read drafts and give feedback
      • who will discuss your/their ideas with you
      • want to get the most out of your committee –> it is a multi-year committment
      • stay in contact with your committee and especially your advisor
      • don’t be avoidant even, especially if you are behind and feeling guilty about being behind
    • dissertation prospectus
      • Department requires this
      • preliminary bibliography, chapter descriptions
      • think of it as the first draft
        • you haven’t done all the research yet
        • no one ever writes exactly the dissertation they prospose
        • your committee is not going to pass/fail you on basis of this –> it will be about the dissertation
      • okay to pretend you know exactly what you’re doing but know that it will change
        • your material, as you do your research, will tell you where to go
    • recommends start writing within a semester of submitting your proposal
      • yes, research is so much fun – could do it for years
      • you won’t stop doing research, but start writing
      • often you won’t see the holes in your ideas until you start writing them down
      • if can do the dissertation by holding off then writing full-time for months at a time, okay – do what works for you
    • keep very careful notes on all of your research
      • helps get rid of anxiety come writing time
    • it’s tough, but “just start writing”
      • keep a notebook with you specifically for writing ideas that occur out of the blue, when you don’t have your computer with you
    • find a writing rhythm that works for you
      • figure out what rituals you need to write, what time of day works for you
      • if feel overwhelmed, break it into small parts
      • even if you only wrote a page a day, you’d have a dissertation in a year
      • even if can’t write an actual draft, write ideas, make outlines
      • Dr. Levin made herself write 5 pages per day on writing days
        • could stop whenever she finished writing 5 pages (early or late)
      • if get stuck in beginning, jump to another point
      • look at other people’s dissertations, get a sense at how they got started
        • good historians in your field
        • how did they set up their argument’s
    • form a dissertation support group
      • between 3-5 people
      • work out commitment of how often you will meet
      • will you read one another’s work?
      • figure out what will be most helpful for you
      • don’t necessarily have to be in your field
      • making a committment to your colleagues as well as to yourself
    • talk to your friends about your ideas
    • make appointments with your committee members
    • send an abstract to a conference
      • trying out your ideas
      • sets a deadline for getting a conference paper done
      • new people to talk with your ideas about
    • look at fellowships to support your work
      • is there a specific archive or library that you need to visit? they may well have travel grants
      • important on practical level, improves your c.v., helps with professional networking
      • Warren & Edith Day travel dissertation award = UNL award of $500
        • floating deadline
        • write proposal, letter from advisor
        • her student’s have had great success getting this award
        • means more on your c.v. than you might think, goes further than you think
      • UNL has Presidential, Fling, Dean’s fellowships
        • are incredibly competitive
        • but if you don’t try, you won’t get it
        • handful of students in our department have gotten these
      • UNL Department also has some fellowships
      • be open to applying for everything you can find
      • even the act of writing the proposal is significant – gets your ideas down
      • National Endowment for the Humanities has summer seminars with slots for graduate students
        • deadline = March 1
        • call posted in January (ish)
        • longshots, yes, but not impossible longshots
    • think about audience in your dissertation
      • don’t use competitive, combative approach to fellow scholars
      • not civil, bad habit to get into
        • and these will be people you will encounter later in your professional career
        • you want to think about your career in terms of building on work of those who came before you – not trampling it/pushing it out of the way
    • when get to 300 pages in your dissertation, think about stopping
      • if what you have yet to write is still valuable, you can return to it later
      • can put hopes of where your work can go further in future in your conclusion
      • no press wants a 600-page dissertation & you need to move forward with your doctorate
      • recommends reading Univ. of Chicago Press’s From Dissertation to Book
  • Dr. Jared Leighton
    • try out different writing strategies, be flexible
    • structure was important to him
      • certain amount of time dedicated to writing each day
      • kept track of this carefully
      • deadlines for each chapter – even if you don’t meet them, aim for them, know where you want to be at a particular time
    • “write through your process”
      • even if it doesn’t make it into the dissertation, it will be helpful
      • will give you momentum
    • keep your Grad Studies deadlines in mind or they will cause you AND your readers trouble
      • sessions for those planning to graduate held regularly
      • recommends going to these even if you aren’t graduating soon
      • construct backward calendar of your graduate goal date & deadline
      • you have to attend these once anyway before you can graduate
    • can register for 1 dissertation credit full time but only for 4 semesters
      • ONLY do this if you are confident that you can graduate in 2 years
    • leisure time is not a luxury when writing your dissertation; it’s a necessity
      • taking that leisure time will help you write, as will sleep
      • must think of these things as necessities for your writing time to be quality time
    • keep up on any new developments in your field
      • read programs of your major conferences
      • read most recent reviews in journals in your field
      • continue this process after you complete your prospectus until you are finishing
    • reading anyone you think is a good writer is a good idea
      • not just outside your field, maybe fiction too
      • best work is that which is also accessible to the general public
      • think about: who influences you as a writer?
    • dissertation bootcamps
      • can google and get idea how these are structured
      • perhaps Office of Graduate Studies needs to start doing these
      • 1-2 weeks of writing dissertations each day, usually 8:30-4:30
      • talk at end of day with fellow attendees where you are at

“Organizing your research,” HGSA Academic Workshop Notes

Below are my notes from a UNL History Graduate Students’ Association workshop I attended yesterday afternoon. The workshop, on tactics for organizing your research, included a detailed introduction to the research tool Zotero as well as a discussion of the ways Google Drive can be used to organize source material and facilitate a more seamless writing regimen.

“Organizing Your Research”

HGSA Academic Workshop, 18 January 2013

Leslie Working:

  • Zotero = quickest way to collect and organize books, archival materials, articles
    • originally a Firefox plug-in, now for all major browsers
    • Zotero plug-in and stand-alone (downloadable – lets you access your library of collected materials even when you do not have access to the internet)
      • sync with the Zotero server (which is also one more place to save your work)
    • Zotero has excellent documentation and Help forums – someone will always get back to you when you ask a question
      • has an established community of people invested in improving the tool and helping you with tech issues
  •  quick intro to Zotero for first-time users:
    • icon on search bar to instantly save an item to Zotero: can save webpages, Google Scholar docs, JSTOR pdfs & citations, more
      • sometimes, for JSTOR, the icon does not appear (tech issue folks are working on this) – workaround = go into Zotero plug-in and manually save the pdf as a new item (then have to right-click manually to save the metadata for the item, to use later to generate citations for the item)
        • ALL the instructions for this are on JSTOR
      • same problem sometimes occurs in WorldCat & ProQuest
  • Zotero great for archives with no/spotty internet access –> still able to access your secondary source material for reference to help in your research work
  • allows you to search tags AND text (from notes you put in Zotero)

Regarding Organization & Zotero:

  • allows you to think about the organization of your work while you are interacting with it
    • recommends building a folder in Zotero for items of interest to read later (things that pique your interest but that you aren’t quite sure yet how they are relevant to your research)
  • can also create groups in Zotero to collaborate on work (e.g. bibliographies, class materials)
    • these can be as open or as closed as you like
    • Leslie is working in a Western Womens History group to produce bibliographies
    • thinks it would also be great for collaborating on comps – sharing notes, having conversations, support
  • can search for groups on Zotero.org
    • very easy for classes to use and contribute to as well
  • there is a plug-in for OpenOffice, MS Word that allows you to easily and quickly import citations from Zotero in a specified citation style of your choice
    • footnotes AND can ask Zotero to create a bibliography for you
    • formatting for this comes from the text editor you are using, NOT from Zotero (so if you find yourself having difficulty with formatting, check your default settings in your text editor)

Dr. Katrina Jagodinsky

  • didn’t know about Zotero when started her dissertation so used Google Docs (which is now Google Drive)
    • benefit of being able to use Zotero offline is a big plus
    • Google Drive also accepts pdfs
  • Jagodinsky puts footnote citations for both primary & secondary sources at the top of each and every document –> pulls the citation this way
    • makes footnote citation as opposed to bibliographic citation because that’s what she wants to be able to grab quickly when writing
    • makes her own notes
      • uses for transcription of archival material too
    • tags materials as well
  • carefully document every source you look at in archival visits EVEN if you are not going to cite it directly or use it –> put in notes reason you are NOT planning to use the document/source, specifically why it is not relevant

    • this way you can state clearly everything you’ve looked through
      • especially handy for writing research reports (summaries of research finds) after an archival visit –> shows you did the work (even if had fewer relevant sources than you thought going into it) and justifying your trip and the funding you received for it
  • write down whenever you read someone who agrees with your line of thinking –> way of later justifying your line of thinking and/or analytical leaps when writing
    • your notes should not just be about things you plan to quote
  • Jagodinsky researched for a full semester (in conjunction with conferencing)
    • writing pace = 5-6 hours per day, 6 weeks for each chapter
      • split her work days as 1/2 writing + 1/2 secondary reading (helps inspire you, keeps you in the terminology of your focus, break from tedium of writing) BUT be careful not to allow yourself to become distracted by your reading –> keep the focus on writing
      • 4 weeks: would have a chapter draft of about 20-25 pages
        • wrote with a hard copy of primary sources laid out chronologically for easy reference while drafting narrative
      • on footnotes: would search her Google documents for a given subject, pulls up a list, can run through these as writing to pull the footnotes and relevant quotes
        • having to dig through books slows down the writing process
        • Jagodinsky was casual with her footnotes in her first draft (to be able to move through the writing) –> used bad writing days to go back through and formalize these
        • everyone will experience writer’s block – you MUST have some things set aside to do on these days that will still keep your productivity up and you moving forward
          • read secondary sources
          • transcribe primary sources you haven’t gotten to yet
          • fix your footnotes
          • do some outlining
        • recommends against ever using “ibid” in footnotes until your final draft
      • keep the same writing schedule so you don’t need to even think about “what am I going to do today?” –> have an ingrained habit instead
        • do NOT work 7 days a week – get out of that chair!
    • after Jagodinsky had the 4 week draft, would take about a week off, do “prepping” (cleaning up grammar and other compositional loose ends)
      • week 6: working on the next chapter while advisor looks over the draft you sent in
      • week 7: revise returned chapter, working from your notes
      • week 8: return to working on your next chapter