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Informational interviewing: Getting your foot in the door before you need a job

As I wrote in a previous post, this past summer I was an intern at the Department of State in the Office of the Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary.  In addition to experiencing the State Department work culture I attended invaluable career development workshops.  I’ve summarized here the information I obtained on Informational Interviewing, a skill I used extensively to build my network while in DC.

We have all heard that networking is the key to getting a job, so we attend conferences, career fairs, and join relevant professional societies.  However one type of networking students may be less aware of is informational interviewing.  This is when you meet with “connected” or “knowledgeable” professionals in your career field of interest.  The purpose of these meetings is not to obtain a job offer but instead to gather information, advice, referrals, and support.  These interviews are different from a job interview in that you take the initiative in conducting the interview by asking the questions.

These meetings allow you the opportunity to gather valuable information about potential career fields, companies, schools or organizations that you may want to work for in the future.  It lets you discover and explore previously unknown areas in your field and potential job leads.  It may expose you to important issues in your field of interest and also allows you to enlarge your network of contacts, by building on referrals.

When arranging for an informational interview briefly introduce yourself and explain why you want to meet them.  Let them know what type of information you are interested in and clarify that you are not looking for a job.  If you were referred by someone else make sure to mention that person’s name.  Make sure to acknowledge the value of the other person’s time so ask for only 20-30 minutes of their time.  If you are going to initiate contact over the phone have a script ready so that you cover all these aspects without having to think about what to say.  If you prefer contact by email, you should include what you are currently doing, a brief background on yourself, your referral or connection, and what you are looking for from that person.

In preparing for the interview learn as much as you can about the organization and the individual with whom you will meet.  Make sure to prepare and write down the questions that you will ask.  Develop priorities for the interview so that you get the most important information from the contact that you can.  Some example questions are:

– How did you get into this line of work?

– What has been your career path?

– What skills do you need to be successful in the job/field/organization?

– What associations and professional membership organizations do you find most useful?

– Whom else should I talk with and may I use your name when I contact him/her?

When conducting the interview make sure to arrive on time and restate the purpose of your meeting.  Focus on getting answers to your most important questions and don’t forget to ask for advice, information and referrals.  Make sure to stick to the time frame that you asked for originally and do not offer a resume unless asked.  Thank the individual and ask if you may keep in touch, typically by connecting on LinkedIn.  Within 24 hours you should follow up with a thank you note.  You can then periodically keep in touch.

Informational interviewing can help you to make better, more informed career decisions, and be more knowledgeable about positions or organizations of interest.  It also gives you experience and self-confidence in discussing your career interests for job interviews.  This is also an invaluable way to make you visible and connected to the job market.  Additionally, potential contacts are much more likely to take time out of their busy schedule to meet and help you if you are a student.  Informational interviewing is the method by which 70% of people get their next job offer and allows you to develop your networking skills even when not looking for a job.

What to Do the Summer Before You Start Grad School

Starting graduate school this fall? Like most soon-to-be grad students you’re probably both excited and anxious for classes to begin. What should you do between now and the beginning of your first semester as a graduate student?

Relax

Although you may be tempted to read ahead and get an early start on your studies, you should make time to relax. You’ve spent years working to get through college and make it into graduate school. You’re about to spend more years in graduate school and face more challenges and higher expectations than you encountered in college. Avoid burnout before the semester even begins. Take time off to relax or you may find yourself fried by October.

Try Not to Work

This may not be possible for most students, but remember that is the last summer that you will be free from academic responsibilities. Graduate students work during the summer. They do research, work with their advisor, and perhaps teach summer classes. If you can, take the summer off from work. Or at least cut back on your hours. If you must work, make as much downtime as you can. Consider leaving your job, or if you plan to continue working during the school year, consider taking a vacation two to three weeks before the semester starts. Do whatever is necessary to begin the semester refreshed rather than burned out.

Read for Fun

Come fall, you’ll have little to no time to read for pleasure. When you have some time off, you’ll probably find that you don’t want to read as that’s how you’ll spend large chunks of your time.

If you are moving to attend grad school, consider moving earlier in the summer. Give yourself time to learn about your new home. Discover grocery stores, banks, places to eat, study, and where to grab coffee. Get comfortable in your new home before the whirlwind start of the semester. Something as simple as having all of your belongings stored away and being able to easily find them will reduce your stress and make it easier to start fresh.

Get to Know Your Classmates

Most incoming cohorts of graduate students have some means of getting in contact with each other, whether through an email list, Facebook group, LinkedIn group, or some other means. Take advantages of these opportunities, should they arise. Interactions with your classmates are an important part of your grad school experience. You’ll study together, collaborate on research, and eventually be professional contacts after graduation. These personal and professional relationships can last your entire career.

Clean up Your Social Profiles

If you haven’t done so prior to applying to graduate school, make some time to review your social media profiles. Are they set to Private? Do they present you in a positive, professional light? Ditch the college partying pics and posts with profanity. Clean up your Twitter profile and tweets as well. Anyone who works with you is likely to Google you. Don’t let them find material that makes them question your judgment.

Keep Your Mind Agile: Prep a Little

The key word is little. Read a few of your advisor’s papers—not everything. If you haven’t been matched with an advisor, read a bit about faculty members whose work interests you. Do not burn yourself out. Read a little simply to keep your mind active. Do not study. Also, keep an eye out for topics that interest you. Note a stimulating newspaper article or website. Don’t try to come up with a thesis, but simply note topics and ideas that intrigue you. Once the semester starts and you make contact with an advisor, you can sort through your ideas. Over the summer your goal should simply be to remain an active thinker.

Overall, consider the summer before graduate school as a time to recharge and rest. Emotionally and mentally prepare yourself for the amazing experience to come. There will be plenty of time to work and you’ll face many responsibilities and expectations once graduate school begins. Take as much time off as you can—and have fun.

5 Time Management Habits for Graduate Students

Have you ever wished there were a few extra hours in the day? Attending graduate school isn’t easy, and many students find themselves struggling to meet the difficult demands of their degree programs. Add personal and professional obligations to the mix, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. How can you get it all done? Develop these five time management habits, and you’ll be better prepared to make each day a productive one.

1. Use a planner to keep everything straight.

Whether you use an app on your smartphone or prefer the old-fashioned paper version, a planner is a useful tool for anyone who needs to organize their time. Using one allows you to see at a glance where you need to be each day, provides a visual reminder of important deadlines and events, and allows you to decide how you can best use your time to accomplish the various tasks on your to-do list. When logging things in your planner, include school assignments, professional obligations and personal tasks.

2. Be honest about how you use your time.

How often does a 10-minute task turn into a two-hour one? While anyone can underestimate the time required to do something once in a while, doing so regularly will leave you perpetually behind schedule. Be honest with yourself about how long it will take you to accomplish something. This will allow you to create an accurate picture of what you can truly get done in a day. Don’t forget to account for travel time, breaks and the occasional interruption when you work out your daily schedule.

3. Work smarter instead of harder.

Do you prefer to learn with a visual, auditory or kinesthetic approach? Think about what gets the best results for you and use that knowledge to work smarter. Are you a morning person or a night owl? As The Wall Street Journal reports, research suggests that recognizing the pattern established by your body clock, which affects both your energy level and your ability to focus, will help you identify the time when you can most effectively tackle challenging tasks. Think about when you are typically most productive and use your body’s natural rhythm to your advantage. If you’re eager to go in the morning but ready to nap after lunch, try to schedule the tasks that take priority in the morning. If your mind is fuzzy in the afternoon but clear as a bell in the evening, save the tough jobs for after dinner.

4. Don’t overcommit yourself.

There are only so many hours a day. With the demands of graduate school on your plate, you’ll need to use them wisely. Take time to clearly identify your priorities and be prepared to say no to anything that conflicts with them. Do you have trouble saying no when you’re asked to do something? It can be tough, but saying no is a life skill that comes in handy even when graduate school is just a fond memory. If you need to refuse a request, don’t make excuses because that often encourages people to try to persuade you. Instead, keep your reply simple, clear and polite.

5. Maintain a healthy lifestyle.

When people are busy, sleep is often the first thing they sacrifice. Eating healthy meals and exercising are other activities that get cut. Don’t fall into this trap. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle actually gives you the energy you need to get things done and helps keep your immune system strong so that it can fend off illnesses. It also improves focus so that you can work more effectively. When using your planner to set up your schedule for the week, be sure to include sufficient time to sleep, eat and exercise.

Cultivating good time management habits will make graduate school a much richer and more pleasant experience. As a bonus, those same habits will also serve you well when you’re ready to turn your energies toward your career.

How to Get a Recommendation Letter for Graduate School

The letter of recommendation is the part of the graduate school application that students stress most over. As with all elements of the application process, your first step is to be sure that you understand what you’re asking for. Learn about letters of recommendation early, well before it is time to apply to graduate school.

What Is a Recommendation Letter?

A letter of recommendation is a letter written on your behalf, typically from an undergrad faculty member, that recommends you as a good candidate for graduate study. All graduate admissions committees require that letters of recommendation accompany students’ applications. Most require three. How do you do about getting a letter of recommendation, specifically a good letter of recommendation?

Prep Work: Develop Relationships with Faculty

Begin thinking about letters of recommendation as soon as you think you’d like to apply to graduate school because developing the relationships that are the foundation of good letters takes time. In all honesty, the best students seek to get to know professors and get involved regardless of whether they are interested in graduate study simply because it’s a good learning experience. Also, graduates will always need recommendations for jobs, even if they don’t go to graduate school. Seek experiences that will help you develop relationships with faculty that will get you excellent letters and help you learn about your field.

Choose Faculty to Write on Your Behalf

Carefully choose your letter writers, keeping in mind that admissions committees seek letters from specific types of professionals. Learn about what qualities to look for in referees and don’t fret if you’re a nontraditional student or one who seeks entry to graduate school several years after graduating from college.

How to Ask

Ask for letters appropriately. Be respectful and remember what not to do. Your professor does not have to write you a letter, so do not demand one. Demonstrate respect for your letter writer’s time by providing him or her with plenty of advance notice. At least a month is preferable (more is better). Less than two weeks is unacceptable (and may be met with a “No”). Provide referees with the info they need to write a stellar letter, including info about the programs, your interests, and goals.

Waive Your Rights to See the Letter

Most recommendation forms include a box to check and sign to indicate whether you waive or retain your rights to see the letter. Always waive your rights. Many referees will not write a non-confidential letter. Also, admissions committees will give letters more weight when they are confidential under the assumption that faculty will be more candid when the student cannot read the letter.

It’s OK to Follow-Up

Professors are busy. There are many classes, many students, many meetings, and many letters. Check in a week or two before its due to see if the recommendation has been sent or if they need anything else from you. Follow-up but don’t make a pest out of yourself. Check with the grad program and contact the prof again if it hasn’t been received. Give referees lots of time but also check in. Be friendly and don’t nag.

Afterwards

Thank your referees. Writing a letter of recommendation takes careful thought and hard work. Show that you appreciate it with a thank you note. Also, report back to your referees. Tell them about the status of your application and definitely tell them when you are accepted to graduate school. They’ll want to know, trust me!

Tips To Do Well on Your Final Exams

Finals week is a stressful time for students, no matter how far they are in their educational journey. Properly preparing for final exams is no easy task, and the process often leaves students stressed out and sleep deprived–neither of which are optimal for student success.

While there’s no surefire way to ensure that each student will be able to ace their final exams, there are a number of effective learning strategies that will help students put their best foot forward during final exam week.

Harness Your Own Unique Way of Learning

In 1983, Howard Gardner published his now well-known theory about “Multiple Intelligences,” in which he unveiled his belief that people rely on a variety of skills in order to master difficult subjects. From there, he identified seven core “intelligences” that people use to learn. What does that mean?

“While the conventional method of lecture and note-taking works for some students, it bypasses the needs of many others,” Education.com author Cindy Donaldson writes. In difficult subjects, like math and the sciences, many students believe they’re not good at the subject–yet in reality, they may just need to harness a different way of learning in order to master the material.

In order to determine your unique style of learning, try taking this self-assessment. From there, you can develop new techniques in order to maximize your study time.

Study with Partners

Studying with a partner is a surefire way to gain new learning skills and help you to better understand complex concepts and problems. Since each person has their own unique learning style, studying with a partner may help introduce you to new ways of thinking about difficult concepts and help to balance out each other’s shortfalls in understanding. Studying with an additional person can also motivate you to work towards your study goals and avoid procrastination.

If you’re struggling to connect with your classmates or need more advanced help, there are other of course other options available. Professors and T.A.s are typically available in the weeks before finals to help you prepare, and there are professional tutoring servicesavailable to help students no matter their age or ability.

Manage Stress

With college admittance comes high academic expectations, a new level of independence, and more challenging work than most students are prepared for. It’s no surprise then that college students are more stressed out than ever before. Stress can manifest itself in a variety of ways that impact both your academic life, your physical health, and your social relationships.

It’s important that students learn how to healthily manage their stress in order to succeed academically. In order to manage that stress, students ought to be cognizant about the amount of effort they put into their work, and balance that with other important aspects of their life. Rest, socialization, exercise, and healthy eating are all aspects that are equally important to studying.

Prioritize Sleep

Scientists have gone to great lengths to prove that a good night’s sleep is an essential ingredient to healthy living. Despite this, in college campuses across the country, the all-nighter continues to be a popular study tool. Studies prove, however, that pulling all-nighters does more harm than good.

2008 study by Pamela Thatcher at St. Lawrence University found that all-nighters impair reasoning and memory for “as long as four days,”–which is hardly ideal for optimal studying. Instead, Dan Taylor of the University of North Texas suggests that students review the most challenging materials the night before their final exam and get a good night’s rest.

Alternate Your Study Location

Recent analysis by New York Times author Benedict Carey find that much about what we know regarding effective study habits is wrong, including the location in which students best learn. For instance, instead of choosing one place to study for an entire semester, alternating the room where a person studies has proven to improve retention.

In one experiment, psychologists found that college students who alternated study rooms did far better on vocabulary exams than those who studied in the same room. While studying, the brain associates location and background with material learned. Therefore, if you study the same information in two different environments, retention becomes much easier. For maximum retention of course material, it’s best that you break up study habits in multiple locations conducive to studying.

Preparing for finals is a necessary and difficult task that many students struggle with throughout their educational journey. However, with proper preparation, healthy living habits, and strategies for success, any student can find a study routine to ensure success in their final exams.

How to Keep Learning When You Have Low Motivation

We’ve all been there. You need to study, but the motivation just isn’t there. Most people would say you need to cheer up and find the reasons to study. You have to think about long term goals, and envision them. You have to understand how hard work today converts to your happiness tomorrow.

But if you tried to do this, you know it barely works. You may get the motivation you need for a couple of weeks, but once studying becomes routine again, the motivation is gone.

That’s not the only way you can go about learning, however. Here’s how you can learn with low motivation.

Sleep well

Often, students ignore sleep to study more. If you ever tried to get an A, the odds are you were cramming the whole night before an exam at least once. But that is not the best way to learn.

In fact, sleeping well increases your memory. But that’s not the main thing you should be looking for in sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, lack of sleep decreases your focus. Creativity and ability to form new neurological links suffers as well.

Since you study best when you are able to associate new information with the information you already know, having a good night’s sleep is crucial.

Diet

No, this doesn’t mean you have to try intermitted fasting again. Besides, it doesn’t even work. What this means is there are specific foods you can eat to boost your ability to study.

Omega-3 fatty acids are not the superfood many journalists want them to be. Despite this, they’re really good for you. Take foods rich with omega-3, and you will fight anxiety and improve your eye health. Salmon or sardines are a great choice for such foods.

Another food you want to eat is chocolate. There’s evidence that dark chocolate is good for cognition. Have a piece of chocolate, and you will focus more.

Have a coffee

It’s no secret that drinking coffee makes you more alert. There’s plenty of scientific evidence for it as well.

This beverage is what drives the world forward, so you should join the club if you want to study better. Make sure you don’t indulge in caffeine for too long, or you may be getting the negative side effects instead of positive ones.

Squat

You probably have seen a weirdo who leaves his chair to exercise at least once. Bad news, you have to become that weirdo.

It’s becoming a standard practice for businesses, and even HR software nowadays may include exercise breaks for employees.

The Guardian says, the benefits of exercising include better memory, and better alertness. So, if you’re not feeling like studying, all you need is just a dozen squats.

Focus on the process

The problem with long-term motivation is that you will reap what you saw in four years. You have to do the boring groundwork now. This runs contrary to the way our brains work.

There are two options for how to break this vicious cycle. You can either boost your willpower to deal with the problem or fall in love with the boring groundwork.

Learn to enjoy the process of studying, and you’ll have fewer problems with concentration.

Join a community

The easiest way to love what you study is to talk about it with someone except your teacher. Find a community of people who study the same thing, and you are half way to success.

Talk about what fascinates you about the things you learn and how you can apply them. Once the discussion starts, you’ll be very much interested in continuing the study.

If your motivation is to have fun studying, you don’t need to try and follow your long-term goals.

You don’t need long-term motivation

Long-term motivation is a rational thing. We, humans, don’t always act in a rational way. If you want to get to your long-term goals, find irrational ways to reach rational ends. These 6 are a great start.

How to Write a Perfect Essay

An expert in essay writing goes beyond inspiration to the convention of formulaic techniques and adherence to criteria in laying out the format besides having a good command of English. The correct structure helps in navigating the plethora of ideas and also makes readers identify accurate relevant information. Thus, a student when writing a perfect essay should ensure that it has a proper structure and relevant information.

What to consider before writing an essay

Choose a topic: Writers should make sure that they select relevant topics that answer questions in the correct form of argument that interests the reader. The topic does not only gives the subject of the essay but, it goes to the extent of elaborating the position that a student takes on the issue through an expression of the views about the subject in discussion.

Presentation of the relevant questions to answer: Perfect essays should present the issues that the essay answers. In most cases, essay questions come in the form of instructions that come in directive words. For example, ‘compare and contrast,’ ‘outline’ and ‘discuss’ among others.

Right format: Thirdly, authors should provide a well-thought presentation format that an essay should have. Students who aspire to present best essays should think and draft the best formats and presentations for their essays. Essays might have brilliant contents and logical structures. However, the general appearance welcomes the reader or gives the reader a wrong impression. Goods essays should have the same format throughout with same spacing, neatness, and organization among others.

Content: Student should plan well on the relevant content to include. Thus, it is important to cling on the reliable sources, quotes, and evidence to be used in organizing the whole essay to ensure that all the information is available to provide the essay is flawless.

Depth: The writers focus on depth in through initiation of thought provoking ideas or informative ideas that give new information to the readers.

How to start an essay: Tips on how to start an essay

The beginning of an essay should have an introductory paragraph that motivates and informs the reader on what the essay is about as well as hooking the reader to it.

Use of hook: the introduction of essays normally has a hook that attracts a reader. For example, “Should the state legalize marijuana?” 

Writers should also use statistic to attract the reader. For example, an essay about obesity in college can have a research-based statement such as “About three in seven college students suffer from obesity.”

Students use an anecdote to draw the attention of readers. For example, an essay on experience as a single parent would have, “Irrespective of her unemployment status, James was striving to make ends meet while taking care of his children after divorcing his wife, Jenifer.” 

Authors sometimes directly use a short thesis to start off an essay or use the argument as a revelation of a topic. For example, “The time has come to deliver the verdict on truth. Justice is not about favors but telling the truth.” Or “I have discovered the difference between real people and ill mannered people. The difference is moral. Real people are morally upright.”

A writer invites a reader through the use of the description of a setup or a place. For example, The soaking morning in Guantanamo Bay Cuba with minimal sun rays along the high walls in the ‘tenement’ yard was not a good day. The condemned cells cold beyond my imagination could not attract any numb. Every cell only allowed a distant faint light as the grill doors opened. The green saloon car appeared at the parking yard. Well, it was a goodbye for some inmates. You could read on each person’s face on the parade glued at the presence of the head cop who was reading the red file of condemned men ready to be hanged in the next day. It was the judgment day Colin my inmate friend.

How to write a perfect essay outline

Introduction: the introductory part of an essay has a hook sentence that attracts the reader followed by a thesis statement that comes at the end of the opening paragraph.

Body: The body of an essay should have at least three points on the topic expressed in different sections. The main point forms the first paragraph with three supporting pieces of evidence written in three sentences. Lastly, the paragraph ends with a transition sentence or a summary of the point. The second point forms the second paragraph of the body with three shreds of evidence supporting the second point. A transition sentence then follows to connect it with the third paragraph. Lastly, the third main point becomes the third paragraph with three pieces of evidence supporting the point in different sentences.

Conclusion: the conclusion is usually the restatement of the thesis statement and summary of the most important points within the body. However, at the very end, the student gives an insightful sentence that marks the end of the essay.

How to write a perfect thesis

When writing a thesis statement, students should consider whether an essay is analytical, expository, or argumentative among others. Therefore, a thesis should be specific. Secondly, the thesis statement should appear at the end of the first paragraph of the essay and should reflect on the ideas discussed in the body of the essay. Therefore, stronger thesis answers the question or argument and takes the position that is a challenge or opposes. Also, the thesis should be specific and passes the so what, how and why questions as well as supported by the essay.

How to write an introduction

Writing an introduction requires attention grabber especially a hook. The hook is then followed by a sentence or two that helps the reader connect to the thesis statement and at the end of the introduction, the author should write a thesis statement.

How to write body paragraph: Tips on body writing

 

  • Students should write down the main points in sentence form.
  • Next, the student should note down all the supporting evidence to the central point in separate sentences.
  • Provide more notes on the point elaborating specifically or explaining the main arguments or discussion.
  • Include a summary for each paragraph.
  • Write down transition sentences for each paragraph to ensure coherency.

 

How to finish an essay: Tips on conclusion writing

  • When concluding an essay, students should provide a brief synthesize but not summarize the main points and ideas of the essay
  • The student should answer the “So what?” question and elaborate the importance of the essay.
  • The author should provide direction or redirect the reader especially becoming distinct from general if the essay was specific to general.
  • The author should challenge the reader by providing an informed conclusion or posing a question.
  • The writer can as well suggest results or consequence at the conclusion.

Tips on revision

Perfect essays need to go through review before handing it over to the instructor.

  • The best way to revise an essay is to read the draft aloud twice and correct the mistakes.
  • Secondly, give a friend to go through it and identify specific errors and provide clarity on the content, error and any other comments regarding the essay.
  • Also, it would be useful to use a spell-check, grammar check and editing techniques before presenting the work.
  • Besides, it is important to keep a simple format with recommended spacing, the correct fonts and any other instructions regarding formatting that are elaborated in the instruction.

Perfect essay example: National Honor Society

The NHS aims to honor exceptional performance among the high school students as well as distinguishing various students who have greater achievement in the fields of character, scholarship, leadership, and service. Currently, the NHS has more than 1000 chapters aimed at stimulating the need for offering services. Also, the develop enthusiasm for scholarship and establishment of good leadership characters among high school students. The head of NHS is Dr. Edward Rynearson. I am grateful to be among the students who are considered for the NHS and has contributed immensely to the development of my career. Thus, I feel obliged to be part of the greater society and ready to play a role in leadership and change in all my endeavors that bring about positivity at large.

Joining NHS has not been a walk in the park. NHS has well-established rules and standards for selecting candidates who wish to join it. The NHS normally has an informal meeting where all the qualified candidates complete all the Student Activity Information Form from the National Organization. A student has to score A grade of 93 on weighted average apart from giving information regarding the need for scholarship, character, service, and leadership. Besides, the selected students should demonstrate high levels of discipline, service, ability to lead, talents to be used for improvement in the society and honor.

First and foremost, I am ready to use my powers to help others improve their abilities. Currently, I am striving to prove myself worth and become a good example as well mentor to students who need help, especially in high school. My leadership in school has played a bigger role in my family and my life. Specifically, my siblings are looking into all my daily undertaking and borrow a leaf from every aspect of life a get involved. At the moment I chair numerous youth groups including lock-ins, variety shows, church choirs and debating clubs. I have a firm belief that such leadership aspects mold my skills of inclusivity as well as making me developing the best ways of dealing with different people in the society.

Secondly, my colleagues enjoy my company because I am a good role model. I continue to engage in various activities that NHS offers have been of great importance especially in developing my intuition, communication skills as well as counseling. Consequently, I hold numerous discussions with my colleagues on skill development, career choices as well as best ways of spending leisure times.

In a nutshell, NHS is essential for the development of an individual and the society as a whole. Also, the various activities that students engage in shape the mind of a person to face the life in the form of leadership, assisting people as well as in the making right decisions hence it is a way of ensuring that student develops in all aspects besides their career.

Tackling Revisions

Laptop. Cloud computing user interface and mobile app on laptop, smart phone and tablet

It’s no secret that we here at GradHacker headquarters love to talk about the writing process. In the past month or so alone we’ve offered tips for getting started on a big writing project and increasing productivityand took a deep dive into the writing routines of five grad students across disciplines. We’ve seemingly covered it all: the goodthe bad, and the ugly (special shoutout to Megan for her recent and very thorough series on dissertation writing!).

Our attention to the writing process is perhaps not surprising: it’s a cornerstone of every graduate student’s experience. But while our coverage about the writing process has been more than extensive, fewer of our “hacks” have been devoted to the nerve-wracking and often time-consuming process of revision.

I’ve been thinking a lot about revision lately. For one thing, the expository writing classes I teach require an extensive revision component that asks students to respond to feedback I provide both in written commentsand individual conferences. In class, we discuss the difference between superficial editing or proofreading and in-depth revising. Revision has also been top of mind when it comes to my own work. With my dissertation now firmly signed, sealed, delivered (and embargoed!) and my post-defense slump (somewhat less firmly) behind me, I’ve found myself facing down the daunting process of starting to revise parts of my dissertation for my first book project.

I’m no expert on revising a dissertation into a book, though the internet and other resources have been illuminating about what that process entails. (Got tips? Send ‘em my way!) And while not all revision processes are the same, I have, to date, tackled a fair number of “revise and resubmits” for journal articles as well as extensive revisions for my own dissertation chapters. Along the way, I’ve honed the following “tried and true” revision strategies  ― ones that I often pass along to my students and want to share here, too!

Cut The Intro
A common piece of advice, especially within the creative writing realms, is something like “cut the first paragraph” or cut the first line. I’ve adapted this idea almost as dogma when I’ve been faced with a “revise and resubmit” and now that I’m going all Edward Scissorhands on my dissertation (don’t worry, it’s glorious). Invariably, the introduction in my first draft is too long and rambling and either doesn’t clearly articulate my claim or fails to offer any coherent sense of thesis or stakes at all (second shout-out to all the extremely patient reviewers of my article drafts! Yes, even the Reviewer 2s.)

I’m a writer who needs to do the intro first; I have a hard time writing out of order, though I know I would likely be wise to write the intro last. In doing so, I tend to favor story over argument. I admit, a bit shamefully, that I’m a fan of the anecdote; I find it to be a useful way in. It’s fun, it gets me excited, and, perhaps most importantly, it’s a start. It doesn’t, however, always make for the most useful introduction and often leads me to bury the point. Indeed, the most significant and successful revisions I’ve done have involved completely reworking or rewriting the intro to be more focused and to better reflect the paper’s argument. Of course, it’s much easier to rework the second (or third or eighth) time around, once you know not only where the argument is going but where it ends up. Revising the intro is also one of the biggest pieces of advice I give my students, who often write excellent thesis statements that wind up in the conclusion or buried elsewhere in the body paragraphs. And what kind of teacher would I be if I didn’t always take my own advice?

Game Plan
While cutting the intro is often my first go-to revision and typically affords me a stronger sense of direction for the rest of the essay or chapter, I find the mammoth task of revising body paragraphs and arguments more unnerving. In my experience, significant argument revision is daunting at best and paralyzing at worst. I open a document and absolute dread ensues: “Where do I even start?” This is especially true if I’m trying to respond not just to my own sense of the project but to another reviewer’s or professor’s comments.

Over at Chronicle Vitae, Teresa McPhil has a great series on revising and resubmitting. More recently, Cathy Davidson wrote about her own tips for addressing R & Rs on Inside Higher Ed. Advice abounds on how torespond to peer reviews. And while Davidson and McPhil disagree on some small points, both offer advice that I want to echo here: game plan.

Before you do anything, make a list/flow chart and timetable for your revision. Figure out which revisions you want to tackle first; number them. I typically prefer to do the “small-scale” revisions first, delving into things like proofreading and sentence-level style before moving on to larger scale/big-picture revisions, if only because the small-scale stuff tends to feel less intimidating and, again, offers a way in. I circle back to it later, of course, but there’s something about just getting into the revision weeds that I find both comforting and encouraging. I can do this, one small step at a time. Most important, however, is to make a definitive revision plan and stick to it. If you go in aimless, you might never find your way out. If you veer off course, you might end up doing more harm than good or forget what it is you need to address. Worse yet, you might neglect the work altogether (procrastination: it’s fun and easy!).

Keep the Scraps
There’s always that one dissertation chapter. You know the one: the outlier that, try as you might, just won’t sit right. If you haven’t begun the dissertation process, then trust me when I say, you’ll have that one chapter ― I can almost guarantee it. For me, it was Chapter 3. From the prospectus on, I knew it was going to be ‘that chapter’ and the drafting process proved me right. While I had a fairly good handle on the rest of my chapters and their contributions to my overall argument, I could not, for the life of me, figure out how to make the third chapter work. My advisor agreed.

I ended up deciding to move on and write the next chapter. I’m glad I did. Not only did the time away from Chapter 3 afford me the necessary perspective to figure out what was going wrong (more on that in a minute) but it helped me crystallize what I was trying to argue in the larger “story arc” of my dissertation. It led to an eventual breakthrough, but one that meant I had, in essence, to scrap almost the entirety of the third chapter and start again with the exception of a few paragraphs. It was a crushing but ultimately worthwhile decision.

When I conferred with my advisor about the new and better direction for the chapter, she gave me an excellent piece of revision advice: “There’s no such thing as wasted writing.” She was right for several reasons. First, drafting is an important and necessary step in clarifying your thinking. Second, as she pointed out, you never know when that early writing might come in handy. Is it the seed of another article, essay, or project? A self-contained conference paper? Will you want to return to it later? Does it actually fit a different section of the project? Following my advisor’s recommendation, I’ve made a habit of starting “dummy” documents when I revise. Any piece of the argument that’s not working or that I need to cut, I copy and paste to a different document and put it in its own folder. I don’t delete it. DO NOT DELETE YOUR EARLY WORK. Save it for a rainy day. I now have scores of half-baked thoughts and/or discarded ideas that I can develop or return later, if I want ― ideas I like but that either need more work or don’t suit a particular project. If nothing else, I sometimes think it would be hilarious, enjoyable, and really illuminating to start a blog full of my and others’ decontextualized “scrap” writings from intros to body paragraphs. Who wants in?

Defamiliarize Your Work
The last and best strategy I can offer for revision is likely not new, but it’s this: find a way to defamiliarize your work, whether it’s writing and revising in different fonts or simply walking away for a little bit or starting a new project and coming back with fresh eyes. I speak from experience: you cannot start revising immediately after you have finished writing; you’re too close to the project. You won’t catch mistakes and you won’t always be able to discern what’s working well and not. No meaningful revisions come immediately.

There are many ways to “defamiliarize” your own work (and I hope others will weigh in below), but here are ones that have either worked well for me or that have landed with my students:

1) Use the “Read Aloud” Feature: I may be incredibly late to the party on this one (revision parties are a thing, yes?), but I recently discovered Word’s “Read Aloud” feature and it has been a game-changer. I’ve long been in the habit of reading my own work aloud and suggesting to my students that they do so, but it’s never been especially effective for catching typos or weird-sounding sentences because my eyes inevitably see what they want to see. Hearing the work in someone else’s voice, though, has really helped me catch things that I couldn’t even after multiple rounds of proofreading and revision. It can be a bit slow, especially for a long project, so perhaps making a habit of it as you go along is a smart approach.

2) Reverse Outline​: This was a go-to strategy that I employed in my tutoring days and one I always teach my classes, but outlining the main points of the body paragraphs in revision and then visually being able to see the progression of the argument can be incredibly useful for addressing big-picture issues like structure and organization as well as fine-tuning topic sentences and transitions.

3) Cut-Ups: ​One of the most successful revision meetings I’ve ever had with a student involved us tearing her paper into paragraphs and playing around with them until we figured out the most effective order. I’ve now made it a practice of doing in-class “cut-up” activities for things like paragraph and sentence organization; it’s an instant, hands-on act of writing and revision. It’s useful because it literally forces you to decontextualize the work and see each piece of the argument on its own in order to figure out where it would be most effective.

And remember, if all else fails: steel yourself for revision with an exceedingly generous amount of coffee or something harder. It hasn’t let me down yet.

What are your best revision strategies? Tell us in the comments below!

Hate Graduate School? Avoid These Common Mistakes Students Make

Do you often find yourself saying “I hate grad school” or simply frustrated with the increased workload that comes with it? Given the competitive nature of graduate school admissions, grad students tend to be excellent students, but hours of study over complex subject matter and good grades don’t guarantee success in graduate school. In order to fully value and understand the education, you’re receiving you need to avoid these eight common pitfalls of graduate students that wind up making them hate the program.

Thinking Like an Undergraduate

Undergraduates take classes while graduate students immerse themselves in a discipline. Undergrads’ work ends when class ends, they turn in papers and leave campus. A graduate students’ work, on the other hand, is never completed. After class they do research, meet with faculty, in a lab, and interact with other students and faculty. Successful graduate students understand the difference between college and graduate school and treat their education like a job.

It would be easy to get bogged down in the ho-hum of yet another four years of “studying” if you forget this little detail: you are in graduate medical school because you love medicine and want to pursue a career in it. Treat graduate school, instead of another 1,000 hours of studying, as your first days of being in your chosen profession. Hopefully, that will bring the joy and passion back to your work and studies.

Focusing on Grades

Undergraduates worry about grades and as a result, often approach their professors to ask for a higher grade through either extra work or a redo on previous assignments. In grad school grades are not that important. Funding is usually linked with grades but poor grades are very uncommon. C’s generally are uncommon. In graduate school, the emphasis is not on the grade but on the learning.

This frees up students to actually be able to delve into their chosen fields of medicine instead of focusing on instant recall of data or studying for tests. As a doctor, a graduate of medical school will need to have long-term retention of the information garnered during the program. By focusing on the application of information and repeatedly doing so, students in grad school truly learn their craft and instead of getting bogged down on whether or not they’re passing, begin to enjoy the concept of working professionally.

Failllg to Plan Ahead

Effective graduate students are detail oriented and juggle many tasks. They must prepare for multiple classes, write papers, take exams, conduct research and perhaps even teach classes. It’s no surprise that good graduate students are good at identifying what needs to be done and prioritizing. However, the best graduate students keep an eye on the future. Focusing on the here and now is important but good students think ahead, beyond the semester and even year. Failing to plan ahead can make your graduate school experience much harder and worse yet could even adversely affect your career.

As a graduate student, you should begin thinking about comprehensive exams well before it’s time to study and tossing around dissertation ideas early in graduate school so you can seek feedback and develop your thesis well in advance. Considering career alternatives and determining what experiences you need to get the jobs you desire is imperative to your success as a doctor. For example, those who want jobs as professors will need to obtain research experience, learn how to write grants and publish their research in the best journals that they can. Graduate students who think only about the present may miss out on the experiences that they need and may be ill-prepared for the future they envisioned. Don’t wind up hating graduate school because you didn’t prepare ahead of time.

Being Unaware of Department Politics

Undergraduate students are often shielded from academic politics and are unaware of the power dynamics within a department or university. Success in graduate school requires that students become aware of departmental politics, especially because professors and students alike oftentimes continue to work together professionally after graduation.

In every university department, there are some faculty members with more power than others. Power can take many forms: grant money, coveted classes, administrative positions and more. Moreover, interpersonal dynamics influence departmental decisions and student’s lives. Faculty who dislike each other, for example, may refuse to sit on the same committee. Even worse, they may refuse to agree on suggestions for revising a students’ dissertation. Successful graduate students are aware that part of their success relies on navigating nonacademic interpersonal issues.

Not Fostering Relationships With Faculty

Many graduate students mistakenly think that graduate school is only about classes, research, and academic experiences. Unfortunately, this is incorrect as it is also about relationships. The connections students make with faculty and other students form the base for a lifetime of professional relationships. Most students recognize the importance of professors in shaping their careers. Graduate students will look to professors for recommendation letters, advice and job leads throughout their careers. Every job that a graduate degree holder might seek requires several letters of recommendation and/or references.

In order to have a better graduate school experience and in turn a more rewarding professional career, it is imperative that graduate students seek the advice and camaraderie of their professors. After all, these same professors are soon to be their contemporaries in the field.

Ignoring Peers

It’s not just faculty who matter. Successful graduate students also foster relationships with other students. Students help each other by providing advice, tips and acting as a sounding board for one another’s dissertation ideas. Graduate student friends, of course, are also sources of support and camaraderie. After graduation, student friends become sources of job leads and other valuable resources. The more time that passes after graduation the more valuable those friendships become.

Not only that but making friends in school is one of the biggest benefits of joining a program. This is especially true of medical school where, at the very least, you all share one common interest: a love of medicine. It’s easy to hate school when you have no friends to commiserate with over the trials and tribulations of becoming a doctor. Making friends will help ease the stress during your schooling and go on to be greatly beneficial when you start your residency program afterward.

Not Putting in Face Time

Completing class work and research is a big contributor to success in graduate school, but the intangible elements of your education also matter. Successful graduate students put in face time. They are around and visible in their department. The don’t leave when classes and other obligations are over. They spend time in the department. They are seen.

This is imperative to garnering those all-important letters of recommendation as well as receiving notoriety by not only your professors but your peers. Oftentimes graduates who do not spend enough time making these appearances find themselves lacking in the feeling of accomplishments those who do spend enough time within the department do. This is because those students don’t receive as much recognition for their work and dedication. If you’re having a bad time at graduate school and don’t feel that your professors are respecting your effort, perhaps making more face time with your peers will remedy this common problem.

Forgetting to Have Fun

Graduate school is a lengthy endeavor, filled with stress and countless hours spent studying, researching and cultivating professional skills. Although as a student you will have a great many responsibilities it is important to take the time to have fun. You don’t want to graduate and later realized that you have missed out on some of the coolest opportunities to enjoy yourself. The most successful graduate students are healthy and well-rounded because they make time for and cultivate a life.

If you find yourself midway through graduate school and hating every minute of it, maybe the perfect solution is to step away from it all for an evening (or a weekend) and remind yourself of your youth and excitement by going out with your colleagues, exploring some of the school’s organized activities or simply taking in the city where you’re studying. A few hours or days away from work could be just the refresher you need to remind yourself why you chose the medical field in the first place. That way, you can get back to learning and enjoying your field of study.

Public speaking and graduate school

Many of us have heard that public speaking ranks among the most feared situations. It is even said that many people fear public speaking more than death. If this is something that rings true for you, you are not alone. Unfortunately, graduate school often requires a fair amount of public speaking and presentations — especially for those of us interested in pursuing careers in academia. Public speaking can come in many forms: class presentations, colloquia, conference presentations, teaching, research proposals and defenses, and so forth.

The Good News

Although most of us may not possess the natural ability to comfortably and eloquently speak to an audience, like many other skills, public speaking can be practiced and improved. In fact, many talented public speakers readily admit that they were not experts in the beginning, but that they worked hard to hone their skill over time (e.g., Johnny Carson, Winston Churchill).

Here are some tips for coping with and conquering your public speaking angst.

Before Your Presentation
  • Practice, practice, practice. Practicing can be done in different ways. Personally, I have found the most effective method of practice is to stand up and speak out loud. This works much better than practicing while sitting down and just mentally rehearsing the words. Often, words that look good in writing can sound awkward when spoken. Hearing yourself talk through a presentation may help you identify awkward areas or areas where your audience may have difficulty following your ideas. It can also be helpful to record yourself (preferably on video) and give yourself constructive feedback. Note areas where you fumble or give too much (or too little) information and focus your energy on improving those points. After a few rounds of practice with your note cards, try putting them down; this can give you an opportunity to find areas of your talk that need more practice. Finally, if at all possible, it can be helpful to practice in the same room in which you will be presenting. If this is not possible, try to see the room so you may visualize what it will be like.
  • Get constructive feedback. Find supportive people — partners, friends, lab mates, advisers — to lend an ear. Although practicing in front of familiar people can be more anxiety-inducing than speaking in front of strangers, doing so can elicit extremely helpful feedback. Additionally, these practice opportunities can help to reduce your anxiety by exposing you to your feared situation. When practicing in front of others, it can be tempting to allow yourself a few “do-overs” or “restarts,” but it is most helpful to treat the experience as if it was your actual presentation, with no option to start over if you make a mistake.
  • Don’t overlook transitions. Transitions from one point to the next or from one slide to the next are often overlooked and un-practiced. As a result, transitions can come across as awkward or distract your audience. After the content of your slides is set, spend time and energy practicing how you will transition from one topic or slide to the next.
  • Pay attention to other speakers and presenters. Attend research talks, dissertation proposals, listen to class presentations or watch TED talks. Notice things that presenters do that you like (or do not like) and implement these elements into your own presentation style. Also, pay attention to the audience. When a presenter stumbles over a word, notice how the audience reacts. Do they seem to notice or care? Probably not. Remember this applies when you are presenting, too.
  • Timing. Presentations and talks almost always have time limits. When practicing, be sure to pay attention to timing and make sure you can keep your talk within the allotted time (without speaking too quickly). Before presenting, you should have a pretty good sense how long your talk will take and feel confident that you will not go over time. One thing you may find helpful is using the “record timings” function in PowerPoint. This function lets you know how much time was spent on each slide during your practice. If you notice that you spent significantly more time on a particular slide, this may be an area of your talk to fine-tune. To stay within your time limit, you may also need to reduce the amount of content of your talk, keeping only the essential information.
  • Think simple — particularly when preparing your visual aids. Visual aids should be just that — aids. Your slides should not have everything you want to say on them and should not be read verbatim to your audience. Some ways to help accomplish these goals would be to keep your text large and written in colors that are easily seen (e.g., dark text on a light background) and to use bullet points instead of full sentences. For more advice on building strong visual presentations, see “Presenting your research effectively”from last month’s Psychological Science Agenda.
  • Remember a few helpful things. There are a number of reassuring thoughts that you can remind yourself of to help you cope with the anxiety of an upcoming presentation. For example, you can remember that “this too shall pass” or that “it will be over in X minutes.” You might also remind yourself that most people will not be able to tell how anxious or nervous you are — it is going to be most apparent to you. It can also be helpful to remember that, in many cases, you likely know more about the topic than most members of your audience. More often than not, your audience wants to hear what you have to say and learn about your topic. Many speakers have at least one or two things they try to focus on before their presentations. Find something that works for you and make it a point to say it to yourself whenever you start feeling a little anxious.
  • Let go of unrealistic expectations. We are all human and we all make mistakes. If you mess up, it is OK. Striving for absolute perfection will often lead to higher levels of anxiety and increase your chances of feeling disappointment.
During Your Presentation
  • Channel a speaker you like or admire. In other words, try to emulate a speaker whose style you like by speaking “as if” you were that person.
  • Look for at least one person in the audience who is nodding his or her head. This can be your nod of reassurance.
  • Remember to breathe. Breathing not only helps you slow down, but also helps calm those physical aspects of anxiety (e.g., heart rate). It may even be helpful to add the word “breathe!” into your speech notes.
  • Never underestimate the power of a smile.
After Your Presentation
  • If the question and answer segment of your presentation is what you are most worried about, remember that most questions are not meant to trick or stump you. Rather, questions often stem from curiosity and are an indication that your audience is engaged with your presentation. Questions can also be helpful in leading to collaborations and future research ideas. However, for the instances in which you may face a tough audience, you may find this gradPSYCH article helpful:”How to handle a tough audience.”

In addition to these tips, there are many resources for dealing with fears of public speaking and information on how to hone your public speaking skills. For example, Feldman and Silvia recently published “Public Speaking for Psychologists: A Lighthearted Guide to Research Presentations, Job Talks, and Other Opportunities to Embarrass Yourself.” This book may be particularly helpful for graduate students and early career psychologists.

Remember that effective public speaking is a skill that anyone can work to develop. We hope that you find some of these tips helpful as you work toward honing your public speaking skills.