Here’s part III in the series How to Win at Being a Grad Student. It is a compilation of pointers from NPSIA faculty and staff regarding the dos and don’ts of grad school. You should find the advice below quite helpful. You’ll likely also find it quite candid…
An introduction to etiquette for the grad student
In class – be involved
Don’t be frightened of asking questions, about procedure or substance, inside or outside of class.
You do not necessarily have to be formal in your interactions with faculty, instructors, staff, external speakers etc., but you do need to be professional. Ask yourself if you would do something at a job interview or a networking event? If the answer is no, then don’t do it at NPSIA.
You should find NPSIA a generally informal and collegial place to study and interact with others, but it is still a place of work. Faculty are generally friendly, but that is not the same thing as being your friend.
Below is part II in a series on the dos and don’ts of grad school as per NPSIA’s professors. Earlier in the month, I asked the faculty and staff to provide some advice on how to win at being a grad student. They were very helpful. The were also very candid…
The right frame of mind
Use this as an opportunity to learn:
Everyone’s objective at NPSIA is to ensure that students learn – that they complete the program with analytical skills and knowledge of the fundamentals of international affairs. But we have certain standards that have to be met – when you graduate, your skills in the workplace will reflect on the quality of our program. Our courses are rigorous to build these skills and knowledge base, not to inflict suffering. Stop complaining and start learning. Take the program seriously. And use this as an opportunity to develop skills, such as the ability to work collaboratively.
Be ready to read-think-discuss-refine your thinking and then read some more.
When I was a student, we used to prioritize school over work. Now it seems like it’s the other way around – students fit in school when convenient and expect professors to accommodate their busy schedules. Of course, we realize that life is busy. But please, if you are working, talk to your employers about your academic obligations. Don’t always assume that your professor is the only one who can be flexible.
It’s that time of year again. Summer is almost over and classes start in just a couple of weeks. Soon, NPSIA will be greeting many new MA and PhD students. In order to help incoming students adjust to life at NPSIA, I asked the faculty to provide some advice on how to win at being a grad student. They were very helpful. The result: a blog series on the dos and don’ts of grad school as per your professors. Below is part one. It outlines the art of academic reading. Yes, there is a right way and a not-so-right way to do it and doing it right should help you better manage your workload and get the most from your courses.
Learning to Read: Words to Live By
Prepare yourself! At NPSIA, there may be a lot more reading than you are used to. These fall basically into two types. The first type, textbook reading, will be familiar to you. For this material, you are expected to read every word and remember the key concepts described in it. Detailed note-taking may be helpful. These types of readings will be in the minority but will predominate in Statistics, Methods and the core economics courses.
By Steve Saideman
The Teaching, Research and International Policy [TRIP] project at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, U.S., has been surveying scholars of international relations for over 10 years to find out what they are teaching, what they are researching, how they look at policy oriented work compared to basic research, and more.
With every new iteration of the survey, the number of countries covered has increased. Canadian IR scholars were first surveyed in 2006, and as one of the Canadian partners, I have the results from the most recent survey — conducted in 2014. Over the next few months I will be presenting some of those results here on OpenCanada and elsewhere. You can also read about the results of the latest survey here. For details about the methodology, see the TRIP website.
I want to focus here on the basic demographics of Canadian IR scholars and what they consider to be the best university programs for undergraduates interested in IR, for policy-oriented MA programs, and for aspiring PhD students.
Part four of a five-part series on the dos and don’ts of thesis writing by PhD Candidate Eric Jardine.
V. Save it for the Book
Finally, as a last point, it is important to recognize that constraints (both short run and long run) and dissertation quality interact to determine when you are likely to go to defence. This interaction is best summed up by the adage, “Save it for the book.” When I first started hearing this, I was not impressed. Books are the better version of a dissertation so why not shoot for the best work possible? After the first few times that I heard the saying, I stopped thinking about it that way. At a certain point, there are time limits on how long you should be doing a PhD. The most obvious constraint is financial. I run out of university funding in May of this year, for example, so I was pressing hard to complete everything in time to avoid paying Summer tuition. Everyone’s financial situation is different, but the point stands that there are constraints on how long you can reasonably spend on your dissertation without running up huge debts.
Part four of a five-part series on the dos and don’ts of thesis writing by PhD Candidate Eric Jardine.
IV: How to Make Friends and Write a Thesis
Dissertation writing should also be a social exercise and the process will be easier if you treat it as such. As many of my colleagues know, I like to talk about my research (especially if I can use a whiteboard to diagram my ideas). I got a tremendous amount out of these conversations. There are two general reasons why people wouldn’t talk to their colleagues. Either they think their colleagues are stupid and could not contribute to their project or they are worried about talking about their project for fear of appearing dumb because it is still a work in progress. I am going to ignore the first reason because it is just wrong. We are surrounded by very smart people who could contribute to any research project in a number of ways. The second reason is also wrong, but I understand how people could be concerned that they are somehow out of place in a PhD program. It is pretty easy to feel that everyone else belongs and that you are just faking it somehow and slipping through the cracks.
Part three of a five-part series on the dos and don’ts of thesis writing by PhD Candidate Eric Jardine.
III. Publishing: The Gift that Keeps on Giving
Another thing that helped me write my dissertation was something that you might otherwise expect to undermine the process: writing and publishing articles. Like with writing, there are a few reasons why writing and publishing articles during your dissertation is useful. First, you kind of have to if you want to get a job afterwards. Take a morning someday and look over the PhD student pages of various departments, particularly in the USA. You will find a lot of high achieving people on those websites. High achievement in academia, as we all know, is measured by the quality and quantity of your publications. These high achievers are the people that you are going to be competing against when you apply for that single tenure-track assistant professor position. If you want to stand out, you cannot simply write your dissertation. You need to publish more. Many published articles is the new baseline. You need to excel relative to this fairly rigorous baseline.
Here is part two of a five-part series on the dos and don’ts of thesis writing by PhD Candidate Eric Jardine. For Part I: The Lulls click here.
II. The Value of Putting Words on a Page
Another positive experience that I would relate involves the actual process of writing the dissertation. Both my undergraduate honours research paper supervisor and my master’s research paper supervisor were firm advocates of the “start writing and go from there” approach to crafting a lengthy project. My supervisory committee at NPSIA was the same. This approach has a lot to suggest it. First, I find that I think while I write, or at least writing is a process that forces me to think about my topic, so my ideas become clearer and the areas that need more work become plain. In some ways, I think the writing process is actually a core part of the research process itself, so believing that you will be able to complete the research and then write up your findings is not particularly realistic. Even if you are doing heavy duty quantitative research, the meaning of your findings can only be discovered through a process of careful thought; a process that writing facilitates.
Below, is part one of a five-part series on the dos and don’ts of thesis writing by PhD Candidate Eric Jardine.
Part I. The Lulls
I have now submitted the final “draft” of my dissertation, which will be sent out to my committee and my two external examiners. It has been a long haul. I have been in the PhD program at NPSIA for five years now. Since I have the next several weeks to sit on my hands and wait for my defence (should one go ahead), I decided to briefly put down my thoughts on the dissertation process, particularly how to get from a prospectus to a finished draft.
My first thought on the matter involves what I would call the milestone productivity lulls. As the name implies, these lulls in activity can happen every time you reach a milestone, and there are many in a project the size of a dissertation. For instance, a completed prospectus, a completed draft of a chapter, a finished theory section, finished fieldwork, coding and so forth are all significant milestone that, once completed, give you a sense of satisfaction that can lead to a decrease in your efforts.
Reading “Lean In” from Mozambique
I am writing this from Mozambique, where I am on sabbatical while my spouse has taken a post with the Canadian embassy. Like many women, I read Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead” with interest – compelled by both the subject and the hype that surrounded her book. I was prompted to complete this piece by the news that Sandberg will release a new version of “Lean In,” tailored to the needs of graduate students.
While reading “Lean In” from Mozambique, I was reminded of the stark contrasts of our world, and of the very different realities that face the world’s women. Mozambique has enjoyed high economic growth rates (averaging 7-8% over the last decade), but it still ranks 184 out of 187 countries on the Human Development Index – third from the bottom. Mozambique remains desperately poor: its 2012 GNP was 14.59 billion USD. In the first 9 months of 2013, Facebook’s revenue (where Sheryl Sandberg is Chief Operating Officer) was 5.2 billion USD, which places its 2013 revenue on course to be roughly half of Mozambique’s GNP.