Friday, September 1, 2017

Announcing Our Fall Programs

Adams Hall, home of the Graduate School
and the Thesis and Dissertation Office.
Welcome to fall 2017!  In September and October the Thesis Office will once again offer brown bag sessions, presentations, and workshops for NIU grad students at various stages of the thesis or dissertation process. Some brown bag sessions are also open to faculty, and one is geared for faculty and staff.  We look forward to seeing you!

Basics
Brown bags will start in the second week of September and meet Wednesdays from 12 to 1 p.m. in Adams Hall, Room 103.  Presentations and workshops will start in the last week of September, and most will will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. in the same Adams Hall location on a Monday, Tuesday, or Thursday.  Note that two presentations meet at different times, locations, and/or days.  For details on each program, see below.  

Registration
No registration required for brown bags.  Registration is required for a presentation or workshop.  Register via email at thesis@niu.edu.  Include the name of the presentation or workshop you want to attend in the subject line or message.  We do have space limitations for events in Adams 103 (12 seats maximum).  Register early!

What to Expect
Plenty of important information regarding completion of your graduate degree.  After running these programs over several semesters, we’ve learned that most students who attend presentations and workshops are blown away by how much they didn’t fully know about meeting various deadlines, submitting the proper paperwork to the proper place, or formatting the long document.  At all our events, expect thorough coverage of common concerns as well as time to address individual questions.

Brown Bag Sessions 
Breaking Through Writer’s Block (and Other Obstacles)
Wednesday, September 13 (12 to 1 p.m. in Adams Hall, Room 103)
Informal discussion on common obstacles that slow or entirely halt progress on one’s thesis or dissertation.  Carolyn Law, Thesis/Dissertation Advisor, will facilitate the discussion and offer practical strategies.  Students only, please.

Committee Relations
Wednesday, September 20 (12 to 1 p.m. in Adams Hall, Room 103)
Informal discussion on choosing committee members, creating productive working relationships with them, maintaining good communications, and managing feedback throughout the process.  Graduate School policies regarding committees will be reviewed.  Faculty and students welcome.

Robyn Byrd leading a brown bag discussion
in Adams 103.
Writing the Proposal
Wednesday, September 27 (12 to 1 p.m. in Adams Hall,
Room 103)
Discussion will address typical characteristics of any strong thesis or dissertation proposal (sometimes called a prospectus) as well as aspects unique to proposals in various disciplines.  Faculty and students welcome.

The Balancing Act: A Life in Grad School
Wednesday, October 4 (12 to 1 p.m. in Adams Hall,
Room 103)
Informal discussion on the complexities of managing life as a graduate student, balancing family responsibilities, personal health, outside work, and the pressures of a dissertation or thesis.  Session will be facilitated by Thesis Office GA Robyn Byrd, doctoral candidate and mother of two.  Students only, please.

Faculty Q & A
Wednesday, October 11 (12 to 1 p.m. in Adams Hall, Room 103)
(Grad students, you might want to bring this one to the attention of your director or other faculty members in your department.)  Carolyn Law, Thesis/Dissertation Advisor, will introduce the functions and services of the Thesis Office and answer questions about Graduate School requirements and standards for theses and dissertations.  Faculty who are directing a thesis or dissertation at NIU for the first time are especially encouraged to attend, but all faculty and staff are welcome.

Presentations
Carolyn Law presenting on the submission process in Wirtz Hall.
Demystifying the Submission Process
Tuesday, September 26 (5 to 7 p.m. in Wirtz Hall, Room 104)
This presentation is for students preparing to submit a thesis or dissertation to the Graduate School for December 2017 graduation.  Carolyn Law, Thesis/Dissertation Advisor, will walk students through the steps of the process: defense, electronic submission, and final approval.

Dissertation Essentials
Monday, October 2 (2 to 4 p.m. in Adams Hall, Room 103)
Designed for all doctoral students enrolled in 799 in any department.  Staff will walk students through the Graduate School’s specific requirements for dissertations and cover a wide range of the most troublesome issues dissertation writers frequently encounter.

Thesis Essentials
Tuesday, October 3 (2 to 4 p.m. in Adams Hall, Room 103)
Designed for all master’s students enrolled in 699 in any department.  Staff will walk students through the Graduate School’s specific requirements for theses and cover a wide range of the most troublesome issues thesis writers frequently encounter.

Writing a Thesis in Engineering
Thursday, October 5 (2 to 4 p.m. in Adams Hall, Room 103)
Designed specifically for thesis writers enrolled in thesis-credit hours in the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology.  Staff will walk students through the Graduate School’s specific requirements for theses and cover a range of issues that students in engineering fields often find troublesome.

NIU Naperville, venue for Writing a Dissertation in Education.
Writing a Dissertation in Education
Saturday, October 14 (9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at NIU Naperville, Room 119)
This one-day program at NIU Naperville is designed specifically for dissertation writers enrolled in 799 in the College of Education.  Staff will walk students through the Graduate School’s specific requirements for dissertations and cover a wide range of the most troublesome issues dissertation writers in education frequently encounter.

Workshops
Tables/Figures/Pagination
Tuesday, October 10 (2 to 4 p.m. in Adams Hall, Room 103)
This hands-on workshop is designed to help writers comply with the Graduate School’s requirements for tables, figures, and pagination.  Students should bring their work in progress on their own laptops.  Staff will cover the specific format requirements, demonstrate helpful techniques and short-cuts in Microsoft Word, and allow generous time for individual troubleshooting and one-on-one consultation.

ASME Documentation
Thursday, October 12 (2 to 4 p.m. in Adams Hall, Room 103)
This hand-on workshop will teach the documentation style of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, known as ASME journal style.  Using real-word examples, students will apply the principles in real time to their own writing.  ASME journal style is ideal for research documentation in all departments of the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology.


Friday, August 18, 2017

Professional Development for NIU Grad Students


It's a buzz-phrase you might see a lot in department emails, on university and corporate websites... and The Graduate School at NIU is no exception.  They are riding that "Professional Development" train!

I want to talk about some ways to professionalize yourself, i.e. gain work experience, while you're here -- some of these opportunities are through the Graduate School, and some are within your own department. (In all likelihood, your department is riding that train too.)

Graduate School Programs and Resources

So many programs!
The Graduate School at NIU has recently increased their offerings for professional development programs, including mentorships, workshops for teaching assistants, internship opportunities, and assistance with developing a teaching portfolio. Their goal was to centralize your professional development experience by using Grad School tools to track progress and find resources. Their redesigned home page has a "Professional Development" drop-down menu, under which you can find links to workshops and programs. Here are a couple important ones you should look into:

Individual Development Plan
An individual development plan can address your specific goals for graduate study. For those studying in healthcare, an IDP is mandatory.  But anyone can create one! The plans helps you bring together all your own programs, workshops, and degree progress, to get a sense of what your strengths are and what else you need to do before you leave us. Attend a workshop to see if an IDP is right for you.

Future Professoriate Program
According to the Grad School:

"The Future Professoriate Program was designed for two purposes:
  1. To recognize the efforts of doctoral students who prepared to enter the professoriate.
  2. To supplement on-going training and mentoring efforts."
Doctoral students with any kind of assitantship are eligible. You must attend workshops and work with a teaching mentor, and the program earns you a Certificate in College Teaching. The program provides excellent support for teachers in training, especially for those whose departments might not be as involved with their TAs. (You likely won't find a long-term teaching mentor in the department! Why not sign up for one who is dedicated to you?)

Workshops
Numerous workshops are going on at the Grad School, every week. Learn about ethical research, how to work with a mentor, how to do lunch with professionals, and even how the heck to write a dissertation. Some workshops are formal while others are discussion based. There is even a suite of research workshops that will grant you a certificate in Research Integrity. (And some of them offer free pizza. Always a necessity.)

Thesis and Dissertation Support
The Thesis and Dissertation Office (that's us!) should be your go-to for thesis and dissertation support. While we may refer you to an admin or to someone in your department, we know who gets what done. And we are staffed by graduate students who are currently writing dissertations!  We offer a unique peer perspective that administrators cannot, when it comes to everything from cutting through red tape, getting the writing done, and navigating the thesis/life balance. What's that got to do with professionalization? We are the last stop on the way to your degree, and we are the ones who will help you produce that final document, and make it look awesome.

Departmental Development Programs

While the Grad School has a noble goal (and a sound program) for devloping NIU's future innovators and teachers, don't forget that specialized career development is important too. What does professional development for a graduate student look like within the department? Well, it has to be cobbled together dependent on availability of opportunities, and on department resources. It can range from being a humble participant, to being in charge of something bigger than yourself.

For me it looked like this:

  • Attending and presenting at conferences on literature (my subject), and on pedagogy.
  • Attending and presenting at my department's "First Fridays," where we shared lesson plans and classroom ideas.
  • Co-Chairing (organizing, planning, choosing presenters) MCLLM 2014, the NIU English department's annual international conference.
  • Being a GA "junior" committee member running the 2014 International Virginia Wolf conference.
  • Mentoring new TAs.
  • Producing artwork and graphics for conference literature and department book covers.
  • Serving two years on the First-Year Composition Committee and the assessment sub-committee.
  • Editing and publishing two editions of Y1 Writes: A Journal of First-Year Composition Essays  (after being editorial staff for a year prior)
  • Teaching, teaching, teaching! (Here as a TA, elsewhere as an adjunct, doing summer camps...)
This list may seem Herculean, but I've been here six years. You can see that much of my professionalization happened within my department. However, the activities I did were quite varied in nature: publishing, assessing (the behind the scenes of university outcomes, metrics, etc!), creative services, and more. And of course, teaching. You should absolutely teach or run a lab, if that's at all possible for your GA duties. The best way to make sure you know how to do something is to teach someone else how to do it. 

A final note: 

MA students: The Graduate School's programs are well-supported and goal-oriented. If you only have two years here, lean on the Grad School for your professionalization, and dabble in the department. Your career goals are likely non-university, and being professionalized is probably more important to get to within those two years! 

PhD students: If you are doing a dissertation, you have plenty of time here (trust me... you have plenty of time). Look into what Grad School professionalization programs work best for you -- especially the Future Professoriate Program --  but lean on your department for opportunities and guidance. If you are sticking with academics and researchers, the department is where to find them and learn to be among them.

Go get professionalized!
Me teaching a poetry lesson.
After six years, no classroom fears!





Friday, August 4, 2017

Writing Services Ahead: Proceed with Caution


“I’m thinking of hiring a writing service.”  Imagine hearing those words from a fellow grad student who’s highly stressed about their thesis or dissertation.  “Riding service?” you ask.  Then you quickly realize your colleague isn’t talking about Lyft or Uber.

Actually, the service in question is likely a person or business that offers—for a price—various types and levels of help with a writing project’s potentially stressful components: planning, revising, editing, proofreading, or formatting sections of the document.  But then there are shady services that even offer to “help” with the writing by employing ghost writers to compose texts for paying clients.  That’s taboo!  Submitting academic work as one’s own when that work was actually made (entirely or in parts) by someone else is unacceptable.  Words to the wise: if you’re thinking of paying for help with aspects of your writing project, beware of so-called writing services.  (But, in some cases, you might want to consider working with an editing service.)  If you wonder why we pass these words along, take a look through the comments sections at the ends of our blog posts.    

Writing Services Galore

We’re well aware that numerous paid writing firms exist because posts to this blog regularly attract brief comments with dubious hyperlinks to a wide range of such services.  Consider the murky details behind comments received over the past two months:

- On July 15, in response to our July 7 post about ProQuest blogs, a few bits of generic praise came our way from someone at an eerily sparse blog.  A hyperlink in the comment leads to the sketchy homepage of a UK-based company that entices the visitor to enter personal data and information about a writing project in order to receive an estimate on how much it will cost to have the firm do the work.  Not wanted!

- On July 5, in response to our June 16 post about services for international grad students at NIU, we received another short bromide, this time from someone whose “name” is a link to site featuring a disturbingly glowing review of an online firm that offers academic ghost writers for hire.  We’re not interested!

- On June 19, in response to our June 2 post about taking writing outside, someone sent nice feedback with direct references to topics we wrote about.  But then the letdown: the comment has no author’s name but is instead represented by a link to a website in Australia offering essays for sale.  We want nothing to do with such sites!

- Finally, on July 21, in response to our May 19 post about facing the fear of the blank page, we received a positive comment from someone appearing to represent another essay-writing service.  But this time, the attached link doesn’t lead to such a business but instead, oddly, to a 2015 article at The Huffington Post about the increase of undergraduate and graduate students paying to have papers written for them.  The article points to an alarming trend.

At Project Thesis NIU, we don’t endorse paid writing services.  When doing routine blog maintenance, we eventually delete comments with hyperlinks to such services.  In the past we’ve been inclined to let a comment with a suspect link stay as long as wording in the comment is remotely related to ideas we write about in a post.  But now, after digging deeper into the above recent comments, we plan to delete anything associated with a writing service.

Editing Services: Wheat from the Chaff

Aside from essay mills, many places offer student writers ethical and professional editorial assistance.  Fee-based editing services tend not to publicize through brief comments to our blog posts.  But they sometimes approach us.  Several months ago, for instance, our office received a promotional piece in the mail from Editors for Students, a Minneapolis firm that specializes in academic editing, proofreading, and formatting.  On their website, they mention that they have connections to academic institutions and are “committed to working within the legitimate boundaries of academic honesty.”  Perhaps worth a look, if you’re interested in paying someone to review a draft.  In addition, note that our office maintains a List of Freelance Formatters and Editors who work in the DeKalb area and who are equipped to assist thesis and dissertation writers with NIU Graduate School guidelines.  We can confidently refer these local freelancers to writers whose documents may need extensive help with matters of grammar and punctuation in addition to things like formatting of tables, figures, page numbers, citations, or end references.

Free NIU Services

Also remember that NIU student writers can get constructive help with no extra fees attached.  The University Writing Center is a free consultation service for students at all levels.  We’ve heard that most of their clients in recent years have been grad students.  Finally, come see us in the Thesis and Dissertation Office!  We provide free editorial assistance and expert help on formatting your important document.  We’ll be happy to hear from you.

Images Source: Wikimedia Commons

Friday, July 21, 2017

Working through Summer

That one time I rode 70 miles RT to NIU
and back, because I didn't have a car.
I coulda gotten a ride, but what fun is that?
Nothing else going on in summer...
On weekends when my kids were with their dad, I'd ride my bike up to the boat ramp and meet a friend who taught kayaking classes. I was the sweep, the person who kept everyone together and made sure they weren't upside-down. I could even rescue them if I had to. (Though none of them ever believed me when I told them this. I'm short and 115 lbs.) All those weekends behind the paddle earned me huge arms and dark shoulders, and about $40 a class. Not enough to pay the bills, but enough to have a taco afterward. The waitresses knew I'd sit outside, stinking from the river as I was. And maybe after that I could ride the bike to get bread and milk ALDI.

This doesn't sound like the work life of someone with a master's degree. But it was. In the six summers since I began that degree, and now the doctorate, I've kayaked, waited tables, sung in a band, taught little kids to read, lifted boxes at a home improvement store, wrote product descriptions, designed industrial soap bottle labels, and tutored high school kids in creative writing for extra cash. Actually, for ALL the cash. There was no other cash in the summer, except for the coins I'd collect in a coffee can, and the occasional fifty my dad would mail me to put gas in the car. And sometimes, there was no car.

As a graduate assistant at a state school, most of us don't get paid for about 3 1/2 months in the summer. And neither do most adjunct professors, anywhere. With most contingent academic contracts, the pay runs through the academic year. Every May 15, my stipend would dry up, and my adjunct paycheck would stop coming. And then the work stopped too. People stopped depending on me. Kids stopped accidentally calling me "professor." It hurt.

One may think, "Well now you are freed up to get another job!" But it's not that simple. Losing the academic and teaching work hurts some of us just as much as losing the money. I want to discuss a few things about "working through summer," give my two cents as a veteran grad assistant, and solicit ideas from you.

I think of summer as three things at work:
That was no fun, that job.

Working for Money: Maintaining your income (or at least part of it) is tricky, and finding a job that fits is even trickier. I did not tell Menard's that I had a master's degree. I will not put teaching kayaking or even teaching little kids to read on my resume. So, should I do something that I can add to my C.V., like try to teach college summer school? Should I suck it up and put my little self to work in a warehouse and sock away normal workin'-(wo)man wages all summer? Or should I rest, and live out of the coffee can? The best summers I've had have been spent resting, with intermittent work.

As you put some summers under your belt, there will be more and more opportunities for summer work, and even assistantships that span the year, or are summer GA gigs. Stay informed about opportunities on your campus. Ask your Graduate Director, and read the email newsletters. I am now, after all those miserable summers, on a 12-month contract thanks to a recommendation from the former Grad Director! (It doesn't make up for lost adjunct work though...the coin can abides.)

Working on Scholarship: The summertime blues are further complicated if you are writing a thesis or dissertation. You HAVE to keep working on the school stuff all summer. Even if two-thirds of your committee is away in another country for two months (my actual current dilemma!). The library is not open late like it usually is. You are not on campus all the time, surrounded by other working students, your advisors, and the general productive buzz of the university. You lose touch with your tribe. It is easy to get out of every good habit that your work and social environment gives you.

But you HAVE to keep at it. The whiteboard is my summer friend. I list everything I need to do, every day. (I make schedules on paper for the bigger picture.) Use methods like Pomodoro or "5 minutes a day" to ensure even the tiniest steps are being taken toward your goals.  This is a lonely, lonely time in the writing of the dissertation or thesis. Exercise, connect, read, or do whatever you need to to keep yourself grounded and healthy. But keep at it. You can pick up with advisors in the fall, and they will be happy you have something to share. Unlike with coursework and teaching work, professors (and the university) do expect you to be at work on the thesis or dissertation year-round. This is so hard, I know. But don't forget about it in your struggle to keep food on the table and keep the kids in pool passes.

Three summers ago, this is
literally what my coin jar was for.
Working on Yourself -- the Professional Identity Crisis:
I have a few colleagues of quality who do not experience this, and who are happy to "live out of the can" and rest for a long spell. That seems like the sane thing to do! But many of us grad students are driven in a way that can't be powered down. It's a blessing during the school year, and a curse during breaks. Personally, when I lose my titles (instructor, "professor," committee member, etc.), I lose a little bit of myself. I wear cut-offs around town and quick-dry shorts to kayak and no one addresses me with anything like deference. I become a nobody, and a poor nobody. Taking demeaning jobs, as I sometimes have, only reinforces this. If I had the pay or the position I might be happy to lounge around and dress like a slob for awhile. Who cares what anyone thinks? But when you are still crossing the impostor syndrome threshold, have $7 in your bank account, and realize that it's your former student putting milk and eggs in your cart at the food pantry (that happened), life is hard. And you're not sure where you fit. Don't forget that this is only temporary. You are working through summer for a very good reason.

In conclusion

I will make it through, like so many of my colleagues before me. And you can too! I'm looking at a May 2019 graduation with a Ph. D. (It will take me a year longer than it will take most of my cohort. I'm the only one with kids, and that's my standing excuse.) That means I have less than a summer and a half remaining of squeezing by, wallowing in existential crisis, rolling coins, and forcing myself to work alone.  As painful as it has been to work through all these summers, now that I can see the end of it coming, I know it will all be worth it. I already have great memories of pool time with the kids (paid for in sweaty cash), bike rides to the ice cream shop, and my daughter's August birthday parties. Look at that! I'm already forgetting the terrible jobs and summer insecurities.

Now if I can just make it till Tuesday when I get paid for my band's last gig...

To misquote T.S. Eliot: August is the cruellest month. Let's survive it, let's work through it, and let's all look forward to September's welcome return.

How do you work through summer?

Friday, July 7, 2017

ProQuest: Your Publisher...and More


Picture yourself near your project’s end.  Writing completed and defense successful, you move on to the long-anticipated last step.  That is, you upload your document for final review to ProQuest.  For a number of reasons, that shouldn’t be your only experience with this company. 

Actually, through reading and research during your time in your program, you’re probably already fairly familiar with ProQuest, a company that traces its history back to 1873.  They maintain numerous online research databases, including ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global, the world’s largest collection of digitized dissertations and theses—and the future host of the degree-qualifying document you’ll finish here at NIU.  But ProQuest’s many other offerings for researchers, educators, and students are worth checking out during any stage of your research and writing. 

GradShare

I was somewhat surprised to discover that, along with its many research databases, ProQuest maintains five blogs, each geared for a specific academic clientele: ProQuest Blog (concerning research databases), International Blogs (academic news in multiple languages other than English), Magazines for Libraries Update (details on scholarly journals), Share This (ideas for schoolteachers), and GradShare.  Concerns of graduate students take center stage in this last one.  Primarily addressed to writers of dissertations and theses, GradShare features brief but informative posts on researching, planning, composing, and completing the big project.  Several of the entries complement ideas we’ve written about here at Project Thesis NIU.  Others unique to GradShare are worth a look right away, namely:

How to Write the Best Dissertation:  Parts 1 and 2 of this post give helpful drafting guidelines and general advice for those at the start or in the middle of their projects.  If you’re in those stages, spend a few moments going through these November 2016 posts, which also happen to be the most recent entries to GradShare because the blog is currently on hiatus.  (We recently contacted Devin McGinty at ProQuest to check on the blog’s status, and he told us GradShare will be publishing again in the near future.)        

Answers to Questions about Dissertation Orders:  This especially informative post from December 2015 features links to pages that answer frequently asked questions about ordering theses and dissertations through ProQuest.  A bonus: it also has a link to a review of the important procedures for uploading your document to the company—the glorious last step of the thesis or dissertation journey.  Several of the questions dealt with here are remarkably similar to ones students regularly bring to the Thesis Office at NIU.
.
Review of The PhD Movie:  Movies really can be about anything!  In 2011, Jorge Cham, creator of “Piled Higher and Deeper” (PhD Comics), produced a feature based on the comic strip titled, you guessed it, Piled Higher and Deeper.  In 2014, Devin McGinty reviewed the film on GradShare.  “Sometimes the best ideas arise when we are distracted,” McGinty writes at the end of his enthusiastic review, “so the solution to your academic problems could be a bowl of popcorn and The PhD Movie.  Enjoy!”  In 2015, Cham produced a follow-up film titled The PhD Movie 2: Still in Grad School.  Check out the trailers, stills, and other information about the two films at the producer’s website.  If you happen to see the second film, perhaps you might want to share your take on it with a wide audience in the form of a review of your own, which leads to another attractive feature of GradShare: you’re invited to post there.

Guest Bloggers Wanted:  This post from March 2016 invited grad students anywhere to send in a post of 500 to 750 words on a topic of one’s own choosing.  A review of the second PhD film would likely be a welcome submission.  But other topics would certainly also be of interest.  (And if you do happen to see the second film and write a review of it, and for some reason you can’t get it to GradShare, we’ll be happy to receive your review for consideration as a guest post on Project Thesis NIU.  Send submissions as an attachment to thesis@niu.edu.)
.
Final Words

In short, GradShare and other ProQuest blogs can provide helpful supplementary information to the points we pass on to graduate students at this blog.  Happy reading and researching of all kinds, through ProQuest and beyond!

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Friday, June 16, 2017

For International Graduate Students: The Ins and Outs at NIU


Writing a thesis or dissertation is one of the hardest things you may ever do. Doing so in another country, in another language, is even harder!

At NIU we offer an holistic and supportive international graduate student experience, focused not only on your education, but your cultural enrichment and lifelong learning.  From offering financial support, to emotional, social, and professionalization support, our mission is to help you finish your thesis or dissertation and move on to make your mark on the world.

At the Thesis and Dissertation Office, we see many students from Saudi Arabia, China, India, and Latin America (and all over!). We are aware of your unique challenges and bumps in the road that make writing your thesis a difficult journey.

Some challenges our students face are:

  • Language barriers
  • Student Visa requirements (completing the thesis on-time)
  • Understanding Graduate School policies
  • Lacking a social network at school

For current and prospective students, getting acquainted with NIU's support services is the place to start.

The Nuts and Bolts

The International Student Faculty Office (ISFO) is where you can find all of the information, forms, advisor contacts, and immigration help you need for becoming an international graduate student, and maintaining your status.  Additionally, the Graduate School website has a page dedicated to international admissions. These pages will help you understand the "ins and outs" of doing graduate work and completing a thesis here:

International Student and Faculty Office

The Graduate School: International Students

The Fun Stuff!

Marcos Quezada and Pablo Suarez,
founders of NIU's Global Friends Network
Knowing how to make social connections, find mentors, and participate in our global community at NIU is as important to your success as actually doing the work. As we have discussed on this blog, having a group of friends or colleagues who are going through the same unique journey as you are is crucial to maintaining interest in your work, and keeping a level head about it!  Explore the student associations and mentorship opportunities such as the Global Friends Network, as well as events and scholarship programs at the Division of International Affairs website:

Division of International Affairs

Some Recommendations

Remember, you may feel alone, and you may feel like you are doing the most difficult thing you have ever done. Only one of those things is true! The global NIU community is here for you, and the Thesis and Dissertation Office is part of that community.  We are your go-to for any questions about completing your thesis, but we are also a resource for navigating graduate school in general. Our office is staffed with Graduate Assistants who are writing their dissertations, and our events and programs attract students from many countries who are trying to do the same thing. So remember to:

  • Network through the social groups for international students
  • Seek help when you need it! If you don't know where to go, ask us.
  • Educate yourself by exploring the links we've provided.
We want you to succeed!


To end, a message and interview with some international students:

International Students at NIU: A Perspective



Friday, June 2, 2017

Writing Outside: Healthy Now and for the Long Haul

Composing al fresco, Shabbona Lake State Park

In our last post, we shared several helpful ways to overcome the terror of the blank page and fill it with words.  Here we offer a somewhat related tip: often you can effectively recharge your writing by taking it outside.

Outside?

Absolutely.  In the fresh air, under natural light.  Preferably somewhere relatively open so that walls don’t separate you from the expanse of your natural surroundings.  At nearly any stage of the thesis or dissertation, you can benefit from spending quality time in open-air settings that are suitable for relaxing but also walking, running, and cycling.  You may question the idea of bringing anything related to your project to such locales.  Yet this approach can often be just what you and your writing need, especially during times your progress slows down or your energy runs low.

Why?

Introducing your writing to outdoor settings can restore its vigor and rebalance your approach to it.  The thesis or dissertation tends to keep you indoors and narrowly focused for long stretches.  Granted, most of the work requires a lot of desk time.  But too much of that can dull your body, mind, and ultimately your writing.  Although there are many ways to take breaks, spending time outside can be especially rejuvenating.  “In the woods, is perpetual youth.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson offered that statement in his 1836 essay Nature as a way of introducing perhaps his most celebrated image dealing with the individual and the outdoors: “Standing on the bare ground,—my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space,—all mean egotism vanishes.  I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all.”  Fanciful interpretations aside, Emerson’s idea hints at what you and your project can gain through outdoor excursions.  Certainly there is much to see and appreciate in nature.  But getting out in it can also help you see and appreciate your growing text more clearly.

How?

Among the many approaches to taking writing outside, the following are useful for immediate gain as well as long-term success:

Meditation on the Move.  Here you explore your thoughts about your writing (or anything else) while traversing outdoor surroundings on foot or bicycle.  This approach is particularly helpful during drafting and revising stages, that is, while you’re building and/or rearranging ideas.  As noted in a previous blog post, the term for this approach comes from writer and long-distance-running enthusiast Joe Henderson.  Fundamental to it is the principle that time spent thinking and moving is more important than mere distance covered: thus, aiming to get outside for 1 to 2 hours is better than aiming to complete a certain number of laps or miles.  As you meditate on the move, it also helps to note beings and objects in the distance, such as birds on branches, fish under water (often quite visible in certain sections of the Kish south of the NIU campus), clumps of faraway trees, or clouds on the horizon.  In addition to helping you stretch your mind, such distance viewing can give a welcome break to your eyes, which already spend plenty of time narrowly focused on words, pages, and screens.

Outdoor Journaling.  During a walk, run, or ride, stopping to make notes in a journal can be a very rewarding practice.  A journal allows you to put down ideas on the spot that might not come back to you when you later return to your indoor writing.  Out in nature, a pen and a pad of paper can reassert their handiness as writing tools.  Natural light can reengage your interest in your handwriting as well as the thoughts you express in it.  Of course, instead of such quaint holdovers from yesteryear, you could bring along an electronic writing gizmo.  But since you’re going outside partly to break away from routine, why not also temporarily disengage from such devices?  When you get down to it, working with writing on a screen outdoors, no matter how much you move in or out of the shade or adjust brightness settings, tends to be cumbersome and is often counterproductive.
 
Write by Windows.  Luckily, even while still working indoors, you’re generally never too far from nature.  Thus, obviously the quickest way to engage your writing with the outside world is to move to a nearby window and open it.  (Yes, even in cold weather.)  Simply composing by an open window can remarkably restore connections with your broader surroundings and thus ultimately also help revivify your writing.  It can also encourage you to venture further afield and take up some of the tips detailed above.

Wishing you continued success with your project as we head into the summer, perhaps the best season for taking your writing outside!