Thursday, July 28, 2016

A Clare Foland Farewell

I'd like to inform you that it's time for a change of hands in the Thesis Office. Mike’s and my assistantships are coming to an end, and two new GA's will introduce themselves to you in a couple weeks.

I know I can speak for Mike in saying that we have thoroughly enjoyed our time here. We worked hard to implement a service-oriented focus in the Office, as we were tasked to do by Carolyn Law, who has envisioned such changes for a long time but never had a staff to help.

The new GA's will undoubtedly come up with new ideas, but I'd like to leave you with a couple lessons I've learned, which may serve as simple reminders.

First, in my consultations with students, I have continually needed to refer to the Thesis or Dissertation Format Guidelines found on our website. Even working here, I sometimes forget certain formatting requirements, so I cannot stress enough to those who are just beginning their thesis or dissertation writing, and even to those who are winding down, to constantly refer to the appropriate guidelines and use the tools we have provided online. The more that you format your document correctly from the start, the easier your final preparation will be, even though you will still likely have some finishing touch changes to make.

Also, I have learned that formatting documents in Word can be frustrating (lol-you knew that). Here, all I can say is try not to let the frustration get to you. I know that's not much help, but I thought it couldn’t hurt to remind that you are not alone in these issues.

My greatest lesson involves advice we repeatedly give: just write. Write down any and all of your thoughts for a chapter or section, no matter how inelegant, unformed, disorganized, or badly phrased—get those ideas on paper. This has been the only way I have made progress, and I am now about half way through my dissertation draft. When I started here, I only had my proposal written. I actually then rewrote/re-framed my proposal to reign in, and restart, my thoughts before diving into a chapter. Next, upon advice from Carolyn Law, I “dared to be adequate”; that is, I literally slapped some drivel onto paper. (And I learned this new word, “drivel”!) Yet, as I worked along on that first chapter, it slowly started to shape up. I am continuing this practice, and it is the only method that works for me.

I have enjoyed meeting students from many disciplines and hearing about your progress, your studies, and your challenges. I feel privileged to have met and worked with a whole bunch of thoughtful people who care deeply about their projects, even knowing what they give up to get these theses and dissertations written. I wish you all the best in completing your work.

So, at the risk of sounding cheesy, I’ll leave you with the following saying: Keep Calm and Write On!

See you on Facebook, at Founders, and at the Write Place, Write Time sessions.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Re-reading Your Dissertation

I read my primary texts; I collected and annotated my secondary sources; I composed an outline; I reflected on my subject matter; I procrastinated; I became frustrated with myself for procrastinating, which only bred more procrastination; I wrote my dissertation one chapter at a time; I met with my committee to discuss my chapters; I grew frustrated and despondent after meeting with my committee, which contributed to additional procrastination; I reflected on my own academic abilities to finish my dissertation (a.k.a procrastination); I revised my chapters, again and again and again; finally, I heard the following magic words: This work is defensible.

It has been a long journey, and it has been tiring. My graduate school experience started out as a part-time experiment: I took two evening classes, spent my days reading my homework assignments out loud to my kids while coaxing them to take a nap, sat in the basement and wrote papers late into the wee hours of the night, and somehow managed to eke out passing grades. The next thing I knew I was a full-time student, teaching the occasional undergraduate class, and padding my resume with conference presentations. Now, as I approach the finish line, I recall one last piece of advice, previously alluded to in an earlier blog post: Re-read your dissertation before your defense.

Your response may be, "What? Why? Don't be silly. I've been writing the thing long enough that I know it backwards and forwards."

You may know your thesis and your supporting arguments like the back of your hand, but that does not mean that you have perfect recall of the contents. During the defense, you will be asked for specific page references concerning such-and-such argument or some secondary source. Why did you decide not to include some specific piece of research? a committee member may ask. If your response is, "But I did," then they will want to know precisely where it is cited in the body of your work. The thing that most worries me is a committee member reading aloud a passage from my text and I have no memory of writing those words. In fact, while I have been revising my dissertation, I stumbled across passages that I do not even remember writing - most likely, because I wrote the chapter long ago.

Once your committee has made the decision that your thesis or dissertation is ready to be defended, you will be expected to put together some sort of presentation -- Speak to your committee and/or members of your department about what all is involved in such a presentation as requirements may differ from department to department. While you are putting together this presentation, my advice is: re-read your thesis or dissertation. You are not proofreading the work one last time, therefore do not read it as though you are the author. Read it as though you are the target audience; read it with fresh eyes; read it in order to familiarize yourself with the content; read it as you would a piece of secondary research that contributes to your field of expertise; read it one last time as you make marginalia that will help you prepare for the defense.

When you are done re-reading it, give yourself a pat on the back. After all, you wrote it. That was the hardest part.

Write Place, Write Time -- August session

Due to abbreviated library hours between the summer and fall 2016 semesters, the August 11, 2016 session of Write Place, Write Time has been cancelled.

The writing group will reconvene on September 8, 2016. The meeting place and time will remain the same: Founder's Library, 4th floor, dissertation room, 6 to 9pm. See you then.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Have You Seen Lynda?

Image result for free image for , that is!

*As of last November, NIU provides all students, staff, and faculty with this service. You can read DoIT’s introductory write up here.
Today’s blog post intends to “introduce” you to, in case you haven’t tried this tool.

Basically, is pretty cool. Here’s how it works.

You log in with your student or employee ID and its corresponding password. You get to either through NIU’s A-Z link or by typing in your browser’s address bar.

This site contains many video tutorials. Most are mini-courses, taking an hour to several hours to complete, but each course is broken up into minutes-sized segments. You do not need to view an entire course. Each course includes a transcript and exercise files, should you wish to practice a specific task. And keeps track of your viewing history and place.

I suggest that you start by hovering over the library button on the top banner next to the name, and browse the larger categories of Business, Design, Education and Elearning, Photography, Video, Web, etc. Each of these categories breaks down into specific topics and applicable software tutorials. If you click on the library button, you will get an A – Z listing of the larger categories’ subtopics and the number of tutorials available for each.

Within the subtopics, you can select specific applicable software tutorials or a specific author to see all of his/her videos. You also choose a skill level from Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, and Appropriate for all.

How can help with a thesis or dissertation?

Well, it can’t—not directly. However, most of us are preparing our documents in Word. 
The Thesis Office receives a lot of formatting questions for Word, but we find that students have different versions of Word running through different operating systems on computers that are purchased from all over the world; these often have unusual default settings. Add Word’s styles and hidden formatting into that mix, and sometimes, it’s hard to untangle what is going on in a document.

Also, is available twenty-four hours; while we try to respond to any inquiry quickly, we can’t always help you right when you’d like. 

So we want to direct you to the 59 Word Processing courses containing 2647 video tutorials on  

Don’t be overwhelmed with those numbers; you can search for specific tutorials on any issue. For instance, I searched: “inserting page breaks in Word 2013,” and though I received two thousand results, I could see quickly that the top five were most applicable. You may want to look through some of the various courses’ tables of contents just to get ideas about how to phrase your searches too.

There is more to; I’ve only begun to explore the site. Our office will provide you with updates as we discover any helpful tips.

Have fun exploring, and feel free to post a reply on this blog post or on Facebook if you have found or find anything helpful there.We'd love to hear from you.