Archive for the ‘life in grad school’ Category

just one year?

August 31, 2009

If a one year master’s degree sounds good to be true, it is. The school year is intensive and you really do work up until the last month of the summer semester.

Most master’s students don’t have time to search for jobs, internships, or other opportunities while working on their dissertations, so a lot of postgraduates spend the first couple of months after graduation just trying to find something to fill their hours.

The one year master’s is still a fantastic option, but just keep mind, it’s a lot longer than it seems.

A Master of Science?

August 28, 2009

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Sticky markers and notes post-dissertation.

It’s official: I am now finished with my dissertation, and more importantly, my master’s course! I won’t get my marks until next month and graduation isn’t until December, but I am now free from papers and assignments (at least for the time being). Overall, I am happy with the way the dissertation and course went. There are of course things I wish I could have changed about my paper, but that’s always the case.

Here’s a bit of dissertation advice for future MA and MSc students:

  • Collect a number of take-out menus, you may be too busy to cook.
  • Create PDFs of your documents, so that your formatting remains consistent. If you’re working with multiple documents, you may combine them using a PDF maker.
  • To avoid the crowds, get to the print shop early. I visited the print shop in David Hume Tower a week before the dissertation was due to get price quotes and binding/printing options.
  • Make sure you have enough time to proofread. Big thanks to Naomi Salinas and Thomas Hancock for editing my work.

Good luck and happy mastering! It’s going to be a great next school year.

the big D: draft 1

August 9, 2009

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After three months of intensive research and writing, I have finally finished my first dissertation draft! It still needs a ton of revising (I am about 1,000-2,000 words over the 15,000 word limit), but I am glad to be done with the bulk of it.

To mark this momentous occasion, I’d like to share several dissertation tips:

  • If you have writer’s block, don’t be afraid, just start writing — even if it’s just, “I have writer’s block and I don’t feel like writing.” You’ll be surprised how quickly you start fleshing out your thoughts and ideas.
  • If you get stuck on a section, move on and then come back to it. No point in forcing it.
  • Read your dissertation aloud. This will help you ensure everything flows.
  • In addition to your supervisor, get a friend or two to edit it for you. Ideally, you should get one editor from your field and one from outside.
  • Once you’ve finished a chapter or a major section of your paper,  treat yourself to something special.
  • Once you’ve finished a draft, take a break for a few days, so that you can revise and edit with fresh eyes.

Happy Dissertationing!

from Word(s) to Images to Pages

July 20, 2009

I just completed the first chapter draft (I started with Chapter 3)  of my dissertation, now only two more to go! I started writing my draft in Microsoft Word — the universal default for word processing, but have indefinitely put my relationship with Word on pause to start a love affair with iWork Pages.

Pages is much more amiable when it comes to inserting images and formatting. What takes me twenty minutes to lay out in Word, takes only about seconds in Pages.

Since I am using dozens of photographs in my dissertation, having software that operates not just as a word processor, but also, as an image processor is of extreme importance.

Although InDesign is probably the best program for image-based design — after all, it is the industry standard, Pages is perfect for novices who would like to incorporate more design into their writing.

Although Pages still has its faults (not everything is as intuitive as it should be), I think I have a much healthier relationship with my dissertation.

going back to the research object

July 8, 2009

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Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in theory. One theorist leads to another,  and soon you have a stack of books and a folder full of notes that are too big to cover in a 15,000-word paper.

So what do you?

Go back to the research object. I started working through my theories, but after having produced a 12-page outline for a dissertation that will probably be about 45 pages, I decided to go back to the ethnographic material I gathered during my fieldwork in May.

Now, that I’m actually going through my research data, I have a clearer sense of what theories will be useful for my dissertation and which ones I can discard.

The point of the dissertation is to build on theory, but the point of theory is to understand the world. The trick is learning not to lose sight of both points.

[Photo via Flickr user *Kicki*]

working solo: tips for avoiding procrastination

June 13, 2009

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Now that classes have come to an end, I spend most of my time alone reading and writing for my dissertation. In the UK, education is fairly hands-off, especially at the graduate level. Your supervisor will provide you with guidance, but for the most part, you are left to your own devices.

It is easy to get distracted or overwhelmed if you don’t have strategies for staying focused. I’ve come up with a list of things that have helped me stay on task. A lot of it is common sense, but I’d though I’d share it anyway.

  • Create a time line with your supervisor. Set deadlines for outlines, drafts, and meetings. This will make the 15,000 words seem less daunting and more manageable.
  • Use detailed labels for your articles, photos, documents, and folders. Your computer will search for files more efficiently if you use “_” instead of spaces (e.g. “Lury_Branding).
  • Continuously back up your files through an external hard drive or online. Also, save incrementally and under different names.
  • Maintain an up-to-date bibliography. The last thing you want is being unable to use a quote due to a missing source.
  • Establish a specific time and place for studying. I prefer working on the kitchen table in the afternoons, but many of my friends get too distracted at home, so they study in the library or their departmental computer lab in the mornings and afternoons.
  • Enjoy your evenings and weekends. As attempting as it is to just continue working through the night, give your mind a break — time to just relax, watch youtube videos, or hang out with friends. I like going to the gym or for a bike ride after a day of intense critical theory.
  • Reward yourself with a treat every time you finish a goal. My friends and I usually go for drinks at the pub after big submissions.

Photo by Flickr user Canadian Veggie

interview with a gurkhas grad student

May 1, 2009

One of the great things about being at the University of Edinburgh  is having the opportunity to interact with so many interesting minds. Chandra Sing Gurung is one of those students. A Nepalese with three degrees and two more pending, Chandra has the kind of life story that would be featured on This American Life. It’s epic, moving, and cliché  — but in the best possible way.

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Born in a small rural village in Western Nepal, Chandra had always wanted to excel in academics. However, due to poverty and the death of his mother when he was seven years old, he was only able to finish primary school. It was not until he was sixteen-and-a-half years old that he had the opportunity to leave his village and pursue education. Undergoing one of the most difficult and competitive selection processes in the world, Chandra was chosen out of hundreds of thousands of hopeful youth to join the legendary Nepalese Gurkhas soldiers. Joining Gurkhas makes you a hero in the villages,” says Chandra, “From the UK or American perspective, it’s like getting a place for postgraduate studies at Oxford or Harvard. That’s how tough it is to be a Gurkhas.” Chandra was selected for Singapore Gurkhas.

While stationed in Singapore, he took night classes in Business Information Technology at an off-shore campus of the University of Central England in Birmingham in Singapore. Entirely self-funded and self-driven, Chandra was the first Gurkhas in the history of Singapore to receive a bachelor’s degree. “I am a military man,” explains Chandra, ”while you’re with the Gurkhas, education is totally distant from what you do.” Despite the lack of formal encouragement, Chandra continued on with his education. In 2007, he received a Master of Arts in International Relations from Flinders University of South Australia in Singapore. In 2008, he received a Master of Science in Strategic Studies from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. In the Gurkhas, he rose to the rank of Commission Officer (Inspector), the Gurkhas equivalent of an army second lieutenant, “which is given to the ‘best of the best’ among the Gurkhas.” Chandra recently decided to pursue a doctorate in Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh. He is now pursuing a Master of Science in Social Anthropology as a part of his PhD and will be a PhD candidate from September 2009. His research interest is the Gurkhas diaspora, with a focus on the Gurkhas in the United Kingdom.

Chandra was kind enough to let me interview him, so over fanta, green tea, and cookies, we talked about his experiences in Nepal, Singapore, and Edinburgh.

How was the transition from Singapore to Edinburgh?

My transition from Singapore to Edinburgh was fairly smooth. I was in Edinburgh before, so I knew what to expect. However, there were things that surprised me. Coming from Asia, I thought that Westerners were not very serious about their education, so when I came here and went to the library, I saw all my classmates reading and studying all day, I was very surprised. The students at the University of Edinburgh are very hardworking and bright, perhaps the best minds in their field of studies.

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What has been your greatest challenge in Edinburgh?

My major challenge was in the first semester. Because my first two masters were in totally different fields, Strategic Studies and International Relations, I lost in terms of disciplinary language when I was attending seminars in Social Anthropology the first semester.

The next challenge was, I wanted to get distinction in my master’s modules, but when I received my first semester’s results, I got distinction in none of the modules – that was a real challenge. In the second semester, I got the rhythm, I am much better now, but my challenge of getting distinction is still going on.

What advice would you give to international students?

When international students leave their own country and they are in UK, I suggest they learn the culture and language of the host country. At the same time, exchange the culture and language of their own with host country as well as with other international students. Take the best thing to their home countries. It doesn’t mean they have to do everything; they can filter the best things and take them to their own countries.

I encourage international student to be more active, rather than passive, so that they will make more friends and student life will be more fun. Participate in as much activities as possible within the University and beyond. For example, I had never done yoga in Asia, although I could have done, but I started doing it here. Currently, I am learning capoeira (Brazilian martial art cum dance) and Scottish Ceilidh is something I love doing now.

The idea here is, participating in activities broadens your stay mentally and physically. With these activities, you will make your life a lot more interesting as a student and at the same time, you learn a lot more. With so much goes on at University of Edinburgh and so many events that take place in Edinburgh, I reckon it is a great opportunity be here in Scotland.

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What do you hope to do in the future?

My immediate aim is to complete a PhD and then gain some research experience in the Western world. Thereafter, I would like to return to Nepal where there is a huge brain drain. Most of the intellectuals in Nepal are leaving for greener pasture, probably due to ongoing political conflict. I, however, believe, as the citizen of Nepal, I should return to Nepal and impart the knowledge and skills that I have gained so far, I believe in contributing whatever way I am able to help Nepal. I believe the notion the good use of knowledge is an honour, and sharing is caring. There are many people to whom I can be a great help especially in my motherland.

My strategy is to teach at University in Nepal, and I would also like build a big public library at the heart of Kathmandu. There are university libraries, but, sadly, there is no public library in Nepal even at the beginning of the new millennium. To achieve my goal, if there is an absolute need, I will even go into politics, but that would be my last priority.

Situation changes, so does the strategy, hence, I wouldn’t exactly be able to tell you what I will be doing to fulfill my life long goal of helping people.

What do you think it will be like going back?

Although I lived in Singapore for a long time and am now in Edinburgh, I still have my own relationship with Nepal. There will be challenges since I have been away from Nepal for a long time. However, it’s possible to overcome these challenges. Being in the Gurkhas has made it easier for me to assimilate and adjust to new environments.

People in Nepal may have a different perception of scholars educated in the Western World, but I will see what strategy fits better. I am an optimist, “nothing is impossible, it is only impossible until one finds a solution to make it possible.”

beyond pen and paper: referencing software

February 18, 2009

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To follow up on my last post on “the art of bibliography“, I have compiled a list of software to keep track of references and sources, based on the recommendations of professors and students in my programme.

I don’t know about you, but I am somewhat of a Luddite when it comes to taking notes and recording sources. In the past, I have just stuck to pen and paper, but now that I have to keep detailed records of hundreds of sources, I’ve started putting all my notes and references on my computer. I’m really glad that they’ve invented programmes to make tracking sources just as easy as downloading music and storing it in your multimedia player.

EndNote
EndNote is the industry standard; EndNote is to academia, as Windows is to computers. It will cover most of your needs, but has a hefty price tag of $249.95 (however, you may be able to purchase it for a lot less if you check ebay). I haven’t really used EndNote, but friends have told me it can be buggy and unnecessarily complex. If you’d like to try it, you can download the 30-day trial.

Sente
Sente is a really great alternative to EndNote, but unfortunately, it’s only made for Macs. According to their homepage, “It’s like iTunes for academic literature. Only better.” I just downloaded a copy of Sente, it seems to be pretty intuitive and user-friendly. Plus, it’s only $89.95 if you’re student. You can also download the 30-day trial to see if you like it.

Zotero
I re-blogged a post on Zotero in October, and still think it’s a wonderful piece of referencing software. Just in case you didn’t read the post, Zotero is a free, web browse extension of Firefox. If you use Firefox, I highly recommend you download Zotero.

If you know of any other academic referencing software, please let me know! Happy referencing.

Photo by flickr user svenwerk

things you wish you knew

February 5, 2009

Today, I met up with an alumnus of last year’s Cultural Studies Programme to talk about how she conducted fieldwork in China for her dissertation last summer. It was really helpful hearing about her experiences applying theory to practice, documenting the city, narrowing down her focus, finding contacts, and getting funding for her research. The last bit was perhaps the most surprising.

She told me that she received partial funding for her fieldwork through the University of Edinburgh Small Project Grant. I had heard of this award, but had no idea how easy it was to apply and receive funding until this afternoon. The application is fairly straightforward; it basically just requires a project outline, budget, and a signature from your course supervisor (no letter of rec necessary!). She told me that pretty much all of the applicants she knew received funding.

Having this insider tip made me re-assess the direction of my dissertation. Since I thought wouldn’t able to go back to Seoul to conduct fieldwork, I began framing my research in the context of memory and distance. But now that fieldwork is a possibility, I need to think about how I’ll incorporate the physical space of the city into my thinking.

To get the most of out grad school in the UK, you have to put forth a lot of initiative. Unfortunately, unlike the States, grants and scholarships are few and far between in the UK, especially for master’s students. Since there are a limited number of financial awards, they are often not widely advertised. You’ll probably have to dig a bit deeper to find funding for your research.

You’ve probably heard this many times before, but I can’t emphasize the importance of networking in academia. It’s these insider tips that remind me why I should be meeting with more students and professors outside of my programme.

learning to commit

January 31, 2009

I am a commitment phobe. There are few things I dread more than having to set aside my schizophrenic set of academic interests to focus in on a specific area of research. I often jump from one topic to the next, but soon I’ll have to commit to something. The research proposal for our 15,000-word dissertation is due in about a month and a half, and we have already made our first stabs at the proposal.

Today, I had to write a 200-word abstract — or a better way of putting it might be a mini proposal since you generally write the abstract after your research is completed  —  and select a piece of complimentary visual material for my Cultural Studies Research Methods class. The abstract I wrote is more of a stream-of-consciousness journal entry, but nevertheless, better represents my ideas than a formal proposal.

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Performing and Remembering the Other: On Place, Language, and Memory in South Korea

This project started off with an interest in looking how the unique, site-specific characteristics of Seoul and South Korea could be used to expand on recent cultural and urban theory, but as I worked through my memories, photographs, and writings, I felt dissatisfied. Almost none of the visual material* I had archived adequately captured the issues of hyper consumerism, globalization, xenophobia, and identity I wished to address. Even a keyword flickr and google image search couldn’t produce the results I wanted. It made me wish I had taken more photos when I was in Seoul. The lack of visual material coupled with my beginner proficiency in Korean and faraway distance from South Korea made me wonder if this was a feasible research topic. I started thinking about: How may one research a specific location without experiencing that place in person, having sufficient visual material, or being proficient in the native tongue? How can one acknowledge the barriers of language, representation, and distance while using them as a lens for understanding the experiences and memories of being a foreigner in South Korea? How does our perception of place change when our experience is filtered through these barriers?  This project will attempt to explore these questions by describing the experiences of being a foreigner in South Korea through an analysis of my own personal memories, blogs written by foreigners, primarily by English teachers, who are living or have lived in Korea, as well as photographs taken by myself, friends, and strangers. This project is an entry point into understanding the larger issues of memory, language, and place.

*The image above is one of the few pieces of visual material I found that resonated with my  ideas. I selected this image because the phrase “my god! I have to learn English” articulates the degree to which the English language has become embedded within education and the larger political economy of South Korea. I also like this image because it has phrases in both Chinese and Korean which to my untrained eyes have almost no apparent meaning beyond a few words. I see these writings more as image rather than as text. This largely image-based and fragmentary mode of reading Korean is how most foreigners experience South Korea. I am interested in understanding how this mode of language and interpretation affects their perception of place in South Korea.

So…that’s prety much where I am at now. This is an area of research I am hugely interested in, but I am also enticed by the idea of researching New Orleans, memory, and post-disaster cities. We’ll see, I still have a few more weeks before I have to officially commit. In the meantime, please send me your feedback.