Posts Tagged ‘graduate school’

going back to the research object

July 8, 2009


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

"Students Studying"

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

why study the humanities?

March 19, 2009

What is the value of the humanities? Why should we study it? The New York Times recently published an article on the state of the humanities given the current economic recession.

According to the NYT, “[I]n this new era of lengthening unemployment lines and shrinking university endowments, questions about the importance of the humanities in a complex and technologically demanding world have taken on new urgency.”

While the humanities may not seem as salient as engineering, chemistry, or any of the other “hard” sciences, it plays an indispensable role in the world.

There is a great misunderstanding of what the humanities is and what it can do. People often assume that the humanities is just about “reading the great literary and philosophical works and coming ‘to grips with the question of what living is for.'” (NYT).

I would argue that humanities — at least from a Cultural Studies perspective — is much more than reading the canon and reflecting on the meaning of life.

In Cultural Studies, we approach theory as practice. Thinking and acting outside of the ivory tower, Cultural Studies attempts to produce research that engages with the public. As cultural researcher, I am constantly asking myself the “So what?” question. Why does this topic matter? Why should people care?

This continuous self-questioning helps bridge the gap between theory and practice. While I am an advocate of learning for the sake of learning, I believe scholars have the responsibility to think about the ways in which their research relates to the larger picture.

What is the point of research if it doesn’t affect the way people think about and act in the world?

One thing I think Cultural Studies does effectively is re-thinking the way we have traditionally thought about things. In Cultural Studies, few things — if anything — is taken for granted. Our research is largely driven by the question of what it means to be human.Through critical and creative engagement, we attempt to probe this question in a way that inspires everyday people to imagine what might be instead of what is.

This critical and creative engagement is especially important given the dire state of the economy and the need for innovative ways of being in the world.

scholarship tip: acknowledgments

March 14, 2009


One way to search for scholarships and grants is to check the acknowledgments section of the books you’re using for your research. Scholars almost always thank their funders in the acknowledgments. I found over ten potential funding bodies by just going through the six books in the photo above.

the art of bibliography

February 17, 2009

There is a hilarious Facebook group called “Grad Students: They’re Not Bad People, They Just Made Terrible Life Choices” I’ve been tempted to join. The homepage of the group contains a list of defining grad student characteristics. I probably laughed the hardest when I came across #9:

“You might be a Grad Student if you find the bibliographies of books more interesting than the actual text.”

While it may be tempting to save money by not printing out the last few pages of a journal article, which may contain only a list of the works cited, don’t underestimate the theoretical and creative potential of the bibliography. Especially when you’re beginning your research and starting to think about the literature review.

One of the major components of the graduate dissertation is the literature review — a discussion of the major theoretical works, perspectives, and thinkers within your discipline(s). The purpose of the literature review is to not only provide your reader with a background of your research object, but also, to demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of the field.

If you’re overwhelmed by the sheer volume of books and journals in your field, a bibliography is a great way to started and get a snapshot of the essential texts and authors. How do you find a good bibliography? Well first you need to have at least one key book, article, or text. For example, if you are conducting research on gender from a Cultural Studies perspective, you’d probably peruse through the bibliographies of Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble and Donna Haraway’s A Cyborg Manifesto to get an initial sense of the field. In addition to bibliographies, anthologies and course syllabuses are also excellent points of entry.

Also, remember to think of the bibliography not only as a starting point for yourself, but also, for others. When putting together the bibliography for your dissertation, don’t just see it as a mundane, technical requirement, but as a piece of creative writing that has the ability to change the way people think about the world.

Perhaps, I’m being overzealous (I am a grad student after all :)), but this story makes me think otherwise. A professor recently told our class about an alumnus who received a distinction for their dissertation largely because of their bibliography. The student’s unique combination of Western and Eastern sources was considered an important contribution to the field because it was seen as an effective starting point for other researchers.

Sometimes the bibliography really is more significant than the actual text.

why edinburgh?

December 5, 2008


Old College, University of Edinburgh

Photo by flickr user Simon Bradshaw

One of the reasons why I decided to apply to graduate school in the UK is because my field Cultural Studies started here. Another reason is that I wanted to work in Europe and figured the easiest way to do that would be to study here. If you graduate from a British university, you may work in the UK without a work permit for up to two years under the Post Study Work Programme.

After numerous conversations with professors and hours of online research, I decided to apply to four master programmes: Cultural Studies MA at the University of London — Goldsmiths, Media and Cultural Studies MA at Lancaster University, Critical and Cultural Theory MA at Cardiff University, and Cultural Studies MSc at the University of Edinburgh.

I was accepted to all four, but chose to study at the University of Edinburgh due to a number of factors:

1) I was interested in working with the Cultural Studies Programme Director Dr. Ella Chmielewska to explore graffiti, visual culture, memory, and the city (my interests have somewhat evolved since then)…

2) Edinburgh was the only university that offered me a research master’s. I applied for the taught MSc, but was offered the MSc by Research due to the focus and specificity of my research interests. The MSc by Research is more independent and research-driven than the taught MSc. I accepted my offer of admission at Edinburgh with the intent of pursuing the MSc by Research, but I ultimately decided to do the taught MSc because my research interests changed considerably after my accident.

3) Edinburgh offered the most international student scholarships, I was fortunate to receive the International Master’s Scholarship.

4) I emailed current students at all four universities. All of the students seemed happy and satisfied with their programmes, but the students at  Edinburgh gave the most honest and convincing answers.

5) While the University of Edinburgh may not be the best university to pursue Cultural Studies, it seemed like the best overall fit. The university has an excellent academic reputation and is located in one of the most beautiful, livable cities in the world. While Edinburgh may not be as bustling and cosmopolitan as London, it is still culturally rich and international. It is also significantly more affordable and seemed like a city I could live in for a long time.

6) My boyfriend Andrew was the final push. The University of Edinburgh was the only school he applied to in the UK. We wanted to stay together and live in the same city, so we both chose to study at Edinburgh.

Overall, I am happy with my choice. There are things about the university I dislike, but no school is perfect. Do as much as research as you can before you apply and commit to a school, but remember any grad programme is what you make of it.