Posts Tagged ‘research’

A Master of Science?

August 28, 2009


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


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


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*]

blogging as research?: the politics of blogging

May 16, 2009

I will be heading to Seoul this Monday to conduct research on the branding of English in South Korea. I recently met with my dissertation supervisor and asked if it would be appropriate for me to share my fieldwork experiences on this blog if I kept my posts anonymous and more general. Due to the ethical implications, he dissuaded me from blogging.

Even if one anonymizes their research subjects, there are always clues that make it possible for people to trace the identities of your subjects. Furthermore, there is the chance that your research subjects or someone they know could read your blog and completely disagree with the way in which the information is presented and interpreted. While this is an issue with any form of research, the chances of offense and (mis)representation are often greater since blogging is usually employed as an instaneous form of communication. It generally is not used for long-term critical analysis.

This is not to say that blogging cannot take the form of ethical research. However, certain research topics lend themselves better to this medium. Just because we can blog at any moment in time and any place, doesn’t mean we should.

research tips: stalking theorists and mashing keywords

May 10, 2009

If you’re in need of more sources for your thesis or dissertation, check the university staff pages of the seminal theorists and thinkers in your field to see what journals they have published in.

I just checked out communications scholar Theo Van Leeuwen’s staff page at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia. Having published in close to 30 different journals, Van Leeuwen’s list of publications is quite helpful and very impressive!

Also, when you’re searching for articles, be creative with keywords.

Think of all the different ways your research topic could be categorized. For example, for my research on the branding of English in South Korea, I have used a wide range of search words, including: commodification, Korean, brand, multimodality, communication, education, and globalization.

Be imaginative and resourceful, and most importantly, have fun!

links of the week: financial aid, twitter tools, and ludicrous ideas

May 7, 2009

Listen to the podcast on financial aid myths and how to score cash for grad school!

Share your notes with other students. [via Mashable]

Use Twitter to conduct research and do your homework.

Search for value in ludicrous ideas. [via Tomorrow Museum]

learning how not to be too ambitious?

April 25, 2009

7971252_7e070ade7bOne of the biggest challenges of writing a master’s dissertation — or conducting any large-scale research project for that matter — is learning how to focus and choose a specific research object.

If you’re too ambitious, you may get overwhelmed and lost in an overabundance of ideas and end up writing something very general.

Even if you’re researching a field that obviously hasn’t been really researched, it may be too much for you to take on for a masters. If that’s the case, consider continuing on for a PhD. or a research fellowship.

The trick is finding a research gap in your field of study, but a gap that’s not too big.

Photo by Flickr user gapsi *your guide

the end of the semester, the beginning of essays

March 29, 2009

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while, everything seemed to happen all at once: my dissertation proposal, the last week of my job, the end of the semester, and of course, my birthday. It’s been a stressful week, but I survived.

I still have lot of work to do, but fortunately, my job at the Student Association has pretty much wrapped up, so my focus will be purely academic. I have a couple of essays due around the end of April. For The Practice of Cultural Studies course, I will write a 4,000-word essay on street art and the body. I will look at how JR, a French street artist, creates billboard-size images of eyes and faces to capture the experience of everyday people. I am still looking for a theoretical framework, but will probably draw from theories on physiognomy, please let me know if you have any reading suggestions.

For The City and Its Others course, I will probably write about representations of urban slums and their influence on urban theory and development. I am still brainstorming for this essay and may change my topic completely. This essay is supposed to be a visual-textual essay composed of 3,000 words and images with detailed captions. I have never written an essay with photographs or on urban studies, so it will be interesting to see how this new format will influence the way I think through and write about my ideas.

This may not seem like a lot of work for a graduate-level course, but in the UK, you are expected to do a great deal of self-study. As a masters student, you are supposed to read and conduct independent research for your dissertation throughout the entire year. I am a huge advocate of independent study and enjoy researching on my own, however, I prefer having more coursework. It not only helps me stay focused and interested, but also, offers more opportunities for feedback and self-improvement.

One of my biggest criticisms of the British graduate education system, especially at the University of Edinburgh, is the lack of feedback. For example, last semester I wrote two 4,000-word essays and received about one paragraph of feedback for each essay that I wrote. While I received feedback informally through meetings and class presentations, the two paragraphs were the only concrete pieces of assessment I received. There is a lot you can pack in one paragraph, but I think it would be more effective and helpful if we had a greater number of assignments in order to receive more feedback on how to improve our writing, research skills, and ideas.

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.