Category - Advice

Do’s and don’ts of graduate school personal statements

Grad student
The personal statement, or statement of purpose, is perhaps the most important element of a graduate school application. What makes it somewhat elusive is that there isn’t a formula to follow: instead, applicants have considerable freedom to craft arguments, unique to their life experiences and compositional flair, for why they should be admitted to graduate school. Consequently, personal statements vary significantly. Notwithstanding, there are some general guidelines to follow and pitfalls to avoid, which I’ve divided below into “do’s” and “don’ts.” Read More

Writing samples for grad school applications

Applying to grad school can be a tedious process with many different elements. Your application will consist of such items as your previous transcripts, GRE scores, your resume or CV, a cover letter or letter of interest or personal statement, and, for most programs, a writing sample.  A lot of applicants, even highly qualified applicants with a high GPAs and GRE test scores, do not spend the needed time nor employ the appropriate strategy when preparing their writing samples. A writing sample is an important part of the application that will demonstrate to the admissions committee your writing competency, which is a critical indicator of your future success in grad school and thus weighted heavily by the committee. Read More

Learning and studying habits for grad students

Graduate students who are at least one year in to their program can all tell you that the way you are expected to learn and study as a graduate student is not the same as when you were an undergrad. Too many undergraduates are able to get buy with A’s and B’s by relying on strategies such as rote memorization, late night cram sessions, and last minute papers. While these habits may have gotten you though your undergrad degree (they did mine), those learning and studying strategies will NOT translate well to your graduate student experience. In fact, if you are in the habit of studying this way, they will be a hindrance to your success. Graduate-level education is very different from undergraduate education, and only by acknowledging this and recognizing the differences will you be prepared to be successful from the start. Read More

Guide to delivering a conference presentation


Attending scholarly conferences is pretty much a must in the life of a graduate student. Some grad students attend several conferences each year, while others attend maybe just one. It all depends on your discipline, your supervisor’s expectations, what funding is available for travel, and how much “spare” time you have.  As detailed in my post about this topic, attending conferences has many benefits and can greatly enhance your grad student experience. Sooner or later, though, you will realize that merely attending conferences may not be enough to meet your goals. You are going to need to present at conferences too.
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How to write an abstract

writing abstract
It’s happened to me more than once. I’ve finished a manuscript to submit for publication and then I realize that I still need to write the abstract before I can submit it.  I hate writing abstracts. They’re famously difficult to write, but they’re required for submitting articles, conference proposals, grant proposals, theses and dissertations, and some professors even ask for them for term papers.

An abstract should be a short, self-contained statement that describes the study or article. It’s not a review of the article or paper, and it is not meant to evaluate or assess the study. Really, it is just suppose to describe the work, including the various components of the study. It is difficult to summarize an entire study or an entire proposal using only the limited number of words permitted for an abstract. What information do you include and what do you leave out? I’ve struggled with this a number of times, but I have now learned a few strategies to make the task of writing an abstract a lot less daunting.

Here are some tips… Read More

Get back to writing: Tips for grad students with “writer’s block”

It’s amazing what we can busy ourselves with to avoid writing. Every grad student does it. Browsing social media feeds, reading useless articles online (not this one though, this one is not useless), sending pointless text messages and emails, organizing your sock drawer – sometimes we’ll do anything to avoid writing. Most of the time though, it’s not because we don’t want to write, rather it’s usually because we don’t know how to get started or we’ve ran into some kind of block.

Writer’s block? Actually I’m not so sure writer’s block is a real thing for grad students. I recently read Paul Silvia’s (2007) book How to Write a Lot, and I was struck by what he claims about writer’s block: “I love writer’s block. I love it for the same reasons I love tree spirits and talking woodland creatures—they’re charming and they don’t exist.” You see, to write novels or poems or short stories, an author often has to wait for some magical inspiration, a spark, something that triggers the imagination. For academics, the act of interpreting data and discussing results in the context of some theoretical framework is not the same kind of creative act.. we don’t really need to wait for inspiration in the same way a novelist does. Instead, our obstacles are most likely to be lack of motivation, a crisis of confidence, putting off scary data analysis, or just plain procrastination.

If you’re having trouble writing that term paper or doing that lit review, or if you find yourself continually delaying getting to that dissertation chapter that you really need to get done, here are a few tips that have worked for me… Read More

Getting involved in grad school

grad students

No matter what school you attend, there are going to be many opportunities to get involved and build your personal and professional profiles. Conferences, lectures, department gatherings, and social events will call for your attention, and there will be tough choices to make as you fill out your resume and experiences. But what opportunities are worth taking advantage of, and which are best left passed over?

The biggest question to ask yourself is whether or not an activity or opportunity will be valuable for your ultimate goal. Everyone goes to grad school for a different reason. For some it’s to get a Masters as a stepping stone to a Ph.D.; others are at the Ph.D. level, and they want to become professors after graduating; even others just need a graduate level degree to progress in a career they’ve already started. So identifying your long-term education and career goals is a must. Read More

Conference funding sources

Academic conference

Conferences are a great way for graduate students to build their academic and professional profiles, while also getting valuable experience for everyday activities. Whether you are presenting, chairing, or moderating a session, or just dropping in to listen to the ideas of other scholars, attending conferences is an essential activity for grad students to get and remain connected in the scholarly community and to learn the ropes from experienced scholars.

But what if you’ve been accepted to present at a conference, and you’re raring and ready to go, but are not super excited about dolling out the cash that it take to register and travel? Well, you’re going to have to figure out how to pay for it somehow, but most grad students don’t have extra money to spend spontaneously on travel, lodging, registration, and food — a two-day conference can quickly cost well over $500. Where should the money come from then? Read More

Guide to writing a conference proposal

graduate student

Presenting at professional or academic conferences is a must for graduate students in most disciplines. Regardless of what career you are aiming for after graduation, the skills and experience you can acquire and practice by presenting at conferences will certainly be valuable to you. For more about why you should present at conferences, see my blog on that topic here. And for tips on actually delivering a conference presentation, see my post about that here. But before you get to that stage, you will have to select a conference and submit a proposal or abstract to the conference committee with the hope of being selected as a presenter. This post offers you advice and guidance based on my own experience about the process of writing and submitting a strong abstract or proposal for a conference session. Read More

Branching out of your program

grad student

Whether your goals in a graduate program are strictly academic or involve something beyond what school has to offer, it is never a bad thing to expand your activities and workload, especially by taking the skills you’ve developed in undergrad and grad school and allowing them to guide your choices.  Most graduate program stipends aren’t livable wages, and not all programs pay your way, so unless you’re lucky enough to be financially comfortable while earning your degree, it’s worth looking for ways to supplement income and boost the skills that will be most important to your future career endeavors. Read More