Bigger Pictures: Make a Note
“I don’t know what I think until I’ve written about it.” ~ Various Attributions
Of all the things I talk about here at your learning center, the one I always feel a little bit guilty about is notetaking. I always feel like the subject is like a benignly neglected child in a big family, the kid who basically raises herself in a household that is far too stretched and busy to worry about someone who is more or less okay. That’s notetaking.
Academic notetaking has been largely conscribed by one thing: the lecture. And historically, this makes sense. Back in the mists of time, professors would intone and, well, profess, and students would scratch away, trying to get down every word. It wasn’t uncommon for “serious” students to learn how to take shorthand in order to get down every word. This technique can be described as truly Mediaeval, with its roots planted firmly in the monastic scriptorium, where sacred text was read aloud while Brother Scribes took down copy. What a gig.
Academia has embraced a few technological advances since the Monastic era, most notably the slide deck. Ah, yes. PowerPoint. Our frenemy. No matter where you come down on the ubiquitous deployment of PowerPoint in the higher ed classroom, there is one undeniable plus: the mad rush to get down every word has been alleviated, at least somewhat. So long as the slides are made available, you don’t have to worry about copying out the entire slide during class. All you really have to worry about is what is said off slide.
But there is another part of notes that gets routinely neglected, and that is the notes you make to yourself, and if you don’t do that now, I’d encourage you to give it a go, especially if you are currently in the type of humanities or social science courses that require you to come up with your own paper topics. These notes capture what you think about the lecture topics or reading material. Think of these kinds of notes as the record of what you think.
And one more thing: these types of notes don’t have to be declarative. Solid questions arising from the reading material count as notes too.
Staff Writer: Pete Kimchuk, Senior Learning Instructor
Writing Strategies: What’s Your Positionality?
Reflecting on, fleshing out, interrogating, and conveying your positionality relative to a research orientation is critical to ensuring the validity of your research stance. After all, no one can be 100% objective. The researcher’s beliefs, values systems, and moral stances are as fundamentally present and inseparable from the research process. In fact, even the most passive methods of data collection and quantitative analysis have some interactional aspects, and it is impossible to absolutely control for and ensure the unobtrusiveness of research applications and interventions. Power dynamics flow through every vein of the research process; therefore, it is our ethical duty to intentionally and mindfully attend to our role(s) in the contextual power interplay of the research process.
In addition to the technical qualitative and quantitative research methods for ensuring validity, a preemptive and fundamental step in attending to the ethics of the research process is to critically reflect on, flesh out, interrogate, and state one’s positionality. A great place to labor with and develop one’s positionality is in a researcher reflection memo, which provides a safe, brave, intentional, self-reflexive, and critical space to consider and respond to questions about one’s positionality:
- How do my personal, professional and/or intellectual positionalities (identities, contexts, experiences, and perspectives) cohere with or diverge from my research inquiries?
- What legacies (personal, communal, societal, national, transnational and/or global) inform the social constructedness of my positionality?
- In what ways, or not, am I conscientiously, or not, reifying, resisting, disrupting, and/or changing the constructs of my positionality through this research process?
- How has my own positionality changed, or not, over time, and why? In what ways has it remained static, and why? In what ways has it been dynamic, fluid, emerging and/or generative, and why?
- How does my positionality recognize, honor, and/or problematize intersectional notions of difference (politics, economic class, race, ethnicity, nationality, citizenship, legality, age, ability, education, sexuality, gender, and/or religion?) as a conceptual praxis of analysis for my research context?
For more support come into Weingarten to meet with a learning instructor during an individual consultation on any and all undergraduate and graduate research or join our working group series called Dissertation Bootcamp.
Staff Writer: Min Derry, Learning Instructor and Research Fellow
Welcome Boot Campers
“Writing begins when our fear of doing nothing at all outweighs our fear of doing it badly.”
~ Louis de Bernieres
So, how about a hearty shout-out to all the members of the Spring ’17 cohort of Dissertation Boot Camp. Whether you are at the stage of proposing, or data crunching or actually dissertating, congratulations – you’ve made it this far, and like we’d say back in the day, that ain’t nuthin’.
For those not in the know, Dissertation Boot Camp is brought to you by your Graduate Student Center. The boot campers resolve to arrive on-site every morning for two weeks, turn off their email/social media, and get right down to it and have at it until early afternoon. They also get the opportunity to meet one-on-one with a Weingarten instructor to discuss their project, timelines and any unique challenges. Dissertation Boot Camp has become a popular program, and has been running for more semesters than your blogger can count. I mean, your humble blogger could count semesters, but that would require needless additional research, and procrastinating on the writing of this blog post by engaging in needless additional research would be setting a bad example.
For those of you who couldn’t do boot camp this semester, fret not, here are a few helpful hints from your learning center:
- Inviolable Writing Time – Essential and non-negotiable, inviolable writing time is the basis for Dissertation Boot Camp and the “secret” to completing any writing project of considerable length. This means you set your weekly writing time and then you guard it ruthlessly. Nothing and no one gets to intrude on this time. If something comes up that needs time, steal the time from something else.
- Log Off, Sign Out – Writing time can never be inviolable if you are obsessively checking email or social media. For three or four or five hours, you must remain out of the loop, away from everything that is not related to your project. And let’s have none of that nonsense about multitasking; your project demands as much focus as you can muster. Besides, in your blogger’s humble opinion multitasking is a sinister plot created by rogue elements in the human resources industry to make writers feel insecure about their “efficiency”. Confirming this notion, however, would require additional needless research, and since we’ve already dismissed needless additional research, I’m moving on.
- Visit Your Learning Center – Dissertation support is a popular service here at Weingarten. We can help you with managing the project or thinking through research strategies. We provide you with a totally confidential, non-judgmental space. Just think of us as the human embodiment of a hot bowl of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich – soothing.
Senior Learning Instructor
Story of the Research Question
Have you ever felt “stuck” conceptualizing and fleshing out your thesis and related research question?
At any point in the writing process and academic calendar, but especially relevant during the semester-end stretch when final papers are due, you may find yourself interrogating the premises of or struggling to develop or refine the research question itself.
One way to mindfully deliberate on the research question and release the conceptual flow of writing is to PAUSE and REFLECT on the “story” of the research question itself. This can be done by writing a brief reflective memo, which may or may not be integrated into the paper itself, but will probably prove to be quite cathartic and clarifying.
Taking license to be free and unrestrained, write as if journaling to yourself, and reflect on any one or combination of the following prompts relative to your research question:
- What is the (background) “story” of (behind) the research question?
- What has been the developmental trajectory or building blocks of the research question?
- How did I become interested in this question?
- Why is this question significant to me?
- What do I find most compelling about my question?
- In what ways do I connect with this question? What are my points-of-reference for contextualizing the research question – in my own life, practice, field, and/or in the world?
For more strategies, come to Weingarten, collaborate with a learning instructor and get tailored feedback through an individual consultation. Also, consider registering for our Dissertation Bootcamp!
By Staff writer: Min Derry, Learning Fellow & Instructor
Tech Tuesday: Zotero
This Tech Tuesday we are highlighting Zotero which is a browser extension and stand-alone desktop application for Windows and MacOS. Zotero is most commonly known as a citation manager similar to EasyBib or Mendeley. While Zotero is excellent at managing citations, it is capable of so much more. This article will provide an overview of its most useful features. Future blog posts will expand on Zotero with in-depth how-to guides. I like Zotero because it is feature rich and can help students keep readings and citations well organized. Another huge perk is that Zotero is open source software. Not only is it free, but it also has a number of useful plug-ins and add-ons.
Managing Citations and Outputting References:
As mentioned, Zotero is an excellent citation manager. The base install of the desktop application comes with a variety of standard citation styles including MLA, APA, Chicago and others. Have an obscure citation style only used by a specific discipline, don’t fret, chances are you can find it in the Zotero style repository here.
Outputting in-text citations in Zotero couldn’t be easier. Select the reference or references you want a citation for, right-click and select “Create bibliography from item” choose in-text citation, your chosen style, and copy to clipboard. Then, simply past the citation where needed in your document. You can create full reference pages in much the same way. Simply choose bibliography in the output section.
Add, Organize and Manage Citations
Zotero has feature rich folder options to keep your citations organized. You can create a folder for a given class or project and then store all your citations in the folder. Adding citations is easy. If you’re using Google Scholar, you can simply download an RIS file (RefMan) using cite function in Google Scholar and open it with Zotero. Books can be added using the wand button () and then adding the ISBN for the book. Zotero will handle the rest. Using add-ons Zotero can even scan PDF’s of journal articles and collect all the citation and metadata info directly from the article. A how-to blog outlining just how to do this will be available soon.
Have a class with a heavy reading load? Zotero is great for keeping all your readings organized. Add them all to a folder for that specific class and then you can write summaries or outlines for each with the built-in note taking function.
Alternatively, or in-addition, you can also add any attachment you want to a given reference. For STEM students, this could be particularly useful if you draw diagrams in your notes and you want to keep them together with a specific reading. As mentioned, Zotero is free you can download it here. Check back soon for specific how-to guides that will expand in-depth on the various features and options Zotero has to offer.
Staff Writer: Randall Perez
Getting Started on Final Papers
So it’s that time of the semester that we all forgot about-final papers/project season. You know, because we were surviving it week by week, midterm by midterm, page by page of mostly monotonous readings? It can be daunting to begin tackling a huge and cumulative assignment when you have no idea where to even begin. Here are some strategies to get started:
- Chunking: Ever get this feeling that you are so overwhelmed by the task that no matter how much time you devote to sitting down at your desk, you just are too paralyzed to start? Don’t start off thinking you are going to do it all in one sitting. Begin by breaking down the assignment into different stages and assign yourself goals. Perhaps start off with re-reading major concepts of the course since that might inspire a certain topic or focus for your paper. Then, on another day or week, move on to researching and making connections to texts covered in the class. The point is to establish tasks that are realistic bite-sized chunks.
- Concept Mapping: Having a whiteboard (or blank paper) and some different colored markers (different color= different theme/connection) help to get all your ideas out there without the pressure of writing full on paragraphs or pages. Brainstorm with drawing if you have to! Jot down ideas and key concepts and this way, you can also work towards clarifying your arguments.
- Come into Weingarten: Learning instructors here at Weingarten have various academic backgrounds including and ranging from doctoral students, research assistants, social scientists, and academics. Having another person to help you “talk through” your scholarly ideas is a great way to learn. What it comes down to is really cliche but hey, it works: “Two heads are better than one!”
Staff writer: Victoria Gill
Tech Tuesday: Coggle, A Mind Mapping App
Mind maps are a great tool for not only organizing your arguments and ideas for a paper or presentation, but also for organizing information you need to know as a way to study for an exam. Consider mind maps as a way to neatly and visually organize all the information you need or want on topics. Coggle is a free website where this can be done. Here are the benefits of using this platform:
- it’s always free
- do real-time collaboration on a project with a partner or group. Partners can comment and chat. Track changes are available (like Google Docs)
- upload PDFs or images to include in your mind map
- it’s user friendly. You don’t have to know complicated features to use it or to create stunning visual mind maps
- download the mind maps for studying later, or include in a paper, or print out for presentations
- easily share your mind map with others
Check out these sample Coggle mind maps!
For more information or practice on how to use it, come into the Weingarten Learning and Resources Center anytime!
Staff Writer: Victoria Gill
Tech Tuesday: How to Activate the Dictation Feature on Your Mac
Tired of typing papers? Or maybe you’re just really not feeling like typing and want to dictate your notes, thoughts, or next assignment? If you have a Mac, use these simple 8 steps to get the dictation on your computer working instead of paying loads of money for the Dragon software or other apps:
1. Go to the apple menu
2. Click on system preferences
3. Towards the bottom, click on “Dictation & Speech”
4. Click “on”
5. Then click “Use Enhanced Dictation”
6. Let the “enhanced” version download really quick. Should be less than 3-5 minutes depending how good your internet connection is.
7. You can use this feature in Word Documents or even in other note-taking applications like Evernote!
8. Press the “fn” (function) key twice to activate! Let the paper writing begin!
Staff Writer: Victoria Rodriguez
Secrets from Inside a Grant Writing Panel
Three graduate students in three separate disciplines—social sciences, humanities and natural sciences—came together at the Penn Graduate Student Center to percolate on the real process behind grant writing. Here’s what we learned:
• Get a Fan Club.
o It’s imperative to have people around you that remind you why you’re doing your work. It’s also important to have people in your field that you can relate with and share your concerns and process.
• Be Your Own Fan Club.
o Grant writing requires that you write about yourself and sometimes “sell” your accomplishments. A learning instructor can help you remove your ego (or lack thereof!) from the brainstorming experience so you can shine without concern.
o A successful grant is dependent on thorough research—so start this process early and plan for extra time. Be innovative in how you approach the project and give yourself time for brainstorming and conversations with colleagues and supporters.
• Tap into Past Success(es).
o Remember how you rocked that project, presentation, dissertation? Tap into that success by remembering the time management strategies that worked for you so you can apply them to this task.
What are your secrets for success with big writing projects?