April 2013

Navigating Graduate School: Applying for Grants and Scholarships

The summer is full of possibilities as a graduate student. If you're not taking classes and find yourself with some "free" time, tackle that grant writing project or fellowship application that's been on your To Do List. With an investment of time and energy, you'll be able to produce a great application and increase the odds of receiving an award…

Read Full Article

Good Practices in Graduate Education: Managing Your Sources

As a graduate student, you read broadly in your discipline at the beginning of your career. When you move on to work on your research papers, a master's thesis, or your dissertation, you're reading deeply into your topic. No matter what stage of your graduate career, it pays to set up a Citation Management System (CMS)…

Read Full Article

Graduate Student Professional Development: Cultivating an Online Presence

Chances are you already have personal profiles with social media websites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. As you continue through your graduate school career and prepare for the job market, you should be thinking about creating (or cleaning up) your online presence…

Read Full Article

Teaching Tip: Review and Update Last Semester’s Syllabus

You’ve just finished teaching a course—maybe for the first time—and you probably have a few things you’d change about the course before you teach it again. Don’t just set the syllabus aside! Make time now to revise the syllabus to reflect your experience…

Read Full Article

The Graduate Writer: Edit Long Sentences by Reducing Prepositions

Prepositions create links across your sentence and help define the relationships between phrases. Helpful prepositions include the words of, from, in, at, by, under, with, and to. When prepositions are used to excess they obscure meaning, make your sentences difficult to navigate, and sacrifice clarity…

Read Full Article

News and Notes April 2013

Funding Opportunities April 2013

Calendar April 2013

Applying for Grants and Fellowships

The summer is full of possibilities as a graduate student. If you're not taking classes and find yourself with some "free" time, tackle that grant writing project or fellowship application that's been on your To Do List. With an investment of time and energy, you'll be able to produce a great application and increase the odds of receiving an award.

Here are some tips to get you started:

Begin a Fellowship and Grant Database

Subscribe to listservs in your discipline and pay attention to the listing of grants and fellowships. Additionally, the Office of Research and Economic Development (ORED) maintains a listserv, and each issue of Graduate Connections contains a selection of grants and fellowships. Whether you're in your first or final year of your graduate program, consider maintaining a spreadsheet or database of all fellowships and grants that are of interest to you. Even if you won't be pursuing a fellowship this year, you might want to apply for it in a few years when you are at a different stage in your career. Keep track of the fellowship name, a link to the website, deadlines, a short description of the award, and the amount.

No Grant is too Small

Every grant on your CV indicates an ability to write grants and conduct research. Don't just apply for the large national grants. Start by applying for small grants offered through your department or college. When a grant committee sees that you have successfully obtained other grants and used them to further your research, they'll look at your application more favorably. By the time you are working on your dissertation, you'll be a good candidate for nationally competitive grants.

Draft Early, and Edit Often

Start working on applications due in the fall and spring over the summer. Writing grants requires good writing—and great editing. Give yourself time to edit your draft many times and get feedback from colleagues, postdocs, advisors, and grant specialists at UNL. Polishing your prose will help your ideas and research shine through. When you write your grant, avoid jargon, especially if an interdisciplinary panel will be evaluating your proposal. Jargon doesn't make you look smart; rather, it obscures meaning. Write simply and strongly.

Make a Good Case for Your Research

Background research goes a long way. When you apply to visit archives, see if you can use interlibrary loan to get microfiches of the material before you start the application. Find out exactly which resources you'll be drawing on to complete your project, and reference them clearly in your application. If you're applying for a grant, make a detailed list of how the money will be used. Will you be traveling? Look up the cost of plane tickets, and the airports you'll be using. Staying somewhere? Know the name of the hotel and list the rate. Include a list of the cost of specific tools you'll be using and materials you'll need to buy.

Pay Attention to the Language in the Call for Applications

One key to writing successful grants is an awareness of what the committee wants. Read the call for applications carefully, and make a list of the criteria. After you've drafted the proposal, review what you've written. Have you addressed every criterion on the list? Is your writing explicit, or have you hidden your intentions and you're asking the reader to uncover meaning? The best grant and fellowship applications clearly meet the reader's expectations.

The summer is a great time to work on grant and fellowship applications. Get a leg up on securing funding during graduate studies, and build your CV with an eye toward future job applications and research.

Resources

http://chronicle.com/article/Grand-Applications/130648/

Managing Your Sources

As a graduate student, you read broadly in your discipline at the beginning of your career. When you move on to work on your research papers, a master's thesis, or your dissertation, you're reading deeply into your topic. No matter what stage of your graduate career, it pays to set up a Citation Management System (CMS).

There are numerous benefits to using a management system: You keep your notes in one place, your notes are searchable, and you don’t lose track of what you’ve read (especially helpful if returning to an area that you may have worked on years ago). These Management Systems make it easier to find a quote or citation that you are including in your own work. This is vital for maintaining academic integrity.  When you’re writing a paper or a thesis, you might remember an idea from a book or article you used in the past. In order to properly cite where you first learned about the idea, you’ll want to be able to search your notes easily and have all the information for the citation at hand.  By using a citation management system, you can easily trace the origin of your idea and give credit where it’s due. This is vital for maintaining academic integrity.

Another bonus? Management systems help you format your bibliography at the end of a project.  If you’re writing a dissertation and have fifteen pages of sources, getting the formatting just right won’t be a struggle.

There are many citation management systems available for free or for sale. Here are just a few of the freely-available systems:

RefWorks

Because it’s compatible with Encore, UNL’s online catalog, RefWorks may be the only CMS you'll ever need. You can export a source directly from Encore into RefWorks, rather than typing in each field individually. This will save you time and minimize typos! RefWorks is free to UNL students. You may not know whether the next institution you work for will have free access, so consider what you’ll do with your citations (and how you’ll access them) once you graduate.

Mendeley

One of the free citation management systems, Mendeley may be a good choice for you if you’ll be graduating soon or if you also want to manage PDFs. You can import and organize your PDFs, a boon for accessing journals online. Like RefWorks, Mendeley generates citations and bibliographies. Another benefit to using Mendeley is being able to collaborate with other authors or teammates from the same lab. You can create groups that are either public or private and share documents.

Zotero

Zotero allows you to collect all of your research materials: PDFs, images, audio, and video files. Rather than using folders, Zotero uses searchable tags. You can use one tag across a number of collections and sub-collections. You can use the library’s categories for tagging your own research. Like the resources listed above, Zotero also allows you to format your citations in a number of styles (APA, MLA, and hundreds more). Like Mendeley, you can also collaborate with coworkers or reading groups to share resources and notes.

In addition to these three tools, there are many more out on the market. To find the citation management system that works best for you, try watching online tutorials to see if one system seems more intuitive than another. Also talk to your colleagues. They may prefer one system over another. Using the same system may make collaboration easier.

Remember: start using a citation management system now and you’ll make your work throughout graduate school more efficient. If you’ve been tracking your work consistently, putting together literature reviews, writing a journal article, or preparing for your comprehensive exams is a snap!

For more digital resources that can aid your work in graduate school (with recommendations beyond citation management systems!), see the full article.

Cultivating An Online Presence

Chances are you already have personal profiles with social media websites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. As you continue through your graduate school career and prepare for the job market, you should be thinking about creating (or cleaning up) your online presence. This may include reviewing your current web presence or developing a new one through a personal website or other online profiles. How can you harness the power of search engines, develop a consistent image, and take advantage of specialized networks? And is it really worth it?

Jentery Sayers’ ProfHacker post “Do You Need Your Own Website While On The Job Market?”  provides advice for graduate students who are preparing for the job market. Before addressing the ins and outs of developing your web presence, let’s answer the second question posed above: is it really worth it? Sayers says yes and no.

No

Yes

  • If you’ve never created a personal website, the work associated with the development of your website may add unneeded stress during a very busy time of drafting cover letters and refining your teaching portfolio.
  • If it's not commonplace for academics in our field to maintain an academic website.
  • If your advisory committee doesn't recommend that you spend your time on creating a website.
  • Sayers says, “It allows me to document and exhibit work—or better yet, the processes—involved in what’s ultimately presented as my CV.”
  • You want to take advantage of audio and visual representation of your research and experience, like photos of you at work in your lab or videos of teaching a class.
  • It allows others to more easily learn about you and find your work.
  • A website breaks down the barriers of print, allowing your audience the ability to “navigate through your materials in a non-linear fashion.”


Sayers' post concludes with an excellent list of questions to consider when beginning the process of building your academic website, addressing such issues as the best platform to use, content to include in your website, and managing URLs.

If you’ve decided that a professional online presence is important for your professional future, where do you start? In “Creating Your Web Presence: A Primer for Academics,” Miriam Posner gives us “some low-investment, high-return ways to maintain a consistent, professional Web presence.” Posner starts with three principles to follow when creating your online presence (Familiarity, Consistency, and Participation), and delves into utilizing social networks like Facebook, Academia.edu, and LinkedIn.

Much of the advice in these two articles is focused on graduate students preparing to enter the job market or academics already in their careers, but graduate students at the beginning of their academic careers should take advantage of the suggestions and resources provided. This additional time allows you to build a robust online presence and follow and network with others in your field. Developing and maintaining a clean, professional online presence now will save you the time and effort of scrubbing errant Facebook photos or differentiating yourself on the web later.

Review and Update Last Semester's Syllabi

You’ve just finished teaching a course—maybe for the first time—and you probably have a few things you’d change about the course before you teach it again. Don’t just set the syllabus aside! Make time now to revise the syllabus to reflect your experience. Setting apart an afternoon at the end of the semester to revamp your syllabus will make starting the new semester easier, and will pay dividends in the future.

Here are some ideas to help you get started:

What does your syllabus say about you and your course?
Is your syllabus setting the right tone? Your word choice and the topics you choose to address (in terms of class policy or grading) creates a tone or subtext for the entire semester. Craft your syllabus to be informative and encouraging to students. For example, Natalie Houston suggests giving students an early overview of grading categories, but waiting to hand out assignment-specific rubrics. Withholding details about the assignments (until a more appropriate time) can help students from feeling overwhelmed. 

How will you run your classroom?
Classroom policies should be made explicit. Include guidelines for students' use of technology and collaboration; your expectations of attendance, effort and participation; your rules for accepting late work or extra credit (your students will ask!); and include department and college policies, if necessary. Ask a mentor or other colleague about their syllabi, and whether you can use elements of theirs on yours. Remember that a syllabus is a contract between instructor and students—you are informing your students what they can expect from you.

What are students learning?
What are the learning outcomes for your students? That is, what should students be able to know or do after completing your course? Examples include an ability to provide a close reading of texts, proficiency in carrying out laboratory tasks, or developing specific writing and presentations skills. Be specific!

If the course is a foundational class, make sure you're providing a structure in which students can learn both the content and the skills they'll need to succeed in later courses. Speak with faculty instructors or curriculum committees; ask about pre-requisite skills and knowledge for students in upper-level courses. 

What worked well and what didn’t?
Perhaps a particular assignment wasn’t well-received, or you felt student final presentations were lackluster. Think about how you might adapt or replace assignments, or what you could do to help students develop skills. Perhaps only small changes are needed—like switching one reading assignment for another— or maybe you’ll need to rethink your pedagogical approach. When you're planning a course, consider the experience and abilities of the students likely to enroll. Are the assignments and expectations realistic for an introductory class? Demanding enough for a senior-level course?

What’s the rhythm of the class?
You might set due dates for major assignments in the first half of a course so students can focus on exams later in the semester. An effective way to keep students on track is to assign a series of small assignments leading to the production of a final project or paper (such an approach has the added benefit of reducing the incidence of academic dishonesty).

In scheduling assignments, write potential due dates on a calendar and check that sufficient time exists between assignments so students won’t get overwhelmed. Consider your course schedule in the context of other events (university holidays, for example). Be aware of the 15th Week policy concerning assignments and assessments. Again, your syllabus is a contract between instructor and student; planning ahead protects both you and your students.

Consider the format.
Are you using a paper syllabus or going digital? If you're staying with paper, ensure that the course name and your name appear on each page. A digital syllabus allows you to use such devices as hyperlinks to the correct editions of the books you’ll be using, access to electronic articles, and even multimedia.

On paper or with pixels, pay attention to the physical layout of the information on your syllabus. Bullet points and tables are easier to access and read than long-form paragraphs, for example.

 

Additional resources

Edit Long Sentences; Reduce Prepositions

Prepositions create links across your sentence and help define the relationships between phrases. Helpful prepositions include the words of, from, in, at, by, under, with, and to. When prepositions are used to excess they obscure meaning, make your sentences difficult to navigate, and sacrifice clarity.

For example, here's a sentence that’s difficult to understand with only one reading:

Natural history museums, like the American Museum, constitute one decisive means for power to de-privatize and re-publicize, if only ever so slightly, the realms of death by putting dead remains into public service as social tokens of collective life, rereading dead fossils as chronicles of life’s everlasting quest for survival, and canonizing now dead individuals as nomological emblems of still living collectives in Nature and History. [1]

Of course this sentence could be completely reorganized and rewritten with different words in an attempt to clarify the meaning, but simply reducing the number of prepositions can make a big difference. To highlight this principle, we won't change any of the language other than the prepositions:

Natural history museums, LIKE the American Museum, constitute one decisive means FOR power TO de-privatize and re-publicize, if only ever so slightly, the realms OF death BY putting dead remains INTO public service as social tokens OF collective life, rereading dead fossils as chronicles OF life’s everlasting quest FOR survival, and canonizing now dead individuals as nomological emblems OF still living collectives IN Nature and History.

Each preposition starts a prepositional phrase, and these phrases include one or more nouns. Here we'll judiciously edit. Is there a clear place where we can break the sentence? Here's one way of editing the sentence into three sentences:

Natural history museums, like the American Museum, constitute one decisive means for power to de-privatize and re-publicize, if only ever so slightly, the realms of death. Museums do this by putting dead remains into public service as social tokens of collective life. They reread dead fossils as chronicles of life’s everlasting quest for survival and canonize now-dead individuals as nomological emblems of still living collectives in Nature and History.

While the final sentence still contains its original vocabulary (and four prepositions), it’s much easier to comprehend. Check your own writing to see if you are obscuring your meaning. Sometimes, strings of prepositions are the culprit. If so, using this simple technique can simplify your editing.



[1] Timothy W. Luke, “Museum Pieces: Politics and Knowledge at the American Museum of Natural History." Australasian Journal of American Studies (December 1997). Excerpt quoted at: http://denisdutton.com/bad_writing.htm