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Graduate Peers' Schedules

Spring 2015
Peer Advisor Availability

Professional Development Peer, Shawn Warner-Garcia
Monday: 10 a.m. to noon
Wednesday: 10 a.m. to noon
Friday: 10 a.m. to noon

Funding Peer, Kyle Crocco
Tuesday: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Thursday: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Writing Peer, Ryan Dippre
Monday: 1:30 to 4 p.m.
Tuesday: 9 to 11 a.m., 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.
Wednesday: 1:30 to 4 p.m.

Communications Peer, Melissa Rapp
Monday: 1 to 5 p.m.
Thursday: 2 to 4 p.m.

The peers sometimes hold events or attend meetings during their regular office hours. To assure you connect with your Graduate Peer Advisor, we encourage you to contact them by email and make an appointment.


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Entries in writing (32)


Try Coffitivity's Ambient Noise App To Write More Productively

According to peer-reviewed research from the University of Chicago, ambient noise stimulates our creative cognition. Basically, it's better to work in a slightly noisy coffee shop than alone in a quiet room, where you slowly go mad.

If you don't believe me, you can try out the Coffitivity website or watch that Coen Brothers movie "Barton Fink" to see a writer go mad.

On the web site, you can choose from three ambient sound loops, which recreate the background noise similar to what you might find in a coffee shop. (Or pay for other sounds, if you so choose).

There are also apps for Android and Apple if you want to stimulate your creative cognition on the go with your phone.


Finding the Right Writing Outlets for You

As graduate students, we do a great deal of reading on a regular basis. This reading is for our classes, our papers, our publishable articles, our milestones, our meetings with professors, and our general interests. With all of the reading that we do, it is both easy and tempting to make the work as quick and efficient as we can. 

But it’s important both for our mental health and our future careers that we get through our readings with the future in mind. We not only need notebooks of summaries (although those certainly help) or endless marginal comments (although these are usually essential) but also a place to organize, apply, and combine our thoughts on diverse readings. In short, we need writing outlets, places that let us throw ideas together and make sense of the world of texts that we are diving into in our roles as graduate students.

There are many different – and more and less public – ways of going about finding writing outlets. Blogs are great places to go about working on your own thoughts for a perceived audience, for example. More importantly, through sites like Wordpress, blogs are free, a key word in any graduate student’s life. 

But blogs, of course, are public, and perhaps public displays of your ideas or summaries of articles don’t suit you. In that case, consider keeping your own annotated bibliographies as you work, separated by subject or keyword. An annotated bib is a great way to keep track of your readings while also preparing a document that, in the future – and without too much work – might prove to be a small publication. Comppile, a website committed to composition studies, has a great set of annotated bibliographies as an example. 

Perhaps you don’t always have time to write out a full annotation, though. In that case, you can always just keep a running list of the works you’re organizing, and annotate them in a separate document when you have time. Rebecca Moore Howard organizes reference lists on her website around keywords, which can be particularly helpful for both you and (if you put your bibliography in a public place) others in locating important sources.

And, of course, you can always just keep a journal of your thoughts on your reading, either in a notebook or in some other kind of note-taking format. Taking a few minutes at the end of every reading session to chronicle your thoughts and draw out connections is always very helpful. It doesn’t work well for me (I found out a long time ago that I’m OK with letting myself down, so writing for only myself doesn’t go so well), but other people can get a great deal of mileage from such chronicling of their thoughts. 

The kind of writing outlet you have, however, is less important than the fact that you have one. All of the readings that you do, all of the notes you take, all of the little ideas that you have may, at some point in your future, help you with a study, an article, or a presentation, and having them in an organized system within arm’s reach can make your future work that much easier. 

Do you have a writing outlet that you love but that I didn’t mention? I would love to hear about it!  Send an email to me at


Creating Waystations for Writing Ideas

Use poster paper or less expensive butcher paper to jot down notes and thoughts about your writing projects.Toward the end of his lengthy career, comedian George Carlin noted that he had a lot of ideas, but, unfortunately, “most of them suck.” When I am faced with a writing task, I often feel the same way. I can spend a lot of time staring at a wall, mulling over a bunch of abstract thoughts, and – so long as I don’t have to account for that thinking by putting pen to paper – I walk away from that time feeling really, really smart. But then I have to write, and my seemingly brilliant ideas shrink themselves down into ordinary, obvious, and usually wordy sentences. It's a strain on the ego, to say the least.

Making the move from thought to paper (or word processor) is a tough one, and it takes regular, thoughtful work to make it happen. Anne Lamott, author of the bestselling "Bird by Bird," recommends writing at the same time every day in order to better “train your unconscious to kick in for you creatively” (p. 6). That’s not always possible (it definitely isn’t for my schedule, particularly at the end of a quarter), but it is possible to make time for writing on a daily or near-daily basis. As I argued in an earlier post, writing regularly lets you continually refine your ideas over time.

As you refine these ideas, it’s important to link them together and see how they fit. In the end, these ideas have to move from left to right and top to bottom on letter-sized sheets of paper, but there’s no reason to commit yourself to that while you are getting your ideas in line. I am a huge fan of poster sheets and butcher paper (butcher paper is less expensive, so I like that more), and I try to keep one up for every big project I am working on. Taped-up sheets of paper, Post-Its, arrows, and highlighters let me show connections among the different points I make so that I can see the way everything is slowly (and sometimes very slowly) coming together. This approach, which takes some significant time and energy, has been very effective for me.

The process also helps me move from thoughts to words on a page. I have a sort of middle ground, with arrows and highlighters and Post-Its straining to keep my ideas from running away but not yet trapping it within one-inch margins. Through this process, my writing is not yet “real:” the posters act as a waystation, where I can throw around ideas in writing, make jumps in my thinking, see where I land, and jump back if need be. I can also keep an eye on the big picture while I am doing this, so that my ideas remain aligned with one another as I go on my little thought excursions.

Now, of course, what works for me won’t work for everyone else. In fact, I don’t anticipate that it will always work for me. Right now, however, it’s perfect for my projects, my thought process, and my available wall space. And finding waystations like mine are great ways to organize your ideas and move your writing forward. Think about what your writing schedule is like, how you normally tackle ideas, and what gets in your way. Then, consider how you can use your writing opportunities and preferred methods of tracking your ideas to create waystations that will help you more easily turn your unspoken thoughts into publishable words. And THEN, bring that writing to the Writing Peer, so we can throw around even more ideas and see the different places that your writing seems to want to take you.


Making the Most of Twenty Minutes

I frequently purchase from the American Book Exchange, and it’s gotten me a lot of interesting books for a low price over the past few years. One of my favorite buys from that site has been Jay Parini’s The Art of Teaching (which, by the way, is also available at the UCSB library – LA2317.P335 A3 2005). Parini focuses mostly on teaching throughout the book, but he also discusses the troubles of teaching and writing at the same time. While arguing that “it is possible to write and teach at the same time” (p. 90), he discusses at some length his own writing habits. When I first read this book, about six years ago, I was trying to get started writing regularly, and Parini was a well-published author, so I took some of his comments to heart. I didn’t really have a system at the time, so I figured I could do worse than try to steal some of his good ideas.

Now, each writer is different, and has to deal with fitting writing into daily life in his or her own way, so only some of his suggestions really took. One of the ideas that he had that I really took to was his idea of writing in bits and pieces throughout the course of the day when the opportunity presented itself: “…the half hour before dinner, for example, when the food is cooking” (p. 92). As someone who has spent a large part of his adult life eating microwavable meals for dinner, that particular example didn’t really apply to me, but I ended up finding the general idea very, very helpful.

I was teaching high school English when I read the book, and Parini’s idea of taking twenty minutes here and there to write was turned into taking twenty minutes here and there to grade an essay or two. That idea really decreased my turnaround time for getting essays back to my students (which didn’t stop them from complaining, by the way—students always seem to expect essays back the next day). As I started writing for publication over the course of the next two years, I ended up using the idea as Parini originally intended, and it has been a huge help to my writing process.

Writing throughout the day has really embedded itself into my writing practices. Writing in small bursts regularly helps me keep my thoughts moving—it makes me a lot less likely to get stuck staring dumbly at a computer screen (although that still happens a great deal). I can’t really get a lot done in twenty minutes, but I can recast my ideas in a quick page of typing, or I can dig up some good quotes and detail some support for them, or I can write a short comparison of a couple of sources in my literature review. So, I’m not doing much, really, just a piece here, a piece there. But, by the end of the week, that piecing together ends up adding up to a significant amount. 

Another helpful idea based off of Parini’s work has been bursts of revising. I hate revising my own writing. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s very, very important to me. My first drafts read like some combination of a stream of consciousness novel and an acid trip. And I revise frequently, several times per essay. But, man, do I hate the process. Staring at my work, moving both idea by idea and line by line, from start to finish, is time consuming, frustrating, and more often than not calls for some serious comfort food. Because of this misery, I try to revise in chunks, and break up the pain.

Now, I’m not writing this just to talk about myself, but to (1) encourage others to think about their writing processes (as I’ve done before and will do again) and (2) to provide another possible tool for going about the sometimes lonely and painful process of writing. There’s no right way to go about writing, just a multitude of different ways to be used differently depending on lifestyle. If you are looking to take up my earlier advice to think about your writing processes, finding bits of time here and there to put a piece of writing together may help you.


Writing a Scholarly Book Review

Writing on a computerI was recently asked to write a book review that would be published in a Teacher Education journal. At the point of receiving that request, I had never done a book review (unless my third grade review of a Goosebumps book counts).

Book reviews are a great stepping-stone into the world of publishing. In the article, “The Endangered Scholarly Book Review,” Dr. Lynn Worsham shares how getting book reviews published in reputable journals can give you an edge in the job market. Also, writing a book review gives you a chance to improve your scholarly writing skills.

Worsham explains how graduate students are good candidates for writing book reviews because they are knowledgeable about the latest research in their field. Additionally, professors usually don’t have time to write book reviews, so journal editors often seek out graduate students to write book reviews. Of course, you don’t have to wait for a journal editor to contact you, start writing a book review now!

Before you get started, Worsham recommends contacting the journal editor and requesting permission to write the book review. Once you get permission, look up the requirements (e.g., word count) and guidelines for submitting a book review for that journal (see example: Book Review and Media Guidelines).

I wish that I could say that writing a book review is easier than getting a journal article published. It can definitely be done in a shorter time frame (e.g., two to three weeks plus revisions). However, writing a book review is not just about summarizing what happened in the book, it’s about connecting the research in the book to relevant literature and the field at large. This requires having an extensive knowledge of the literature and latest research related to the book.

A key part of the book review is your own analysis of the research. You want to examine the quality and validity of the study, whether the author’s claims are supported with significant evidence, and how the findings fit into the larger field of study. Read through the Book Review and Media Guidelines for examples of questions that you can address in a book review. It’s important to note that writing a book review is not about criticizing the book, but rather it’s about helping the audience figure out whether the book is worthwhile to read.

Before you start writing your book review, I recommend reading other published book reviews in the same journal. Examine how these reviews are organized and what types of information to include in a review. Also, share your book review with your advisor. Your advisor may know about additional articles, theories, or topics that you can include in your review.

Read Worsham’s article for more advice about writing a book review.


Is Publish or Perish a Myth?

Writing clipartCredit: Microsoft OfficeNow that I've caught your attention, let me get straight to the point...the answer is no. The publish or perish mentality is essential if you are going to pursue a faculty position.

When I surveyed department chairs across the campus, the majority of the chairs said that they look for a strong publication record when hiring new faculty members (see Advice from Department Chairs: The Ideal Faculty Candidate).

In the recent article, "Predicting Who Will Publish or Perish as Career Academics," Bill Laurance, Carolina Useche, Corey Bradshaw, and Susan Laurance described how publishing early and often is critical for success in academia. The more often that you publish, the higher your chances are of getting cited, and the better your chances are of getting a faculty position and tenure.

So, if you are planning to pursue a position in academia, start publishing now! Turn your class papers into publishable articles. Write book reviews. Submit research papers to conferences.

Read through the Publish, Not Perish web tutorial to learn more about the process of getting published.


Helpful Books: 'How to Write a Master's Thesis'

Bui, Yvonne N.  How to Write a Master’s Thesis.  2nd Edition

UCSB Library Location: LB2369.B75 2014 (Sixth Floor)

The book on Amazon.  (Also available on Kindle)

Price: $34.02

Have you been looking for a step-by-step process for writing a master’s thesis based on empirical research? If so, "How to Write a Master's Thesis" by Yvonne Bui may be what you’re looking for. Bui announces at the start of her text that “the purpose of this book is to teach and model how to write a master’s thesis as part of the requirements for a master’s degree as well as for university faculty who are teaching and advising graduate students pursuing their master’s degrees” (p. xv). It was nice of Bui to go for both audiences, but the overall feel I got from the text was that it was directed toward those writing the thesis. I don’t think this is a bad thing, necessarily. Some books waver back and forth between the student and teacher audience and end up losing both. So, by sticking to the student, this book maintains its focus well and avoids confusing the audience.

The book begins by situating the reader at the very start of the master’s program and by situating the master’s thesis among other kinds of research writing. She also takes pains to separate qualitative and quantitative research (a little simplistically, but it’s well-written and fits her purpose, so it’s OK). 

After reviewing the master’s thesis in general, Bui dives right into the process of finding a topic, creating a research question, situating the research question in the literature, conducting ethical research, and writing up results. The first few elements, again, depend on when on the path to your thesis you are reading this. The chapters do refer to one another, but they also stand alone fairly well, so you can find this book helpful even if you’re well into writing your thesis. 

Each chapter shows a step-by-step process of writing an introduction, a literature review, methods, results, and discussion. The process is straightforward, and Bui provides some figures and charts that are helpful in organizing the presentation of material. The chapters close with “Try It” and “Reflection/Discussion” sections that let the reader mull over chapter components with specific examples. 

This book can be helpful to writers in a number of situations. People who want a solid, consistent structure to build a thesis from start to finish will find plenty of guidance. Those who are looking for a straightforward structure as they come down to the wire for filing deadlines will hopefully find some peace with this clear framework. Even those of us who enjoy flexible structures for writing can find some helpful hints and gain a little insight into the expectations that people have for a finished thesis.

Overall, this is a well-structured, well-written aid for thesis writing. The downside of such a straightforward text is that it can sometimes feel a little bit like writing in a straitjacket: there’s no room to adjust for the odd connections and contradictions in various articles, and the specifics of data collection or findings may, for some, occasionally fall out of the simple boxes Bui tries to draw around them. The good news, however, is that, in the end, it’s just a book of recommendations: when the material and the structure don’t match, you can always shut the book and hammer out something new.


Use Your Head(ings)

writing tip logoHeadings

A paper without proper headings is like a book without a table of contents.

If you have ever read a long paper that uses minimal headings, you may have found yourself losing track of the main point or trying to organize the text to make sense of it. Without headings, a paper becomes a blob of text.

Using Headings as an Outline

You should use headings to your advantage when writing a paper for class, conferences, journals, and funding proposals. Headings guide the reader and allow the reader to quickly find sections that he or she wants to revisit.

The headings in a paper should be thought of as an outline. I have found that using headings and subheadings helps me keep track of how the paper is organized and allows me to make sure the narrative flows from one section to the next.

Resources for Formatting Headings

As a student in the Education department, I use APA style and formatting for my papers. I often reference the following article to make sure that I follow the correct formatting for headings: APA Style Blog: Five Essential Tips for APA Style Headings.

However, every department and field has a different formatting and style guide. So, here are some additional resources that may be more relevant to your field:


Academic Writing and Presentation: Six Tips for Writing the Dissertation

Post written by guest author Jessica Marter Kenyon, a doctoral student in Geography.

The dissertation is the sine qua non of the doctoral program. The task is a rite of passage: considered necessary for students to undertake before they become fully-fledged scholars. The quality of the central dissertation question, as well as the way in which it is researched, has a heavy bearing on job prospects once the Ph.D. is completed. It's no surprise, therefore, that the undertaking constitutes perhaps one of the major sources of stress for doctoral students. Here, broken down into six areas, are some tips to help you along the way. Though they are organized numerically and somewhat chronologically, there are exchanges between most of the ‘steps.’ Some may be most applicable to social scientists, and to those early on in their doctoral programs, but many others are generally relevant.

Produce the idea

  • The right idea can launch your career and put you in position to make a real impact in your field. Consider that your research question will overwhelmingly direct your study. It will influence the contours of the methodological and technical skills you gain, the people with whom you come in contact, the theories you explore, and your eligibility for job postings.
  • Choose something you really enjoy: you’ll need to be motivated enough to study this topic throughout your graduate career (and, perhaps, for a while after!). The most basic requirements the dissertation question must fulfill are: originality (as far as its contribution to the literature) and feasibility (is it actually possible to answer using the methods you’ve chosen, the funding you have, your technical skills, etc.).
  • Keep a journal of ideas. When you are reading literature related to your general issue area, write down any ideas you have about flaws or gaps you identify (How would the conclusions change if the study were conducted in a different place? With a different population? Using a different methodology?). Often, writers will include a section at the end of each article that outlines areas for future research. Pay special attention to those paragraphs!
  • Talk to as many knowledgeable people as you can, especially in your department. Find out what your fellow students and the faculty think is the most exciting (yet feasible) idea. Make sure your advisor is on board, as their support could be crucial.
  • Consider marketability. Is your topic pushing theoretical or methodological boundaries in some aspect? Where do your questions and approach situate you as a researcher?
  • For more guidance (geared to an audience of economics students), read this note from Don Davis, of Columbia University’s Economics Department

Determine your approach/methods

Remember that, while you must select the methodology most appropriate to your research question, you will also be defining yourself by your methods. So make sure your question helps you use the methodologies you are interested in. In some cases, the research question will lead the selection of your methods while, in others, the reverse may be true. Since methodologies are discipline and question-specific, I will simply provide some food for thought:

  • Is your dissertation going to take the form of a series of papers (typical of physical/life science) or a book (typical of social science and humanities)? Your choice will likely be driven by the morays of your discipline or sub-discipline. Your advisor and other mentors should be able to help you understand what is de rigeur in your field.
  • Be strategic. Are there technical skills or techniques you wish to gain over the course of your studies? If so, it would be wise to find an appropriate way to incorporate these into your dissertation research. Of course, you will also need to dedicate time and resources to acquiring these skills.
  • There are two major pairs of methodological binaries to consider when selecting your methods: qualitative vs. quantitative and empirical vs. theoretical. You will need to assess where you want to situate your research: on either side of these binaries, or perhaps in the middle. Increasingly, researchers are finding interesting ways to bridge these traditional divisions, or to apply unorthodox methods to questions that have only been explored in one way.
  • Lastly, consider your data needs and sources. Will you be using primary or secondary data? Does your field value collecting your own data? If so, you may want to build in a time and financial budget that allows you to do your own fieldwork. If not, consider using existing data in order to save time and money. How will you get access to the data?

Get funded

Not only is outside funding quite likely necessary for you to complete your degree, it’s also a good way to show future employers that you are fundable and can independently garner financial support for your research. Below are some general things to consider. For more detailed information on successfully finding funding, see Daniel Ervin’s GradPost here.

  • More funding is available at the all-but-dissertation (ABD) stage, so if you are a first or second year, don’t be too discouraged: there will be more opportunities later on!
  • Consider discipline-specific, professional society subgroups, UC-wide grants, and UCSB-specific grants because the pool of applicants will be somewhat more limited
  • For larger grants (from the NSF or NIH, for example, consider teaming up with faculty or fellow students)
  • Once you’ve written one funding application, the subsequent ones will be easier because you already have a lot of the important language (about yourself and your research) written down. At this point, you should be applying for every opportunity you can. Take the hours necessary to tailor your existing language to the grant opportunity on offer. Like dating, funding is to some extent a numbers game.
  • Grant proposals may require a budget. Be as thorough as you can in considering every possible expense so as not to literally shortchange yourself.

Conduct research

Once you have your research questions, methods, and funding all lined up, it’ll be time to actually start executing your project. As with methods selection, the ways in which researchers conduct their research is highly question and discipline-specific. So, here I will provide you just with some general tips on staying ahead of the game.

  • Organization is key to successfully conducting research. You must be able to intellectually and physically manage everything you’ve read. A lot of software programs exist to help you manage your bibliography. Check out this helpful comparison from Wikipedia.
  • Another good tip is that maintaining flexibility throughout the course of research may help you avoid some stress (and produce an intellectually honest piece of work at the end). It’s difficult to control every parameter that can impinge on your work (particularly if you are working outside of a laboratory setting). You may wish to sit down and evaluate which aspects of your work are non-negotiable, and which are not. If you encounter a hiccup, can you be flexible with regards to your research site, for example?
  • Don’t forget to back up your data daily. There can be few things more demoralizing than losing all of your hard work.


In order to graduate, you’ll have to set down your findings on paper. The quality of your writing is also an important factor in how seriously your work is taken. If you can’t communicate your ideas to other people, they will have a limited impact. At the very least, it is important to be direct, clear and explicit. Many students come up against the common difficulty of ‘writer’s block’, however.

  • By now, you probably have enough experience writing for classes to know your major writing hang-ups. Take some time to explicitly identify what these are.
    • Are you a perfectionist? Can you not move on from a phrase or paragraph until it’s exactly as you want it? Try and let that compunction go for a few minutes and just write out a ‘flow’ version, where you spill out all of your thoughts in plain language or in bullet points. You can go back to edit, rephrase, and add citations.
    • Are you hung up on what you want to say? Free writing can kick you into gear. Give yourself a specified (probably short) amount of time to answer some fundamental questions, such as “Who is my audience?”, “What am I really trying to say with this piece?”, “What is the major thrust of my argument?”, “If someone could take away only three things from this paper, what would they be?”. This should provide you with more clarity about your goals.
    • Does it just not sound right? Your writing will improve with practice, and over time you will become familiar with your discipline’s language. Review the organization and language of papers written by relevant researchers, note their commonalities, and try and apply them in your own work.
    • Do you never seem to have the time or will to write? Consider scheduling weekly times that you dedicate to writing and rarely deviate from. Many experts on writer’s block advise that you should write something every day, even if what you write isn’t necessary very long or very good. Lastly, be honest with yourself and maintain a diary (even if just for a week or two) in which you track how much time you’ve spent writing. Both the act of keeping the diary and the subsequent analysis of your writing behavior may provide you with a better sense of how much time you really do spend writing, and whether/when the time is productive.
  • For more, check out Columbia University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Teaching Center Completing Your Dissertation Without Tears.

Promote the dissertation

Early on in your academic career, peers, students, and employers will use your dissertation as a shorthand way of understanding who you are. Therefore, you’re going to want to find ways to promote your work so that it reflects well upon you and your capabilities and future trajectory as a researcher.

  • When given the opportunity, you want to be able to discuss your work in a succinct and exciting way. Be able to give 1, 2, and 5-minute ‘pitches’ in which you outline the context, questions and purpose of your research. You’ll have ample opportunities to practice these pitches with family members and friends. Pay attention to when and why people stop listening to you (they will eventually). These may be areas of your pitch to focus on tightening up.
  • Present your work at conferences. This is a good way to get your name out there within the relevant academic community, and also a good way to solicit preliminary feedback about your ideas.
  • If you have the work, try and publish parts of your dissertation before you graduate.
  • Student paper competitions abound, especially within subspecialty groups. Look for announcements and consider sending your paper in: it’s pretty low-work, high-reward.
  • You’ll want to be smart about leveraging your dissertation into a job. Think about how your work might be applicable to a variety of departments. If you’ve chosen something ‘trendy’, beware that you have more competition, and think about how to frame your work as distinct from the competition.


The dissertation is a formidable personal project, and one that has a lot of moving parts. Nonetheless, many of its aspects become highly manageable as long as you invest some foresight and organization into your process. If you take one thing away from this post, it should be that you aren’t alone! Many academics have preceded you in this undertaking, which means there is a lot of tried and true advice out there to strategically help you along the way.


How to Get Published Webcasts

Writing and preparing your first journal articles can be a daunting task. To help ease the process, Publishing Connect, a service from Elsevier, provides a series of webcasts titled "How to Get Published."

In three videos, each between five and twelve minutes long, the webcasts walk you through preparing your manuscript, using proper language, and structuring your article.

If you want to explore further, Elsevier also offers a series of guides on different career topics on their Biggerbrains website including: