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Graduate Peers' Schedules

Summer 2015
Peer Advisor Availability

Professional Development Peer
Shawn Warner-Garcia

Mon-Thu: 10 a.m.-noon

Writing Peer & Funding Peer
Kyle Crocco

Mon, Wed: 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Communications Peer
Melissa Rapp

Mon: 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Wed: 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Diversity Peer
Charles Williams

By appointment

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 (37)


The Secrets to Finding Time to Write


Want to learn the secrets to finding time to write? Check out the wisdom of former Writing Peer Ryan Dippre. He coveres developing a motivating schedule to using twenty or thirty minutes a day to make progress.

20 minutes: Get work done by writing and revising in small bursts.

30 minutes: Schedule thirty minutes a day when you can get words down.

Finding time to write: How to balance writing with a heavy teaching load.

Motivating schedule: Learn how to craft a schedule that motivates you to complete tasks. 


The Importance of Writing - And Writing Well - In All Fields

Credit: Nic McPheeWhile you may think that extensive writing skills are the purview of Humanities and Social Science fields, a recent article on Vitae argues that STEM scholars should also practice and hone writing skills. Theresa MacPhail draws on her own experience as an assistant professor, as well as interviews with three high-profile technology professionals, to convince STEM students that writing skills matter for any career path. Read the full article here.

In related news, the Dissertation Writer's Room will resume a relatively normal schedule starting in August. Hosted in the Student Resource Building (Room 1103), the Writer's Room is open four days a week during the following times:

Mondays and Wednesdays: 1-4 p.m.
Tuesdays and Thursdays: 9 a.m.-noon

The only exceptions to this regular schedule are Tuesday, August 4 (when it will be open 1-4 p.m.) and Thursday, August 20 (when it will be hosted in SRB 2154). Come join your fellow scholars from across disciplines to exercise your writing muscles! Click here for the full summer schedule.


How to Salvage Your Summer Writing

Credit: Rennett StoweIn a recent article on Inside Higher Ed, Kerry Ann Rockquemore responds to a reader who is concerned that it's already mid-July and the writer hasn't made a dent in big writing projects. Her tips included:

  1. Get real about why you have not been writing.
  2. Create a 30-day writing plan.
  3. Write every day.
  4. Join a supportive community of daily writers. (We suggest such communities as the Intensive Dissertation Writer's Retreat and the Dissertation Writer's Room here at UCSB!)

Read the full article on Inside Higher Ed's website here.

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CLAS Offers Writing Support to Graduate Students

Are you looking for help with your papers, or just a quiet place to get work done?

Every Thursday evening, UCSB's Campus Learning Assistance Services (CLAS) provides a tranquil writing space exclusively for graduate students in the Student Resource Building, Rooms 3280 and 3282.

You can type away and avail yourself of the free coffee, tea, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, as well as the free writing consultations from one of CLAS’s professional tutors. During a writing consultation, you will usually read parts of your paper aloud, letting your tutor help you identify any issues with flow, logic, and clarity. Writing consultations can also focus on outlining, getting started with writing, and techniques for improved editing. All disciplines are welcome.

Writing Space and Free Consultations

When: Every Thursday, 6-10 p.m.

Where: SRB 3280 and 3282

Who: All UCSB graduate students

Questions? Contact Jay Stemmle at


Update (July 10, 2015): The CLAS graduate student writing space will be closed until further notice.  Writing consultations for graduate students will be available on a first-come-first-served basis from 6-10 p.m. next Thursday, July 16, via Skype at the user name CLASacademicskills.


Dissertation Formatting Tips and Tricks with Microsoft Word

Table of contentsFormat your table of contents. Credit: Hanna PeacockIf you've spent valuable time in your life trying to format your dissertation (or any paper for that matter), you probably want to kill somebody. Don't. Life in prison isn't worth it. Instead, take some tips from Hanna Peacock's Grad Hacker article on formatting your dissertation.

Hanna's Tricks and Tips

The "Insert Page" or "Section Breaks" features help with tedious tasks like page numbering, page orientation, and inserting figures.

Use "Styles" for your paper headings to help create your Table of Contents.

For more information on these tips and a few bonus formatting tricks, check out Hanna's article.

For more grad life tips, check out Grad Hacker.


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.