Advice for Academic Writing from Wendy Laura Belcher

If there is one book I wish I read at the beginning of my graduate studies it is Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks by Wendy Laura Belcher. Although Belcher provides a detailed plan for completing and submitting an academic article, she also offers honest, useful, and more importantly, realistic advice which is applicable for other sorts of writing such as seminar papers, notes for comprehensive exams, dissertations, and even creative endeavors. Belcher acknowledges that scientific writing generally has other parameters, so she mainly addresses scholars in fields such as the Humanities and the Social Sciences.

Here are some of my favorite suggestions from the book:

  • Identify your feelings about writing.
    • Are you experiencing guilt, fear of failure, impostor syndrome? It is actually very common to have negative feelings about writing. It is important to acknowledge these feelings and even talk about them rather than repress them.
  • Prepare a realistic writing schedule.
    • Work on a writing schedule and anticipate weeks when you might not be able to write.
    • Pick a time of day that works with your other responsibilities and habits. Consider if you are a morning or an evening person before deciding on the best time to write.
    • If you cannot write at the same time every day, try to come up with a regular pattern for your schedule.
  • Make writing social.
    • Writing does not require isolation. In fact, it should be done in community. Join a writing group or attend a writing class. A good conversation about your manuscript will help you think further about your argument and will teach you how to respond to feedback and criticism.
  • Write every day.
  • Do not wait to write. Do not wait for:
    • Inspiration
    • The last minute
    • Big blocks of time.
  • Do not wait until all of your research is done to start writing.
    • It is not possible to read every book which might be related to our topic.
    • Start writing and this will help you determine what information you actually need.
    • Leave holes in your manuscript. These can be filled up later.
    • Approach writing and thinking as simultaneous tasks.
  • Persist!
    • Rejection is common, do not take it as a measure of your worth. The best writers get rejections as well, but they persist.  

Overall, Belcher’s book encourages graduates students to persevere, even when we feel we do not have the time to write. She also offers practical solutions to common internal and external obstacles. If you would like to know more about her approach or if you are interested in following her 12-week plan, you can find her book at the Hesburgh Library. (The Spanish edition is also available for online access).

Did you enjoy Belcher’s book? Do you have any more questions about it? Ask the Salmon! Submit your questions to gradlife@nd.edu or go to the Ask a Question tab at the top of this page.

7 Books Every Grad Student Should Read

Are you looking for some beginning of the semester reading? I’m a fourth-year grad student and I have found these 7 books to be quite influential in my own ability to navigate the world of academia. You may find them helpful too:

The Professor is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your PhD into a Job by

Karen Kelsky

  • Shows you how to structure your time and priorities to meet the demands of the job market.
  • Best for those in the Social Sciences and Humanities.
  • Get it from the ND Library here

 

Advice for New Faculty Members by Robert Boice

  • Empirically informed explanation for how to overcome the bad habits you’ve formed as a student and how to start thinking like a true scholar
  • Get it from the ND Library here

 

The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It by Valeri Young

  • Good for all people- explains impostor syndrome and how to identify that this is the problem that you or your colleagues are suffering from and some key ways to overcome it

 

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

  • Explains the importance of being in touch with your core values and how to approach structuring your work around those values.
  • Get it from the ND Library here

 

Rejection Proof: How I Beat Fear and Became Invincible Through 100 Days of Rejection by Jia Jiang

  • You will get rejected again and again as an academic. This book shows how you can understand these rejections as opportunities while transforming them from ego crushers to ego boosters.

 

The Power of Habit: Why We do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

  • Learn how to craft your approach to your work. By incorporating cues and automating a lot of your research process, you can get more done with less resistance.
  • Get it from the ND Library here

 

The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance by Josh Waitzkin

  • Understanding all of the intricacies of top performers can inform your work process. There are many subtle nuances to becoming an expert in a field, and this book explores how the good from the great are defined by very subtle differences in everyday decisions.

Summer in South Bend: The Big City

The perks of living in South Bend are many, and one is our proximity to the city of Chicago. One of the biggest cities in the United States, Chicago has something for everyone: museums, theaters, city parks, restaurants, and all manner of opportunity for adventure. If you are looking for food, music, or a just a stroll around the bustling downtown, the city is only a couple of hours away.

Getting to Chicago

The first step is to get to the city, a task not as easy as it may seem. The time it takes to travel to downtown Chicago by car from South Bend can vary from a low of 1 hour and 45 minutes to a high of 3 hours, depending on the time of day and the amount of traffic you encounter. If possible, you will want to avoid entering or leaving the city during the morning and afternoon rush hours, though you could hit traffic at just about any time of day. There are two major routes to Chicago from South Bend: the I-90/I-80 toll road and the I-94 interstate. Taking the toll road may save you some time, though probably not very much, and it will cost you a few dollars. Usually, taking the toll road is a better option for those who need to travel through the city to another destination.

If you are driving to the city, you’ll also need to locate a place to park. Be prepared to pay at least a few dollars though, since free parking is non-existent in downtown and other tourist-heavy areas. While there are numerous parking lots and garages near to many of the main attractions, some can be quite expensive. The best way to find an affordable and conveniently located parking spot is to use an app or website ahead of time (SpotHero and Parkwhiz are two popular options), so that you know where you are going and what you’ll be paying to park.

If you would rather avoid the headache of negotiating potentially heavy traffic and finding a spot to park, you can also take public transit from South Bend to Chicago. The most cost-effective and convenient option is the South Shore Line, an electric commuter train that runs from the South Bend airport all the way to Millennium Park in downtown Chicago. The trip takes between one and two hours, and a one-way ticket will cost you $13.50 (less if you plan to get off before Millennium Park). At many stations in the city, you will be able to make an easy transfer to a bus or to the metro. Given that the cost of parking downtown for a whole day can easily exceed $20, taking the train is not a bad option. By transferring to the metro from the Van Buren or Millennium Park stations, you can also get to either of Chicago’s major airports. (If you are just looking for transportation to the airport, you might also consider the Airport Super Saver bus service, which runs at all hours from South Bend to both of Chicago’s major airports)

Once you have made it into the big city, getting around is not difficult. You can always drive in the city, though traffic and Chicago drivers can make things a little crazy. On the other hand, downtown Chicago is very walkable, and for locations in other neighborhoods, you can also take a bus or the metro. Check out current schedules, routes, and fares on the Chicago Transit Authority’s website. Various bike rental services are also available, including Divvy, the city’s official bike rental system. They have numerous docking stations throughout the city where you can rent a bike for 30 minutes at a time with your credit card, or you can buy a day pass online before you go.

Things to Do

There is no end of things to do in Chicago, and any claim to an exhaustive list would be spurious. Below are a few suggestions for major attractions, but if you look around, you will be able to find just about anything you could want to do.

Museums and Zoos

Museum of Science and Industry

Field Museum

Adler Planetarium

Children’s Museum (free admission Thursday evenings, first Sundays)

Chicago History Museum

Shedd Aquarium

Lincoln Park Zoo (free admission)

Since tickets to these museums and to the Shedd’s Aquarium can be expensive, and since only the Field Museum offers student tickets, the most cost-efficient way to see multiple museums is to purchase a CityPASS (about $100 for adults), which gives you admission to five attractions in the city over the course of nine days, often with add-ons included. The pass includes admission to Shedd’s Aquarium, the Field Museum, the Chicago Skydeck, and your choice of either the Planetarium or the Art Institute and either 360 Chicago or the Museum of Science and Industry.

Arts and Culture

The Art Institute of Chicago (small discount for students)

The Newberry Research Library

Lyric Opera of Chicago ($20 student tickets, discounts for ages 21-45, rush tickets)

Chicago Symphony Orchestra ($15 student tickets)

Chicago Shakespeare Theater ($20 tickets for students and young professionals)

The Chicago Theatre

Food

Chicago, like every big city, has great food. Although the city is best known for deep-dish pizza (with Lou Malnati’s, Giordano’s, Pequod’s, and others all contending for the title of best) and hot dogs, you can find any other type of food imaginable if you are willing to look for it. For example, you might check out Cafe Ba-ba-reeba! for tapas or visit one of several Glazed & Infused locations for specialty donuts. If you are into coffeehouses, try Big Shoulders or The Wormhole. Pubs, cocktail lounges, and bars abound, as do restaurants serving Mexican, Korean, BBQ, Mexican-Korean BBQ, and foods that don’t belong to any category at all.  With dozens of “best of” lists available from far more knowledgeable sources, providing yet another list here would be a futile exercise at best.

Other things to do

Check out one of the numerous independent bookstores in the city, go to a Cubs or White Sox game, walk along the lake-shore, visit some of the city’s many neighborhoods, take an architecture tour, do a Big City Scavenger Hunt, or check out one of the city’s many bars and pubs, where you can hear the blues, watch some improv, or get a tropical tiki cocktail. In short, you’re not going to run out of things to do while visiting the big city of Chicago.

Summer in South Bend: To the Library!

One of the great achievements of American culture is, undoubtedly, the public library. Many of us have childhood memories of checking out books from our own local library (or bookmobile!), picking out a video to watch at home, or participating in a summer reading challenge. When I was growing up, libraries still stamped due dates on book covers, audio-books were called “books on tape,” and only the morally corrupt didn’t rewind their movies before returning them. These days, the American tradition of public libraries is still strong, though they now offer the use of computers, Wi-Fi, DVDs, and even online streaming. Libraries still serve as a shared space in which worlds of knowledge and culture are open to all who come in the door, where anyone with a card can enjoy a small space of quiet delight in something for its own sake.

St. Joseph County Public Libraries

South Bend’s public library fully lives up to this great tradition. Ranked in the top ten libraries in the nation for medium-sized towns, the St. Joseph County Public Library is the product of a great deal of care and investment on the part of the community. There are ten branches throughout St. Joseph County, eight of which are in the city of South Bend, including the Main Library downtown (304 S. Main Street). All of the locations have numerous books and other materials, but the Main Library is the branch with the most extensive collection. Here, there are three floors of books and magazines of all sorts, housed in a quiet and pleasant facility with plenty of space for sitting and a large room devoted to children’s books, where you can also check out toys and games.

Movies and Videos

You’ll find, however, that books are only the beginning of this library’s resources. On the third floor of the Main Library, there is a collection of audio-books, movies, and video games, as well as a small sitting area with a television for viewing DVDs. The collection of movies at this library is impressive: there are numerous copies of most new releases and a plenitude of movies from all eras of cinema. All of these can be checked out for only 50 cents a day, a combination of price and selection that cannot be beat by any rental service in town (or online, for that matter!). Many films and videos of all genres are also freely available for check-out via online streaming.

Museum and Park Passes

But that’s not all. The library also has passes available for check-out that provide free admission to local museums, such as the Studebaker National Museum, the Oliver Mansion and History Museum, and the Wellfield Botanical Gardens in Elkhart. These passes can be checked out for free for a week at a time. Additionally, you can check out (also for a week) an Indiana State Parks Pass, which will waive the entry fee at all Indiana state parks, including the nearby Potato Creek State Park and Indiana Dunes State Park.

Audio-Visual Equipment

At the Main Library, teenagers and adults over the age of 14 can also utilize Studio 304, where all manner of equipment for print, audio, and video projects is available, including recording rooms, printers and scanners, an assortment of high-tech cameras, and computers with design software. For 10 cents per gram, you can even use the library’s own 3-D printer.

Events

As if all this were not enough, the library also hosts exhibits and events for all ages, including LEGO building sessions, story-times and activities for children and toddlers, monthly game tournaments for teens and adults, a summer reading challenge for all ages, and various other free events. In August, for instance, they will have an exhibit on Alexander Hamilton, an Intro to Tea, and a viewing party for the upcoming solar eclipse on August 21. The library also has many online resources and databases, including access to Consumer Reports online, guides to home improvement and legal forms, and resources for researching local history and family ancestry. Many of these can be accessed at home through a library account and all can be used on one of the many library computers, laptops, and iPads available for check-out.

How to Get a Card

All of this is made available free of cost to those with a library card. Notre Dame students can get their own library card at the Hesburgh Library circulation desk and can have books from the public library delivered there for pick-up. Family members will need to visit one of the St. Joseph Public Library locations in order to receive their cards. Note that, at the public library, you will need to present a photo ID and proof of residency in St. Joseph County. But where else can you get all this for free?

All of which only confirms what we were taught years ago:

Summer in South Bend: Books

Reading a book is one of the great forms of leisure. Reading for enjoyment is an activity that has little tangible utility. It adds nothing to your resume nor does it impress admissions committees, and, unless you are very fortunate, no one will pay you to read a book for the delight of it. But of course, that’s not what leisure is about anyway. Reading feeds the soul and the mind. Good stories tell the truth about human beings and the world in which they live. They hold up a mirror in which we glimpse our own selves.

Now, if there’s one thing that is sure to attract a swarm of graduate students, it’s good prices on good books. Nowadays, most of us purchase our books online. But for the literary at heart, there is still no place like a comfortable, creaky local bookshop for whiling away those summer hours. Check out the impressive array of titles, new and used, available at these shops in South Bend.

Griffon Bookstore
121 W. Colfax Ave
South Bend, IN 46601

Located in downtown South Bend, Griffon’s is a bookstore like no other. They sell books, of course: new books on the ground floor, ranging from paperbacks to leather-bound and illustrated classics, and used books in the basement. Their selections include literature, philosophy, history, and poetry, not to mention a discounted paperback section. But their specialty, broadly speaking, is leisure. Along with books, Griffon’s sells a wide selection of card and board games, especially of the strategy, fantasy, and history varieties. On their shelves, you’ll find such popular titles as Settlers of Catan and Seven Wonders, as well as full lines from small game manufacturers like Fantasy Flight and Days of Wonder. Many of their games are less commonly available in larger retail stores, and a number have received game of the year awards from around the world. The establishment also maintains several gaming rooms available for reservation over the weekends, free of charge, and for those who are interested, they host regular gaming events throughout the year.

Not a gamer? Not a problem. They also sell used vinyl records, paper dolls, and all sorts of plastic models. Ask the proprietor to show you around.

Idle Hours Bookstore
212 S. Michigan St.
South Bend, IN 46601

This little bookstore is also located downtown, two blocks south of Griffon’s, and it is worthy of a place on a cobbled street in Europe. Idle Hours carries an excellent collection of used literature, including classics and children’s, as well as theology, history, poetry, and biography. For those who are curious, they even have a section on local history. The store may be small, but the books they keep in stock are well worth perusing. If you are searching for one title in particular, you may not find it here, but ask the owners what sort of book you are looking for, and they will be sure to show you something worth your time.

Erasmus Books
1027 E. Wayne St.
South Bend, IN 46617

On the other side of the river, you’ll find Erasmus Books, located in an old house and established by an emeritus professor of theology at Notre Dame. Once again, you will find used books of nearly any sort here, though the selections in theology, philosophy, and literature are especially extensive. The house is quiet and charming, and, although it is packed full of books, it’s not difficult to find your way around. If you are a bookworm, then this is the bookshop you’ve been looking for. Note that the store is only open Thursday through Sunday in the afternoons.

 

Finally, don’t forget about South Bend’s St. Joseph County Public Library! Check their website for family events and drop in to get your free library card and peruse their collection.