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.

Life and Living Well

I’ll begin by stating the obvious: grad school is hard.

As graduate students, we are familiar with the toil of prioritizing and accomplishing our to-do lists. But grad student to-do lists grow faster than grad students can work. We’ve always got a nagging feeling that we ought to be doing something productive right now.

Part of what helps us tolerate long hours of labor and high expectations is knowing that it’s temporary. Only a few years of suffering; then comes the really meaningful work. We’ll land the job we desire, and then our life can really begin.

But we spend so much of our lives in this mindset. As an undergrad, we looked forward to grad school – that’s when I’ll finally get to do what I really want! And as high-schoolers, we looked forward to college – finally, a chance to be out on my own!

And then Master Yoda suddenly pokes us in our (metaphorical) ribs: “All his life has he looked away – to the future – to the horizon! Never his mind on where he was! Hm? What he was doing! Hmph. Adventure – heh! Excitement – heh! A Jedi craves not these things.” (The Empire Strikes Back) And somehow, in the words of a weird, shrivel-faced puppet, we recognize the truth: we can spend our whole lives looking forward to the next thing, believing that our life hasn’t begun yet.

But the fact is – it has. Life isn’t in the future. It’s happening right now.

And if life has meaning, it must be somewhere in the present. It must be here and now: in the friends and neighbors who, by chance or providence, surround us; in our own hearts and spirits, calling us to pay attention, to look – to really look! – and to listen – to really listen! Our life may not be what we’d like – but it is – it exists. And that’s good.

Work hard, then, but don’t be deceived – the meaning of your life isn’t all in what you produce. It’s in your relationships. It’s in who you are.

Listen to people. Bless them and tell the truth with humility. Don’t rush. Stop. See the living world around you. The beauty of it all is that life’s not useful- it’s just good. It’s all the gift of God, who didn’t need to create anything at all.

But he did. He willed the world to be. And he willed you to live so that he can love you. He’s already given you all that’s necessary for happiness, free, no strings. It’s there if only you have eyes to see – if you only ask him.

Trust God’s love. Hear his voice. Enjoy his grace. He is the meaning in the present moment. He is the Beauty in the beautiful. He is the Goodness in all that’s good.

Grad Life Program Highlights: Writing Accountability Groups

As graduate students, we spend much of our energy on one activity – writing. The quantity and quality of our writing is, in many fields, the benchmark by which we are evaluated by colleagues. The greater the volume of the writing we produce, and the more citations it receives, the more distinguished grows our reputation.

We’ll leave aside the perturbing questions that this reality should raise, and state the obvious: writing is the centerpiece of a graduate student’s career, whether it’s our dissertation, a class presentation, a journal article, or a conference talk.

Many of us find ourselves alone as we wade into this morass of words and ideas, relying on a combination of calendar and willpower to forge ahead. In these trackless swamps, however, procrastination is ever at hand and our thoughts and expressions tend to curl inwards until we find ourselves in an echo chamber of our own making.

Our mistake is to think that writing is a solo expedition, a way to express ourselves, but it’s more than that. Writing is a relationship. It’s about articulating the truth so that it can become somebody else’s too – and the words that we think best express our thoughts may not be as successful as we suppose. There’s only one way to tell, and that’s to get feedback. Equally helpful is having a companion in our toil to encourage us and, at times, prod us into making progress.

Each of these aspects of composition – communication, feedback, and accountability – happen in the context of community, a world far larger and richer than any dissertation or article. The academy may evaluate you on the basis of words produced, but the real font of meaningful living lies deeper – in friendship, the very heart of human flourishing.

Grad Life’s Writing Accountability Groups program is about building just such a community of writers. The premise is simple: you and your colleagues form a writing group for the purposes of keeping each other accountable in your work and providing one another feedback, and Grad Life gives you money – up to $10 per person per month – so that you can enjoy snacks and coffee or tea together. The community is yours. We just help with the cash.

For the full details, additional guidance, and to register your own group, check out the Writing Accountability Groups webpage on the Grad Life website.

Grad Life Program Highlight: GO Grants

Have you and your grad student friends ever wanted to go to an event, but couldn’t quite bring yourselves to fork over the cash to pay for it? Next time, Grad Life may be able to help!

One of Grad Life’s ongoing programs is the GO Grant program, sponsored by the Notre Dame Graduate School. Groups of current Notre Dame graduate students and post-docs (and their guests) can apply for a GO Grant to help cover the cost of tickets or entrance fees to events around Michiana. If you have a group of six to twelve graduate students (and up to one guest for each student) collectively coming from at least two different academic departments, you’re eligible to apply for up to $300.00 per group to help subsidize the cost of the event you have in mind. This program is meant to support graduate student participation in local events in order to promote well-being and foster community.

All you have to do is fill out a short online application with a description of the event and a brief argument for why your group should receive funding for it. Eligibility requirements and other policies are spelled out in full on the Grad Life website, but here are the basics.

  • The money can only be used to cover the cost of tickets or entrance fees to one-time events – it is not for covering the cost of food, beverages, alcohol, transportation, recurring classes, etc.
  • Submit your application at least one week ahead of time, since every participant will need to fill out and submit a waiver form.
  • It’s okay if the total cost of the event will exceed $300 – you can use the GO Grant as a subsidy.
  • No applicant or attendee may be the beneficiary of a GO Grant more than once a semester. If you were part of a group that received a GO Grant in January, you can’t be part of a group that receives a grant for the rest of the spring. Check the website for specific dates.
  • Only adults (over 18) are eligible to receive funding.
  • Afterwards, your group will need to submit your receipts, a short survey, and a photo of the group at the event in order to receive reimbursement.

It’s as simple as that! So next time you and your friends feel like fleeing the library and getting some recreation, you can think less about cash and more about fun. Apply now!

Reflections on the Graduate Student Lounge

As I write, rain is pouring down outside. The weather has reached 60 degrees, the first sure sign that winter is coming to an end. I expect that the cold will return, but the seasons are surely turning. All of this water will soon swell into blossom on trees across campus and the arc of the Sun across the sky will slowly expand and render the days mild and warm once more.

More good news: the new Graduate Student Lounge in Duncan Student Center is now a frequent haunt of the reclusive and perpetually-working graduate student. It has become something of a natural habitat for this strange species, thanks mainly to large windows, comfy chairs, and an abundance of one of its primary sources of energy: coffee (to say nothing of peanut butter sandwiches). Time has certainly confirmed my opinion that the Lounge is the best space in Duncan – there is just something about the sunlit ambience, the colors of the furnishings, and the smell of coffee brewing that makes it possible to rest, even while studying.

The space is far from perfect, of course. At lunchtime and after five o’clock, fitness classes begin in the gym directly above. All of the electric outlets are now functional, though the lockers remain half-assembled. And yes, the occasional stray (or unscrupulous) undergraduate does make off with a peanut butter sandwich.

All in all, however, the Lounge is a pleasant place. Importantly, it is our place – not a home, perhaps, but a space nevertheless to which we belong.

Welcome.

Grad Life Moves to Duncan Student Center

Grad Life’s New Home and the Graduate Student Lounge

As winter break comes to a close, I’d like to invite you on Grad Life’s behalf to visit us in our new space on the south side of the Duncan Student Center’s second floor. Over winter break, Grad Life moved from a small space in the back rooms of the Main Building to a brand new office overlooking Legends and the Stadium Lot. This office is the new home of both Grad Life and the GSU.

Our office also looks into a stupendous lounge intended just for graduate students! The lounge, arguably the best spot in Duncan, has a wall of windows facing DeBartolo Hall and is filled with comfortable couches and chairs (including two rockers!) and tables for studying. There are also a number of day lockers, as well as a small kitchen area for graduate student use, which includes a sink, microwaves, free coffee, and, in case you forgot your lunch, supplies for making peanut butter sandwiches. The lounge’s conference room will also soon be available for reservation.

You can come check out the new lounge and our office during the official Duncan Student Center Open House on Monday, January 15, from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm. For more information on Duncan, see the university press release regarding its grand opening.

Smith Center for Recreational Sports

One of the new student center’s star attractions is the Smith Center for Recreational Sports, which will be fully operational on January 15. The entrance to the Smith Center is on the third floor, but is only accessible from the stairwell and elevators on the north side of Duncan. Upon entering, you’ll find yourself on the main floor of the Center, among dozens of state-of-the-art treadmills, ellipticals, and other cardio machines, most of them with individual monitors. On either end of the long room, you will also find fitness and personal training rooms, a basketball court, locker rooms, weight machines, a free weight area, and the SYNRGY 360 system, which amounts to an adult jungle gym with TRX resistance-training capabilities.

On the fourth floor, accessible from two stairwells inside the Smith Center, there is a 1/6 mile track with areas for stretching and numerous additional cardio machines and lockers, as well as another jungle-gym type apparatus. The Smith Center also boasts a climbing wall and a bouldering wall, both of which can be reached by a separate entrance on the second floor of Duncan.

There is much more to see in the new student center, however, so come take a look for yourself.

Ask the Salmon: On Winter Break

It’s starting to feel a lot like Christmas! Or perhaps it will once this week and next have passed, with all the intensity of final projects.

And blessings on your winter break. Rest is a wonderful thing: treasure it while you have the time. Be present to those whom you love. Eat good food and take time to do what you enjoy. These things, in the end, are more important than what we are doing at school. Our career is only a part of who we are, and that part changes throughout our lives. But fellowship – leisure – delight – these go to the heart of being the human person you are.

Grace and peace be with you in this Christmas season. May the God and Father of all people touch your heart with joy.

Living Cheap in South Bend: The Spousal ID

This is the last in our series of blog posts on living on a graduate student budget in South Bend. We’ve covered grocery stores, movies, local thrift stores, and restaurants, and past posts have featured such under-utilized money-saving resources as the local public library and the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. Check out these and other posts on Ask the Salmon for tips on saving cash in Michiana.

In this post I want to draw your attention to one of the best ways to save money if you are a married graduate student: the spousal ID card offered by the Graduate School (Business, Architecture, and Engineering students will have to contact their administrative assistants for information specific to their schools).

Current graduate students who are married can get their spouse a Notre Dame ID card by filling out the form on this webpage and submitting a scan or copy of their marriage certificate per the instructions. After that, there is a $5 fee for the card itself, and then your spouse has access to at least five on-campus services (though individual departments and programs may choose to extend access to additional services–talk to your department’s administrative assistant).

These services are as follows:

(1) Access to all student activity events and student-only events at Legends.
(2) Free entry to all RecSports facilities. Who needs a gym membership? Your spouse can even take fitness classes! (3) Access to the university library system, including the ability to request and check out books. Instead of logging into their library account with a NetID, spouses use the NDID number on their ID card.
(4) The ability to use Domer Dollars and to load a meal plan onto the card.
(5) Free transportation on all Transpo buses. This is a perk for all who have a Notre Dame ID card. Just show the bus driver your card when you get on, and you’re off! This makes getting around South Bend a whole lot easier for those with transportation restrictions. Check out the Transpo website for schedules and routes.

And now you know! All of this is available to spouses for the very reasonable fee of $5. Don’t pass it up.

Graduate Student Appreciation Week Guest Post: Mae Kilker

It’s easy to forget in the day-to-day bustling life on campus that Notre Dame is not just an undergraduate university. Graduate Students make up a third of the overall student body here, but you don’t see them tossing beanbags, setting up hammocks, or throwing the pigskin around on the quads in the same numbers. They don’t live in the Hogwarts-like residence halls scattered among the classroom, lab, and office buildings. Brace yourself, but many grad students have never been to a home football game. (Gasp!)

Nonetheless, grad students do leave the lab and the library to participate in campus events, and I think we’re all better for it. While it’s important to focus and make progress on your research, you’re missing out if you never enter into the stream of the campus community.

My favorite memories are also some of the strangest things I’ve done on campus:

  • Brazilian samba dancing in the LaFortune Ballroom with the ND Club of Brazil. They make it look so easy!
  • Learning just how hard it is to flip a hamburger on a 4-foot-long grill when I volunteered for the GSU concession fundraiser before a home game
  • Watching my childhood favorite, The Princess Bride, at midnight in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center with free popcorn!

There were some awkward moments, too, like at the Rec Center Zumba course where everyone else clearly knew who Shakira was and how to dance like her – and I clearly did not. But that made me laugh, too, which is just like exercising. Right?

I’ve explored many different features of campus: the Snite Museum, the Basilica, the Grotto, lakes, golf courses, and the near-constant flow of graduate student workshops, lectures, receptions, etc., offered by my department or other organizations. Yet I’m constantly surprised by what else is happening here – like when the Wonder Woman movie played in Washington Hall, with free cupcakes from Gigi’s Cupcakes courtesy of the Student Activity Office. Or what I’m looking forward to later this week, the Grad Student Appreciation Week “Dogs & Dogs” event on the North Quad. Hot dogs and therapy dogs? What’s not to love?

Grad Student Appreciation Week reminds our grad students that you are ND, too. We’re glad you’re here, and we’d love to have you join in the fun. After all, I can’t be the only one dancing so weirdly in public….​

 

Mae Kilker is a doctoral candidate at the Medieval Institute and the Assistant Program Director for Professional Development in the Graduate School.

Graduate Student Appreciation Week 2017

Today is the first day of Graduate Student Appreciation Week: a full week, sponsored annually by Grad Life and other university departments, to show a bit of love to one of Notre Dame’s most underrated populations. At an institution whose resources are primarily devoted to the education of undergraduates, graduate education may seem to be an afterthought, and graduate students may perceive themselves as less than full citizens of their university.

But even a cursory glance at Notre Dame’s Mission Statement shows that this is not so. In this statement, the university dedicates itself to “the pursuit and sharing of truth for its own sake”.  This aspect of the university’s mission is rooted in the Catholic tradition, which affirms the preciousness of truth, wherever it may be found, because in coming to know the truth, we also come to know God. Faith affirms that God has revealed himself through Jesus Christ his Son, whom St. John the Evangelist calls the logos: the word, the principle of wisdom and rationality that sets the cosmos in order and gives life and being as a loving gift to all creatures. As we explore that cosmos and its creatures, we come to understand the principles of their order and the principles by which we ought to order our own lives and communities for the purpose of perpetuating and amplifying the divinely-given goods of life in the world.

As students, our primary method of doing this is through learning and research. As the Mission Statement goes on to say, “Notre Dame also has a responsibility to advance knowledge in a search for truth through original inquiry and publication. This responsibility engages the faculty and students in all areas of the University, but particularly in graduate and professional education and research.” This places graduate students right at the heart of the university’s enterprise, since it is they who are being trained to carry out the tasks to which the university is dedicated.

While it is to be hoped that this learning and inquiry is in itself reward enough for the long hours of work that graduate students pour into their vocations, it is still nice to be appreciated. And that’s what this week is all about.

Check your inbox each day for a schedule of events and for the daily deals and discounts that our campus partners are making available to graduate students. You can also view the entire week’s schedule here. Each of Grad Life’s daily e-mails will also feature a profile of a current graduate student, highlighting how his or her work supports the mission of Notre Dame.

So, happy Graduate Student Appreciation Week! Enjoy what’s on offer, and keep up the good work.