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.

Living Cheap in South Bend: Let’s Go to the Movies

Who doesn’t love an evening at the movies? Of course, viewing feature films outside of your own home can be a bit pricey. Not to worry, though! In South Bend, breaking the bank is strictly optional. Here are the places you’ll want to go:

Cinemark 14

Every seat at the Cinemark in Mishawaka is a luxury recliner, making it the area’s nicest movie theater. Posh doesn’t mean pricey, however, as full-price tickets still run well below average: $8.25 for adults and $6.50 for children. But that’s before the discounts! Adult matinees are $7.25 and, if you are a morning movie-goer, the day’s first showing of each movie is always $5.40. Moreover, any adult ticket can be had for $6.80 if you bring your student ID with you to the box office. Best of all? Tuesday is discount day: $5.25 tickets all day long. The theater also regularly runs broadcasts of operas and plays and hosts special film events. Check out their website for the latest.

Wonderland Cinema

You may have thought that the Cinemark was deal enough, but the best is yet to come. The Wonderland Cinema in Niles is the cheapest place to see a new release in Michiana. And while there may not be luxury loungers in the theater, it’s still a nice place to for watching a movie. Here is the deal: evening tickets sell for $5, matinees for $4, and before noon, you will only pay $2.50. As if that were not enough, the concessions are far more reasonably priced than at most theaters, with most selling for less than $3. On Monday through Thursday, you can even bring in the theater’s plastic popcorn bucket for a fifty-cent refill.

Student Union Board Movies

Generally, the Student Union Board serves the campus’ undergraduate population, but graduate students can take advantage of their programming too. One of the Board’s monthly events is a movie night, when they show a new release in the theater-style DeBartolo 101 classroom. These showings take place at 8:30 pm and 10:30 pm on a Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night each month. To see a movie in this classroom-turned-theater, it only costs $3 per ticket. Stay in the loop by looking at the SUB website or keeping your eyes peeled when perusing the Week@ND newsletter.

DeBartolo Performing Arts Center

As always, the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center is your on-campus location for all manner of theatrical events, and the Browning Cinema has an eclectic and first-rate slate of films lined up for this season. This year, movies in the RKO Classics series (not to be confused with Classics at the Browning) are free for students at Notre Dame, St. Mary’s, and Holy Cross, while the Sunday Family Films are free for children 12 and under. All other films (with the exception of National Theatre Live and Live at the Met broadcasts) are usually $4 per ticket for students. For this price, you can gain admission to an assortment of new and well-loved films (including the Lord of the Rings trilogy next week!). As always, the DPAC is an opportunity not to be missed.

3 things I wish I’d known during my first week at Notre Dame

The first week of grad school can be both exciting and stressful. Not only are you jumping into a full load of coursework, research, and/or teaching, but you’re also learning to navigate a new campus. Even simple tasks can become a pain when you’re trying to figure out where things are located or how the system works. So, with only two more weeks (!!) until the semester begins, I thought now would be a good time to share a few bits of knowledge that would have made my life a little easier during those first few weeks on campus.

  1. You can check out an umbrella from the library! After being caught without a rain jacket or umbrella during the torrential downpour that occurred during last year’s orientation, I will pass on this key piece of information that might have saved me from a very soggy trip home. If you find yourself stranded on campus during a downpour, head for the circulation desk at Hesburgh Library and ask to check out an umbrella–all you’ll need is your ID card. Bonus fact: the Library also lets you borrow other handy equipment including phone chargers, laptop stands, and international outlet converters!
  2. Time your coffee runs carefully. If you’re taking classes, there may be times when you have just 15 minutes to get from one building to another and refuel with some precious caffeine. Unfortunately, the same holds true for most of the students campus. Waddicks (on the first floor of O’Shaughnessy Hall) and Starbucks (in LaFortune student center) are notorious for ridiculously long lines between classes. So if you’re not constrained to a class schedule, it’s best to avoid the rush-hour headache altogether. But if you’re in a time crunch and you really need that boost to get you through your next class, it pays to familiarize yourself with the options along your route—you can scope out some of them in advance on this page (the listings under “Express Locations” are all possible options for caffeine on-the-go).
  3. How to print on campus. I’m a little embarrassed to say that it took me several days to figure this one out . . . I was coming from a university with a totally different system for graduate student printing so I foolishly ignored the PrintND signs posted all around campus. At Notre Dame, graduate students can print anywhere on campus using personal laptops, mobile devices, or campus computers. If you’re using a laptop, you’ll need to download the correct drive from the OIT website in order to get started. After that, you can simply hit print and then locate a nearby printer (they can be found in most buildings on campus). You’ll just need your student ID card to access your print queue. All grad students receive a yearly $35 printing credit that is automatically linked to your account. Click here for detailed step-by-step instructions on how to set up your devices and print your documents. You’ll also find instructions posted above most campus printers.

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: