Be The Best You Can Be

Many of my students have asked me to write letters of recommendation for continuing education (graduate school) and for career purposes. In order to craft a good letter, I not only want to know the student from a prior class or as an advisee, but I also ask for an updated resume and a statement of career goals. Over the years, I have seen many of these documents – some good and others needing revisions. As most people know, it is a competitive world out there. You are competing with others for acceptance into graduate programs and for jobs. Why not make your initial written document that you send out look great? Of course, there are websites devoted to writing good resumes and you can view samples of what to include and what kind of format to use so it looks professional.

However, many students are not aware of the resources we have at Roosevelt that are geared to help with many issues related to attending college, like study skills, tutoring, writing, and career development. Roosevelt has a Career Development Center to educate students about career development and the job search process. The Center’s staff support, engage, and counsel students in career exploration. One can find more detailed information about each of the services they provide by clicking on the topics once at their website. When you click on “resume writing,” there is a whole page dedicated to writing resumes and links to many important documents.

Why not make your resume shine and stand out from all the others? Be the best you can be when applying for that important next step!

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The Clockwork Muse

“It is almost impossible to live in the modern world and not have to write” (Zerubavel, 1999, p. 1).

A muse is a source of inspiration and when pairing it with the word, “clockwork,” it might mean that our work with the clock (timing, scheduling, planning) could be an inspiration. But what kind of inspiration?

I’m teaching PLS 399 Senior Thesis this spring 2014 semester and we are reading The Clockwork Muse by Eviatar Zerubavel. This book of a little over 100 pages is a practical guide for writing theses, dissertations, and books. Zerubavel describes how to set up a writing schedule and maintain it over the long haul. As The Clockwork Muse went to press, Zerubavel had published seven books and was Professor of Sociology and Director of the Graduate Program at Rutgers University.

The book begins with establishing the writing schedule, particularly delving into finding time during the week to concentrate on writing. Zerubavel says that once you decide when you can write, you should keep track of how effective you are when you write. Keep a journal by listing the days of the week, the times you wrote during those days, and reflect on your productivity. For example, my journal entries were the following, recently: “I wrote on Monday, from 9 – 10 pm and it was very focused and energetic, but too short.  On Wednesday, I wrote from 9 am – 1 pm and it was very productive, I had good concentration, and it was a good session.”

Zerubavel says that you must determine your A-times from your B-times and even your C-times. We want to be at our best during peak writing times – our A-times; however, if our energy wanes, we can do productive tasks during our B-times (checking resources, adding references, revising an outline). And during C-times, we might want to pay bills or straighten the desk!

There are chapters in the book that deal with organizing the process of producing a manuscript, as in Chapter 3: A Mountain with Stairs. A thesis cannot be completed in “one gulp” and Zerubavel stresses that one must think about the project in stages. One of the most effective ways to break down writing the thesis in incremental steps is through the use of an outline. Zerubavel gives a good example of how his outline changed several times as he developed one of his books. Eventually, his outline became the book’s table of contents. And for a thesis, the outline can become the major headings in the paper. The outline can do the following: Aid in the process of writing, help organize ideas, presents material in logical form, shows relationships among ideas in the writing, constructs an ordered overview of the writing.

This has been a summary of some of the main points in A Clockwork Muse. Students and faculty alike who are about to embark on a significant writing project, could be successful by adhering to this guide’s simple but profound principles in developing a certain amount of self-discipline to complete that thesis, dissertation, or book.

Happy writing!

Susan J. Katz, PhD, Associate Professor, Educational Leadership

Zerubavel, E. (1999). The clockwork muse: A practical guide to writing theses, dissertations, and books. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

 

 

Making the Most of College

How do you make the most of your college experience? In 1986 the president of Harvard, Derek Bok asked Dr. Richard J. Light, a professor at the Graduate School of Education to evaluate how well the university was educating its students. Dr. Light spent over 10 years with other researchers interviewing 1,600 Harvard students, asking students many questions, from what they did in their spare time to their experiences with teaching and advising. After 15 years, Harvard initiated many changes and Dr. Light published his book, “Making the Most of College” (Harvard University Press, 2001).

The suggestions are often simple but Dr. Light said it was “amazing how little thought people give to these decisions.” Seven of the main suggestions were summarized in an article written by Kate Zernike, an education reporter for The New York Times.

1. Meet the faculty. Professor Light now tells students he advises that at the beginning of each term, their job is to get to know one faculty member and to get that faculty member to know them. That way, by graduation, the student has eight professors to write recommendations for jobs or for graduate school.

2.  Take a mix of courses. Those students who took a variety of courses in their early years, taking not only required courses but also ones that interested them, felt more engaged and happier.

3. Study in groups. Students who studied on their own and then discussed the work in groups, even just once a week, understood material better and were more engaged in classes.

4. Write, write, write. The more writing the better. Professor Light found in his research that no factor was more important to getting good grades and being engaged than the amount of writing a student did.

5. Speak another language. Language was the most commonly mentioned among “favorite classes.” Sixty percent of students put them in the category of “hard work but pure pleasure.” Why? Small classes where instructors insist on participation, group work, and lots of written work and frequent quizzes which allows for midcourse corrections.

6. Consider time. Those who did well in their classes mentioned the word “time;” those who did not do well never mentioned the word. Grades and understanding improved when students regularly set aside an uninterrupted few hours to study.

7. Hold the drum. Those students who got involved in outside activities were happiest. Professor Light tells the story of one unhappy student sitting with her advisor who encouraged her to do something beyond her studies. She said she had no talent; didn’t play sports, or sing, or play an instrument. The advisor said, “That’s OK, ask them if you can hold the drum.” Years later, when asked to describe why her college experience had been so positive, she referred to the band, which got her involved at pep rallies, football games, and introduced her to a diverse range of students.

Submitted by Susan Katz, PhD, Associate Professor, Educational Leadership skatz@roosevelt.edu

 

On Writing . . .

ADVICE TO WRITERS By Billy Collins (U.S. Poet Laureate, 2001-2003)

Even if it keeps you up all night, wash down the walls and scrub the floor of your study before composing a syllable.

Clean the place as if the Pope were on his way. Spotlessness is the niece of inspiration.

The more you clean, the more brilliant your writing will be, so do not hesitate to take to the open fields to scour the undersides of rocks or swab in the dark forest upper branches, nests full of eggs.

When you find your way back home and stow the sponges and brushes under the sink, you will behold in the light of dawn the immaculate altar of your desk, a clean surface in the middle of a clean world.

From a small vase, sparkling blue, lift a yellow pencil, the sharpest of the bouquet, and cover pages with tiny sentences like long rows of devoted ants that followed you in from the woods. – Reprinted from The Apple That Astonished Paris, by Billy Collins (The University of Arkansas Press); 1988.

Is Billy Collins talking about clearing your mind to make way for new ideas? Is he talking about clearing your desk before lifting the “yellow pencil?” I also think he might be talking about the rituals that we sometimes do before writing, i.e., I must clean/do/tend to/finish before I sit down to write. And then, of course, the day is gone.

Since I joined the Department of Professional and Liberal Studies about three years ago, I have been teaching courses that have strong components of writing. In PLS 201 Pro-Seminar in Critical Skills, students write in a variety of formats, which are the following: an introduction using a bio-poem (http://www.readwritethink.org/files/resources/lesson_images/lesson398/biopoem.pdf), a narrative essay, an analysis of a chapter in a text, and an argument essay that is research-based. In PLS 399 Senior Thesis, students develop a topic of interest and a strong thesis, review the relevant research literature, and write a paper that could be 20-25 pages in length. For several years, I taught doctoral students in the educational leadership department in the College of Education, and chaired many dissertation committees. Dissertations vary in length but are usually over 100 pages.

Studying for my initial career did not lead me easily to writing. I was trained as a speech and language pathologist (B.A. and M.A. degrees) and worked with children and adults who had various problems with speech and language: articulation (sounds), receptive and expressive language, stuttering, voice issues, and swallowing disorders. So, my dominant skill was definitely auditory – my “ear” was well trained to evaluate, diagnose, and treat such disorders. Here is a description of what Speech-Language Pathologists do and where they work:  http://www.asha.org/careers/professions/slp.htm.

It was not until I entered a PhD program in educational leadership that I began to write more – coursework demanded many and longer papers. To receive the doctoral degree, one must complete a dissertation which is a lengthy process of researching and writing. Professors would most likely say that the dissertation was the longest “paper” they have written, and in many cases, the dissertation becomes at least one published article and sometimes a book. Usually a PhD candidate has a committee composed of professors who read and critique the dissertation in its many stages. The PhD candidate must be open to constructive criticism and willing to make changes based on advice from committee members.

There are lots of books on the market that offer advice to writers, essentially pointing out what to do and what not to do. One book with lots of good pointers is A Writer’s Reference (Hacker & Sommers, 7th edition). Reading about these pointers is one thing, but how do you apply them to actually write? William Zinsser wrote the book, On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction. In an essay about how he has kept writing well up-to-date for 35 years, Zinsser said that if writing is learned by imitation, he wants his students to imitate the best – hence, his reason for writing a book about writing. In the essay, Zinsser discussed how he evolved his own writing with each new edition of his book. He listened to his readers from book tours which began in colleges and universities, and read books written by a variety of authors (men and women based in the U.S. and abroad).

Summing up, I offer a few recommendations to all those in our academic community who need and want to write (including myself).

  • Read, read, read good writing (and journal about what you like, what captivates you, how the author draws you in)
  • Read a variety of authors – men and women from the U.S. and other countries
  •  Find a good time of day (or night) that works well for concentrated writing of at least an hour, and try to keep that time as your writing time
  • Clear your mind and lessen your distractions – don’t check email or text messages during your writing time!
  • Use those “how to” books and get help from RU’s Writing Center
  • Pick a topic to write about that is interesting to you
  • Be open to those who critique your writing
  • Enjoy the process and products of your writing

Submitted by: Susan Katz, PhD, Associate Professor, skatz@roosevelt.edu