Archive for February, 2011

Fail or Succeed, Keep Moving

Friday, February 4th, 2011

This week marked a high point in my research project. I received a grant from my university to visit theHarvard Yenching Library. I’ve set my dates and contacted all the right people. Now all I have to do is wait. Now of course, waiting is not an option. Deadlines don’t wait for people. While this post details some victories with the grant, the pressing matter of writing a literature review ought take precedence.

Last week I detailed the appropriate process for asking professors to write recommendation letters. Having successfully obtained the grant, let me touch on how to properly respond to receiving a grant. I can’t emphasize this enough, Thank the people that help you! Obtaining grants or getting into grad school is not a solo gig. Often the word your professor put in or even the advice friends and readers give you has just as much value as the original work you’ve done. It’s important to never forget that academia and all of your projects are not solely from your own efforts. As a personal shout-out, thank you Susan Fernsebner and Allyson Grace for looking over my materials, giving me advice, and (in the case of Prof. Fernsebner) writing a rationale statement. A small grant may not seem like a big deal, showing thankfulness in the small things is still crucial to developing good relationships with your peers and mentors. Also, a victory dance is always critical after something major has gone right.

Work Through Hardships and Successes

Despite my impressive victory dance (not shown on video), I cannot kick back and call it a day with the grant. While people talk a lot about preserving through hardships, it seems far too easy to slack off when you’ve hit a successful run. A tortoise and the hare connection seems appropriate here, but I will call it obvious and skip it for now. The truth is a major success gives a researcher (i.e. me) justification to take it easy. “Well look how hard I’ve been working…” Taking a break seems reasonable, but deadlines don’t take a break, neither should your project. Even when you have hit a major milestone, the true discipline comes with consistency. Is your research going poorly? Keeping pushing through it. Have you made some impressive progress? Great, go have a beer or ice cream (I’m all down with ice cream) and continue working. I’ve noticed that on days where I have worked particularly hard, I feel pretty okay with not doing anything the next day, but before you know it the day after that you don’t really feel like it either. All of the sudden a week has passed and whoops that deadline which was a week and a half ago is now tomorrow afternoon. Hope you have coffee. What’s worse, you will finish the paper, it might even look good, and think that you deserve a pat on the back for finishing it “under tight constraints.”

The above situation is all wrong.

What we really need to do is keep a reality check about what is the end goal of your project. Evaluate what your successes are. Finishing a part of your assignment doesn’t deserve some chill break, your goal isn’t just to finish a part of the research. You get to relax when everything is done. I am not anti-breaks, but I am extremely pro-schedule. If you plan on taking a break have it planned out rather than just take a break whenever you want. I am prone to being lazy, if there is no particular deadline, who really cares if I get the thing done a week in advance or the night before? While the answer for most of us might be “no one.” The fact is that as a good researcher you are missing the point of your project. Taking the time to do the work is a key part of the research. Rushing a project by not allotting enough time is an amateur’s mistake. Over this weekend I hope to do a bit of reading about procrastination as well as more tips for writing analytically. While I have now been a proud history major since Spring of 2009, the writing process is still a struggle of teasing out ideas and clearly communicating them.

Literature Review: WTF?

Also known as a historiography, the literature review requires the writer to look into secondary sources concerning her project. Most of my professors have told me that students frequently have trouble writing the literature review (lit review). Evaluating secondary sources (read scholarly) and how the questions about your topic have changed over the years presents students with a host of problems. We don’t write in this sort of genre too frequently. I recall Professor Moon (history/American studies) defining a lit review as, “the literature review is a review…of the literature.” It doesn’t get much simpler than that. However, the researcher has to take some time to categorize his sources, understand their arguments and find intelligent ways of evaluating what he finds. The UMW history =”http://www.umw.edu/cas/history/history_department_resourc/historiography/literature_review_guidelin.php”>resource page offers some great tips about the lit review.

While some history students might not have any trouble finding the secondary sources necessary for constructing their lit review, I have had major troubles. My topic, Chinese script reform, has very little scholarly research but a wealth of primary documents. There are a few great monographs on the topic, but not a whole lot of scholarly debate. This is not necessarily a bad sign, but I cannot settle to do a lit review over a small swath of books. The UMW site recommends at least ten sources, but even that seems a little small. Luckily, I have come across some journal articles, which are particularly excellent fodder for secondary sources. I find the process of writing lit reviews to be very enlightening, because it offers insights into the main questions about your topic. What ground has been covered? Who has said what? Where are the main points of contention? Why? Gardner Campbell often explained writing as a constant conversation, especially as we were reading the Norton Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism. In order to effectively participate in the conversation, you should know what people have been talking about and what the main questions are. Not only does this keep you from reinventing the wheel, it also pushes you to consider new questions or evaluate the lines of arguments thus far. What’s been effective? I am still getting everything together for the lit review, but let’s see how it goes! The due date is on February 14th, and while the due date creeps closer everyday, I am going to kick back for an evening (it’s a scheduled kick back mind you!!)

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