Posts Tagged ‘advice’


Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

I tend to feel very disinclined to write about my own academic frustrations, because such things are very sensitive topics, but I feel as if my current issues, and hopefully possible solutions, can be of help to other students.  The problem?  I cannot seem to take good notes while reading.  I have been working at this for a few days and literally have found no good way of reading and notetaking.  The closest I come to doing such is underlining what I feel are key passages and making notes in the margin.  What this doesn’t work for is books that are supposed to be library only.  These are texts that I won’t always be able to gain access to, so how do I address this issue?  I need my notes to not only explain what a reading says, but also be able to handle explicit quotes.  My note taking process as it exists now takes up way too much time for me to spare.  I can’t let a reading take me half a day to digest, ponder, and then summarize into notes.  What I’ve also noticed is that the notes are themselves a text that I allow to grow too long.  I used to think that taking notes in full sentences would ease the process of writing about a text later.  What I’ve come to realize is that it takes up far more time to create these full sentences.

This semester of too many credit hours forces me to find a new method to move through material quickly but most importantly effectively.  What point is there to doing all this work if it amounts to nothing?  I will give an example of a book that I am really struggling with:  Man Awakened From Dreams.  The book is divided into chapters which should potentially make my life easier, yet I find it difficult to divide the chapter it meaningful subsections as each portion of the chapter tends to be one long overarching discussion of a topic.  For instance right now I am re-reading a chapter on filial piety…the whole piece is threaded together in such a way as to make it difficult to put or cut into meaningful chunks.  How do you handle a monograph?  How do you divide up portions of a story?  The next problem I encounter is how to actually write while reading.  As I talked with a student about it, she mentioned “Well you can only do one thing at a time.”  That’s what is keeping me in this mess.  If I wait till after I finish a chapter, I have already lost the specific break down of the chapter.  Sure I could probably summarize it, just not be able to pull the info from my head into a nice paper and certainly not without the use of the book.

And if you are wondering…this problem has also been crossing over into lectures.  Lectures, unlike books, tend to be in shorter segments, giving it a sense of urgency, purpose and direction.  Professors only have 50 minutes or so to deliver a talk, so their talks carry a very strong thread, for the most part.  I know for instance my history professor specifically shows an outline of her talk before even beginning.  This not only sets the stage for the talk but also gives students a framework to take their notes.  They will know how the talk is divided and this really helps to organize notes.  But what about professors that take tangents?  What about a complicated talk that does not have a solid outline.  Even worse, what do you do with a discussion based class?  So far my answer to this has been to start using the Cornell system.  I used to just bring my computer and essentially write down every word.  That process is not notetaking, that is transcribing, they aren’t the same.  Frankly, writing every single world is just laziness.  It’s easy to take down everything said and not be critical about the material.  When you are forced to create a series of keywords about the lecture, you have no choice but to think critically.  What is important?  Tangential?  These are judgment calls which ultimately make the information more important.  Cornell, in my mind, through the use of keywords on the left side of the page encourages a student to categorize information.  However, I still haven’t settled on it.

Penn State University put out a helpful guide dealing with a wide range of note taking strategies depending on the style of the lecture and how content heavy any given talk is.  Many of these options boils down to experimenting and seeing what works for you.  Most people assume that they know how to take notes, but I would hazard to say that it is a skill most people do not have fully developed just yet.  Why?  I believe that note taking is actually a challenging task that requires very thoughtful musings in creating categories, keywords and key phrases.  Maybe note taking relies on the same structural method of a blog?  This is the end of the road, I have discovered a problem in my study skills, and now I reach out to you, fellow scholars, avid readers, and beyond, because you all might have information and thoughts that I have not stumbled across yet.  This semester’s work requires new methods, new ways of tackling and processing information.  As it stands, I do not process it fast enough.

So if you get any thoughts or ideas, particularly about reading and notetaking, leave me a comment or send a message @bahktinjali on twitter.   I greatly appreciate any help!

The Panda has requested!

Try, Taiwan Planning…very good.

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

You might have thought I’d forgotten all about Taiwan after the wonderful experience I had at the Faculty Academy, but lo and behold Taiwan travel plans are still well underway! But the process hasn’t been exactly easy. If you are traveling at all for any long period of time, there is the massive network of problems that you have to sort through. This process can be very discouraging, not to mention time consuming. Yet! There are many resources available to help point you in the right direction. Looking through the websites available (to be linked as they come up) you can get a sense of the step by step process of filling out the paperwork, but who will take you to the next level? I believe a personal account is in order!

Before beginning this account, I owe a great deal to Susan Fernsebner who has been my constant guide to charting out my travel and study of Chinese. She is a great asset, which taught me something: you need a person, not a program. We can read articles from a website, but nothing beats insider knowledge delivered in a relaxed setting. “Hey, let’s sit down and I’ll tell you about Taiwan and how to get there.” Something about it that just strikes me as very nice.

So where does it all begin? You’ve decided, “OK I want to go and stay in Taiwan for an extended time to learn language, what do I need to do?” (Granted this applies more to students than any other demographic, my apologies!) Let’s start by talking about what programs are out there. Professor Fernsebner directed me towards the Inter Chinese Language Program in Taipei. I can personally vouch for this program. As a US student applying, the speed at which the admissions crew responded to my questions, or even just taking the courtesy of telling me they received my application package, absolutely startled me. This program has a great reputation for solid language training. I am unfortunately only taking advantage of their summer program, but they do offer year long programs for those students and professionals who can afford to take the time (not just money but schedules) to do that type of work. ICLP, obviously, is not the only school out there, not by a long shot! I am not super familiar with all of the other schools but a web resource touches on available programs in Taipei:study abroad. As always, first hand knowledge is the way to go. If you see a different program that interests you, take some time to find someone familiar with how the program functions. A website is often not enough information! I can go through a walkthrough of applications later, but for now we will assume you have found your school of choice, and you are ready to take the next step.

So you’ll get the letter in the mail or a nice little e-mail, you are definitely in.

  • STEP 1: Freak out! It’s Awesome
  • STEP 2: Tell everyone, high fives are 100% in order
  • STEP 3: Check Panda Musings for Advice : P

Honestly, getting in–from where I stand now–has been the easy part, which is so odd for me to say since I was madly freaking out about whether or not I made it in to the program. Oh no, this is where the real fun begins. Oh man, do I have/need a visa? What is this place like? How do I get there? How am I going to eat? What do I wear? It’s a massive whirlwind of things to do, I have yet to reach the other side of this thing yet. Consider taking some time out to read up on where you are going. Lonely Planet offers awesome resources for looking at different countries and covers the whole breadth of knowledge you will need to start you off. I still subscribe to the belief that guides, no matter how detailed, can only take you so far. Going there is the way to get acquainted.

If you are a student you’ll be looking for a visa, specifically a multiple entry (it comes in either single or multi). The multiple entry has some really key advantages, the biggest being if you have some sort of emergency back in the states you have to address, you are able to come in and out with no problems. The visa, however, comes as an intermediate step. The first thing you have to do is get a hold of plane tickets. Right, you’d think you should get the visa and then the plane ticket. For the different embassies and consulates you need to prove that you have a way in and out of their country. The nation you are going to, as far as I can tell, wants to make sure you aren’t just going to be bumming around within its borders.

I had felt pretty nervous about visiting about the final step of handling the visa, actually going to the consulate (TECRO) in DC or in any of the many other locations throughout the states. It helps to look through the “consular division” portion of the website for visa info. The things you are going to need:

  • passport that has to be valid for at least six months
  • flight itinerary (simple print out will do)
  • two passport sized photos
  • filled out application, able to be downloaded from the TECRO website
  • a recent bank statement

This last one was kind of surprising and threw me a curve ball when I was at the office this afternoon. I hate being unprepared, but I was glad to get everything in and taken care of. Now I have to wait for my passport to get stamped. The office gave me the opportunity to have the passport sent to me. I figured that having the thing sent to me could turn into a recipe for disaster, lost passport=good bad.

That’s where I am at for now, more info later? Oof just a whole lot of work on my plate. I am shaking in my boots a bit. While at the office, I started looking at the Taiwanese flag…I feel like there is a fun study in the making, the history of the KMT flag.