April, 2006Volume 2, Issue 4

In This Issue:

I am sending out a big hello to the graduate students I met at the NSBE Conference and at the University of Louisville in Kentucky.

‘Carpe Diem’: Public Speaking in Graduate School

Since success at graduate school is very often synonymous with “selling” a thesis or dissertation concept and research results, very few graduate students can effectively complete their degrees without developing good presentation skills.  If you develop these skills early, you will not only enhance your graduate experience, but also enjoy benefits in many professional and other settings.

I know, I know … you’re afraid of public speaking!  But trust me; in spite of the initial anxiety, with practice you may very well come to enjoy presenting your research.  After all, you’re working so hard to pull together your research document … so wouldn’t it be prudent to share your results with the world through as many venues as possible?

Building a Solid Reputation

Many graduate students fail to take advantage of all the opportunities available to present their research in public.  Don’t make this mistake!  While you might view these opportunities as “optional,” in many departments it is absolutely expected that you present your research … and present it often.  Moreover, one of the key tasks of graduate school is to build a solid reputation for yourself; demonstrating that you have “mastered” both your writing and verbal skills will go a long way toward achieving that end.

Preparing for Your Professional Life

In addition, making presentations is a great way to prepare for other tasks you will ultimately be required to complete: teaching a class, answering oral exam questions, leading a conference; defending your thesis/dissertation or undergoing a proposal hearing.  If you start presenting in more informal settings, you’ll feel more comfortable and confident when asked to present in more challenging public speaking venues.

Begin in the Classroom

You can begin to ease yourself into the public sphere by actively participating in classroom discussions.  Take every opportunity to participate in the class debate.  Raise your hand and offer your opinions or analysis on whatever readings are being discussed. Remember: in actuality, it may be shyness that prevents you from participating, but many professors will interpret it as a lack of knowledge on your part.

After testing the waters with several of these, you can move on to guest lecturing on a topic you are familiar with, leading a seminar, or presenting a paper at a professional conference.  Remember that not all presentations have to be on work that is finished and thoroughly reviewed.  You can prepare presentations on past research, present research, and even future research ideas!

Keep Your Eyes Open for Informal Venues to ‘Practice’

Keep your eyes open and you’ll quickly become aware that graduate school is replete with opportunities to swap research information with other members of the department.  For example, some departments, research groups, and graduate student organizations offer a weekly seminar series in which faculty and graduate students present the results of their current research as well as the recent research of others.

These seminars:

  • Provide students and staff with an insider’s view of what questions are being tackled by the PhD body, and the manner in which they are being investigated.
  • Provide an opportunity for students to talk about their work and to get constructive feedback not only from peers, but from members of the academic staff.
  • Stimulate  and encourage graduate students to further their own research. 
  • Provide good practice for conferences, more formal seminars, And also..
  • Offer the opportunity to raise research issues that have not yet been resolved and would benefit from discussion.

Often held on campus during the lunch hour to accommodate grad students’ hectic schedules, these seminars are commonly referred to as a brown bag series or lunch time colloquia.  A brownbag presentation can take the entire lunch period (approximately 40 minutes, with time for questions), or half of one; many students partner up with someone else to deliver two presentations on the same day, each one approximately 15-20 minutes, plus time for questions.

Seminar organizers are always looking for people to help fill their calendars, so don’t be shy about volunteering!  Participating in brown bag presentations – as both a presenter and an audience member – can provide you with numerous benefits: it can help you stay abreast of current issues in your academic field, stimulate ideas that you could further develop, provide a venue through which you can present your “work in progress,” and garner feedback on your research at an early stage to help clarify your concepts and arguments.

Perhaps best of all, these types of settings allow you to “practice” your public speaking skills in a casual and relaxed atmosphere.  The informal setting stimulates lively and engaging discussions.  Keep in mind that this is a learning experience, so you should not be opposed to opening yourself up to criticism or feedback about your presentation, particularly if it is an initial draft of a key idea in your thesis or dissertation.  Consider yourself lucky for the chance to get feedback on all aspects of your presentation, including your presentation skills, research, methodology, literature review and results.  This kind of feedback can be invaluable in helping prepare you to teach a class, undergo job interviews, or present at a conference.

It’s worth noting, however, that some departments are more critical than others; if this is the case in your department; don’t be afraid to present your work outside of your department first.  When I look back to my 2 p.m. Tuesday seminars in the Center for Demography and Ecology, I have to admit that I have mixed reviews; some presentations were very intellectually stimulating, and others were just one head nod away from an afternoon nap!  Departmental seminars provide not only students, but professors, the opportunity to step outside their own area of specialization to learn what their colleagues are up to and get a sense of why it may be important to the field. 

Don’t be surprised if your participation in these types of events can benefit you financially as well as intellectually!  I once considered eliminating this seminar from my “to do” list, but my astute advisor gently discouraged me from doing so.  I am thankful that he did, because I later learned that my attendance was tied to the funding I received from the department.  As a research trainee, attending the seminars was not really optional – indeed, my financial support was tied to the center’s funding.

Don’t Miss Other Campus Lecture Series or Conferences

In addition to numerous seminars centered on particular research areas, departments will also often organize a lecture series or conference in which top researchers from across the country present the latest research.  These ‘special’ conferences are intended to be accessible to all graduate students; as such all graduate students and academic staff are “encouraged” to attend.

In addition, these seminars can provide a welcome departure from your department’s own weekly seminars.  I was able to indirectly participate in one of these types of seminars by volunteering to help a professor analyze some data for his presentation.  During his presentation, he publicly acknowledged my contribution to his findings.  This bold step, of asking him if he needed any help, led to further collaborations that included a national conference presentation and a co-authorship of a book chapter.  Sometimes you just have to “carpe diem.”

Now You’re Ready to Tackle Regional, National, or International Conferences!

To build a solid professional reputation, it is imperative that you participate in regional, national, or international conferences. However, you don’t have to begin by presenting; at every professional conference there are many roles to fill—from organizer, session chair, discussant, reviewer, presider, to presenter.  Serving in these roles can give you a “preview” of a regional, national, or international conference presentation, and also provide you with invaluable insight and experience that will immeasurably bolster your presentation savvy.

Use your creativity to suggest a topic to a conference organizer by submitting a proposal for a possible session.  As a member of your professional organization you are eligible to develop and submit a proposal for a session.  As the session chair, this is a fantastic venue through which you can say what you've always wanted to say as well as organize a way to meet people in your field.   

Be sure to have some business cards handy to help you network with other experts in your academic field.

Email Question of the Month:


How do I get over Writer’s block?


Last month I sent out a Spring Break Challenge and some of you took me up on it.  After using my challenge to get her qualifying exam finished, Johanna was so enthusiastic that she posted some helpful tips to other participants. I am posting Johanna’s answer to your question.

Although no Dr. Carter, Now that I'm finished the biggest part of my workload, I have time to suggest tips for others : )

Here's one: Freewrite!
Use this to start work sessions when you just need to get started and focused or moments when you have writer's block. Give yourself 10-15 min or so and make yourself write or type without lifting your pen from paper or fingers from keyboard (whatever comes to your mind, related to your research or not.)

Freewriting helps you: 1) get focused b/c it clears your mind of stuff you're thinking about instead of work 2)helps get in mode of writing 3) get ideas flowing -- often contains kernels of ideas, even if just a sentence or two, you can expand on in whatever writing-related task at hand.

Moving On From the Free-Write:
Read your free-write, find a sentence that's interesting or useful and expand on it. If nothing related to your work, try to draw a parallel between something you've written and the task at hand, even if it's only a word of encouragement. E.g. If you wrote, "I'm so broke." Reflect, "Finishing this ______ is one closer step to graduating and getting a job that pays the bills." Motivation and inspiration is the key. Enjoy!


What TA-DA!™ Users Have to Say...

If you're still wondering whether or not TA-DA! Thesis and Dissertation Accomplished™ can help you — don’t take our word for it. Take a few moments to read what some of our customers have told us.
See how TA-DA!™ helped them...

Ph.D. Doctoral Students

  •   TA-DA gave me the incentive to "get the lead out" and finish. The 12 minutes a day has lead to approximately two to three hours. I have really got a lot done, just knowing that the twelve minutes does wonders for the psyche.
Maryjane, Fayetteville, NC

  •   The commitment to a deadline and to working 12 minutes a day actually reduces stress. I can always do 12 minutes--even if I'm tired, sick, uninspired or grumpy. Facing a deadline makes it feel like I will actually get done! "I have to do my 12 minutes" we say in our house these days. I've been progressing steadily on my dissertation by committing to 12 minutes, and my husband has covered huge amounts of material for an upcoming professional exam. My friend has committed to completing the annulment papers she has procrastinated on for 10 years, and my father-in-law has started studying Spanish 12 minutes a day. Thanks!
Christine, Seattle, WA

  •   It helped me to set goals for my chapters and give me some practical strategies for finishing. Also I believe it's good to list your finish date. It gives you something to strive for rather than letting the thesis become nebulous.
Martha; Albany, CA

  •   TA-DA explains the dissertation process and lifts the curtain to a process that seems impossible to accomplish. It provides strategy for selecting the committee and provides timelines that enable accomplishment of the dissertation within a specific time frame.
Randall; USMC Jacksonville, NC

  •   The program helped me to understand the dissertation concept much better. I am a visual individual; the tutorial was a great help.
Deborah; U.S. Army

  •   Provides helpful suggestions for how to proceed as well as suggesting disciplined and reasonable timelines for completion.
Lawrence; Philadelphia, PA

Master’s Thesis Students…

  •   It has helped with the fact that my graduate school does not have a formal format for the proposal. The Journal has helped a lot.
Talia; Naranjito, Puerto Rico

  •   This is a great tool for those who will be starting either their Master's Degree or Dissertation. I highly recommend it.
Teresa; Naguabo, Puerto Rico

  •   Requesting that I set a goal date for finishing, kept me focused and it was the first step in accomplishing the task. Also, I kept remembering the words; a good thesis is a done thesis.
Gladys; NY, NY

  •   It guided me to a fair start. Gracias!
Jess; San Francisco, CA



Wendy Y. Carter, Ph.D.

About the Author: As a single mother, professor Wendy Y. Carter, Ph.D., completed three masters' degrees and a PhD. Her motto is a Good Thesis/Dissertation is a Done Thesis/Dissertation. She is the creator of a new innovative interactive resource tool on CD—TADA! Thesis and Accomplished. To learn more and sign up for her FREE tips and teleclasses, contact us at Privacy is our policy. TADA™ Finishline does not give out or sell our subscribers' names or e-mail addresses.

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Inside This Issue:

Getting Started —
‘Carpe Diem’: Public Speaking in Graduate School

Email Q & A of the Month

What TA-DA!™
Users Say

Next FinishLine Features:

Writing Your Dissertation 12 Minutes a Day



Dr. Carter's

Getting What You Came For...
The book explains the entire process of completing graduate school, from selecting and applying to a graduate program to obtaining a teaching position. Selected chapters provide overall practical advice on selecting an advisor, managing the committee, selecting a topic, writing a proposal, writing the dissertation, and preparing for the defense.

Getting What You Came For...

The Dissertation Cook Book
The authors uses a cookbook metaphor define the ingredients of a dissertation. This book provides useful information on each section of the five-chapter dissertation common in the social and behavioral sciences. It also contains practical tips, hands-on exercises, and checklists dealing with getting started, choosing a topic, types of research instruments, statistics, sampling, and analyzing data. Most of the information is relevant for writers at the proposal stage.

The Dissertation Cook Book

The Artist's Way
This book by Julia Cameron and Mark Bryan leads you through a comprehensive twelve-week program to recover your creativity from a variety of blocks, including limiting beliefs, fear, self-sabotage, jealousy, guilt, addictions, and other inhibiting forces, replacing them with artistic confidence and productivity.

The Artist's Way





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