We few, we happy few – Part I

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” Some readers may recognize this line from Shakespeare’s Henry V. But to me, it has a more special meaning. This is one of the passages, along with many others, my friends and I used to quote to each other for motivations before big exams, or on particularly late nights in The Bunker writing. We were by no means the type to sit around singing sonnets, but there is something that is powerfully motivating about epic poetry. There is something even more motivating about the reassurance than you are not alone in your work.

Turabian (2007, 22-23) talks about the isolation of research and the need for a writing support group. This is a brilliant idea. The guide points out that, even with different research interests, these peer groups can help with brainstorming, proofreading, and even letting off steam. But, they can be a lot more than that.

I was very lucky. With me going for my MPA in the same department where I had just received my undergrad, I was not alone. There were a group of us that had known each other as undergrads that all started the program together and had basically the same classes. Though the program doesn’t have a formal program, I call this group my cohort. We were all graduate assistants, two of us in the same department. Since we had an office (the aforementioned Bunker), we were the gathering place.

Let me point out, these groups are not to do each others work. That defeats the entire point of education. Instead, it was for the purpose of mutual aid and support. We would all be sitting in the office, sometimes writing the same assignment for the same class, but we where still four students, with four backgrounds. As such, we always wrote four very different papers. What I mean by aid and support is being able to answer the questions “How do we format this?” or “Y’all did catch that the assignment is continued on the back of that page, right?”

Something that we did do together was summarize our texts. In undergrad, we were able to read the chapter, read the terms, and be fine. Not so at the next level, where a deeper knowledge of the material is required. Something we did, that worked amazingly well, was divide and conqueror the readings. We all still read everything, but we (within our group) assigned different chapters to different members. This means, instead of having to do outlines and terms for the entire book, we’d only have to do the in-depth summaries of 2-3 chapters. We’d then share these outlines with each other, in exchange from the ones from the others. It was a great time-saver to be sure.

There were some other things we did, but that’s for Part II.

References:
Shakespeare, William, The Life of King Henry the Fifth, act 4, scene 3
Turabian, Kate L.. A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.

Escape from the office!

I was very lucky when I was going through my program. I had an office (at least most of the time, there was one semester of transition where I worked out of the conference room).  But the point was, I had a home base.  I had a place where when I got there, I knew it was time to work.  And it was wonderful, most of the time.

There was one slight problem.  This office was a windowless six feet by twelve feet, and I shared it with two other people, plus who ever had stopped by to hang out or for tutoring.  If someone was meeting with one of the other GAs, I was in the way. I was distracted.  I couldn’t get my work done.  So, office or not, I had to find another location. It turns out, it was one of the best things that happened.


Even if I had been alone in “The Bunker” as we called it, I still would not have been as productive as was necessary sometimes.  So, what’s a deadline-pending grad student to do? Unless you’re running code or models and just HAVE to have your office computer, escape.  Now, I know not everyone has an official office.  But everyone has SOMETHING that is their office.  It’s where you do most of your work. It may be a spare bedroom, a corner of your bedroom, or your kitchen table. The principle is still the same. Change your surroundings.

It doesn’t have to be drastic. Sometimes, I’d go use a study nook on another floor of my building.  Our library had some pretty nice study rooms that I frequented quite often.  But even if your school doesn’t have those resources, there are alternatives.

There are very few college towns I’ve seen without a coffee shop. Milledgeville was actually one of them for a long time, but that has long since changed.  Now, in the downtown area, there are three different ones and another on the north side of town. My personal favorite (yes, I’m giving them a free endorsement) is Blackbird.  It’s small, local, and was the first to venture downtown.  As such, it’s a staple of downtown culture. They have a bit of everything, from students, professors, administration, to other downtown merchants. They have caffeine.  They have comfortable couches.  They have free WiFi.  What more could a nerd want?

There is one other place that I really enjoyed escaping to for study time, or now, research and grading time.  I am obviously a self-described nerd.  But sometimes, I feel the need to get outdoors. When this happens, I head to the local park.  The Oconee River Greenway is along the Oconee River, has walking trails, and plenty of tables and benches to sit and read.  On thing that is missing at this park, and most parks, is WiFi.  But with 3G technology becoming more and more popular, it’s becoming less of an issue. My netbook comes with 100 MB per month free.  Now, that’s not a lot.  But WiFi is so popular, I don’t have to use my 3G that often. Most of the time, I just venture to the Greenway when I have something printed that needs to be read.

I know every situation is different, but this has worked for me.  I used these escapes to be able to refocus on my work, instead of people constantly stopping by to talk, or for tutoring (after I completed my weekly hours, of course).  It was also amazing how many times an new location provided a new perspective on whatever was my task for the day. Sometimes a quick lap around the building, downtown, or the Greenway got the blood flowing again, woke me up, and gave me a chance to thing about what needed to be done without a blank screen glaring at me.

What is style anyway?

As you reach higher levels of academia, the first thing you’re likely to notice is a difference in the way your papers must look. Between MLA, CMS, APA, and (oh the horror) APSA, it’s a regular alphabet soup of things which must be done, and can NEVER be done. And to make it even more confusing, it’s different for each one of them.  Even worse, some of them have different sub-styles. How is one to figure this out?

Well, to begin with, you can get rid of MLA.  It’s for undergrads and English majors.  The Modern Language Association publishes the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. This is the style taught in introductory composition courses. It is a very simple style to use. But, it also is rather limited in it’s citation styles.  For example, if you’re having to site the Constitution of the United States, you have to cite it as a book.  Being designed for the humanities, it is centered around literature and reviews.  

In most public administration and policy courses, you will need to use either the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) or the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA). Your instructor may specify something else, and if they do use that.  But these two are common enough that you should familiarize yourself with them quickly, if you haven’t already. The American Political Science Association has its own Style Manual for Political Science, but it is currently out of print.  I assume they are developing a new edition. However, APSA still has as its base CMS style.  

There are some other things you need to know.  There are two different citation formats in CMS.  Oee uses footnotes, and the one I’ve used most frequently (Author-Date) uses parenthetical citations, much like APA.  It is this style which is required by most journals in the field.  This leads to my last point which is essential to understand.



These style manuals are designed to explain how to submit manuscripts for publication.  APA in particular look totally abandons aesthetic appeal. The previous edition of CMS included a separate chapter on how to adapt it for use for coursework where you were producing a final product instead of a manuscript for a publisher.  However, the current edition removed that chapter.  In its place, they refer the student to a resource written by Kate Turabian titled A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations.  This is one of those resources that if you don’t have it, go buy it now. Most book stores have it, and its less expensive then a pizza (the universal measurement of expense for college students). It is much easier to read than the style guides, and it is much quicker to find the required information.

One quick anecdotal story about how important it is to communicate with your professor about which style guide to use. When I started writing my thesis, I had been writing in CMS style for two years (senior year of undegrad and first year of grad school). I had set up what I needed to do for my proposal, when it needed to be turned in, what needed to be included, and who had to approve it.  I sat down with my annotated bibliography I already had from a conference paper on the same topic, and started writing. My proposal was completed in record time.  I, beaming with pride, went to turn it into my advisor.  Well, pride comes before destruction indeed.  I handed it to my advisor, he looked at it, looked at me, and said, “What the hell is this?”  



I had written the entire legislative history, background, and literature review in CMS instead of APA.  At this point, I had no idea what APA was.  I thought it was something used by “those people downstairs.” (Our department was on the second floor, directly below us was the physiology department was directly below us on the first floor). So, I went to back to my closet office and started the re-write.  It took me longer to learn APA style and and rewrite than it took me to do the first draft.  Not to mention, changing hand written citations from one style to the other takes forever.  So, make sure you do it
right the first time.  


There are many online guides for using the different citation systems.  My personal favorite is Doc Scribe’s Guides to Research Style.  The site provides summaries and examples of all of the major citation systems.  If you have a quick, basic question while you are writing, you will probably be able to find the answer there.

Let’s get started, shall we?

The leap from student to the real world is frightening. I know. I have been suspended in that jump for nearly a year. I graduated last May (of 2010) from Georgia College with a Master of Public Administration (I actually took the picture on the right side of the link, but I digress…) and I am currently an Adjunct Instructor of Political Science at Georgia Military College. I’m one of those individuals with just crazy enough to enjoy graduate school. I enjoyed working with my fellow students. I enjoyed the tutoring that was a major part of my graduate assistantship. I enjoyed the learning and interaction with professors. Okay, maybe I have a bit more than a touch of crazy. But, chances are if you are reading this, so do you.



Something I’ve realized over the course of the last year is little is taught about the transition from undergraduate to graduate student, and then the transition to the work force. It seemed there is an assumption that if you made it into grad school, you can complete graduate quality work. If you manage to graduate, you are capable of figuring out your own job search. You would be amazed at how many people (from all educational levels) have asked me how to use what should be basic tools of research and writing. There are already several blogs out there which address some of the basics of grad school survival, but most of the ones I have found, while excellent, focus on computer science and information technology, with an occasional post about general academia.


I’m not going to try to improve upon their model. I’m only going to write about what I know, and that is graduate studies in the area of public administration and public policy. I hope to have posts in the future from others in my field, and perhaps even in other somewhat related (or not) fields.


So, what should you expect from this blog? Things that will improve the quality of your life and your research in higher education. Most of it will be targeted towards masters level students, but hopefully some of the information can be adopted up to PhD students and down to undergraduates. I’ll be posting reading recommendations, How-To’s, and maybe even an occasional funny story.


So, let’s get started, shall we?

Knowledge vs. Ignorance

The reason why I can’t really get into, but a question has been cycling through my mind in recent days. Is it better to know what’s going on, behind the curtain so to speak, or to remain blissfully oblivious? My education teaches me that there is an underlying order to everything, and that order can be known an understood. But, the question remains if that order SHOULD be understood (or known, if you will).

The fusion and fission of an atom is what provides us with light and warmth. But that same process, when known and understood was converted into the most powerful weapon of destruction ever known. Birds have been flying since the dawn of creation. Humans captured that power and now have a delivery system both for themselves, humanitarian aid, and yes, those same atomic and nuclear weapons.

So, the question remains. Would life be better if there was some information we didn’t know. Is the world any better off now that we know how to destroy it? Would information that could destroy a family be better left unsaid?

My entire life, people have told me things. Most of the time, there is something so unmentionable, something they can’t bring themselves to say. This one will tell me one side. Another individual will tell me the other side. All too often, I just wish I had a flash gun that would let me erase memories like something out of Men in Black.

Other times, my gut (no, I’m not Gibbs, not even close) tells me things. My mind just puts weird things together in a quite odd manner. It’s weird; while I don’t “know” something, it just doesn’t surprise me when I find out, often months later.

The problem is when I find out something I’m not supposed to know. Every now and then, one piece falls in place that enables me to put the puzzle together before anyone wants me to know the full picture. I’m not supposed to know what I know, so I can’t talk to any one about it.

This is what bothers me. I can’t do anything with the information. I’ve spent the last five years being pounded with the fact that all information is to be desired and to always work for more and MORE information. But I can’t help but think that there are some things I would just rather not know.

Ok, theory friends of mine. Eat your heart out. Help your empiricist buddy sort through this one. Is knowledge always preferable to ignorance? Or is one of the assumptions of the Western Analytical Tradition false?