Thursday, January 31, 2019

What I Learned During My First Term as a PhD Researcher


Embarking on a PhD can be daunting, yet the first term brings opportunities to make a strong start by establishing solid working processes for the months and years to come. Kim Harding, a first-year PhD candidate in the sociology department at Goldsmiths, University of London shares what she has learned since starting her course.
I shook off the burden of originality
You may arrive at your doctoral studies with the notion that you need to deliver a significant, original contribution to knowledge. However, as Pat Thomson writes in her blog about academic practice, a solo PhD will most often offer “small variations in research in a field that is relatively well-trodden”. So don’t feel encumbered by Your Great Idea; instead, concentrate on how you are building on existing scholarship and adding to it. Admittedly, this isn’t as cool as ‘original contribution to knowledge’, but it’s a lot less anxiety-inducing.
I identified where and when I’m most productive
Identify what in your day is high-intensity (eg writing, editing) and what is low-intensity (emails, admin). Then find the space — and the appropriate time of day — that is most conducive to getting the work done. For me, the hard work finishes before lunchtime, in a place where I can think without interruption — my sofa works very well for this purpose. In the afternoon, I’ll move to somewhere more favourable to low-intensity work, like a busy area on campus, preferably one that sells coffee. Find whatever works for you.
I learned to talk about my research in one sentence, at the drop of a hat
You’ve probably heard of the ‘elevator pitch’ — the dazzling sentence that explains your research in a nutshell. After my induction week, in which I clumsily tried to explain my research to peers (“I’m interested in, er, selfhood and, er, digital lifeworlds”), I distilled it into something more compelling (“I’m researching how teenagers that identify as non-religious create meaning through digital technology”). For added fun, take your elevator pitch and condense into six words. Currently, mine goes: “Is the smartphone a devotional object?” The six-word challenge completely over-simplifies what you do, but it forces you to think about the essence of your research problem. It’s also a great conversation-starter.
I didn’t spend much time in the library
I had a romantic idea that I would be spending hours in the stacks grappling with Important Social Theories. But it hasn’t really worked out like that so far, because I realised I never get my best work done in libraries, no matter how many beautiful books I am surrounded with. Instead, I have taken advantage of the many resources on offer to the doctoral researcher: graduate school workshops, one-day events, seminars, lectures. Rather than being considered a distraction from the ‘real’ business of being in a library, they are an essential part of the research process, providing fresh angles on my discipline, ideas about how to do my research and a chance to let off steam with other researchers.
I made more lists than strictly necessary
My Evernote files are full of lists. Lists about what to read. Lists about what to write. Lists about people I want to talk to and lists about things that I will eventually make more lists about. OK, so I admit I’m an obsessive list-compiler. But planning the work is the work. Sitting for hours in the library reading books that you fancy the look of isn’t a bad idea in itself, but meticulous planning ensures you know why you’re reading those books and what it contributes to your research. Moreover, a ton of scheduling and planning is required to ensure that you have the mental energy to apply yourself to the issues at the core of your research, with focus and purpose, without feeling like you’re drowning in a sea of emails and looming deadlines. If you keep on top of the detail, you free up precious brainpower for Your Great Idea to grow.
What did you learn during your first term as a PhD researcher? Have you nailed the art of the ‘elevator pitch’? Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at libraryblogs@warwick.ac.uk, or leave a comment below.
Kim Harding is a PhD researcher in the Sociology department at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her research explores how non-religious teenagers create meaning and enact their values through the digital technology they use. In her non-academic life, she works as a freelance journalist. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Future Graduates Will Need Creativity and Empathy – Not Just Technical Skills: Government Education Policy Focuses on the Importance of Hard Science, but Soft Skills Matter Too

by Natalie Brett, The Guardian Education:  https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/dec/20/future-graduates-will-need-creativity-and-empathy-not-just-technical-skills

‘Hard skills may help a student get a job in a particular industry, but soft skills will help them disrupt it.’ Photograph: vgajic/Getty Images
Rapidly advancing technology, including automation and AI and its impact on education, skills and learning in the UK, is a subject of much debate for universities. How can institutions equip students with the skills they need to succeed in a changing jobs market? It’s a valid question, though often the answers are the problem.

Since technology is driving these changes, there’s an assumption that the government should keep focusing on Stem subjects. These are often referred to as “hard skills”, which are prioritised in primary school and right through to university level. In the meantime, “soft skills” – which are already disadvantaged by the term’s connotations – are being relegated even further down the pecking order in terms of curriculum must-haves.

This is a mistake. Much evidence suggests that soft skills are far more beneficial to graduates than is currently acknowledged. Research from Harvard University on the global jobs market has shown that Stem-related careers grew strongly between 1989 and 2000, but have stalled since. In contrast, jobs in the creative industries – the sector probably most associated with the need for soft skills – in the UK rose nearly 20% to 1.9m in the five years to June 2016. Soft skills are in fact increasingly in demand in the workplace: Google cites creativity, leadership potential and communication skills as top prerequisites for both potential and current employees.

According to research by the World Economic Forum, more than one in four adults reported a mismatch between their skills and those needed for their job role. Although technical skills, such as learning to code, can be taught and assessed more easily and soft skills take time to develop and are more complex in nature, the latter can turn out to be more beneficial in the long term. If taught well, these skills should enable students to adapt to change more easily, gain a greater understanding of people and the world around them, and ultimately progress further in their chosen career.So why, in an age cited as the “fourth industrial revolution”, are soft skills so highly sought after? With the rapid evolution of technology, a focus on hard skills leaves students vulnerable to change, as these often have a shorter shelf life.

Of course technical, practical and more easily quantifiable skills are important but without the curriculum placing equal, if not greater, importance on soft skills, our governments and education systems are missing a huge trick. Hard skills may help a student get a job in a particular industry, but soft skills will help them disrupt it, creating change for the better and achieving a wider impact in their chosen field.

To return to the Google example, many of the company’s top “characteristics of success” are soft skills: being a good coach, communicating and listening well, possessing insights into other points of view, being supportive of one’s colleagues, critical thinking and problem solving, and being able to make connections across complex ideas. It’s these fundamentally human emotional and social skills which should be nurtured, developed and celebrated as the key to future success for students and society in general.

Many universities have embraced this, teaching students soft skills such as critical thinking, idea generation and interdisciplinary ways of working alongside hard skills. But the issue goes much deeper: it needs to be tackled across the entire education system, so that by the time students reach university level they are already familiar with the importance of, and the qualities needed to develop, these essential skills.

With enrolment in arts and humanities degrees in decline and the government’s continued focus on technical Stem subjects, the value of soft skills may be in danger of being lost along the way. Perhaps a good place to start would be a reframing of the language we use to describe these skills as, if the evidence is correct, they’re not so “soft” after all.

Natalie Brett is the head of London College of Communication and pro vice-chancellor of the University of the Arts, London

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Starting the PhD - Learning New Vocabulary: Conventions, Jargon and Academic Language


Scholarly work often involves learning new words. You know this right? Sometimes it even seems that in order to be considered a scholar you have to speak in words no one else can understand.
Well that’s the stereotype.
But let’s try to unpack this a bit. What words do you need to learn, why and how?
Each discipline has a dedicated terminology
An example. If you study Chemistry then words like composition, structure, properties, behaviour, reactions, bonding and so on are a very basic lingua franca. Most non-chemists have a good chance of understanding what these terms mean, as they have not entirely dissimilar meanings outside of the discipline. But when you get further into Chemistry, say you’re doing a PhD, you’ll possibly be saying things like – electrostatic self-assembly, electron micro probe analysis, enantioselective rhodium-catalysed coupling reaction, supercritical carbon dioxide …
I don’t know what any of these terms mean by the way. But I know that they are associated with research done by my colleagues. And I know that these terms just trip off their tongues and they all understand each other, even if I don’t have a clue what they’re on about. Fortunately, most of them are also able to explain these ideas in plainer language to non-Chemistry types like me. But it’s obviously important if you’re a Chemistry researcher to get on top of this kind of advanced terminology and the various and very specific practices and phenomena that they describe.
And the same goes for every discipline. Whether you’re doing a PhD in English, Politics or Veterinary Science, there will be a whole lot of new words and concepts for you to acquire. They have particular meanings that other people in your discipline understand. You can conduct an ‘insider’ conversation in the scholarly community using this technical disciplinary lingo.
Each research practice also has its own terminology
Researching also has a lot of terms that you don’t use regularly in everyday conversation – like epistemology for example. You don’t bowl up to your seldom-seen aunty and say “What’s your epistemological position?” However, you might very well have a conversation with another PhDer, or your supervisor, where you do talk about epistemology in exactly this way.
And specific types of research use particular words which flag up what they stand for. A “post-positivist” might talk about “validity” to signal their understandings of ‘truth’, and research methods that arrive at ‘truth’. On the other hand, a “post-structurally informed” researcher might use the term “trustworthiness” to talk about the status of the knowledge that they have produced and the process they used. Examiners and colleagues reading a text know where someone stands epistemologically by the specific words that they use.
It’s important to take note of such specific research terms.You need to get on top of them even if you never use them anywhere but in conversation with other academics. They represent our ‘tools of the trade’. During your PhD you’ll need to understand them in order to be able to make choices about which of them to use. You may also need to be able to translate researcher-talk into plain language in order to discuss your work in other contexts. Like with your seldom-seen aunty.
But there’s another kind of word use you also need to get familiar with.
Academic writing also often uses particular kinds of language
Over time, we scholars have developed a collective vocabulary for what we do, a lexicon for our collective ‘rhetorical practices’. We discuss, investigate, categorise, argue, frame, predict and so on. We don’t start and end something, we introduce and conclude. We cite, state and suggest. We often compare and contrast, we further an idea, we infer, deduce, calculate and make an original contribution.
Different disciplines often have their own rhetorical twists too. Some disciplines are fonder of describing and showing for example than illustratingreporting or arguing. So you will need to get used to reading them and probably using them.
And there’s important news about the wording of academic writing – a lot of academic journals expect you to use this verbiage. Most PhD examiners also expect to read prose which uses this kind of language. They take the use of these terms and syntax as a sign that a PhDer has become part of their scholarly community. So you will probably need to adapt your writing to this kind of lexicon and syntax.
But there are two health warnings about both academic words and their usage.
First, it is important to understand that ‘these more ‘formal’ ways of talking and writing are conventions. So while terms such as frame and infer are common, you’ll see them used quite a bit, it is still possible to write in other ways. However, while you may have a choice about how ‘formally’ you write, there is much less wiggle room about using the generally agreed terminology for the subject matter you are researching or for how you name your research practice and positionality,
Second, some, if not all, of the discipline-based terms that I use without thinking are strongly culturally located. What you can see and say is always limited by the language available to you. So it may be the case that, depending on what you are researching, terms from other languages, places and times are a helpful addition – or counter – to the terms usually used for the kind of scholarly work that you do.(I’m constantly on the lookout for non-English disciplinary terms and expressions and ideas that might push my assumptions and learning.)
Why does word knowledge matter? Well …
Academic work is communication and conversation
Because you will want to tell other people about your work, otherwise why do it, thinking about words and their use is an integral part of your scholarly work. You will want to use your PhD in a range of ways. You’ll work to ‘translate’ from formal academic prose loaded with discipline-specific words into different media and genres for different audiences.
If you don’t want to be stuck for words during a conference presentation, or a talk to the local citizen science group, then continuing to work on words will be part and parcel of what you do as a scholar. It is therefore very helpful to continue to extend your general vocabulary, as well as to deliberately build yourself a solid scholarly lexical repertoire.
So how do you learn new words? No I mean really, how do you consciously set out to extend the words you know and can use appropriately?
Some word-based strategies you might consider
Some people swear by ‘word a day’ apps to build general vocabulary and “cheat sheets” of academic word lists and word banks. I’m much less enthusiastic about these than you might think. Not a fan. However, you may want to check these resources out for yourself.
As an educator, I understand the process of building your own academic dictionary as helpful for owning all the words you want and need. I suggest that it’s useful to:
  • Note down new words that you find in your reading. Build up a word list relevant to your project that you can practice using.
  • Build a glossary of the discipline-specific and research terms relevant to your work. Write their definitions out in your own words – add references if this is helpful. Keep this handy on your desktop.
  • Buy a Thesaurus, or use the Thesaurus online, at times when you find yourself searching for an alternative word.
  • Look for your idiosyncratic lexical tics – words you use too much – and find substitutes.
  • Read good journalism, non-fiction and fiction and analyse the writing. Look for the kinds of language used and the ways in which words are chosen and ordered to support the crafting of ideas.
And you may well find other ways to work with the words you need. Let us all know when you do.
The most important thing is not that you adopt one or several of these word strategies, but that you do take on the task of building specific and necessary vocabulary. Your PhD in part depends on your familiarity with and choices of terms and the academic conventions they embody.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Higher English Entry Standards for International Students Won't Necessarily Translate to Success

by Sally Baker, UNSW and Caroline Lenette, UNSW, The Conversation: https://theconversation.com/higher-english-entry-standards-for-international-students-wont-necessarily-translate-to-success-110350

File 20190124 135145 1wasf4e.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
A number on a standardised test is not enough to make sure international students succeed – they need ongoing support even if they have a basic grasp of English. www.shutterstock.com


For some time, lowering standards and inadequate English language proficiency have dominated discussions about international students in Australia. Studies show many international students struggle in their relationships, with their finances, feelings of isolation and belonging, all of which affect their educational experience.

The suggestion that raising entry standards would ensure success and a higher quality of international graduates is not necessarily true. Achieving a higher level of English proficiency through a standardised test will not guarantee international students’ motivation to fully participate in their degree programs.


Read more: English test for international students isn't new, just more standardised


Universities need to look beyond language proficiency at the point of entry, and do more to support all facets of academic, linguistic and social development. These include discipline-specific language, mental health, and culturally appropriate pastoral support throughout their degrees. While language proficiency is the most important factor, these other factors have been shown to impact students’ academic performance.

Focusing only on increasing entry scores on standardised tests like the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is unlikely to help. We also need to provide them with support after they’ve arrived at an Australian university. If we don’t, the number of international students who choose to study in Australia could decrease, hurting the A$32 billion a year industry.

What is IELTS and how does it work?

One of the most popular proficiency tests is the International English Language Testing System, which costs A$340 and consists of four tests. Despite its dominance in global language testing, the IELTS has been criticised by university academic and administrative staff for being a poor predictor of academic performance.

The federal government requires student visa applicants to achieve at least a 5.5 on the test. Alternatively, they can get a 5.0 and do at least 10 weeks of intensive English language learning, or a 4.5 and do at least 20 weeks of intensive English language learning. The highest a person can achieve is a 9.0.

The test is comprised of a 15-minute speaking test, 40 multiple choice questions each in listening and reading, and a two-part writing test. Here is what a 5.0 sounds like:


This test-taker has enough vocabulary to talk about familiar and unfamiliar topics, but meaning is occasionally lost through limited vocabulary. Her basic grammar is reasonably accurate but she struggles with complex sentences.

A student who achieved a band 8.0 speaks much more fluidly, drawing on a wide range of less common words and phrases, but she still has to occasionally pause to search for the right words.


Like all standardised tests, IELTS suffers from the weight of expectation about what it can actually assess. IELTS can only offer a snapshot of students’ use of language. As you can hear in the video, the activities test-takers do in the IELTS test are generic and poorly reflect the kinds of language use and literacy students will need to complete their degrees.

It also can’t assess understandings of cultural norms, conversational ability, or capacity to engage in the host country’s social life. These are also important for success. The score can only indicate someone’s proficiency in a familiar testing context, and their tolerance for high-stakes exams.

For success, international students need ongoing support

Universities profit massively from international student enrolments. If they don’t do anything to support these students through their studies (instead of just raising the entry requirement), they’re likely to lose significant income. There is also a moral obligation for universities to better respond to the needs of these students.

Universities should recognise that for international students, disciplinary specific, people-rich supports work better than general study skills models for most students. Accessing medical or mental health support through digital booking systems could prevent international students from seeking help. They’re already less likely than domestic peers to seek support.


Read more: More international students should mean more support for communication and interaction


Despite the economic incentive to make sure international enrolments remain steady, collaborating to set up and share more responsive forms of support on the ground is difficult. The siloed nature of university departments hinders collaboration.

For example, there are many language specialists in English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students (ELICOS) centres at universities. Universities could draw on their expertise to work with university teachers in their specific disciplines to support international students. They could help the students learn the language and literacy practices relevant to their disciplines, as well as help improve their oral and written expression.

So what would work?

Universities need to work towards students feeling confident about asking for help, and knowing who to talk to and where to find the right information.


Read more: Using university language tests for migration and professional registration is problematic


Universities need to ensure support services are targeted to the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse students. They also need to ensure there are many types of support available to avoid a backlog that would see students giving up or not having access to the right support at the right time. This should be a core part of university business. Specific strategies to promote cultural and linguistic diversity include:
  • taking an approach to teaching and learning that encourages multilingual students to use multiple languages to make sense of course content
  • establishing language ambassadors who can help newly-arrived international students navigate their new university and find services such as counselling or language supports
  • explicitly teaching cultural diversity to students and staff, offering safe spaces to unpack assumptions and biases and creating culturally safe institutions which promote inclusive and supportive environments in both policy and practice.
Finally, universities need to encourage and offer training to support staff to engage in these practices. Many academics and support staff come up with excellent strategies, but these are often ad hoc or isolated. Universities should also offer incentives to collaborate and showcase best practice strategies for others to use and adapt.The Conversation

Sally Baker, Lecturer, School of Social Sciences,  UNSW  and Caroline Lenette, Senior Lecturer, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Eight Top Tips to Help You Turn Your PhD Thesis Into an Article

by Laura Mesquita, Elsevier:  https://www.elsevier.com/connect/authors-update/eight-top-tips-to-help-you-turn-your-phd-thesis-into-an-article


Many first-time authors use the research conducted as part of their PhD or even Master’s thesis as a basis for a journal article. While that’s a logical step, the requirements for a thesis differ from those of a paper in a peer reviewed academic journal in very significant ways. Ensuring that you are familiar with these can prove the difference between acceptance and rejection …

Elsevier’s Researcher Academy recently hosted a live webinar on turning your PhD thesis into an article. In this webinar, Dr. Adolfo Cuevas, Assistant Professor at Tufts University, Dr. Cecily Betz, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Pediatric Nursing, and Dawn Nahlen, Publisher at Elsevier, discussed eight golden tips to help you transform your thesis into a research paper for publication in a journal.

Apples and pears

Some of the differences between articles and theses are rather clear – consider word limits and the level of detail you should employ in your study. Others, however, are much less obvious. For instance, verbs in a thesis may be in the future “I will research” and in the past tense “I researched”. In journal articles, authors tend to describe a study that has already taken place and so tenses are much more consistent.

Some other key differences are listed below.

Top thesis tips image

Tip 1. Identify the appropriate target journal

Make sure to read the aims and scope of journals you are interested in to be as certain as you can be that your paper falls within the journal’s scope. If your research falls outside of the aims and scope, look for a more suitable home for your paper – as submitting it there would be a wasted effort. Check each journal’s recommended structure and reference style for articles on its website, typically found in the “guide for authors”, to ensure that your paper is not desk rejected. You might find it useful to look at Elsevier’s Journal Finder tool when trying to identify a fit for your article.

Tip 2. Shorten the length of your thesis

Journal articles are typically much shorter than theses (the precise word limit will normally be stated in the guide for authors), so be sure to use a tighter framework and a more compact style. This will mean:
- Treating your thesis as a separate, new work
- Paraphrasing where needed to express the same idea in different ways
- Selecting parts of your thesis to repurpose (not all of it) and focusing on the main points you want the reader to understand

Tip 3. Reformat the introduction as an abstract

Writing an abstract can be difficult. Lucky for you, you already have a pretty good place to start. While abstracts in journal articles are usually much shorter (100-250 words) than the average thesis introduction, the two have one thing in common: both should contain all the key elements to command the reader’s attention and encourage them to read further. Using your introduction and part of your discussion as a basis for your abstract can be a good starting point.

Tip 4. Modify the introduction

Your thesis may have more than one research question or hypothesis, which are not all relevant for your paper. Consider combining your research questions or focusing on a single one for the article. Unless otherwise suggested, try to keep the introduction short and to the point. It can also be very helpful to use previously published papers (at least three) from the target journal as examples – try to fit in with the usual “form” for articles in the journal.

Tip 5. Tighten the methods section

Often, there is no need for an overly descriptive methods section. While concerns surrounding reproducibility are becoming increasingly important, you may want to keep your methods section succinct and certainly remember your audience: your peers probably do not need every detail of tried and tested methods. A longer description of methods may be a requirement from your institute or funding body, and it is definitely warranted when innovative methods are deployed, but again: it’s a good idea to use papers previously published in the target journal as examples.

Tip 6. Report main findings in results

Be sure to present all the findings that are relevant to your research question(s) in the results section, before the discussion. If you conducted an exploratory analysis, be sure to provide at least a few concise statements on the findings.

Tip 7. Ensure discussion is clear and concise

A good starting point for a discussion section is an interpretation of your results: What is it that the reader will have learned from your research? Do not repeat your results in the discussion section, instead do the following:
- Situate your findings in the literature
- Discuss how your findings expand the perspective of the field
- Briefly present ways in which future studies can build upon your work, and address limitations in your study

Tip 8. Limit number of references

Unlike your thesis, where you can cite those foundational yet potentially dated sources and anything else you may have learned from, journals do sometimes limit the number of citations. For this reason, it’s important to make sure:
- To choose the most relevant (and recent) citations
- That the citations are formatted correctly

Pro tip

Consider using a reference manager system (e.g. Mendeley) to make your life easier. When you’re picking the most relevant citations or quickly reformatting them, you’ll be thankful you did.

Learn more

The tips presented here are just a short preview of a truly enlightening 60 minutes with an Elsevier publisher, a thesis supervisor and author, and a journal’s Editor-in-Chief. Be sure to catch the full webinar recording, entirely free, at the Elsevier Researcher Academy.

Final tip of the day

Following the event, in the Researcher Academy Mendeley group, the webinar panelists answered the participants’ most burning questions from the Q&A – be sure to check it out!
Laura Mesquita is the communications and content lead for Researcher Academy, Elsevier’s free e-learning platform for early career researchers.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Growing Up Surrounded by Books Has a Lasting Positive Effect on the Brain, Says a New Scientific Study

by , Open Culture:  http://www.openculture.com/2018/11/growing-surrounded-books-lasting-positive-effect-brain-says-new-scientific-study.html

Image by George Redgrave, via Flickr Commons

Somewhere in the annals of the internet--if this sprawling, near-sentient thing we call the internet actually has annals--there is a fine, fine quote by filmmaker John Waters:

We need to make books cool again. If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t fuck them. Don’t let them explore you until they’ve explored the secret universes of books. Don’t let them connect with you until they’ve walked between the lines on the pages. Books are cool, if you have to withhold yourself from someone for a bit in order for them to realize this then do so.
I like to think all of us here on Open Culture are on the same page as Mr. Waters and there’s reason to celebrate: researchers at the Australian National University have reported that growing up in a household filled with books can lead to proficiency in literacy, numeracy, and information communication technology, even if you don’t go on to university.
Basically, being around books is good for you.

You can read the full study by Joanna Sikora here at Social Science Research, which used data from 160,000 adults from 31 countries. The data came from a survey that asked people ages 25 to 65 to think back on being 16 years old. How many books were they surrounded by at home during that time?
The average number at home was 115 books, though in Norway the average size was 212 books and in Turkey it was 27. Needless to say, no matter the size of the library, having books in the home was a good thing. The researches also found that literacy rates climbed as the number of books climbed, but at some point--350 books to be exact--these rates plateau’d.
In comparison, a person who had not grown up around books but had earned a university degree wound up being just as literate as someone with a large home library and only nine years of schooling.
According to Sikora, “Early exposure to books in [the] parental home matters because books are an integral part of routines and practices that enhance lifelong cognitive competencies.”
What does that bode for a more digital future? The study seems to suggest that while books are not going away any time soon, it is indeed this book-based literacy that leads many of us to online sites like Open Culture, where we spend our time reading articles like this one (instead of, you know, watching cat videos or playing Fortnite).
So the next time you fret that your stack of unread books is a bad thing, don’t worry. It's doing wonders for your mental health, whether you know it or not.
Related Content:
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcastand is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

"How to Write a Thesis" (Umberto Eco) – My Reading Notes

I sometimes eschew book recommendations even though I have an intuition that these may actually work for my purposes. 
A number of scholars had recommended to me that I should check Umberto Eco’s How to Write A Thesis whose 2015 reprint was published by The MIT Press, particularly since I’ve been reading a lot of books on how to do a doctoral dissertation (mostly for my own students, but also to help others globally). As I mention in my tweet below, I’ve never been a fan of Eco’s, so I was a bit skeptical. I take my skepticism back.
Everybody and their mother has recommended to me that I read Umberto Eco’s How to Write a Thesis. Frankly I was skeptical, particularly because I didn’t love “The name of the rose”, but I figured I had read Stephen King’s “On Writing”, so I might as well do this one.
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I’m really pleasantly surprised that so much of Eco’s book is focused on avoiding plagiarism. I’ve had my work plagiarized by students and professors alike, and it’s something I’m really angered by, so glad someone out there is paying attention to the issue from a teaching view.
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I am, very much like Eco, very critical of people who don’t use direct sources (hence my emphasis on language training and mastery when dealing with comparative and cross-country research). I enjoyed how he discussed this issue in HTWAT.
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This is where Eco is useful both for book manuscript-type PhD theses and for post-PhD writers. He takes pains to explain different ways in which the table of contents acts as an outline and how we can develop different models of outlines.
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I melt. I have used physical index cards, I teach my students how to write index cards for their theses but I never had typed them. Umberto Eco typed his index cards (and classified them in various types). His attention to detail and citation is fundamental and important.
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After reading Umberto Eco’s book, I think I agree: yes, PhD students should read his book How to Write a Thesis. 
Aimed at Italian students and the Italian model of a PhD, his adaptation and translation into English is super useful. I imagine it would be useful to Spanish speakers too (the Spanish version of course). I will be recommending it to my own doctoral students.