Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Learning to write all over again...

This month was really tough academically. I am taking three courses this semester and the intensity of these courses hit me all at once. I received several graded assignments from my professors at the same time all with the same critiques -- the content of my assignments were fine but my writing was wordy, lacked clarity, and ultimately deterred my professors from understanding what I was trying to say.

I had trouble receiving this feedback for several reasons. First, I did really well in the first year of my doctoral program and wondered why now was my writing an issue? Second, I am a perfectionist and I wanted my writing to be perfect. Last, I got defensive because this was not the first time I received critiques about my writing.

I flashed back to when I worked in the NP sector and wrote grant proposals and communication pieces. Several Executive Directors did not like my writing style. So, I asked myself is this a conspiracy, first my ED's, now my professors, am I really a bad writer? I excelled in my Masters program, I write this blog, why can't I write clearly in academic papers? (Sounds winey...but wait).

Then one class our assignment was to read the book Writing Up Qualitative Research by Henry Wolcott and write a memo about it. This book was amazing, it was a how to guide for writing and editing and it opened my eyes and eased my anxiety about my writing. I had an ah ha moment while reading the book I wanted to share. Here is an excerpt from my class assignment that describes that moment.

The Writing up Qualitative Research monograph met me where I was at in the writing process. I was struggling to handle feedback I had received about my writing and how to improve my writing. However, this monograph taught me that I am not a bad writer and I need to spend more time editing my writing and listening to the feedback I receive about my writing. Wolcott expressed writing does not come naturally or easily to him and he quoted other authors that have the same issue. They all work at their writing and edit draft after draft until they get to a point where they are comfortable with sending their work to their editors.

The section on getting feedback was especially helpful because it emphasized the importance of using reviewers for your writing. I liked the tips Wolcott provided on having a colleague read the paper aloud to check for errors. My favorite quote of that section was something that I want to put on my wall to remind me to not take the review process so personally because “even the most gracious and gentle among your critics are far more likely to fault weaknesses in a manuscript than to applaud strengths” (Wolcott, 2001, p. 62). These critiques will make me a stronger and better writer.

So as I continue through the rest of my semester, I have less anxiety and frustraitions about my writing and the feedback I receive about my writing. I am also spending a lot more time editing my writing...

Quick Stats about Millennials and Volunteers

I'm Teachers Assistant for an undergraduate nonprofit class this semester and a few weeks ago a panel of volunteer managers from Dovia spoke to our class. The panel provided great statistics about millennials.
  • Millennials will have 10-14 jobs by the time they are 38.
  • 1 in 4 millennials have been in a job less than 1 year.
  • Millennials are 1/3 of the US population.
  • They spend 170 billion a year.
  • They appreciate family values and volunteer.
  • 28% author a blog.
  • 30.4% volunteer.
The panel also provided volunteering statstics and helpful tips about recruiting, managing, and retaining volunterrs.
  • 25% of San Diegans Volunteer
  • 28% of the US population volunteers
  • 1 in 3 nonprofits do not do background checks of their volunteers.
  • 1 in 8 nonprofits do not screen their volunteers or check references.
The Dovia panel said it is important for nonprofits to create policies and procedures to recruit, train, and retain volunteers. Nonprofits should assign a point person, a liaison between staff and volunteers, be clear with volunteers what is expected of them, and provide appropriate, timely and personal recongition of volunteer efforts. Nonprofits should be transparent with volunteers and share with them how money is spent in the organization, the volunteer's time is valued and help volunteers understand where they fit into the big picture of the organization.

Dovia has chapters around the country and provides ongoing training for nonprofits on best practices for volunteer management. Volunteer management is often avoided and overlooked by many nonprofits, however volunteers keep nonprofits thriving and surviving so it is important to invest in creating and maintaining a healthy volunteer program.

I thought these statistics and tips were very helpful -- do you have any interesting tips for managing volunteers that aren't listed here?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Confessions of a second year doctoral student

I am now into the second year of my PhD program and attended a wonderful seminar last weekend about how to be a successful doctoral student and I thought I'd share my notes from that seminar -- the indoctrination process:

Roles and Tasks of Doctoral Students
  • Don't begin to write until you understand conversations going on in the field.
  • Develop own sense of authority and raise questions if things don't make sense.
  • Don't justify things on the basis of authority.
  • Justify things on the basis of the quality of question or evidence.
  • We need to follow our intellectual path and challenge ourselves and assumptions.
  • We need to make an enormous amount of effort to do high quality scholarly work.
  • Be open to reading materials from other fields -- its from other fields that new insights come.
  • Be open to see connections.
Academic Writing
  • Take and use feedback.
  • Get beyond our own ego.
  • Speak to various faculty members to hear their different perspectives.
  • Good writing includes these four principles. PACT
    1. Point First--see what you are accomplishing.
    2. Active Voice--put subject first in writing.
    3. Concise--use less words.
    4. Topic Sentences--tell a story.
  • Keep reading notes in a word document that includes summary, quotes, and page #'s in a word file. Also, keep and excel file tracking works cited by the author.
  • Reading notes will help you not to read something more than once.
  • Literature review is the hardest writing for students.
  • Start by conceptualizing three main topics.
  • When you can't find literature on something acknowledge that in the literature review.
  • Trying to fill the gap with current research -- don't be discouraged when you find a gap.
  • Stick to the APA manual.
Committee Selection
  • Select people who have knowledge of your field and can direct you to key sources of literature.
  • Show your committee chair you know how to get into the literature.
  • Inform your committee about your progress and the path you are taking.
  • If you choose a committee member from outside the university be clear with them about their role and your expectations.
That's it for now...on the road to becoming a scholar.