Category Archives: knowledge transmission

Writing a Dissertation: What They Don’t Teach You in Grad School

This blog post describes useful ideas and tools for those working on dissertations and other long writing projects. It is written from the vantage point of historical work, but has much to offer social and psychological science scholars, as well. — Edprof

Erstwhile: A History Blog

IMG_2542 copy.JPG Tools of the dissertation writer’s trade. (All photos author’s own.)

This week Erstwhile editor Sara Porterfield shares what she wished she’d known before starting her dissertation and what she’s learned from the writing process. 

Until it came time to write my dissertation, graduate school kept me on a schedule with measurable goals and milestones around which I could structure my days and schedule. Once I defended my dissertation prospectus, however, that structure disappeared. All of a sudden I found myself faced with what seemed like an almost insurmountable task—writing what is essentially a book—that my training hadn’t really prepared me for. Yes, I knew how to research in the archives; yes, I knew how to write a well-crafted and convincingly argued seminar paper. But I didn’t know how to put together an argument over 300 pages, or even what tools to use for researching and writing such a project.

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Mystery of Missing Women in Science

The New York Times has published a series of articles and commentaries on the relatively small number of women and girls who pursue scientific careers.  This September 3, 2013 article offers an overview of the problem and some of its possible origins.

Mystery of the Missing Women in Science
Female students are catching up or surpassing male counterparts in math and science, yet the fields like engineering and computer science remain male dominated.

The article’s author, Natalie Angier, notes that whereas girls and boys are similar with respect to competence in math and science, boys express intent to pursue technical careers in greater numbers than do girls.  Women are attracted to, or at least wind up in education and healthcare fields, where salaries are lower than in science and engineering.  The reasons for all this are complex and not well understood.  To her credit, Angier acknowledges that understanding girls’ disinterest in technical careers requires a consideration of both psychological and contextual factors.  She observes,
In seeking to explain girls’ persistent aversion to science, researchers argue that standard surveys won’t reveal hidden impulses or negative thoughts. People may say they consider women the equals of men, but as Jo Handelsman and her colleagues at Yale University reported last year, simply substituting the name Jennifer for John lowered both men’s and women’s estimation of an aspiring scientist’s résumé.
Small details can have serious consequences. Women do worse on standardized math tests when asked to indicate their sex. When they are told men and women do equally well on such tests, their performance improves. Students show greater gains when they are taught that the mind, like a muscle, gets stronger with work, as opposed to being told that talents are fixed and you’re born either quick or slow.
Writing about “Women and the Maths Problem” in 2012, Helen Powell proposed that the explanation may lie not in the adverse effects of “stereotype threat,” but in the fact that girls think that mathematics is boring.
New York based author Emma Keller provided a blog post on “Gender and Science: Why the Gender Gap Persists and What to Do About It”  that provides some suggestions for those who want to help their daughters develop and maintain their enthusiasm for mathematics and science.

Journalists on the Edge of Truth –

In this re-blogged post (8/19/12), David Carr offers a number of interesting observations on pressures facing journalists.  I was especially struck by his observations on changes in the nature of professional socialization in journalism.  He notes a shift from how journalists who came up the ranks by working in old media (“legacy media”) to a new situation in which media stars rise to prominence without the requisite experiences necessary to foster conformity to conventionally understood professional ideals.   I wonder if there are not parallel problems in other fields as well?   — EdProf

Journalists on the Edge of Truth –

Gratitude, Mindfulness and Awe


Image of a spiral galaxy

Pinwheel Galaxy

From the Association for Psychological Science (APS) 2012 Annual Convention website: An article and video on “Facets of Mindfulness as Predictors of Gratitude.”   This co-authored paper presentation was given by Anthony Ahrens of American University.  Gratitude increases the desire to be helpful to others and appears to be amplified by mindfulness (as demonstrated in this particular study).

The same page references Wray Herbert’s discussion of the societal and psychological benefits of experiencing AWE (“Making Time Stand Still“).  This and many other fascinating commentaries appear in the “We’re Only Human” blog.  It would be interesting to know more about how professionals maintain capacity for emotion regulation, including maintaining a sense of purpose when things go wrong.  And since there are always risks associated with carrying out professional roles and responsibilities, there are always going to be times when outcomes fall short of expectations and hopes.

Those readers interested in the comparative study of professional communities might want to compare the APS web project to the American Psychological Association (APA) web site.  Take a look. Which organization seems most engaged with the task of conveying vivid images of “professional identities” to site visitors? I imagine the audience for these sites includes a wide range of “guests” — licensed practitioners, psychological scientists, students at all levels, and members of the general public.   Every institutional website has a history produced by the actions of individuals and groups.  It would be interesting to know more about the histories of professional association websites, since “internet presence” constitutes an important interface between professionals and the people they serve.  — With gratitude and awe,  EdProf


Association for Psychological Science Website: “”

Ahrens, A. (2012). “Facets of mindfulness as predictors of gratitude” (video post). “” (February 15, 2012)

Herbert, W. (2012). “Making time stand still. Awesome.” Posted on the We’re Only Human blog. “” (January 26, 2012)

Herbert, W. (2012) We’re Only Human Blog.

Photo Credit: European Space Agency and NASA.  For more information on this “pinwheel galaxy” See:

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Degree Program Search Sites: A Cautionary Note

clouds on a southwestern horizon

Clouds on the Horizon

Not long ago, Gwen Jensen (pseudonym) contacted me about a website intended to help those interested in earning a masters degree in Elementary Education.  She wanted me to add a link for her site to a web page I manage that provides links to Professional Education Associations. The idea was to encourage education students to join one or more professional associations — to expand their professional lifenets.  Although Gwen offered sound advice on her (dot-org) page, something didn’t seem quite right.  First, she didn’t provide any trace of herself — her identity — on her website.  There was no date on the page, nor any sense of authorship or institutional affiliation — yet the page was supposed to serve prospective students.  (She was not forthcoming via email, either, when I pointed this out to her.)

In addition, the page was tightly linked to a commercial site that presumably provided a way to search for masters degree programs by location and area of specialization.  I used the commercial site’s search feature a number of times, entering my own area code and that of a public university located nearby.  Over half of the institutions that appeared were for-profit colleges, and all were private (rather than public) liberal arts schools. In order of appearance: University of Phoenix; Ashford; Kaplan; Keiser University Graduate School; Liberty Online; American Intercontinental; North Central; Walden; Full Sail; Grand Canyon; Lindenwood; Concordia, and Ashworth.   I guess that public colleges and universities don’t warrant inclusion in the databases of this marvelous Quin Street-hosted mechanism for garnering “views” and somehow making a profit by helping teachers locate degree programs that provide just the right “fit” with their needs!  Gwen’s motives (inferred from an email conversation with her) seemed genuine, and this makes me wonder what, exactly, is going on here?

I am even more wary about all this since receiving a second email request from another woman who said she had created a website to help people find programs that offer elementary education degrees.  And sure enough, her page contained some apparently authentic (and not carefully proofread or edited) prose combined with a link to the same commercial school-search site.  I am not sure if the same games are being played in other fields (healthcare, counseling, engineering).

There are probably many lessons to be learned from all this, but here is my cautionary note for bloggers:  be mindful about  the entities with whom you affiliate.  Think before you link.  As you work to attract attention to your blog or website or social media site, be thoughtful about where you direct your visitors’ attention.  Understand that the public sphere, and our public institutions, are being eroded in various ways by profiteers who advance their own interests with no concern for the common good.

—  Ed Prof

A Postmodern Pearl

South Dakota Classroom

South Dakota Classroom

The Pedagodfathers: Lords of Education is a remarkable text — complex, multilayered and imaginative.  It captures the wonderful world of educational discourse through the voice of an “old hand” sharing his thoughts and observations with a young educator at the beginning of his career.  The book presents many keen insights and “pearls of wisdom.”  In the words below, the old hand (mentor) offers his best and final advice:  to treasure each moment, choose fresh beginnings and share the wine of life with others.   In the passage below, we are told to expect no more of ourselves than this.

“Eliot understood hell better than Sartre. Not that Sartre was completely wrong. He wasn’t. He was even right as far as he went. Hell is, at times, others. The pedagodfathers certainly torture all of us…But hell, as Eliot so beautifully conveys the ugly truth, is also oneself — our drives and choices, their consequences; our fears, failures, pretensions, delusions; our extended, unending solitude; our loss of dignity and self; and our imprisonment as strangers. He offers an exit, however, unlike Sartre: fresh beginning, each moment of the day if necessary. Fresh beginnings, however, are almost over for some of us; but, there are plenty left for people like you and Sophia. I hope you’ll take advantage of them. We need educators and attorneys, even administrators, who choose to enjoy a good life as they seek to build, protect and extend a just, free, good and caring society. Our hope — individually, professionally, institutionally — rests in each person’s treasuring each moment, choosing fresh beginnings and sharing the wine of life with others. No one can ask more from us, and we dare not expect more of ourselves” (Simpson, 1994, p. 157).

It is interesting to juxtapose this advice with the notion expressed earlier in this book about the nature of success (See  “On Doing What One Ought to Do“).  Captives of our culture, we (educators, human service professionals) are advised to live principled lives as well as good lives, while dedicating ourselves to creating and preserving “a just, good, free, and caring society.”  Two moral imperatives — to do what one ought (thereby redefining our conceptions of success), and to enjoy oneself while doing so!  This reminds me of Martha Wolfenstein’s fun morality construct — the mid-20th century notion that parenting should be fun and enjoyable, and if we find it otherwise, there must be a problem!  — EdProf

References and Photo Credit

Simpson, D. (1994). The Pedagodfathers: The Lords of Education. Calgary, Alberta, Canada: Detselig.

Wolfenstein, Martha (1951).  The emergence of fun morality.  Journal of Social Issues 7 (4): 15-25. DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-4560.1951.tb02249.x

Photo Credit: Classroom, by Mike Kamrud of South Dakota.  Taken in 2010 and posted to Pics4Learning in 2011.