Category Archives: Technology

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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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

On the Meaning of Higher Education

A small tree in winter.

Winter Tree

One of the things professors tend to forget about their students is how new many of them are to higher education, and how many pressures bear down upon them as they fight to find, negotiate, and complete their degree programs.  Those who teach in schools that serve many first-generation college students need to learn that it is almost impossible to anticipate all of the things students don’t know or understand about going to college.  Figuring out what to do about all this is part of the joy of teaching for those who can quiet their egos enough to care and do what is needed to be helpful.  Although community colleges, liberal arts colleges and research universities serve many masters and embrace varied goals, we have one thing in common.  We influence lives. I wonder what would happen if we measured our “success” in higher education in terms of lives influenced instead of more traditional, hierarchical measures of prestige-among-peers and revenue generation?