The Study Dude – The Dissertation Journey

Study Tips from a Semi-Anonymous Friend

There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than to get accepted into Athabasca’s graduate studies program and write your dissertation, opening up conference placements, authorship of several books, and public speaking engagements–with a multi-million dollar profile to boot and the credibility of a PhD behind your name. It’s happening for a number of people. Why not you?

Well, in these articles, as The Study Dude, I’ll try to give you the study tips you need to help make your learning easier. I’ll also give you straight and honest opinions and personal anecdotes?even the embarrassing ones that you wouldn’t ever dare read about from any other study tip guru.

The third part of the critical thinking Study Dude series is being interrupted for a two part series on a book dealing with dissertations: The Dissertation Journey by Carol M. Roberts.

Dissertation Support Groups (or the SU Study Buddy Program) (p. 64)
When the Study Dude was in graduate studies, the students all convened to hang out at the bar. I was hoping to have a group that engaged in productive activities such as intramurals or the hosting and publication of a graduate students? journal. I don’t drink alcohol, and I’m not the gossip dude, so the bar wasn’t an option for me.

Yet, having a support network of likeminded, friendly people can be very beneficial to anyone seeking consultation on their topics, ideas, and works in progress. The Student’s Union at Athabasca has a Study Buddy program for undergraduates wishing to seek students in similar courses. This has potential for opening up networks of disciplined partnerships, all geared toward making contributions to other people’s projects, within the confines of the rules and regulations of the university, that is. The Study Buddy program could also lead to connections for engaging in productive extracurricular activities, potentially.

Roberts (2010) proposes a system for engaging in dissertation or study groups that could be effective for even online students:

– The group should consist of at least five students. If you have less than five people, don’t go ahead with the meeting.
– The meetings should occur at least once a month.
– The meetings should last at least an hour and a half where the group discusses two members research at a time, taking 45 minutes per member.
– An abstract of the research should be submitted at least three days prior to the meeting.
– The focus should be only on constructive criticism?and no sidetrack gossip.
– Record the meeting (using Skype recording software for online meetings is a good way to go).
– Let the final fifteen minutes of the meeting be devoted to each member conveying their progress report.
– Ensure that each member signs a confidentiality agreement to keep things professional.
– If you miss the scheduled meeting, you will be obligated to do something predetermined, like buy a lottery ticket for each member of the group.
– Online groups can be scheduled where the meetings occur through Skype or a free teleconference service, with all calls recorded using appropriate software.
(Roberts, 2010)

The Study Dude has two recommendations. For recording meetings through Skype there is Pamela for PC Skype, and for teleconferencing there is FreeConferenceCall that enables you to record calls, although with poor quality sound. Another recommendation, which is much more costly, is to buy the Olympus WS-822 GMT Voice Recorder and buy an Olympus TP-8 Telephone Pick-up Microphone that has an ear bud that records the conversation. This can cost roughly $150 as a kit, and is available at

Picking a Topic (p. 48)
The Study Dude has discovered that Athabasca University has a potentially more supportive professorial-to-student dynamic than that encountered at a physical university. When I approached a professor at Athabasca on a potential thesis topic (given the thought that I might venture into another graduate program), the professor was forthcoming with ample support, many references, and lots of clever ideas. As professors can be an amazing resource for topic ideas, this initial engagement proved indelibly rewarding. Moreover, choosing a thesis topic can have cross-over with choosing an undergraduate topic for a paper?a variety of resources can aid the journey to picking a workable topic that you are passionate about.

Here are some of the guidelines by Roberts (2010) for choosing a thesis topic:

– Focus on what you are passionate about because the more passionate you are, the more likely you will give the topic the attention it deserves.
– Ask professors and fellow students for their views and opinions on good topics.
– Glean professional journals (and their bibliographies) for any topics that might sit well with your personal and professional interests.
– Make friends of your librarians and have them help you search the databases for material that fits with a variety of your interests.
– Glean dissertations on your favourite topics to see what ideas there are and what recommendations for further research the graduate student may have documented.
– Attend oral defences.
– Go to conferences in your field, if money is not an issue.
– Email a prime researcher on your topic area for advice and guidance.
– See if your employer has a topic they want researched, but ensure that it is something that won’t put you to sleep.
– Look at references in your field by searching the words “handbook,” “yearbook”, “review” and your field of interest (education, mathematics, etc).
(Roberts, 2010)

I think it was in Shakti Gawain’s book Creative Visualizations that advice was given to write down 100 things you loved doing as a child, young adult, and adult and then another list of 100 things you would love to try to do, however far-fetched. Making such lists help you to gauge what it is that you are truly passionate about, and the 100 item minimum taps your brain so that you end up writing things that may surprise you in the long run.

As for me, the Study Dude, I realized that the radio show I made with my cousin as a child was one of the highlights of my life for a reason: I am passionate about making media/multimedia projects.

What Exactly is Plagiarizing (p. 40)
The Study Dude learned in Roberts’s book (2010) that paraphrasing was more optimal than citing with quotations. When staring down a research paper I had written, I had many direct citations with quotations as opposed to paraphrased material. Ideally, I would have rewritten the material so that there were only a sprinkling of direct quotations relative to paraphrased materials.

I also had a professor in undergraduate studies (who I adored and who is no longer with us, God rest her soul) who would call students? names for a private meaning at the end of the class, causing everyone to cringe. We all came to recognize those name-calling bouts as her identifying people involved in plagiarism. The fate of those particular students would be unbeknownst to us.

Yet, the common mistake of doctoral students (and undergraduates) is paraphrasing too closely. It is referred to by Roberts (2010) as “inadvertent plagiarism” (p. 40). This is a mistake that is made by most every graduate student, yet what delineates it is rarely articulated.

Roberts (2010) talks about the three forms of plagiarism (although she doesn’t give much advice on how to actively avoid the third form, inadvertent plagiarism):

– Plagiarism is “using others? words or ideas without giving them proper credit” (p. 40).
– Plagiarism is “using others? exact words without quotation marks or indentation” (p. 40).
– And the most unsuspected, “closely paraphrasing others? words (even if citing the source” (p. 40).
– The inadvertent plagiarism, the third one above, can take the form of changing the word order, adding in a few synonyms, or just simply changing one or two words only.
(Roberts, 2010)

One way that Roberts (2010) suggests to gauge whether you are plagiarising is by looking at your paraphrased words, and if changing synonyms would give you roughly the same sentence in the same order, then it is likely inadvertent plagiarism.

Ideas can also be plagiarised, so if you take someone else’s idea, it is essential to attribute the author(s) as the source.

Whew! I think everyone, including professors and graduate students, sweat bullets after reading that interpretation. Yet, it is good to know what constitutes even the mildest form of plagiarism so that you can ensure your documents are of the highest academic calibre, as the Study Dude would attest they are (given that you are the saint the Study Dude believes you to be).

So, there’s nothing to fear. The Study Dude is determined to make right for you all the wrongs I made in grad school?one A+ at a time.

Roberts, Carol M. (2010). The Dissertation Journey. Thousand Oaks: CA. Corwin.

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