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Entries in research (16)


Getting Your Research Beyond the Ivory Tower

Credit: Naturejobs.comSo you've written your academic article (yay!), you've gone through the sometimes-grueling peer review process (thank God it's over!), and now your journal of choice is ready to publish your brilliant research (finally!). Now what?

The process of getting your research out and increasing its impact is not yet over, but the next part of the process is a lot more fun than copy-editing and reading Reviewer #2's comments. In a recent article on Naturejobs, Jack Leeming shares his tips on how to get your paper noticed.

  1. Write a clear paper. Keep your prose as light and jargon free as possible, whilst still maintaining the level of accuracy you need for a research paper.
  2. Write a lay summary and post it somewhere. Write a short summary (400-600 words), have a non-specialist read it for clarity, and then post it online in the appropriate venues (such as your department website/blog or your professional portfolio).
  3. Tell your press office about it. They can help prepare a press release based on your (hopefully) clearly written paper and your accessible lay summary close to your publication date.
  4. Prepare your social media circle. Before your paper comes out, engage with journalists, editors, and scholars via social media to help establish yourself as a contributor to conversations.
  5. Use The Conversation and sidestep all of the above. The Conversation is a news site with content coming entirely from academic researchers. An editor will help you craft a piece into something suitable for mainstream media, and then your article will be freely available for any other organization to publish.

To read Leeming's full article, click here.

To get regular updates from Naturejobs, like it on Facebook and follow it on Twitter.


Advance Your Research with ResearchGate

Research Gate logoThere's a new tool in town for graduate students to connect with their fellow researchers: ResearchGate.

The basics: It's free to join and easy to use. It works a little like LinkedIn, but instead of networking for jobs you're networking for knowledge. Not to say that there aren't jobs on the site.

How it works: After taking a couple of minutes to create your profile, you are free to roam the site. You can share your publications, gets statistics about downloads and citations of your own work, connect with colleagues, ask open questions to the community, or even look for jobs.

Other details: Founded in 2008 by physicians Dr. Ijad Madisch and Dr. Sören Hofmayer, and computer scientist Horst Fickenscher, ResearchGate today has more than 7 million members. The site hopes to connect researchers and make progress happen faster.

Want more information? Read here.


Do Secure Survey Research with Survey Monkey

Survey Monkey logoLooking for a secure way to do survey research? Then try out Survey Monkey. They offer four different plans that can meet your budget and survey needs.

Their Basic Service is similar to Google Forms (read more about that here), but they also include SSL/TLS encryption and password protection: two essential features for human subjects research.

On the other hand, their Basic service only allows 10 questions. So if you need to do a more robust survey, try their Select Service.

Select Service

Cost: $26/month (with no obligation to continue).


  • Unlimited questions
  • 1000 responses
  • Skip question logic
  • Download information as a PPT, CVS, XLS, or PDF

If you need more advanced features, such as downloading results directly to SPSS, having multiple users, or including HIPAA-compliant features, Survey Monkey also offers a Gold Service ($300/year) and a Platinum Service ($780/year). 


Helpful Tips for Avoiding Information Overload

Writing PenOne of the great things about being involved in a rich field of scholarship is that there are a lot of really interesting things to read. Of course, the downside of this situation is that there are a lot of really interesting things to read. This mountain of important information is cluttered even further by the even more gargantuan mountain of clutter: the articles, bad links, firewalls, and lack of circulation that cuts you off from useful sources, and the time it takes to track down those useful sources takes away available time for reading. 

Many people have tried to work around this troublesome issue. In the past, I've recommended Feedly, a website that organizes different blogs and puts them all in one place, as a good way to track activity for your favorite blogs. Others have used existing social media tools or search engine customization to try to put their research in one place. 

According to Elizabeth Gibney, author of a recent blog post on Nature Toolbox, this is largely a matter of taste. Depending on your schedule, your habits, and your preferences, you may choose different kinds of organizational methods. To help you with this, Gibney posts different kinds of social media sources that may help you get started organizing the great deal of research that you are working with. It's a very useful article with a variety of resources. Check it out!


A Sphere of Influence: UCSB's AlloSphere Research Facility Is a Unique Scientific Instrument

UCSB grad students slipped on 3D glasses and took a virtual peek inside a human body during a tour of the AlloSphere in April 2013, part of Graduate Student Showcase activities. Credit: Patricia Marroquin

It’s not a Planetarium. It’s not an IMAX theater. The AlloSphere at UC Santa Barbara is unlike any other virtual reality environment.

Located in one corner of the 62,000-square-foot California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI) building (or Elings Hall), the AlloSphere is a unique scientific instrument that enhances research by graduate students and others in critical areas of science and engineering. Simply stated, the AlloSphere brings together artists, scientists, and engineers to help them visualize, hear, and explore massive amounts of data.

The three-story cube that contains the AlloSphere is treated with such strong sound absorption material that it is one of the largest anechoic (echo-free) chambers in the world.

The AlloSphere is the vision of Media Arts & Technology and Music Professor JoAnn Kuchera-Morin, whose nearly three decades of creativity and research efforts in media systems and studio design helped to make the idea a reality.

The structure contains 12 high-resolution projectors; and 140 speaker elements with sub-woofers suspended behind an aluminum screen, which results in 3D audio.

Completed in February 2007 and partially funded by the National Science Foundation, the AlloSphere provides a collaborative research environment. Unlike similar virtual reality “cubes” from the 1990s, the structure can accommodate 20 to 30 people rather than just one individual, enabling “a communal experience in the spheres of art, science, entertainment and education,” according to the AlloSphere website.

Grad students explored the inside of a human brain during their AlloSphere tour in April 2013. Credit: Patricia Marroquin

Research applications are many. Here are just some of them: arts and entertainment (for example, video gaming, electronic art, panoramic video, and music videos); materials science (electronic and photonic materials, inorganic materials); medical (virtual surgery, ergonomic testing); nanotechnology; physics; education (distance learning, mathematics education); geography (GIS and remote sensing); clean or “green” technology (solid state lighting, nano-scaled solar cells); audiovisual technologies; and even Homeland Security and defense (military simulation applications, computer vision).

Colors, shapes, and sounds provided a sensory experience for grad students touring the AlloSphere in April 2013. Credit: Patricia MarroquinThere are also many AlloSphere Research Groups, including a Graduate Student Researchers Group.

As part of the Graduate Division’s Graduate Student Showcase activities in April of this year, grad students were able to get a look inside this extraordinary structure. View our video below for a little tour.

Read these pages for more information about UCSB’s unique scientific tool, the AlloSphere, including a recent news release about a new Deutsch Foundation gift supporting the AlloSphere's work:

UC Santa Barbara's 'Hybrid' Researchers Are Working at Intersection of Art and Science New Deutsch Foundation gift supports grad students, projects at immersive lab, the AlloSphere (Office of Public Affairs and Communications news release)

The AlloSphere Research Facility

The AlloSphere Research Facility at UC Santa Barbara: ‘We Represent Data’ (CKLIN)

Enter the AlloSphere: Inside UCSB’s Three-Dimensional Immersive Theater, the 21st Century Face of Our Discipline-Bending University (Santa Barbara Independent)

JoAnn Kuchera-Morin: Stunning Data Visualization in the AlloSphere (TED Talk video)

A 360-Degree Virtual Reality Chamber Brings Researchers Face to Face With Their Data (Scientific American)



Make your Research Marketable!

Post written by guest author Lumari Pardo-Rodriguez, doctoral student in Geography.

A myriad of graduate students concentrate efforts on qualifying exams and dissertation writing, components undoubtedly key to degree completion; however, they may, with such intense focus, neglect the big picture. Acquiring the degree is in an important sense not the completion of graduate school, but the commencement of your profession. Consequently you may wish to prepare for it. Getting the most out of your studies and dissertation is crucial in creating a foundation that will catapult your career.

Graduate students today face more career options than before but also more competition for those positions. Making yourself marketable puts you ahead of the curve. People may help you (or hurt you) but in the end you are your own marketing tool and are solely responsible for your future. As young researchers and/or academics, our best marketing tool is the ability to compellingly explain research.

Explaining research goes beyond communicating your findings and ideas with your peers. You must also elucidate it to important audiences: colleagues, funding officers, institutional leaders, donors, family and friends, other students, journalists, and the general public. Compared with other professions, science may suffer a relative deficiency in the culture of marketing ideas. Below I will give you some pointers to successfully deliver your message.

Learn to talk lay-language

Research alone cannot solve the complex variety of problems facing humanity. We are experiencing unprecedented challenges which require collaborations among of professionals with different backgrounds and careers. This interdisciplinary aspect requires the lay language skills. In general, a lay audience is considered a group of people who have no specific knowledge of your topic due to difference in disciplines or even careers.

Writing or speaking in a lay language is not dumbing down the concepts; it’s a distinguished skill to articulate difficult terms and concepts in a way in which people outside of your area could understand. If you treat people like they are not smart enough for your research, you will lose their attention. Use simple words, brief sentences, and short argument to keep your audience captive. Don’t be afraid to use analogies and describe how it fits the big picture. Even though we are very busy in the many roles that we possess as a graduate student, a bit of effort now can help immensely. This could be achieved by showing it to friends from different fields and even friends that are not in the scientific community. To be able to communicate well in lay language may require the contribution of different point of views to create a final version.

Explain your research in 1-2-3 GO

Regardless of having just seconds or a few minutes to explain your research, good outcomes can result when you know how to deliver. Lacking the skills to explain your work in a short amount of time might make you miss out on funding, important contacts, and even job opportunities. Learn to pick your battles since not everyone will share your passion toward a certain topic.

  • Keep it short: be concise and to the point. If you caught the attention of the listener, they will ask for more.
  • Have a hook: have clear objectives or analogies that will relate to the person in front of you (they could be: professors, researchers, policymakers, possible funders, etc.).
  • Avoid jargon and statistical procedures
  • Practice: like with any other situation in life, practice makes perfect. Practice will enhance your delivery and confidence. Endeavor to try your elevator talks with neighbors, family, friends, peers and people outside your field.
  • Develop various versions: tailor them to your different needs and audiences. Using this strategy would help make your research accessible to an array of people.

If you are interested in learning more about how to craft elevator talks, here are some links that could help you:

Oral presentation

Have you ever stared blankly at a presentation, fought against sleep or even become entertained by small occurrences around you? It has happened to all of us at some point and by following some basic tips you could spare your audience from those torturous moments. Here are some ideas to keep in mind when presenting:

  • Know your audience
    • What do they know about your topic already?
    • What would be the most interesting part of my research to this audience?
    • What kind of questions might they ask?
    • Identify their needs and expectations
    • Be prepared to adapt the delivery of your message
  • Choose the right words: Words need to be chosen carefully. Just presenting facts is insufficient for people to see the light glowing in your research. Using a simple language is preferable; avoid using sophisticated words or phrases that might be interpreted differently by each of your listeners.
  • Organization, flow and message delivery: All of these characteristics could improve with practice. The more you practice the easier thoughts will flow, the message will be more concise, and ideas will be better structured. Organize your ideas from the big picture to the details, ensuring that it follows a storyline that your audience can follow.
  • Body language
    • Be natural and relax
    • Keep eye contact with your audience but don’t stare at them, your notes or the screen
    • Stand straight, don’t lean on the walls or the podium
    • Avoid pendulum behaviors; control the amount of walking and movement. Some is natural and dynamic; too much is weird.
  • Vocal Tones: Avoid using monotonous tones to ensure retention of your audience’s attention. Use pauses and enunciations to implicitly accentuate the importance of certain topics.
  • Dress for the occasion: Even though it’s important to not dress casually, the key is to dress comfortably. It’s distracting to wear noisy jewelry or to click clack with high heals (either be cognizant of your movement or do not wear them).
  • Power Point Slides: Some links below provide guidance on how to create successful power point presentations
  • Awareness: Solicit feedback on how your message is being received. Observing the body language of your audience will help you to adjust your approach and regain their interest


“Publish or Perish” is no trivial bromide; it is sage advice in our competitive career path. Learning how to successfully publish will facilitate your success. Now is the time to develop those skills. Use university, departmental, and advisor guidance. In many fields getting through the review process is arduous and your advisor should be deeply involved with your publishing effort.

Tolerate rejection because it is normal and expected, especially in the earliest years of your career. Learn from those rejections, use feedback from reviewers to lead you into new research questions and improve the quality of your work. Sometimes Be prepared to rework a new a version to send to another place in case your top choice rejects your submission. Perseverance is the key to successfully acquiring publishing skills, the more you practice and develop publications you’ll see bigger improvements in your work.

One of the first things you may wish to learn about publishing is how this industry operates. Writing is an art and a business, be familiar with how it works:

  • What are author rights and responsibilities?
  • What are disciplinary norms?
  • How do journal rankings work?
  • What is an impact factor?
  • How the peer review process works?
  • How to protect your rights as an author?

For detailed information about your field, search the website of the flagship disciplinary association in your discipline (e.g., American Physics Association, American Meteorology Society, American Association of Geographers). General guidance about how this publishing industry works can be found in these links:


As a graduate student we have an opportunity to navigate our careers in desirable directions. Take advantage of all the opportunities that universities, institutions, departments and advisors have to offer during these precious years of your life. Learn to juggle small projects at the same time which will help to maintain your sanity. However, be careful to not lose track of your goal as a graduate student which is finishing that dissertation. Work on various projects, participate in fun activities, and take time for you; it will help you be fresh, interested and more productive.


Academic Writing and Presentation: Six Tips for Writing the Dissertation

Post written by guest author Jessica Marter Kenyon, a doctoral student in Geography.

The dissertation is the sine qua non of the doctoral program. The task is a rite of passage: considered necessary for students to undertake before they become fully-fledged scholars. The quality of the central dissertation question, as well as the way in which it is researched, has a heavy bearing on job prospects once the Ph.D. is completed. It's no surprise, therefore, that the undertaking constitutes perhaps one of the major sources of stress for doctoral students. Here, broken down into six areas, are some tips to help you along the way. Though they are organized numerically and somewhat chronologically, there are exchanges between most of the ‘steps.’ Some may be most applicable to social scientists, and to those early on in their doctoral programs, but many others are generally relevant.

Produce the idea

  • The right idea can launch your career and put you in position to make a real impact in your field. Consider that your research question will overwhelmingly direct your study. It will influence the contours of the methodological and technical skills you gain, the people with whom you come in contact, the theories you explore, and your eligibility for job postings.
  • Choose something you really enjoy: you’ll need to be motivated enough to study this topic throughout your graduate career (and, perhaps, for a while after!). The most basic requirements the dissertation question must fulfill are: originality (as far as its contribution to the literature) and feasibility (is it actually possible to answer using the methods you’ve chosen, the funding you have, your technical skills, etc.).
  • Keep a journal of ideas. When you are reading literature related to your general issue area, write down any ideas you have about flaws or gaps you identify (How would the conclusions change if the study were conducted in a different place? With a different population? Using a different methodology?). Often, writers will include a section at the end of each article that outlines areas for future research. Pay special attention to those paragraphs!
  • Talk to as many knowledgeable people as you can, especially in your department. Find out what your fellow students and the faculty think is the most exciting (yet feasible) idea. Make sure your advisor is on board, as their support could be crucial.
  • Consider marketability. Is your topic pushing theoretical or methodological boundaries in some aspect? Where do your questions and approach situate you as a researcher?
  • For more guidance (geared to an audience of economics students), read this note from Don Davis, of Columbia University’s Economics Department

Determine your approach/methods

Remember that, while you must select the methodology most appropriate to your research question, you will also be defining yourself by your methods. So make sure your question helps you use the methodologies you are interested in. In some cases, the research question will lead the selection of your methods while, in others, the reverse may be true. Since methodologies are discipline and question-specific, I will simply provide some food for thought:

  • Is your dissertation going to take the form of a series of papers (typical of physical/life science) or a book (typical of social science and humanities)? Your choice will likely be driven by the morays of your discipline or sub-discipline. Your advisor and other mentors should be able to help you understand what is de rigeur in your field.
  • Be strategic. Are there technical skills or techniques you wish to gain over the course of your studies? If so, it would be wise to find an appropriate way to incorporate these into your dissertation research. Of course, you will also need to dedicate time and resources to acquiring these skills.
  • There are two major pairs of methodological binaries to consider when selecting your methods: qualitative vs. quantitative and empirical vs. theoretical. You will need to assess where you want to situate your research: on either side of these binaries, or perhaps in the middle. Increasingly, researchers are finding interesting ways to bridge these traditional divisions, or to apply unorthodox methods to questions that have only been explored in one way.
  • Lastly, consider your data needs and sources. Will you be using primary or secondary data? Does your field value collecting your own data? If so, you may want to build in a time and financial budget that allows you to do your own fieldwork. If not, consider using existing data in order to save time and money. How will you get access to the data?

Get funded

Not only is outside funding quite likely necessary for you to complete your degree, it’s also a good way to show future employers that you are fundable and can independently garner financial support for your research. Below are some general things to consider. For more detailed information on successfully finding funding, see Daniel Ervin’s GradPost here.

  • More funding is available at the all-but-dissertation (ABD) stage, so if you are a first or second year, don’t be too discouraged: there will be more opportunities later on!
  • Consider discipline-specific, professional society subgroups, UC-wide grants, and UCSB-specific grants because the pool of applicants will be somewhat more limited
  • For larger grants (from the NSF or NIH, for example, consider teaming up with faculty or fellow students)
  • Once you’ve written one funding application, the subsequent ones will be easier because you already have a lot of the important language (about yourself and your research) written down. At this point, you should be applying for every opportunity you can. Take the hours necessary to tailor your existing language to the grant opportunity on offer. Like dating, funding is to some extent a numbers game.
  • Grant proposals may require a budget. Be as thorough as you can in considering every possible expense so as not to literally shortchange yourself.

Conduct research

Once you have your research questions, methods, and funding all lined up, it’ll be time to actually start executing your project. As with methods selection, the ways in which researchers conduct their research is highly question and discipline-specific. So, here I will provide you just with some general tips on staying ahead of the game.

  • Organization is key to successfully conducting research. You must be able to intellectually and physically manage everything you’ve read. A lot of software programs exist to help you manage your bibliography. Check out this helpful comparison from Wikipedia.
  • Another good tip is that maintaining flexibility throughout the course of research may help you avoid some stress (and produce an intellectually honest piece of work at the end). It’s difficult to control every parameter that can impinge on your work (particularly if you are working outside of a laboratory setting). You may wish to sit down and evaluate which aspects of your work are non-negotiable, and which are not. If you encounter a hiccup, can you be flexible with regards to your research site, for example?
  • Don’t forget to back up your data daily. There can be few things more demoralizing than losing all of your hard work.


In order to graduate, you’ll have to set down your findings on paper. The quality of your writing is also an important factor in how seriously your work is taken. If you can’t communicate your ideas to other people, they will have a limited impact. At the very least, it is important to be direct, clear and explicit. Many students come up against the common difficulty of ‘writer’s block’, however.

  • By now, you probably have enough experience writing for classes to know your major writing hang-ups. Take some time to explicitly identify what these are.
    • Are you a perfectionist? Can you not move on from a phrase or paragraph until it’s exactly as you want it? Try and let that compunction go for a few minutes and just write out a ‘flow’ version, where you spill out all of your thoughts in plain language or in bullet points. You can go back to edit, rephrase, and add citations.
    • Are you hung up on what you want to say? Free writing can kick you into gear. Give yourself a specified (probably short) amount of time to answer some fundamental questions, such as “Who is my audience?”, “What am I really trying to say with this piece?”, “What is the major thrust of my argument?”, “If someone could take away only three things from this paper, what would they be?”. This should provide you with more clarity about your goals.
    • Does it just not sound right? Your writing will improve with practice, and over time you will become familiar with your discipline’s language. Review the organization and language of papers written by relevant researchers, note their commonalities, and try and apply them in your own work.
    • Do you never seem to have the time or will to write? Consider scheduling weekly times that you dedicate to writing and rarely deviate from. Many experts on writer’s block advise that you should write something every day, even if what you write isn’t necessary very long or very good. Lastly, be honest with yourself and maintain a diary (even if just for a week or two) in which you track how much time you’ve spent writing. Both the act of keeping the diary and the subsequent analysis of your writing behavior may provide you with a better sense of how much time you really do spend writing, and whether/when the time is productive.
  • For more, check out Columbia University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Teaching Center Completing Your Dissertation Without Tears.

Promote the dissertation

Early on in your academic career, peers, students, and employers will use your dissertation as a shorthand way of understanding who you are. Therefore, you’re going to want to find ways to promote your work so that it reflects well upon you and your capabilities and future trajectory as a researcher.

  • When given the opportunity, you want to be able to discuss your work in a succinct and exciting way. Be able to give 1, 2, and 5-minute ‘pitches’ in which you outline the context, questions and purpose of your research. You’ll have ample opportunities to practice these pitches with family members and friends. Pay attention to when and why people stop listening to you (they will eventually). These may be areas of your pitch to focus on tightening up.
  • Present your work at conferences. This is a good way to get your name out there within the relevant academic community, and also a good way to solicit preliminary feedback about your ideas.
  • If you have the work, try and publish parts of your dissertation before you graduate.
  • Student paper competitions abound, especially within subspecialty groups. Look for announcements and consider sending your paper in: it’s pretty low-work, high-reward.
  • You’ll want to be smart about leveraging your dissertation into a job. Think about how your work might be applicable to a variety of departments. If you’ve chosen something ‘trendy’, beware that you have more competition, and think about how to frame your work as distinct from the competition.


The dissertation is a formidable personal project, and one that has a lot of moving parts. Nonetheless, many of its aspects become highly manageable as long as you invest some foresight and organization into your process. If you take one thing away from this post, it should be that you aren’t alone! Many academics have preceded you in this undertaking, which means there is a lot of tried and true advice out there to strategically help you along the way.


Navigating Academia: The Nuts and Bolts of Getting Started in Grad School

Post written by guest author Karly Marie Miller, a doctoral student in Geography.

Starting graduate school may at first seem oddly similar to starting the undergraduate years. Feelings of nervousness, anxiety, and excitement; curiosity, impatience, and boredom during the orientations; the summer camp feel of meeting new people and hoping they become friends; finding your way around campus and trying not to look like the new kid with a map in your hands. Yet despite the similarities, the reality of graduate school quickly settles in and it becomes clear that this is a whole different situation and requires a new set of skills. There is now a new suite of concerns jostling for that top spot on your list of priorities.

As a first year graduate student, I spent much of my first quarter fretting over these questions, formalities, strategies, and etiquette. While I was expected to dive right into my coursework and was anxious to make some progress in my research, I was caught up in questions of how to navigate academia and make the most of my graduate career.

I’m sure these challenges will persist in different ways and new issues will arise, but having made it through the first quarter I feel massively more situated than I did four months ago. A blessing of the human condition allows that once we pass through a tough phase, its can be easy to forget just how tough it was, and already I am scratching my head at what had me so distracted. Before I move on and forget the struggles, I want to recount some of the advice and resources that I found to be helpful.

A number of guides were recommended to me, some of which are linked at the end of this article. From these readings some common themes emerged, including

  1. Organization
  2. Research, Communication and Interpersonal skills
  3. Health and Balance

I did my best to extract some key pieces and my synopsis follows.


Getting started with a good system of organization will help you manage the overflow of information, make the most of your time, keep track of your research, and facilitate the writing stages later in grad school.

  • Maintain a calendar or date book so you never forget a meeting with an advisor, key seminar on campus, or mix up your class and TA schedule. Can be a paper planner or web-based calendar that can be synced between computers and a smart phone so you always have it.
  • Choose a citation management software and keep it up to date. This will help you keep track of all your readings, have access to your bibliography from anywhere with web-access, make bibliographies a breeze, and simplify the red-mark inducing punctuation jungle of different citation styles. Check out the Wikipedia comparison to pick the software for you.
  • Maintain a digital contacts list or address book. At the start of grad school you meet so many people—other grad students, professors, neighbors, staff and researchers. It can be overwhelming and a real challenge to keep track of who is who. Names are hard enough to remember, but as you build your social and professional network, it is important to know people’s association and how to get in touch with them. With a digital address book it’s easier to update and access and may also be searchable, allowing you to find who/what you need quickly. As you meet people, enter their name, any contact information you have, and also a note about who they are (such as department, advisor, or research topic of other graduate students).
  • Keep a research journal with goals, notes, sketches, and ideas. This can be a great tool to synthesize ideas and reflect on the development of your research over time, as well as keep it all in the perspective of your short and long term goals.
  • Write periodic progress reports to send to your advisor or just keep for yourself. In the realm of grad school, projects can go on for years, progress can be slow enough to feel like it doesn’t happen, and long stretches between deadlines can lead to procrastination and distraction. A short daily, weekly, or monthly report can help to keep you on task, reflect on your progress over time, and hold yourself accountable to your goals.
  • Sync your devices and back up your work. With smart phones, tablets, laptops and home or office computers, it is likely that you’ll need to access your work across different devices. There are different services available, such as Dropbox or Windows Sky Drive, which can help facilitate this and keep your work up-to-date on each device. As you begin to compile your research and move between devices, it is critical that you find a secure way to back up your work. Talk to people in your department to find out your best option. If in doubt, invest in a back-up hard drive and back-up regularly.

Research, Communication, Interpersonal Skills

Original research and skilled communication are the building blocks for a good dissertation. There is no shortage of good advice and helpful guidelines. Below are just a few big-picture recommendations as well as mention of interpersonal skills, which may have a bigger impact on your success than you realize.

  • Research is likely the primary goal of your graduate degree and it is important to understand what that entails in your field.
    • Recognize that reading may take up substantial amounts of your time as you try to comprehend and integrate the literature in your field and beyond.
      • Seek guidance on creating a reading list.
      • Before you commit to reading a paper, scan the title, abstract, introduction and conclusion to see if it meets your interests.
      • If so, read it and take notes, then enter it into your citation management software for easy citation later. Try to note the research question, their methods, their results, and weaknesses or further thoughts that you have for each paper; this will help you as your formalize your own research.
    • Make an effort to become part of the research community.
      • Networking is a learned skill, work at it consciously. Carry business cards to facilitate the exchange. Make sure they include your name, email address, school and department.
      • Share your ideas with as many people as you can. Be prepared with 30-second, 2-minute, and 5-minute summaries of your work so you’re always ready to answer and can adjust your explanation based on their time and interest level. Be prepared to be more or less technical depending on their background.
      • Attend conferences. Ask questions, meet the speakers, and talk to other attendees.
  • Communication, both oral and written, is crucial to success in graduate school. It is the way you will explain and share your research.
    • There are many resources available for skill development online, through the writing center, and via speakers and workshops on campus.
    • As in many things, the more you do it the more opportunity you have for improvement. Try to write every day and don’t shy away from public speaking opportunities.
    • Give yourself time to practice presentations and have a friend or colleague review your writing; seek constructive criticism and incorporate it.
  • Interpersonal Skills affect your relationship with your advisor and committee, collaborators, peers and others in your field. Having strong relationships will ease the process, open doors, and can help you get a job after graduation.
    • In a study of scientists in industry the top performers as identified by their managers were those who had a positive attitude regarding the politics and interpersonal aspect of the work.
    • Success in graduate school and your career is dependent on your academic successes (based on your research, and your ability to communicate that research), but also on your ability and willingness to interact on a personal level with peers, colleagues, professors and others.
    • The basics of relationships apply. Be respectful, give credit where it’s due, apologize when you mess up and say thank you when someone is helpful. Communicate clearly.
    • The most important relationships you will have may be with your advisor and committee. Be sure to communicate clearly and honestly throughout the process. Choose committee members that cover all areas of your research. Talk to other students about their experiences for advice and specifics in your department.
    • Don’t forget staff; they are the ones who keep the department running smoothly. They are in charge of filing your paperwork, can help facilitate your research, direct you to funding, and affect the availability of resources. Be respectful of their time and give thanks and recognition for their help.

Health and Balance

This last section is the most important. The pressure to prioritize your work and put life on hold is high, but don’t forget to take care of yourself. Your health affects brain function, memory, mood and happiness and illness can cause costly delays to your progress. Taking the time to be well, balanced, and healthy can seem like a luxury in grad school but will save you time in the long run, keeping you stronger, happier and more likely to successfully complete the program.

  • Consider your personal goals, values, and priorities and structure your life accordingly. If time outside, exercise, sports, travel, church, or time with friends are important elements of a happy life for you, be sure to make time for them, even if it’s just once a week or once a month. These activities help to manage stress and maintain perspective during your graduate career.
  • Be aware and proactive about issues with self-confidence, energy and stamina. Don’t compare yourself with others, anticipate the ups and downs, try to ground yourself outside of academia, remind yourself why you're pursuing a Ph.D., keep track of progress and review early work to see progression, take time to build social support network, seek online resources and comedy.
  • Take steps to avoid workplace injuries (such as repetitive strain injury) that could halt your progress for weeks or months. UCSB has an ergonomics consultant and there are online resources. Customize your workspace to fit you; take short, frequent breaks; listen to your body.
  • Seek help as soon as you need it, UCSB Counseling and Psychological Services are free to students, are familiar with the demands and stresses of graduate school, and are flexible enough to accommodate any schedule.

Online Resources

These links contain some of the recommendations summarized above and a wealth of other insights, guidelines and recommendations. Take comfort in knowing you’re not alone and make use of the experience of other graduates.


Five Resources for Effective Research Posters

A research poster presents your work in a visual, easy-to-digest manner. Think of it as a paper abstract represented visually. As part of the Graduate Student Showcase, the Graduate Division invites all graduate students to submit posters for display at a research showcase prior to the Grad Slam finals on April 19. Posters must present recent research by the student and may include conference posters presented in the last year.

If you are planning on submitting a poster, check out these resources below:

  • Designing conference posters by Colin Purrington: If you read one article about making a research poster, make it this one
  • Creating Effective Poster Presentations by George Hess, Kathryn Tosney, and Leon Liegel from North Carolina State University: An in-depth tutorial to designing posters with lots of examples and resources
  • The Basics of Poster Design from Washington NASA Space Grant Consortium: A concise guide to poster design
  • Scientific Poster Design from Cornell Center for Materials Research: Some poster design tips in slide form
  • Better Posters by Zen Faulkes, University of Texas–Pan American: A blog dedicated to making posters informative and beautiful, including critiques of actual posters

Tips for Conquering Your Literature Review

TypingWriting a literature review is a daunting task that requires demonstrating your understanding of prior research on a topic by weaving a narrative from a never-ending collection of scholarly articles, books, and other data sources.

How do you even get started when faced with this task? In the article, "Conquer Your Next Research Project the Easy Way With These Tools," Aaron Couch recommends starting by creating a "plan of action." A plan of action can be an bulleted outline and it should include key deadlines, daily and weekly goals, and action items. This will help you get started on your literature review and stay on track to complete it by your deadline.

Couch's article also highlights some useful tools for collecting, highlighting, and annotating data and managing citations (i.e., Evernote, Diigo, Zotero) as well as tips for backing up your research. The article includes multiple links helpful resources (i.e., awesome backup sources).

While Couch's article is geared toward conducting research, the majority of the advice can be applied to writing a literature review. However, don't start your literature review with Wikipedia, heed Couch's second recommendation of using an educational setting (i.e., UCSB Library) to jumpstart your search for data. Google Scholar is another good resource.