Week 5: While caffeine can appear to be a student’s best friend, it can certainly turn out be can be an enemy.

Use caffeine sparingly. Beginning your study session with a simple cup of coffee or tea is not a bad idea. However, always remember that caffeinated beverages with a high sugar content will give you a boost for a very limited time. Concentration can often be quite difficult once that initial burst has worn out. It is incredibly important to figure out when we are most awake, and most productive, so that we do not rely solely on consumable energy boosters.

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Week 4: Are you running out of time for an assignment? Be sure to set deadlines for deadlines!

If your writing assignment, thesis proposal, project, etc. are due in a month, a week, or a day, remember to organize your time. Setting a realistic goal for each day (by the hour) and/or each week (by the day) can help you accomplish more than you thought possible.

The Fresno State Graduate Writing Studio can help you with your time management! Make an appointment today (fresnostategws@gmail.com)!

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Week 2: Find the best time of day (or night) that works for your academic self!

Do you fall asleep while reading? Do you sit and stare at your computer screen when you should be writing? We are often taking the time to research, or produce writing, when free time presents itself. Think of your day, think of duties required of you each day, then figure out when you are most alert. Once you’ve figured that out, try to set that time aside for your studies.50330028.jpg

Week 1: Find a quiet place.

Find a place where you can be alone with your thoughts. Sometimes this is at your favorite café, a study pod in the library, your bedroom, your porch, etc. Be sure to set aside time to empty your mind of worry. This can help you gain perspective on what you need to do and how to accomplish those things.

Try the Graduate Study Center (Henry Madden Library, room 2119) on the second floor! Here is a map, in case you haven’t yet visited our space.

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Notes on How to Create a Research Question

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1) Identify what has already been answered in the literature.

There are many ways to start research. Typically, people will find a topic that they are interested in or they will make an observation about something in the world. Once a person has found an interesting topic or observation, he or she will probably have some unanswered questions. These questions can range from simple to complex, but finding the right questions can be difficult. One useful way to keep track of thoughts are to write down all of the questions in one location and cite the article that engendered the questions.

2) Identify questions that may or may not be definitively answered.

The next step would be to search existing literature for answers to the questions. Some answers may be straightforward such as wondering how many bellybuttons humans typically have. The answer to that question is easy (one bellybutton), but other questions may be more ambiguous such as wondering why certain animals behave a certain way. Some questions may not have an answer. The unanswered questions are the best research questions on which to focus.keep-calm-and-plan-for-the-unanswered-questions-2

3) Keep it simple. You’re not changing the world with one study. Research is a collective effort.

Once a question (or multiple questions) has been found, it’s time to develop a primary research question. Developing a research question is easier than some people think. Research questions are specific questions about phenomena. For example, I notice that my office chair doesn’t move smoothly on the carpeted floor. I ask, “What would happen to the movement of the chair if the wheels were replaced?” which is a very simple research question. I made an observation in the world about my chair, and I had a question about why the chair didn’t move smoothly over the carpeted floor. This is a question that is easily answered, but most importantly it is feasibly answered. I’m not trying to change every chair in one fell swoop. I start small and then make my way up to more broad questions, but first I have to answer my simple question.

4) Hypotheses are based on research questions.

I create a hypothesis, a prediction for an outcome, based on my research question. I hypothesize that changing the chair wheels will increase the movability on carpeted flooring. I change the wheels and move the chair again to discover that it moves more smoothly on the carpeted floor. My hypothesis turned out to be accurate and I now have evidence to support it. I can now add this bit of information to chair wheels research. Research is a long process and, sometimes, a finding engenders more questions than answers. Unfortunately, not all findings provide answers.unanswered-questions

5) Don’t change research questions based on the results. It’s unethical.

If a study fails to find evidence to support a hypothesis it is always important to remember that a no is still an answer. If I had run the chair wheel experiment and the chair did not move any differently then I fail to support my hypothesis. However, I still have an answer to my original question: what would happen to the movement of the chair if the wheels were replaced. The answer to that question is that the chair won’t move any differently. While the results were not the results I was hoping to get, they are still results. I have to accept this fact and move on.

 

By: Christopher Greenwood

Finish Strong: Tips and Tricks for the Last Week of Classes

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Why is it that at the end of the semester, everything always ends up due on the same day? My to-do list is more of a novel than a post-it, and it can be difficult to manage some semblance of balance in the last few weeks of the semester. Here are some things to try if, like me, you’re a little busy at the moment. I’ll try to keep it quick.

Get organized.

  • Itemized To-Do Lists: I’m working, graduating, taking a full course load, applying for jobs, AND moving—all in the month of May. To stay on top of each deadline, I make separate to-do lists for each of these big-ticket items, and list each smaller step under the larger ones. Put them up somewhere where you’ll see them, like above your work space. This way you can keep track of every step you’ve taken toward your goal, rather than having the entire project hanging over your head. (Sometimes, I’ll put something I’ve already done on there, because it feels good to cross it off!)
    1. Example: Finish Class
      1. Weekly blackboard posts
        1. For 4/28
        2. For 5/1
        3. For 5/10
      2. Final Paper due 5/15
        1. Research topic
        2. Prospectus due on Blackboard 5/1
        3. Draft for peer review due 5/10
          1. Group?
        4. Peer review comments due 5/12
          1. Notes from peer review:
            1. Revise transitions
            2. Consider adding research on background
          2. Check APA
            1. Make appointment with writing studio?
          3. Print
          4. Turn in: 5/15
            1. On Blackboard too?
          5. Return books to library
  • Post-It Method: Write each task on a post-it note, and stick them up somewhere you’ll see them often. Once a task is complete, recycle the post-it note. This works well for people who would rather see their list get smaller as tasks are completed, rather than seeing lots of crossed off items.checklist
  • Bullet Journal Method: If you’d rather your to-do list be portable, try keeping it in a journal. The Bullet Journal Method allows you to track larger tasks and schedule each step. It’s great if you’re balancing multiple deadlines with limited time. Best of all, you don’t need to buy a new planner, you just need a notebook of some kind. For information on how to set yours up, visit the website here.
  • “GTD Method”: David Allen, author of Getting Things Done: the Art of Stress Free Productivity, explains his method for time management and task completion on his website and in his TEDtalk. Allen’s five steps to GTD are: 1) Capture 2) Clarify 3) Organize 4) Reflect 5) Engage.
  • Syllabus: Revisit your syllabus, and cross of all the tasks that you’ve completed to get a full view of what you’ve done, and what you still need to do.
  • Tech: There are tons of apps and websites that can help you organize your tasks and manage your time (I’m partial to Evernote). You can use what you already have, with your school Gmail Update the calendar with all your due dates, set reminders, and create a to-do list that you can access from your phone or computer.

Don’t add on.

  • Table some things for later: Make a list of the things on your list that can be put off until after the semester is over. Do you really need to plan your vacation this week? Does your dog absolutely have to go to the vet on Thursday, or can you reschedule? What about that dinner party? Get your responsibilities down to a minimum so that when you do have the time to do them, you’ll actually enjoy it.
  • Block out distractions: I downloaded an extension (WasteNoTime) to limit my time on various time-sucking websites to 10 minutes a day (including email!). You can also delete apps from your phone so that you don’t waste time scrolling mindlessly.
  • Set realistic expectations: Let family and friends know that your next few weeks will be busy, so that there are no hurt feelings or unrealistic expectations of your time.
  • Optimize your time: As soon as I need to write a big paper, my junk drawer suddenly looks like a very necessary thing to organize. Getting out of the house helps to minimize this kind of “productive procrastination.” Stake out a study room in the library, a booth in your local coffee shop, or anywhere else where you won’t be tempted to distract yourself with other tasks. In the same vein, find the best time of day for you to get things done and maximize it.

Embrace it.

  • Make stress your friend: Hey! You have things to do. Isn’t that exciting? Not everyone gets to do this. Own it, enjoy it, let it propel you forward. Kelly McGonigal’s “How To Make Stress Your Friend” and Daniel Levitin’s “How To Stay Calm When You Know You’ll Be Stressed” are two great TEDtalks that can help you do this.
  • Get into it! At the Graduate Writing Studio we know that hardest part is getting started, and once you do, you usually flow through the assignment. If you haven’t picked on up on my writing style yet… surprise! Here’s a TEDtalk to prove my point.
  • Set a reward: You’ve been working hard, so don’t forget to reward yourself. Setting a big reward for finishing a task helps me stay focused and inspires me to keep trying. It can be big, like a weekend trip, or small, like treating yourself to your favorite bad-but-so-good drink at that coffee place that always has a line around the block (I’m looking at you, DutchBros).

Good luck! And, as always, the Graduate Writing Studio is here all week to help.

By: Tricia Savelli

RIGOR: Thoughts and Comparisons Regarding the Initial Drafting Processes for Poetry and Academic Writing

Last month was National Poetry Month and, due to the prompting of a fellow employee, I found myself contemplating similarities between the early stages of drafting processes for essay and poem writing. I feel that it’s necessary to ​inform you that I am a poet; however, I am also a supervisor/consultant​ for the Graduate Writing Studio at Fresno State. It is my daily duty to help students with their writing and I am often engaged in the necessary discussion of how to get writers started on a project, any project.

​Sitting down to write a poem is a struggle. Most writers, of any genre, find themselves in this position and I speak to students on a daily basis regarding this dilemma. Often, I find myself boring our over-worked students with a brief anecdote intended to help them feel less alone—that I, too, have writing troubles. I make sure that they know that from the moment I sit down to write, I—like them—inevitably trip over several types of stumbling blocks: self-doubt, comparison (to my past work and other writers I admire), a vacancy of ideas, whether or not I should be folding laundry or washing dishes or taking out the trash instead, or I’m asking the big question: why is my writing important or necessary? These thoughts are problematic and should be avoided. This avoidance, though, is easier said than done.

As writers, we are all faced with the initial problem of getting started with that first Anne-Lamott-yancylael.com_1draft. In Anne Lamott’s edifying essay Shitty First Drafts, she claims that “the first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later” (22). I wholeheartedly agree; but how do we get to that place of play or freedom? The answer is not magical; there is no easy way to turn on the stream-of-consciousness-Kerouac-switch in our brains. The answer comes in the form of rigor, hard work, an unrelenting schedule, and draft after draft after draft until we have something that can be let loose into the intimidating world of scholarly works.

As poet Richard Hugo so eloquently states in his essay The Triggering Town, “The hard work on the first poem is responsible for the sudden ease of the second. If you just sit around waiting for the easy ones, nothing will come” (17). Hugo is not only revealing a RichardHugodisappointing truth about the illusion of inspiration, he is also letting us know that, if we spend our time waiting, nothing will get done. With that being said, a poet should begin writing whether or not there is something to write about. A student/essayist, similarly, should be taking notes while reading source material. These actions motivate the writer to begin thinking about the content of their first draft in a way that is almost subconscious. But, thinking about adding one’s poems to the world of the great poets or contemplating that jump into the bigger academic conversation can be intimidating.

Academia is scary. We read scholarly articles and studies and we may find ourselves shrinking away from that kind of writing. Perhaps we are thinking: “how in the world can I write this way?” This is a similar experience for the creative writer. A dedicated artist should always be engaged in the work of others, whether contemporary or classic. In addition, we poets are always thinking about the development of our individual voices. Students should also consider their own voice when composing an essay. Intellectual or unique language in one writer’s work will never be another writer’s way of speaking. Ben Lerner, author of The Hatred of Poetry, makes clear the problem of a poet aspiring to sound like another. He says, quite bluntly, “if poems are impenetrable, they are elitist” (77). This is important to keep in mind if one finds oneself attempting to emulate the apparent intellect of another author, no matter what we are writing. The truth is this: our own scholarly voice comes from our knowledge of our subject matter/material, along with the ability to construct a clear sentence, and nothing else. The statement “write what you know” has been a mantra for poets since it was first mentioned by Mark Twain. The same goes for hatredofpoetryany writer of any genre. First know your stuff and then, as Hugo would say, “get to work” (17).

That first “shitty draft” will never write itself. Create a rigorous schedule and make it a necessity to be productive during the hours of the day when your brain is most active. For me, this is early in the morning. For others, it may be late at night, in the middle of the day, or at the horse races. Then be sure to give yourself a goal. My goal, for instance, is to create one finished poem a week. This means that two or three poems (or multiple drafts of the same poem) may need to be written in order for me to end up with an acceptable result after seven days. If your essay requires fourteen sources, perhaps you can attempt to write seven summaries a week for two weeks. It is also extremely important to offer yourself a reward for each weekly accomplishment. Remember to be strict with yourself. Be responsible for your goals and your rewards.

Finally, write about something that is of interest to you. Your subject matter needs to have relevance to you on some level. Richard Hugo knew that the “trigger,” or motivation, for a poem should be one that lights that flame of inspiration for the writer. So pick a subject that is meaningful: “Your triggering subjects are those that ignite your need for words” (15). There is nothing worse than a poet who writes about something that doesn’t interest them or that they know very little about. For instance, I may want to write a poem about the Great Depression, but if I have no experiences or have not taken the time to gather research to support or add to my knowledge of the subject, I will inevitably fail in my attempt. Similarly, a student who writes an essay about something to which they are not attached will truly dread the process of gathering research and will write a lackluster piece.

All writers, at any level, should remember that we are in this together. Writing is difficult for everyone. ​There is no romance in the act of writing poems, nor is there a need for intellectual prowess in academic writing. We learn, as students of any subject, that we are responsible for our own contributions. Putting in the hard work, maintaining rigorous practices, finding the courage to resist our own insecurities, and maintaining productivity despite our fears and busy lives, are ways we can learn to have confidence in ourselves as scholars and as participants in a conversation that will always seem bigger than us.

by Ronald Dzerigian

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Works Cited:

Hugo, Richard. “The Triggering Town.” The Triggering Town, W. W. Norton & Company, 1979​, pp. 15 – 17.

Lamott, Anne. “Shitty First Drafts.” Bird by Bird, Anchor Books/Doubleday, 1994​, p. 22.

Lerner, Ben. The Hatred of Poetry. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016, p. 77.

Self Care to Support Graduate Student Success

Yes, friends, we’re going to talk about “self-care.” This phrase gets thrown around a lot on social media, and, as my undergrad students tell me, is trending. Basically, it’s exactly what it sounds like; self-care means taking care of yourself. It encompasses any activities or practices that you can do for yourself to support your physical, mental and emotional health, like: listening to music, taking a nap, or taking time away from your responsibilities. See Guy Winch’s TED Talk on “Why we all need to practice emotional first aid” if you need more convincing. I’m sure you’re wondering why now, at the end of the semester, we’d be talking about this. But, at least for me, this is when everything becomes a little less bearable, and when I need a little extra help.

In previous posts on the GWS blog, consultants advised us to get enough sleep, eat a balanced diet, exercise, and socialize. And you may be thinking—okay, I’m doing the best I can in these areas already (and I’m not about to stop going to Taco Bell after my late night lab), so… what else? Here are some other self-care strategies to support your overall well-being as you complete your graduate work.

1) Change your point of view. 

Get away from your desk for an hour, a day, or a weekend. Take the 41 out to the mountains for a literal perspective change, or head to the water (the central coast, Shaver Lake, or the San Joaquin River are some local options). A walk through an orchard, the closest park, or even just five minutes around your block can help clear your head. Whatever is within your own means, availability, and ability—get out there. walking-in-the-woods

Some options include: The San Joaquin River Parkway, which offers nature walks and river tours, as well as monthly readings. For the ultimate change of perspective, visit our own Downing Planetarium, which costs $3 for students. Take a treewalk around the campus, which is an arboretum, using this map! Visit the Shinzen Friendship Gardens in Woodward Park, which costs $1 for students. Or, go underground at the Forestiere Underground Gardens ($15 with student ID). Drive along the Blossom Trail using this self-guided tour map. Or visit Yosemite via bus, which offers a student discount.

2) If you can’t get out, go inward. reading-in-nature

Okay, you just can’t go anywhere right now. Deadlines are around the corner, money is tight, and you can’t justify any more time away. Meditation is a great way to access the benefits of an escape without having to leave your desk. Guided meditations can be found online for free. Or, you can visit the Meditation and Prayer Rooms on campus, located in the Cross Cultural and Gender Center (Thomas Building 110A) and the Henry Madden Library (3rd floor, old library side). In addition, the Health Center offers a free Meditation Group. Another place to meditate on campus is the Peace Garden, which can be found here.  If meditation isn’t your thing, free yoga and other fitness classes are offered weekly at the student recreation center.

3) When you can’t go out OR in: explore where you are. 

Socialization and community are important to our mental health and happiness (see this article if you’re doubtful). As graduate students, we often isolate ourselves in order to get work done. This may cause us to miss out on important opportunities to interact with others. Try to make room for something fun this week with friends, neighbors, or your family. The feeling of connecting with those around you has been linked to happiness, and I know anecdotally that this works for me, too.

Spring in Fresno is ripe with community events, like the upcoming international potluck, the Theater Department production, the Downtown Clovis Wine Walk, the 9066 Exhibition in the Henry Madden Library, LitHop in the Tower District, local farmers markets, a Fresno Filmworks screening in the historic Tower Theater, on-campus readings and concerts, and local block sales. Do something that makes you say, “Hey, I live in a place that other people also live, and we’re all doing cool/weird/interesting things and are a part of one community.” For other ideas, click here.

4) And finally, unplug. unplug

Take some time to yourself. Stuck on campus? Try a nap pod. If you’re home, consider cleaning up your space, listening to a podcast that has nothing to do with your discipline (I like this one, this one, and this one, and a few others that I probably shouldn’t list here), putting on your favorite record, or taking a bath. Protect your time in these last few weeks of the semester. Be cautious about taking on extra responsibilities, and practice saying this word with me: “No!”

 

Your friend in over-achievement and self-induced stress,

Tricia Savelli

Revision as a Strategy to Overcoming Impostor Syndrome

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Impostor syndrome, also commonly called impostor phenomenon, is the feeling that despite your many successes, you don’t deserve the recognition you are receiving. It’s most common in minority populations and those who are trying something new (read: graduate students). Students struggling with impostor syndrome feel like they don’t belong in graduate school, they link their successes with luck rather than skill, and they experience heightened anxieties about being discovered as an “impostor” by their peers. This can make students less likely to be open with their peers, submit their work for publication, feel ownership over their achievements, take risks, and make connections, due to the fear of being “found out.”impostor-in-group-found

As we start out the semester, I find that many of the students I consult deal with impostor syndrome in one way or another. Either they don’t feel like they belong in a particular class, in graduate school, or in academia in general. Writing can be a huge block that prevents people from acquiring academic discourse and entering into the academic conversation. Even (and, in my experience, most often) the brightest students struggle with articulating an idea in a coherent way. This barrier can increase feelings of being an impostor, causing frustration (why can’t I just do this), self-doubt (I don’t deserve to be here), procrastination (I’d rather not do this at all than try and fail), and anxiety about writing in front of a consultant (I don’t want to bring my work in to him/her, because then he/she will know that I don’t deserve to be here). Overcoming this in a 50-minute appointment is no easy feat, but it is necessary in order to be able to help the student.

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I’ve found that establishing rapport, and creating a safe atmosphere early on, to be an important first step. Demonstrating vulnerability to a student who you feel exhibits signs of impostor syndrome gives the student the freedom to be vulnerable and open as well. This safe, personal connection can help bridge the divide, and encourages students to share their writing at any stage in the process.

Beyond simply being friendly and open, breaking down the misconception that good writing comes naturally is another way to address impostor syndrome. Reinforcing the idea that everyone in academia must revise extensively (barring a few annoyingly talented writers, but even they have had years of practice) levels the playing field. This strategy, commonly used in writing classrooms, comes from Anne Lamott’s Shitty First Drafts. Lamott argues that the best strategy to overcome writer’s block is to write with abandon. Maybe don’t “write drunk, edit sober,” as the advice commonly misattributed to Ernest Hemingway suggests, but certainly don’t be afraid to write ugly. Encourage students to write that long, clunky sentence, and then help them edit for clarity. Emphasizing the idea that writing is a process, which relies heavily on revision, takes the pressure off those first attempts at articulating an idea, and gives hope to students who feel like “bad writers.”

A revision activity that I like is to break up a paragraph line by line, so that each sentence is its own line. The visual space between each sentence makes it easier to revise, without the clutter of the overall paragraph. Have a conversation with the student about what each sentence is saying (summarize the ideas) and what it is doing (introduction, defining, transitioning, etc.). This helps to visualize the structure of the paragraph, and the student can move the sentences around to restructure the paragraph into a logical order. After that, the student can add transition phrases, introductions, and conclusions as needed, and can ensure that the sentence structures are varied. This can help students practice revision skills, build confidence, and break through writer’s block.

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Revision Activity Example

Free Write:

Writing is a process which requires reading, critical thinking, writing, and revision. Nobody writes perfectly without revision. Every good writer must revise their work. Even the ugliest, longest, most redundant sentence can be revised to be clear, concise, and to the point. Sometimes students feel embarrassed to write this way in front of consultants, because they don’t feel like they belong in graduate school, or don’t feel comfortable making a mistake in front of their consultant. Consultants should emphasize revision to make students feel more comfortable about making mistakes, and to help them feel like they belong in graduate school and will be successful. 

Step One: Saying & Doing

1. Writing is a process which requires reading, critical thinking, writing, and revision.

            –defines writing process

2. Nobody writes perfectly without revision.

               -furthers argument

3. Every good writer must revise their work.

            -furthers argument

4. Even the ugliest, longest, most redundant sentence can be revised to be clear, concise, and to the point.

            –furthers argument

5. Sometimes students feel embarrassed to write this way in front of consultants, because they don’t feel like they belong in graduate school, or don’t feel comfortable making a mistake in front of their consultant.

            –a reason why students struggle with this

6. Consultants should emphasize revision to make students feel more comfortable about making mistakes, and to help them feel like they belong in graduate school and will be successful.

            –the reason this activity will help

Step Two: Restructure

5. Sometimes students feel embarrassed to write this way in front of consultants, because they don’t feel like they belong in graduate school, or don’t feel comfortable making a mistake in front of their consultant.

6. Consultants should emphasize revision to make students feel more comfortable about making mistakes, and to help them feel like they belong in graduate school and will be successful.

1. Writing is a process which requires reading, critical thinking, writing, and revision.

2. Nobody writes perfectly without revision.

3. Every good writer must revise their work.

4. Even the ugliest, longest, most redundant sentence can be revised to be clear, concise, and to the point.

Step Three: Revise  revise

5. Many graduate students feel like they don’t belong in graduate school, a phenomenon called impostor syndrome. This can contribute to a student’s fear of making a mistake in front of their consultant, a common problem early on in the semester.

6. & 1. To make students more comfortable with making mistakes, and to help them feel like they belong in graduate school with their peers, consultants should emphasize writing as a process which involves reading, critical thinking, writing, and revision.

2. & 3. Nobody writes perfectly without revision, and even the best writers must revise their work.

4. With revision, even the most redundant sentence can be revised to be to the point. Creating a welcoming environment which applauds risk-taking and mistakes helps students feel at home in graduate school, and will help them overcome writer’s block in a consultation.

Result: Polished Writing

               Many graduate students feel like they don’t belong in graduate school, a phenomenon called impostor syndrome. This can contribute to a student’s fear of making a mistake in front of their consultant, a common problem early on in the semester. To make students more comfortable with making mistakes, and to help them feel like they belong in graduate school with their peers, consultants should emphasize writing as a process which involves reading, critical thinking, writing, and revision. Nobody writes perfectly without revision, and even the best writers must revise their work. With revision, even the most redundant sentence can be revised to be to the point. Creating a welcoming environment which applauds risk-taking and mistakes helps students feel at home in graduate school, and will help them overcome writer’s block in a consultation.

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imposter-syndrome

Impostor syndrome can be a huge barrier to success in higher education. A student who doesn’t feel like they belong will be less likely to be open with their peers, make connections, submit their work for publication, or take risks, all of which are important aspects of succeeding in graduate school. Fortunately, consultants have the power to bridge that gap by providing tools for students to acquire academic discourse, enter the academic conversation, and feel like they have an ally and friend on campus who they can come to for help without judgement. This is just one example of using revision to overcome an obstacle. What are your favorite revision strategies? Have you encountered examples of impostor syndrome in your consultations? How did you work to help the student overcome it?

By: Tricia Savelli

Further Reading:

http://wrd.as.uky.edu/sites/default/files/1-Shitty%20First%20Drafts.pdf

http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/11/fraud.aspx

https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/26/your-money/learning-to-deal-with-the-impostor-syndrome.html?_r=0