Research and Writing Tips
An Introduction to Tech Transfer at Cornell: What You as a Grad Student Should Know
Over lunch on April 25, 2017, graduate students met with Cornell Technology Licensing (CTL) directors to discuss commercializing their research.
Did you know that a good first step is to contact CTL before you present your research at a conference? (It impacts your ability to patent or license internationally…but not in the U.S.)
The CTL directors discussed the resources available to Cornell faculty and graduate students in the licensing and patent process. (You don’t have to go it alone!)
Students were particularly interested in jobs with a university licensing office. (No J.D. or Ph.D. required!) The directors described their paths from graduate students to working for Cornell as licensing specialists. An essential first step is to consider an internship at a university licensing office, including Cornell’s CTL.
Need information about CTL’s internship program? Visit the CTL website.
Writing a Teaching Statement, from the Academic Job Search Series
On July 12, 2017, Colleen McLinn, director of CIRTL at Cornell, presented on how to approach writing a successful teaching statement for the academic job market. Here are some tips on what to include—and what not to include—in your teaching statement:
- Include details about what courses you have taught or TA’d that are relevant to the position you are applying for
- Show how you propose to structure the courses they expect applicants to teach, with examples on what you might do
- Mention your major objectives for different types of student audiences and ways you assess if students develop those skills or that knowledge
- Mention your lack of teaching experience or gaps in your skillset
- Make unsubstantiated claims (don’t just tell them you are innovative, show them)
- Use unfamiliar jargon about teaching approaches
- Get too philosophical about teaching – keep it tied to helping students learn in your discipline
For more tips and takeaways from this event, see postdoc Giovanni Sogari’s blog post, and please email firstname.lastname@example.org for slides or a recorded presentation. You may also wish to download the Chronicle of Higher Education Vitae resource, How to Write a Teaching Statement that Sings.
From the Graduate School's Fellowship Application Writing Workshops
- Many fellowship competitions list either faculty, reviewers from previous years’ competitions, or current fellowship recipients who may be contacted to answer your questions.
- Seek out advanced graduate students in your field (or a related field) who have applied for the same fellowship competition.
- Ask peers and friends for feedback on your essay drafts.
- Use Cornell’s Graduate Writing Service for additional help.
- If you would find it useful, you can review sample fellowship applications, submitted by Cornell graduate fellowship recipients, in 350 Caldwell Hall.
What Academic and Other Writers Need to Know About Writing, Publishing, and Working with Editors (and Agents)
Betsy Lerner, New York City-based author, agent, and former editor at Doubleday, recently spoke at a workshop for graduate and professional students to discuss writing and publishing for non-academic audiences.
She offered advice (and encouraging stories) for writing, publishing, and securing and working with agents and editors. The Graduate School provided copies of her book, The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers, which offers practical advice, insider observations, and trade secrets about writing and publishing.
At the workshop, Lerner encouraged students to “Find your voice and tell your story…including the story revealed by your research.” She told them she would love to read a book about research: “I’m a deeply curious person, but you’ll have to write in such a compelling way that you help me understand it.”
Overcoming Your Writing Challenges
At the Pathways to Success Symposium on January 23, 2018, Michelle Cox, director of the English Language Support Office, discussed common writing obstacles and strategies to overcome them.
Strategies for tackling each stage of the writing process:
1. The invention, or generating, phase
- Write even when you’re not inspired
- Push forward with the first draft—it doesn’t need to be perfect
- Create a writing environment that will help you succeed
- At the end of your writing time, leave yourself notes for next steps when you return
- Overcome writer’s block:
- Take a short break to let your mind percolate
- Free-write to work out whatever it is you’re stuck on
- Talk to someone about what you’re working on
- Read a mentor text about a similar topic
2. The revision, or re-seeing, phase
- Share your draft with someone in your field for questions and comments on the general content and direction of the paper
- Share your draft with someone outside your field who can ask you questions about the content and point out areas that need clarification
- Take some time away from the draft before you dive back in
- Focus on organization, noting what each paragraph is about and how each paragraph functions in the paper as a whole
3. The editing, or fine-tuning, phase
- Share your draft with someone in your field again, with specific questions or concerns for them to keep in mind
- Share your draft with someone outside your field again, asking them to pay close attention to sentence structure, wording, grammar
- Locate places in your draft where you are unsure of the wording and use mentor/outside text examples for guidance
- Check to make sure you vary your writing style throughout, e.g. that you don’t start each paragraph with the same words or phrase
Further, Cox emphasized the importance of keeping these three activities (inventing, revising, and editing) separate rather than attempting to do all three at once. The most painful and slow writing process is when the writer tries to come up with the idea while putting it into prose and perfecting the word choice and sentence structure. She also talked about writers who are using English as an additional language may use additional strategies during the writing process, particularly analyzing sample texts to see how the writer made decisions related to language, organization, and structure.
Learn more about the writing support programs offered by the Graduate School.
From the 3MT Presentations
Finalists of the 2018 Three Minute Thesis received this information before the big event. Will it help you with your job talk?
- Think about your audience. By the time you are on the job market, you need at least three versions of your research talk. One presentation is for your audience of experts, such as your audience at a conference or job interview. A second is for an “elevator speech,” a brief description of your research for a non-specialist audience, the one you would give if you found yourself in an elevator with the university president, provost, Meryl Streep, or anyone else you want to impress. The third version is a talk for a “skeptical audience” – someone doubtful whether your project has relevance to solving a problem or promoting important knowledge. They would say, “Convince me of its value!”
- Your 3MT presentation should be a hybrid of the second and third versions, a talk to a bright but non-specialist audience, who might need some convincing. Especially in this case when, at the end of the 3MT event, you could be awarded $500, $1,000, or $1,500!
- Consider your presentation title. Is it descriptive, understandable, AND intriguing (attention-getting)? (At the regional competition in April we are going to place adjacent on the program Cornell’s 2018 winner, My “Theces” about Feces with Concordia University’s 2018 winner, Why We Drink. Did I just get your attention?)
- For the 3MT competition, you can’t use notes. It’s like a Ted Talk; no notes and engage with the audience. For a job talk where you might be using notes, be familiar enough with your presentation that you regularly look up while continuing to speak. You do that to emphasize a point, to engage the audience by asking a question, or to check that they are awake or still in the room.
- Try not to be nervous! Consider the message your demeanor and body language sends, and identify some strategies to help you overcome your nerves. Breathe deeply. Relax your muscles. Practice, practice, practice so you have the confidence that you know the material. One of the things that works for me is to smile in the minutes before I start. Then smile at the audience before you start speaking (if you feel natural and comfortable doing this). A smile to the audience signals that “I’ve got this,” that you are confident…even if you are not!
From Proposal, Thesis, and Dissertation Writing Boot Camp
From the January 2019 session with Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs Jan Allen.
- Just write. It is easy to postpone writing to read more, conduct more research, analyze more data, etc., and to tell yourself that there is not enough information collected to write, but the best way to know what you do not know is to begin writing.
- Find a way to hold yourself accountable. Whether it is by writing in the company of a friend or group of peers or sending a nightly email to someone of the next day’s writing plans, finding a method of accountability makes it more likely that you meet your goals.
- Realize you do not have to write your entire thesis or dissertation at once. Start small with an outline, then gradually add more information until you are ready to write. Once you begin writing, set smaller goals, such as a paragraph or chapter. Each smaller step will come together to form a full draft.
- Write daily. Even if for only 15 minutes, be sure to write every day. Block out an amount of time on your schedule to hold you accountable. Fifteen minutes alone might seem short, but over time it will add up.
- Reflect on your writing process. Figure out what does and does not work for you, whether it involves motivational sticky notes, finding a new writing environment, or restricting internet access during designated writing time. If one method is not successful, take note of it, and find something that works best for you.
Why You Should be Communicating Your Research with All Audiences
The ability to communicate your research with all audiences is integral, said Professor Bruce Lewenstein during the June Pathways to Success Symposium.
Through anecdotes and examples, Lewenstein’s presentation, “Why You Should be Communicating Your Research with All Audiences,” offered attendees tips for better communication.
- When communicating your research, focus on the process, not the findings.
- Don’t shy away from telling the audience why your work is cool, what inspired you to learn more about the field, or how you got hooked.
- Share the human side of your work; we are all hardwired for logic as well as emotion, so be sure not to ignore the latter.
- Scholarly communication encompasses much more than publishing. Different audiences will read and experience your work differently. All people need practical, civic, and cultural knowledge.
- There are personal, institutional, and societal benefits–and risks–to communicating your research.
Five Tips for Effective Revision
From Rachael Cayley’s June 2019 Pathways to Success talk, “The Craft of Revision”:
Everyone experiences obstacles to persistent and productive writing. However, learning to write and revise is as important a skill to develop as skills required for research or critical thinking. When sitting down to write, commit yourself to extensive revisions.
When writing, keep in mind that your final product should be reader- and audience-driven. As stated by Joseph M. Williams, “We write the first draft for ourselves; the drafts thereafter increasingly for the reader.”
Here are five ways to make your drafts more coherent, concise, correct, and cohesive:
- Develop a reverse outline.
- Use strong verbs.
- Replace vague references.
- Use parallelism.
- Use correct punctuation for clarity.
'Speak and Be Heard': Communication Tips from Eliza VanCort
In less than one hundredth of a millisecond, people make a decision about you based on the way you communicate. Your communication skills can define you beyond your expertise; help you to be well-known, liked, and successful; and can extend your reputation beyond what you know and can do. It’s as much about the way you deliver your content as it is your actual content.
During Eliza VanCort’s presentation at the Winter 2019 Pathways to Success Symposium, she offered graduate students and postdocs the following tips on lifting ideas to become better communicators:
- Use body language to take charge of a situation.
- High status behavior uses open and expansive body language to command attention. Not moving your head, speaking in complete sentences, holding eye contact longer than normal, and strategically interrupting people are high status moves that, when used appropriately, can help you gain the upper hand.
- Low status behavior involves using variable hand movements especially when your hands are near your face, looking away, and speaking in incomplete sentences. It also involves making your body as small as possible. Using low status behaviors can prevent you from taking charge of certain situations. However, low status behaviors such as smiling, which demonstrates appeasement, can be used strategically when trying to level out power dynamics or to make someone feel more comfortable.
- Use silence and own it. Silence is an effective tool that can be both offensive and defensive. Use silence when you are stuck or need to gather your thoughts to appear contemplative. When using silence as a tool, be aware that when speakers adjust their body, people look away and may lose focus. Therefore, try to minimize body movements when using silence.
- Adjust your cadence. For quick speakers, break your message into fragments and slow down to gain more authority. Speaking at a slower pace can be more effective.
- Adjust your pitch, lower or higher, to highlight certain information and gain interest. Use caution though, because using a high pitch too frequently can signal insincerity.
- Your pitch can make you sound confident or nervous. Therefore, be mindful of the pitch you are using, and when and where you are using it since your pitch is always telling a story.
Four Tips from Fall 2020 Fellowship Workshops
Jan Allen, associate dean for academic and student affairs, compiled the following tips from her Fall 2020 fellowship application writing workshops:
- Start early. It’s worth repeating: Start early! A National Science Foundation (NSF) program director shared that the biggest problem with applications to the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship is that students don’t start early enough. How did she know? The reviewers often made statements such as: I wanted to fund this one, but…it needed just a little more elaboration, a little more editing, a little more development of the methodology, a little more of something that could have been accomplished with just a little more time.
- Find the right fellowship. Find fellowship opportunities that align with your own research. One of the best searchable fellowship databases is UCLA’s GRAPES.
- Be competitive. Make sure you will be competitive. How? Are your faculty advisors able to write very strong support letters? (Don’t ask for a letter. Ask for a very strong letter.) And are you applying for a fellowship that matches your progression through your doctoral program: early stage, research stage, dissertation writing and completion stage fellowships?
- Consider broader impacts. Many fellowship competitions require applicants to write about broader impacts. How do you connect and communicate your science and scholarship to the larger community? Mentoring or tutoring in after-school programs? Advocacy and public outreach? Contacting legislators and other policymakers?
Takeaways from 2021 All-Virtual Writing Boot Camp
Earlier this year, the Graduate School hosted the second all-virtual Writing Boot Camp, open to any writer working on a manuscript, proposal, thesis, dissertation, or other writing project.
Participants discussed obstacles or challenges that slow or stop writing progress: self-sabotage, unproductive habits, binge writing, and ignoring the three Ss — structure, schedule, strategies — tailored to individual writing style and needs. During one of these discussions, Dr. Wai-Kwong Wong of Cornell’s Counseling and Psychological Services changed our writing lives with a revelation about procrastination tendencies.
Procrastination leads us to miss deadlines, write furiously at the last minute under pressure and stress, and produce a manuscript that might not be our best effort. But procrastination can be even worse for our psychological and physical well-being.
Procrastinating makes us feel guilty, ashamed, and even defective. Procrastination is feeling like you are ruining your life for no apparent reason. Piers Steel described procrastinating this way: “to voluntarily delay an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse-off for the delay” (Steel, P. (2007). The nature of procrastination. Psychological Bulletin, 133(1), 65-94).
When we write we see the words, pages, and chapters as proof of our productivity, intellect, and persistence. When we don’t write due to procrastination (or perfectionistic tendencies, anxiety, lack of clear expectations, fear of what our advisor or the critical, judgmental voice inside our head will say), the short-term relief from the stress of writing is greatly outweighed by feelings of guilt and inadequacy.
Can you stop procrastinating? Are there strategies that work for you? If you want more writing tips and strategies delivered by email every other week, sign up for the Productive Writer mailing list.