Summary and Notes – EGS Meeting (Feb 12th)

The following notes were contributed by Jessica Perrona first year M.Ed student who has been spearheading on-site EGS meetings to further develop and enhance graduate culture at Nipissing. 

The second Education Graduate Students meeting took place Thursday February 12th and was attended by five part- and full-time students. Catherine Giroux (a previous contributor to our blog) started the meeting by facilitating a wonderful article discussion regarding the importance of collaboration among educators and other disciplines such as healthcare and justice studies. Students explored several main points including: inter-professional collaboration, importance of healthcare knowledge in education, and holistic education. Students further considered the benefits of bringing a qualitative approach to the education and healthcare research fields to add a personal perspective to these issues. Questions that were raised included:

-How do I know which research method is best suited for my research project?

-What are the benefits of qualitative, quantitative, and mixed-methods research?

-How do sample size and the chosen audience affects method choice?

– What benefits are gained when using qualitative methodology and include participant “voice”.

Our next meeting is scheduled for Thursday, February 26th from 6-7pm. We will again offer Skype as an option; however, since it has yet to be utilized, we will only offer future sessions through Skype by special request. We hope to see you there!


The Dreaded Research Question: What to Do if You Don’t Know What to Do

This week’s blog post is written by Amanda Carvalho, who is currently working towards her PhD. We’d like to thank Amanda for being able to so neatly unpack a fear that so many grad students share at both the Master’s and Doctoral levels.  

Oscar Wilde

Allow me to begin with a story. This past July, I attended my first on-site summer residency for Nipissing’s PhD program in educational sustainability. In the thirty minutes before my first class, I sat outside in the parking lot reading and rereading the program of study I wrote for my admissions application, almost certain that I would be asked to share my research topic. I walked into class and sure enough, within twenty minutes I was staring at a handout that asked me to chart my interests and methodological intentions. When we were asked to turn those charts into research questions and to write them on large chart paper in permanent marker, I felt more worried about the style of my question than I did about my topic. After all, I had already applied to the school to study one topic; surely I could not change it now. When we were finished, our questions were taped to the wall of our classroom.

You might be wondering why I am sharing a story that makes it seem like I knew my research topic from the first week of my program. Well, I’m sharing it because after being invited daily to stare at our research questions, an interesting thing started to happen. By the second week of our course, our neatly written questions, that only a week before stood as signs of our commitment, started to feature scribbles in other coloured markers. Words were substituted, omitted, added, and in some cases, even the content was slightly altered. By the third week, most of us had either slightly revised or completely changed our questions. A few of us even changed topics drastically. When we reached out to our professors and other PhD students, I was surprised to hear that almost all had gone through a similar process, and, more importantly, felt positive about the outcome. They made me realize that changing your interests, whether slightly or drastically, is to be expected in the face of being exposed to so many new ideas and approaches. After all, course work is a mandatory part of a graduate degree for a reason.

So, for those of who a) do not have a topic yet; b) are thinking about changing your research focus or topic; or c), have completely changed your research focus or topic, you are right where many other graduate students are or have been, and likely your professors would say, “You are right where you should be.” I am certainly no expert on this topic, but I wanted to share what worked for me.

  1. Continue to explore new topics and approaches through your course work. 

For me, being uncertain of what I wanted to research was a blessing in disguise; it allowed me to keep an open mind during my course work. I am currently set on conducting critical narrative research, a methodological approach I did not even know existed before I began my program.

  1. Dig deeper when something interests you.

For a course presentation, I was assigned the introductory chapter to a collection of essays edited by the authors of a work called Women’s Ways of Knowing (1986). Their research intrigued me, so I decided to read their original work. I can say without embellishment that reading that book changed my path forever. It not only helped me to understand my true passion for the field of education, but it showed me a way of conducting research that I did not know was possible.

  1. Don’t be afraid to talk through your research plans (and doubts) with your colleagues.

I would stake money on the fact that most graduate students know what it feels like to feel unsure about their research plans. I can’t imagine a more sympathetic audience than that. You may not be in a physical classroom with your peers, but you can always use the course discussion forums to strike up conversations that allow you to explore your interests. Even if your interests don’t necessarily seem related to the content, challenge yourself to make connections and see where the conversation takes you.

  1. Practice writing (and rewriting) a research question for each topic that interests you.

There’s nothing like seeing your question (and topic) staring at you every day to make you really consider whether or not you want to follow through with studying it. But, how do you get to a research question in the first place? The best advice I got was to choose three or four words that represent topics or phenomena that really interest you. Write them down in separate bubbles and start to look for the connections. How do the topics intersect? How are they different? What do you want to know about these topics? For example, my three words to start off with were a) vocational education; b) student experiences; and c) online education. As I learned more and continued to look for connections and differences, it became clear to me that online education was the piece that just wasn’t fitting. I took it off my list and through more reading and course work was able to add something that made the other two fit together in a way that made more sense to me.

  1. Finally, remember that there is a difference between getting sick of your topic and not feeling passionate about it. You’ll hear often, “You’d better love your question as you’re going to spend a long time with it.” Believe it and choose accordingly! 

Though rewarding, research (and preparing for research) is not easy. It involves more work than at times feels healthy, and there is nothing like being knee-deep into books and articles on your topic to make you second guess your choice. Just remember to really reflect (or talk through) whether you are feeling a bit saturated with your topic or if you are not interested in it at all. There is a difference.

Realistically, there comes a time when we have to commit to a topic. That time will be different for everybody, depending on whether you have a set deadline for submitting a proposal, or for finishing your degree. Until that time, however, enjoy the process and remember that you are not alone. What happens to us during the time between applying for our programs and submitting research proposals is significant and worthwhile. I say celebrate the transitions and the expanded viewpoints gained along the way.

Rainer Maria

Beating the Winter Blahs

February. You’ve only been here for one week, and I can’t wait to see the end of you. While I have embraced the beauty of the north, including its ever-white snow banks, just once I would love to wake up and see that the sun has already greeted the horizon. Instead, I stumble in the dark to the coffee pot, groggily head to the discussion boards, and scowl at the sun’s unfashionably late arrival (nice of you to show up, buddy). The winter blahs can be all-consuming, particularly if you’ve acclimatized to the responsibilities of being a grad student and the assignments begin to grate on your nerves.

Since I personally won’t be jet-setting somewhere with white sand and turquoise waters to stockpile some vitamin D (and good on you if you are), I’ve developed a few coping strategies to help bide away the cold and the dark.


  • Exercise – this one sounds pretty obvious, but if my circle of friends at the graduate level is any indication, it’s easier said than done. Every week, I vow to hit the gym a minimum of three times; every week, I usually fail to meet my own lofty expectations. How could I possibly think about taking the time to lift weights when I have a million posts to read/write?! But the thing is, every time I go, I feel great. My confidence goes up, I’m inspired to eat healthier, and my focus improves. It’s worth the investment of time to take care of your body, even if it’s just 15 minutes of stretching after a long writing session.
  • If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em – one of the things about living in this magnificent country is that we get snow, and depending on where you live, you might get heaps. Storm systems moving in over Georgian Bay and Lake Nipissing result in weekly snow pileups; so why not embrace it? Today I plan on getting in a nice day of cross-country skiing, followed by a cup of hot chocolate. Although I have plenty of school related work to do, it’s important not to get tunnel-vision, because there’s always more to do. To that end, I’m choosing to prioritize winter activities. Other activities to check out are snowshoeing, skating, maple syrup festivals (coming up soon!), tobogganing, snowman building, collect some pine cones for some DIY decorations, winter hiking, playing/watching hockey, ice fishing, drinking mulled cider under a blanket with a good book or movie.
  • Treat yourself – if you’re the typical type-A grad student, you may be balancing your studies with a million other things, including jobs, families, hobbies, community commitments, and so on. When was the last time you did something small for yourself? In the past, I’ve experienced feelings of guilt when I treated myself to something nice that I wanted, but not necessarily needed. But here’s the thing: you work hard. You’re pushing yourself. Treat yourself to something as a thank you gift. Make yourself a nice dinner. Book a massage. Get a magazine subscription. Upgrade your coffee to a latte. Go see a movie. It doesn’t have to be huge, but it does have to be intentional.


  • Make time for friends – this is something else I’m really working on. Just one hour of a good chat with my friends and my soul feels lighter. However, this is often one of the first things to go (along with exercise) when my commitments start ramping up. Even if I’m skyping with someone who lives far away (a good friend of mine is in the Yukon), it feels good to break out of the work-school-eat-sleep-repeat mentality. Life’s short, and it should be filled with as much laughter as possible.
  • Combine all of the above! Partner up with your friends for some exercise accountability, go skating with your partner/kids, indulge in a day on the slopes with your nearest and dearest. One of my favourite winter memories was finding a small indoor farmer’s market near an ice rink, and toddling around with my friends before heading inside to warm up with locally made goodies. Each city/town has events to go check out, round up the family and friends and make it an adventure.

This list is how I manage to cope, but I’d love to hear how my fellow grad students deal with the winter blahs. Leave a comment below and share your tips, tricks, and ideas 🙂

First EGS meeting: Notes

Thursday, January 29th marked the first lab group meeting of Education Graduate Students. Five part- and full-time students attended, in addition to Dr. Michelann Parr, Chair of Graduate Studies. Led by Jessica Perron, a full-time student in her first year of the Master of Education program, we began by discussing the pre-selected article on school age readiness, and branched into several other areas of interest, including assessment, boys’/girls’ literacy, full day kindergarten, and the merits and pitfalls of early diagnosis of potential Learning Disabilities.

Present at the meeting was a wide and diverse range of experience and interest; however, we quickly discovered common questions that we shared, as well as collective fears and aspirations. Among some of the questions raised were:

-Should I really do a thesis? I’m afraid of defense, so should I take another route?

-How do I organize and sort through data once I’ve begun the collection process?

-How do I narrow down my broad interests into a focused research topic?

-How do I find a supervisor for my research?

We quickly realized that if these were common questions amongst the five attendees, that it was likely other graduate students were also asking similar questions. We are hoping to offer answers to these questions through the EGS blog in the weeks to come.

Future meetings will occur every other week, and attendees will have the option for signing up to lead a meeting on the topic of their choice. Skyping in will be offered for students unable to make the meeting in person, and we would love to invite our entire body of EGS colleagues to join us.

Being able to consolidate and converse with other students and receive detailed answers to our queries from Dr. Parr was hugely beneficial, not only for our academic futures, but also for our sense of belonging and community. We are already looking forward to our next meeting…if you haven’t already, join our Facebook page to receive invitations to meetings, as well as other fun and important information about graduate-level events both within and beyond Nipissing.

Notes taken by Marianne Vander Dussen