Simple Tricks for Kicks

The following post was written by Samantha Van De Wal, a Master of Education student who is also currently obtaining her Certified Nutritional Practitioner designation and naturopathic medical degree.

Like many students, you’ve probably fallen into your winter rut, and had ample opportunity to develop some pretty gnarly habits that you didn’t have Summer 2014 (thanks, grad school). Have no fear, I’m here to give you five simple tricks to kick the unhealthy habits, rid or reduce the stress, and get a clearer mind:

1.  Eating low fat is a thing of the past.

Think you’re doing yourself good by grabbing the low fat yogurt and fruit? Have you ever asked yourself whether you’re truly satiated after eating it? My guess is… you’re not. That’s because it’s loaded with sugar but has relatively no or very low fat. And while you think all fats are bad, I’m here to tell you that they’re actually the good guys that keep you fuller, longer! In fact, fats are essential macronutrients; fats are essential for us to function optimally.

  • Have a long day ahead? Fats are a source of short term and long term fuel. By adding in a tablespoon of fat (like olive oil or coconut oil) into your meal or smoothie, you’re actually preventing yourself from over-indulging later. They keep you fuller longer because they take longer to digest.
  • Trying to retain some knowledge and keep your brain healthy? (You’re in grad school, of course you are.) Fats are integral for brain function, and are a major contributor to your brain’s structure. Try increasing your daily Essential Fatty Acid (EFA) intake by taking 1-2 tablespoons per day of high quality fish oil.
  • Fats act as a synthesizer for vital hormones in your body. Improper fat intake could lead to hormonal issues, including your adrenal hormones, which are impacted by stress.
  • Beware though that there are some bad fats like saturated fats that have negative impacts (e.g., weight gain, cardiovascular disease, etc.), but only when consumed in large quantities.

2.  Rev up your water intake.

Water is our life force. We’re made up of 60%+ water, and all of our physiological processes require it. Vitamins, minerals, and nutrients rely on water to dissolve and transport the material to the cell. In saying this, water plays a major role in our energy production. It increases our mental alertness and prevents us from getting headaches by sending oxygen to our brain (the same reason why working out helps us have greater clarity).

While getting 2L of water is said to be the gold star standard, my suggestion would be to aim for 3L, if you can. Take into account your vegetable intake and other water sources (included in that amount).

Not only do green juices offer an amazing amount of vitamin and mineral benefits, but they also contribute to 500mL to 1L of water intake (depending on the size of course). A simple green juice would include: a handful of greens (your choice), sprinkle of fresh parsley, juice of a lemon, half a cucumber, and half a banana to sweeten (optional). So refreshing and regenerating, and the perfect swap for your 2pm coffee.

What would Captain Vegetable do?

What would Captain Vegetable do?

3.  Cut the refined sugar

Low glycemic load (that is, meals that don’t cause sugar spikes) prevent sugar crashes, reduce mood swings (the highs and lows of the day), reduce fatigue (we all need that), and help in weight regulation. My suggestion is stick to a plate that looks like this:

  • 1/8 protein (e.g., chicken)
  • 1/8 starch and/or starchy veg (e.g., sweet potato)
  • 3/4 non-starchy veg (e.g., leafy greens)
  • 1 tbsp good oils (olive, coconut, avocado)

Tip: Stick to a whole foods (unprocessed) nutritional plan and avoid foods with consumer labels. You won’t have to worry about refined sugar if you’re committing to whole foods with high nutrient intake!

4.  Take a high intensity workout hiatus:

Let’s face it… we’re all stressed beyond our capacities (thanks, Modern Day Life). Our adrenal glands are one of the major glands in our bodies that try to regulate our stress hormones, but the reality is that many of us are suffering from adrenal fatigue.

When planning your exercise regime, my advice is to do several moderate exercises at least 3-4x a week. This can range from a light jog to interval training, and definitely includes the addition of yoga into your routine.

Apart from increasing your circulation, increasing your flexibility, and improving your memory, yoga will make you sit still and relax… something we’re not used to doing! Finding five minutes to breathe, meditate and get into your own headspace will help you reduce your stress and maintain focus for future tasks on hand.

Lastly, if nothing else…

5.  Take a high quality multivitamin:

The Standard American Diet (S.A.D.) lacks many of vitamins and minerals that we need in order to be our healthiest self. Let’s be honest… we don’t always have the time to prepare great, healthy meals (we just need to get that paper in). And, even if you are eating great, you may be eating a narrow diet (aka, a diet that doesn’t consider the amazing varieties of nutrients this world has to offer). A good multivitamin will contain every vitamin and mineral in the usual recommended doses. It’s likely that your stress will reduce, your memory will strengthen, your fatigue will minimize, and your sleep will improve.

So, if you’re feeling sluggish and stressed, try these five tricks to kick the bad habits that may have got you feeling crummy. You may start feeling the changes quickly, or it may take a couple weeks – this all depends on your current state of health.

Disclaimer: The above material is for your informational use, only. Always consult a healthcare practitioner (e.g., medical doctor, naturopathic doctor, holistic nutritionist) before taking any vitamins or supplements.

Rite of Passage – the PhD Comps Exam

This post comes to us compliments of Melissa Corrente. Melissa is a part-time instructor of Health and Physical Education studies at the Schulich School of Education at Nipissing University, North Bay. We’d like to thank Melissa for shining some light on the comprehensive exam, and for demystifying the PhD rite of passage with such humour. 

For those who are unfamiliar with the PhD comprehensive exam, allow me to briefly explain the process involved. In order to apply for the exam, a student must complete all three core courses and two consecutive summer residencies in addition to three elective courses taken at the students’ leisure. The exam itself consists of two written responses to questions surrounding a student’s theoretical framework(s) and methodologies. As a student, you want to demonstrate knowledge of your intended research area and how it fits inside the bigger picture. Understanding the connection to educational sustainability is important as well, because conducting research across disciplines helps one become educated. Once you have defined your area of research and completed the required reading in the areas covered by the questions, it is time to register a PhD Supervisory Committee. Supervisory committees will consult with, and advise, students to help them determine when they are ready to write.


The exam has been weighing heavy on my shoulders for the last few months as I try to wrap my head around what is being asked of me. It feels overwhelming to focus on the 4000 word count for each question, and I feel this has stopped me from just sitting down and writing. If I wait for the perfect writing conditions to appear, I will never start, let alone finish. The idiom a penny for your thoughts provides me with some comfort because the graduate studies committee is asking me to explain my thought process. In reality, I shouldn’t be allowed to write a dissertation if I can’t clearly articulate my theoretical framework(s) and methodologies. While writing this piece, I received some very helpful tips and advice from those who have already passed their comprehensive exams. I would like to share with you the suggestions I received and personally thank Dr. Michelann Parr, Dr. Carlo Ricci, Dr. Carole Richardson, Glenn Hanna, and many others who anonymously provided tips.

Tips for the Comprehensive Exam:

  • Meet with your supervisory team to ensure that you are ready to proceed.
  • Ask questions prior to writing your comps.
  • Attend to the questions – do what you are being asked to do.
  • Write one question at a time.
  • Circulate a detailed outline of each question (complete with references) for feedback
  • Spell check, grammar check, and APA check not once, but twice!
  • Don’t leave anything up to the imagination – say what you mean, and be as explicit as possible.
  • Don’t make assumptions about what your reader should know; assume they don’t
  • Consider the use of headings to guide the reader through your paper.
  • Make sure you use references wisely and avoid sweeping generalizations that are unsubstantiated by research.
  • Keep to your 4000 words.
  • Be clear about your topic, why you picked it, and what you are looking to do
  • Understand what other people have said about your topic and make that clear in the literature review.
  • Make sure you are clear on the theoretical framework.
  • Be clear on why you picked your methodology and why it is best for your topic
  • Offer an idea of what each section will consist of.
  • Say something about ethics re: the methodology question—show you understand the implications.
  • Address your theoretical framework in the methodology section because two different people mark the questions.
  • Research the history of your methodology, don’t only focus on recent sources
  • The comprehensive exam is not your dissertation. Don’t go deep into theoretical areas that are peripheral to your research. The learning was in figuring out what to let go of when writing.
  • Regarding methodology on the other hand, go as detailed as you can. Go from higher-level concepts, right down to the micro, all space permitting of course.
  • The other thing is the benefit of just starting to write. Start writing and it will show you where you are good to go and where you need to do more reading. Writing provides a focus.

If you are preparing to write the comprehensive exam in the near future, I hope you find the above tips useful. To finish off, I’d like to share a poem I wrote one night after my baby boy was sleeping peacefully in his crib. Enjoy!

‘Twas the week before comp writing, when all through the house

my baby was crawling, and trying to play house.

The journal articles were filed in my office by name,

In the hopes that Michelann Parr would help me reclaim.


The APA guide was memorized in my head,

While I had sticky notes stuck to my bed.

And Dada in his uniform, and I in my jeans,

Had just settled our bums for our nightly reading routine.


When upstairs in the nursery, there arose such a farting,

I sprang from the couch to see what was starting.

Away to the staircase, I flew like a bird,

Tore open the diaper, and threw out the turd.


My MacBook on the office desk open wide

gave the appearance that the battery had died,

when, what to my sleepy eyes should appear,

but a power cord that will certainly help me persevere.


With a little bit of energy, luck, and good food,

I knew in a moment, I would feel gratitude.

More rapid than owls, my ideas started flowing,

And I wrote them all down as my face started glowing:


“Now APA! Now Framework!

Now, Dewey and Experience!

On, Narrative! On Inquiry!

On Discourse and Research!

To the top of the library!

To the online database!

Now search away! Search away!

Search away all!”

(Adapted from ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ by Clement Clarke Moore)


Summary and Notes – EGS Meeting (March 12th)

This week’s notes were compiled by Jessica Perronour lab group coordinator.

A big thank you to all who participated in our fourth Education Graduate Student meeting, we had six in-person attendees and one Skyping in.

This week’s article was facilitated by Robin Potts and focused on the use of a conversational method in research involving Aboriginal populations. Our meeting unfolded into a rich discussion encompassing several underlying topics, including: the sensitivity of conversations involving residential schools and intergenerational effects; the importance of allowing the story of others to be told; and the benefits of using a collaborative process between researcher and participant. Further, several benefits of the conversational approach were thoroughly examined, such as giving voice, understanding context, respect for culture, and the importance of being prepared when working with vulnerable populations.

In addition to discussing the importance of this article and of the conversational method, several questions were raised:

  • What subjectivities (often referred to as biases) are present when you identify yourself within your research? Does all research involve bias? (The short and long answer: YES, even if you’ve controlled a range of variables.)
  • How does reducing the predetermined parameters of the conversational method benefit research findings?
  • Is our focus on the limitations of a study related to the Western perspective and to a more quantitative/empirical paradigm? Why is less attention given to successes?

After the article facilitation and discussion, our focus shifted towards issues surrounding the difficulties that teachers may face when trying to motivate and engage students, especially in the upper-grades. Several perceived issues of our current education system came to light. These include: a lack of student choice, teaching to the test, and the first-step-fallacy (students have difficulty when they are given learning choices due to the fact that these choices have typically been predetermined by teachers in the past).

The next EGS meeting will take place Thursday, March 26th, from 6-7pm (EST). We will be offering Skype again to accommodate all distance students. We hope to see you there!

For those interested in the topics of this week’s article discussion, Robin Potts recommends the following two resources:

  • Indigenous Methodologies: Characteristics, Conversations, and Contexts, by Margaret Kovach.
  • Decolonizing Methodologies, by Linda Tuhiwai Smith
  • Conversational Method in Indigenous Research by Margaret Kovach (link to article)


Summary and Notes – EGS meeting (Feb 26th)

We’re increasing our numbers! For our third Education Graduate Student meet-up, we had four in-person attendees and two Skyping in. We’d love to have more of you join us tomorrow, Thursday March 12 from 6-7pm.

This week’s topic of discussion was facilitated by Melissa Kenney and focused on the barriers faced by students with a mental health disorder. We further discussed how they are alike and how they differ from students with a learning disability who seek accessibility services at the post-secondary level. Issues that were discussed surrounding this group of learners included the emergence of mental health disorder while at college and challenges experienced by students who are adjusting to both the newness of postsecondary education and their mental health disorder.

In addition to debating the merits of the article, and examining the methodology, several questions were raised:

  • Considering the localization of the research performed (the article was limited to Fanshawe College participants), how applicable is the research to students at other postsecondary institutions? Would factors such as the variance of accessibility and counselling support have an impact on the numbers?
  • What about students a with mental health disorder who are yet undiagnosed?
  • Are anxiety levels on the rise? If so, what are some of the contributing factors?

Our conversation moved into discussing stigma surrounding mental health, including several opinions on the effectiveness of campaigns such as the Bell Let’s Talk Day. As wellbeing has been a major theme in recent academic literature, including on this blog, all of the attendees expressed a concern for how to provide ongoing help for students and colleagues when faced with institutionalized stigma.

The focus for next week’s conversation will be in the field of Aboriginal education, facilitated by Robin Potts. We hope to see you Thursday, March 12, from 6-7pm (EST). We will be offering Skype again, and hope to increase our numbers. Join us!

Evolution of the Thesis – Part 1

This post is written by Marianne Vander Dussen.

Further to the Demystifying the Thesis post, I wanted to share some of the things that I have learned over the course of the past six months that may help in your own considerations of whether or not to pursue the thesis. I will be providing more information for a part 2 follow up after my data collection has commenced.

This post is grounded in personal experience, and is not meant to be a universal how-to, but rather to provide a contextualized perspective with the goal of making the thesis option more accessible.

If you have any questions whatsoever about what the thesis route entails, beyond this post, please contact your faculty advisor, or Michelann Parr (Graduate Studies Chair) at

Thesis 2

I have always known that I would pursue the thesis route in the Master’s program; but initially, it was because I didn’t actually realize that other pathways even existed! Several of my friends already have Master’s degrees under their belts, and had discussed their thesis work at length, so I assumed that thesis research was a necessary component of acquiring the MEd degree. However, even after I learned that there were two other routes (Major Research Paper (MRP) and Research Project and Seminar (RPS)), I remained committed to the idea of pursuing a thesis.

This was mainly due to my positioning and my long-term career goals.

I am a full-time student living very close to the Nipissing campus, where I have ongoing access to both my supervisor and other professors with knowledge in my field. I acknowledge that this is a privilege that most students in Nip’s online program will not have, and while it has certainly smoothed the way for taking the necessary steps required for thesis, it is still definitely doable for distance learners.

In terms of my long-term career goals, I wanted an opportunity to develop as both an academic writer and researcher, which the thesis route facilitates. I am very interested in eventually pursuing a PhD, and many universities require a demonstration of research work prior to admission and making decisions about funding. Plus, I knew that the Master’s was the ideal place to try doing research for the first time to decide if I even enjoyed it…if I couldn’t do a Master’s level thesis, would I even be up for doing a full dissertation?

If you ever intend on working as a faculty member at a university, ongoing research and contributions to the academic community are mandatory, and the earlier you develop your research skill-set, the better. I’ve had conversations with several people (who are outside of the university) who were under the false impression that once you scoop up a PhD, your research work is over, and then you can get yourself comfortably situated in a postsecondary institution, delivering lectures to the admiring hordes while resting upon your laurels. Nope, although that sounds lovely. If anything, the research gets more complex and longitudinal, so the Master’s is the perfect arena to experiment and get a little messy.

That being said, there are many who equate research with number crunching and staring at graphs, which is a method, but not the only method. I’ve just received ethical clearance on my research project, in which I have chosen narrative inquiry and participatory action research as my methodology, and it’s purely qualitative. This essentially means that I’ll be working directly with my participants as we create, explore, and converse. There may be some interviews as we progress, but they are guiding the work, and it will be an organic process. The methodology matches my experience and passion; I love storytelling, and so I get to use it as the tool through which I collect and disseminate my data. Qualitative is a recognized, valid, and respected approach to research, and it’s entirely possible to do a thesis through interviews, observations, and stories (so long as you’re able to provide a theoretical framework to support!).


The ethics process itself was a little daunting, and it took me approximately one month to get the form to the point where my supervisor and I felt comfortable submitting. If you’re thinking about doing a thesis, I’d go to the website and print off the form, just to keep a copy by your desk. You never know, as you’re working through your courses, you could jot down an idea or two in the appropriate boxes, making it easier for when you need to go through and fill it out.

After I submitted to ethics, I received recommended revisions by email approximately one month later. It is unheard of that someone makes it through ethics on the first round, so do not have any expectations about being able to immediately start your research. Allow yourself a buffer zone. It took about a week or two to make the recommended changes (mostly because I just needed to take a few hours, sit down and focus on it), and I resubmitted. I received conditional ethical clearance one week later, pending the school board’s approval, which has its own separate procedure for approving researchers. You may wish to investigate this prior to applying to the Research Ethics Board, as you may be able to kill two birds with one stone in your applications.

Forming the backbone of your ethics application will be your research proposal. In all likelihood, you have one from your mandatory Research Methods course. For the purposes of submitting to your supervisor, second reader, and the Chair for approval, this will likely need to be fleshed out in order to meet with their expectations.

Whoa, wait, what? Second reader? Chair?

When you write your research proposal, you will require both a supervisor and a second reader. Usually, the second reader is another professor with experience in the field you will be researching in, allowing them to provide you with additional references, suggestions, and ideas that will be applicable to your work. Your supervisor or faculty advisor may have suggestions for who to approach to be your second reader.

Once both your supervisor and your second reader have approved your research proposal, it goes to the Chair (or to the Dean if the Chair is your supervisor). He/she will offer suggestions, revisions, questions, etc. Once you have passed through this process, you will be able to register for the thesis course, and you’re off to the races!

The process can be incredibly stressful, and sometimes seems about as clear as Mississippi mud water. I’ve done my fair share of fretting, worrying, and complaining. When I think about entering into the school in less than a month to meet and work with my participants, I feel like I am entering into the proverbial lion’s den, and I’m terrified. But I also have enough trust in myself to know that I will be fine, and that the path I’m walking is well-tread. Because I am passionate about the nature of my project, I’m allowing myself to be nudged along by the belief that it will all be for something.

While doing a thesis may not be for everyone, and that’s perfectly fine, it’s definitely the right decision for me. Don’t be discouraged by the idea of a defence, or feel dissuaded from investigating thesis options because you’re doing distance learning. Now that I’m past the first set of gates, I can see in retrospect that it was a series of small steps, as opposed to the gargantuan goliath-beast that I had initially conceptualized. Contact your school/school board (if you will be working in a school). Prepare your research proposal. Fill out and submit your ethics forms. Revise everything based on feedback. Resubmit. Receive approval (hopefully). If not, revise again, and that’s okay. You’ll be there before you know it.

For the MEd thesis handbook, including a step-by-step breakdown of the thesis process from start to finish, please visit here