Welcome to the 2015/2016 year in the School of Graduate Studies at the Schulich School of Education, Nipissing University!

If you are just beginning this journey with us, we are so thrilled to have you as a colleague. I’m confident you’ll find our online program to be comprehensive, challenging, and responsive to your needs. If you are continuing with your studies and are beginning a new term of research or coursework, I hope you’re as excited as I am for another year of learning, growth, and opportunity.

Make no mistake; graduate level studies are designed to prod, provoke, and problematize your thinking, which frequently leads to temporary periods of discomfort and discontentment. However, rest assured that it’s worthy work, and that you are not alone throughout this rewarding process. Though we may be separated by geographic distance, know that your classmates and professors are only an email, phone call, or Skype away. We are all in this together; never feel afraid to reach out for support.

Over the past year, my colleagues and I have wrestled with Impostor Syndrome, attended conferences, gone through the process of thesis approval, engaged in field research, attended group research discussions, built critical friendships, and balanced the demands of coursework with our familial, professional, and personal obligations. Through all of this experiential learning, I can reflect upon my first year in the program, and offer a few tips for success that I’ve clumsily accumulated by stumbling through the challenges presented by the rigours of my chosen route.

If you have anything to add to this list, please feel free to do so in the comments below, or on our Facebook page.

  1. The Medium is the Message, and the Process is the Product

Paying homage to Marshall McLuhan’s theory, the process of graduate work is simultaneous a process, and a product. In other words, it’s the journey, not the destination. The process through which you go through your studies and research work is also an incubator for complementary skills that will be essential to your long-term development; time management, academic writing, reflection, resilience, adaptability, and criticality. The medium (the route your graduate work takes) and how you engage with it will ultimately shape your message.

What does this mean?

Be kind to yourself: mistakes are a necessary part of the process, inherent to your experience. I’m currently listening to transcripts of when I was out in the field researching, and sometimes I cringe at mistakes that I make. Congratulate yourself for being brave enough to go outside of your comfort zone, take the lesson you need from the mistake, and move on.

Another tip? Experimentation. Play around with your scheduling (as best you can), figure out your peak reading and writing times through trial and error, and be willing to try again. It’s taken me a year to make peace with my own internal clock, but now I can be much more responsive to my state of mind and energy levels. When I first started and was focused on coursework, I’d be on the discussion boards from 7am- 11am, and again from 7pm-9pm, to respond to what had been said during the day. That worked really well for me. However, I had to completely shift this schedule when I started working on my thesis. If you’re working full time, you may not have as much of an option, but you may find that waking up at 5am to complete your work for the day is preferable to beginning your work at 6pm. Trial and error, friends…trial and error.

Reflect: do frequent check-ins with yourself. Due dates coming up? Research proposal coming down the pipeline? Neglecting any other areas of your wellbeing? Any “aha!” moments? Write in a journal, go for a long walk or run, and allow yourself the time and space to reflect on your work.

  1. Chose your route as soon as you can

We have many posts on the three routes and the differences between the three, but knowing from the get-go what my path was helped me to hit the ground running. See this post for more information about each route. Start a conversation with your Faculty Advisor as soon as you’re able so that you can feel confident moving forward, even if you chose to focus solely on coursework and the research project and seminar. Knowing from the star that I wanted to do a thesis helped me make decisions, keep an eye out for opportunities, and tailor my coursework so that I could incorporate the research I performed for class credit into my thesis. I basically just had to tweak my research proposal from Research Methods in order to be approved for thesis, while keeping a copy of my ethics paperwork printed and by my side to complete them all simultaneously. Work smarter, not harder.

  1. Recognize your distractions

I’m a news junky, and am frequently on Facebook to see what headlines come up on the various news sources that I like and follow. As a result, I’ve had to install blocker software onto my computer to prevent me from accessing both it and YouTube. I use Self Control, it’s free and has helped me more than I’d like to admit.

Just this past month, I realized that I could get distracted by random thoughts and ideas that floated through my head (movie titles, a book that I just remembered that I had wanted to read at some point, I wonder what ever happened in season 6 of The Vampire Diaries…etc.) and suddenly I’d look at the clock and I’d been on Wikipedia for an hour. So I created my official Distraction Journal (it’s an orange moleskin). When I’m working and I get a thought that is starting to itch, I just write it down, so it knows that I’ll get to it when I’m done my work. Then it can stop bugging me and I can keep writing. It’s a simple fix, but it’s very effective.

Image credit: xkcd

Image credit: xkcd

  1. Back. It. Up.

This past October, I spilled a travel mug of tea all over my keyboard of my Mac, which then proceeded to turn itself on and off, until it turned itself off and was unresponsive. I put it in rice, and brought it into tech services, who were fortunately able to resuscitate my poor baby. Since then, I’ve been backing up my hard drive once or twice a week. All of my important documents are additionally backed up on Google Drive.

Back it up. Then back it up again. Have you backed it up yet?

  1. Be present

Physically, this might be a challenge, depending on where you’re studying from. But our bi-weekly graduate meetings offer a Skype option. If the timing doesn’t work for you, try writing a post for the blog, or consult with your faculty advisor or supervisor about a conference near you that you can attend or present at. The more time you spend as an active, present member of the community, the stronger your resolve will be when the going gets rough, because you’ll feel the invisible bonds of community.

Is there anything I’ve missed? Sound off in the comments, either below or on Facebook. Good luck, everyone!

Notes – EGS meeting (April 9th, 2015)

A big thank you to all who participated in this week’s Education Graduate Student meeting!

Ellen Martin facilitated this week’s article discussion and presented the group with several theoretical frameworks representing specific levels of student-centred learning. More specifically, these frameworks were divided into three sub-categories including: learning centred on students, learning centred on teachers, and learning centred on the reciprocal student-teacher relationship. Many related topics were discussed including: the hidden curriculum, un-schooling, the importance of curriculum and standards, and several perceived unsuccessful methods to teaching and learning.

Further, the following potential pedagogical solutions were offered to ameliorate both teaching and learning:

• Offering student choice.

• Ensuring that instruction and learning is meaningful, authentic, and relevant to all students.

• Reducing class-sizes to allow for more student directed learning, project-based learning, and true inquiry.

After Ellen’s wonderful article discussion, the group’s focused shifted to gender differences in the current education system. Among many influencing factors that were brought up, the following stood out:

  1. Sex as a biologically constructed factor; gender as a socially constructed factor.
  2. Perhaps gender differences can be attributed to adults’ preconceptions of gender and gender appropriateness, not those of young children.

This week’s discussions permitted a respectful debate and a variety of perspective adding a wealth of richness to presented ideas and themes.

The next EGS meeting will take place Thursday, April 23rd from 6-7pm (EST), and will be hosted by Michelann Parr and Marianne Vander Dussen. We will be offering Skype again to accommodate all distance students. We hope to see you there!

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!

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!