Order of Operations

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 her wonderful piece that advocates for balance and family while reinforcing the importance of persevering through academic work. 

I recently read a journal article titled Striving to Obtain a School-Work-Life Balance: The Full-Time Doctoral Student (Martinez, Ordu, Sala & McFarlane, 2013). Five full-time doctoral students were interviewed to explore their experiences, and four themes emerged from the data. Martinez et al. (2013) found that doctoral students strived to achieve a school-work-life balance by purposefully managing their time, seeking well-being, finding support, and making trade-offs. There was one participant who discussed the order of operations in the doc life which made me reflect on my own order of operations. I was never the greatest math student; however, I do remember learning about BEDMAS (brackets, exponents, division, multiplication, addition, and subtraction) in public school. Upon searching the internet I was surprised to find they use a new acronym now which you can see below.

Upon reflecting on the priorities in my life I came up with the acronym SMHPT (son, me, husband, PhD, teaching) to represent my current situation.

My son will be two years old in April, and he is my first priority. After my son, I take good care of myself which includes eating healthy, exercising on a regular basis, and socializing with friends. My husband and our relationship are also important, so we recently had a weekend getaway to recharge our batteries and enjoy the great outdoors. After taking care of my family, the PhD is the next order of operation, because I am currently working on my research proposal.

Order of Operations 1

It is my goal to finish the research proposal before baby #2 arrives in two months! At this point I will be switching my priorities and the baby will move to the beginning of the equation. Teaching was a priority for me last term, however this term my focus has changed to research. I do miss being in the classroom, however I am at peace with my decision.

I think it is important to remind ourselves that priorities change and our order of operations one day may not serve us the next day. I encourage you to explore the current order of operations in your own life. Are they serving you or do you need to make a few changes? I have found that managing my priorities on a day to day basis has served me well.

The Martinez et al. (2013) article also discusses how graduate students carry various competing roles. I try to see the roles in my life as complementing each other because I learn from each one and they inform who I am as a parent, scholar, and educator. As you experience the graduate journey think about how the various roles in your life complement each other. Don’t be afraid to reach out if you need support as I have learned that asking for help is a necessary part of the graduate school adventure!

Melissa Corrente

Order of Operations 2 



Martinze, E., Ordu, C., Sala, M. R. Della, & McFarlane, A. (2013). Striving to obtain a school-work-life balance: The full-time doctoral student. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 8, 39–59.

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!

The Journey of a Thousand Miles… (Or How to Survive and Thrive in the Thesis Writing Process)

This post was written by Catherine Giroux, a second year full-time M.Ed student based out of the North Bay campus. We’d like to thank Catherine for her well-researched, experiential contribution to our community.

Maybe it’s the lovely summertime weather or maybe it’s the fact that I’m reaching the tail end of my first thesis draft, but my concentration (like Elvis) has totally left the building. I’m finding that common in the M.Ed., actually. There are periods where it is really easy to focus on my thesis and then there are others where I lack the necessary motivation. It’s completely normal.

Despite my current writing plateau, I’d like to share some tips, tricks, and resources that I’ve learned while writing my thesis so far.

The 10 Commandments of Thesis Writing

  1. Thou Shalt Read the Thesis Handbook

Before you even consider writing a thesis, make sure you read the thesis handbook! It can be accessed here. Many of your thesis-related questions can be answered within, including how to choose a topic, how to find your ideal supervisors, how to write a proposal and go through ethics, and things that you should know for your defense. It truly is an invaluable resource.

  1. Thou Shalt Read Thine APA Manual (multiple times if necessary)

I can’t emphasize this one enough. I am finding the APA 6th ed. manual incredibly helpful. Even though I used APA format throughout my undergrad, it has been updated and it’s always a good idea to check my accuracy. Also, no one ever really tells you exactly how to write a results section or a discussion section, but if you read the APA manual, there are whole paragraphs and chapters on how to do just that. It’s very useful, so definitely take the time to read it!

  1. Thou Shalt Find a Way to Be as Organized as Possible

I know that you’ve probably heard this over and over again but finding a way to organize your research- your articles, your sound files, your participant interview transcripts, everything- is essential. I use a mix of Mendeley (I like that I can categorize my articles) and Dropbox (so I can share important documents with my supervisors and we can update them as necessary). There are undoubtedly other ways to do it though and I would certainly be interested in learning from you so feel free to drop me a line and let me know what works for you.

  1. Thou Shalt Not Send Unedited Drafts of Anything to Thy Supervisors

Remember back in the day before computers when things had to be written out by hand? Things would be written as first and second drafts before being typed as a perfect final copy. Think of your thesis as an important document that needs to be done in drafts. You want your supervisors to see your best work – not something riddled with spelling, grammatical, and structural errors. Work those out in your first draft. Your supervisors are there to help you out, but they aren’t your editors and they will be much happier to receive your work if they can read it through with ease and make comments on the content rather than the conventions.

  1. Thou Shalt Use Thy Supervisors as Resources

Don’t forget that your supervisors are fantastic resources. They are the professionals! They’ve totally got this school thing down. If you have questions about the program, your thesis, which route is right for you, or anything academic, feel free to talk to your supervisor(s) or faculty advisor(s). I’ve found working through problems and bouncing difficult thesis sections off my supervisors to be particularly helpful. If there’s a section I don’t quite know how to write, I can talk with them in person, organize a Skype call, or we can email back and forth. It’s a tremendous help.

  1. Thou Shalt Consider Presenting Your Work At Conferences

I know this isn’t exactly part of the writing process but it certainly helps to shape the writing process. Sharing your work with like-minded peers can be very informative and eye opening. Even if you aren’t very far in the research or writing process, peers and faculty at conferences can provide you with invaluable feedback that can shape the future directions of your project. Conferences might also take you outside your comfort zone, which can lead to personal growth.

  1. Thou Shalt Not Procrastinate (Too Much)

I find that with every section of my thesis, starting is the hardest part because I have to overcome mental block and the fear of failure. It’s like impostor syndrome sets in with each new chapter. Not only that, but every section of the thesis has a unique tone and writing style. How you write the results section is very different from how you write your literature review. It seems like I procrastinate every time I don’t know exactly what I’m doing. It’s my coping strategy. It’s not a good one though. Once I finally start writing, the words just kind of flow and it helps the mental block go away. That’s why I find it helpful to work on my thesis a little bit every day (or at least a bit every week). Even if I’m just reviewing it so that it stays fresh in my mind, looking at it and dealing with the content is important. Break it down into chunks. You can do it! As Lao Tzu said, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

  1. Thou Shalt Take Time for Thyself

On the flipside of the last commandment, your thesis can’t be the only thing you ever do. You need to find some sort of balance. I personally enjoy adding activities like swimming and Stand Up Paddleboarding into my weekly routine to mix things up. I must admit though that combating the isolation of online learning and thesis work is difficult and people who “get it” are sometimes hard to come by. That’s why making an effort to get together with peers is so important. Whether you attend the biweekly EGS Meetings, set up regular coffee dates with friends, or create a thesis/BBQ club during the summer, getting out of your own head and away from your thesis for a bit is every bit as important as working on it. I also find that when I put it away for a bit and do something else, I return to it with a fresh perspective and better ideas.

  1. Thou Shalt Remember to Thank Thy Supervisors

I can only imagine that it’s a lot of work to be a supervisor for an M.Ed. student. There’s certainly a lot of reading involved. Letting them know that you’re thankful for their efforts goes a long way. Chocolate is also a nice touch.

  1. Thou Shalt Honour Thine Inner Geek

Inner Geek

Everyone has a motivation for writing a thesis. No one (that I know of) wakes up and says, “Hey, I really just feel like writing a 100-200 page document for the fun of it.” If you do, all power to you! Remember what drew you to your topic and return to that when you feel like giving up. Remember that your work has value and is adding to the current body of knowledge. Something got you excited about your topic when you chose it; try and return to that excitement throughout the writing process. It makes the writing much more fun.

And in case you need more… Here are some helpful resources!

  1. Completed Dissertations and Theses: You can access these through the Nipissing Library and pull ones that have similar styles to yours to see how former students wrote certain sections that you’re struggling with. They can be found here: http://www.eclibrary.ca/library/list-subject-dissertations-and-theses
  2. How to Write a Discussion Section: Here is a document from the APA for Grad Students on the Dos and Don’ts of writing a discussion section. I found it very helpful because this, for me, is the hardest part of my manuscript! http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2006/01/findings.aspx
  3. How to Write an Abstract: I also found this very helpful. The U of T has some great writing resources worthy of exploration. http://www.writing.utoronto.ca/advice/specific-types-of-writing/abstract


Please feel free to share! If you have something really neat and helpful that hasn’t been mentioned, share it in the comments section so that we can all add to our Grad Studies tool-kits. Happy Thesis-ing!

Relationship Building

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. She was one of the 30+ representatives from the Nipissing community who went to Ottawa to present at the 2015 Canadian Society for Studies in Education (CSSE) national conference. We’d like to thank Melissa for her excellent piece highlighting the value of both presenting at and attending conferences. 

I am slightly embarrassed to admit that the end of May marked the first conference I have ever attended. “The Canadian Society for the Study of Education (CSSE) is the largest organization of professors, students, researchers and practitioners in education in Canada. CSSE is the major national voice for those who create educational knowledge.”[1] I am puzzled as to why I didn’t I attend or present at any conferences during my MEd journey. My thesis is a piece of work I am still incredibly proud of; I have, however, never shared it with a larger audience. I guess it’s never too late to revisit it, or reflect upon it with a new lens.

Getting back to the conference, I felt very anxious and nervous about presenting my paper in a roundtable format. Would I be able to answer all the discussants’ questions? Is my purpose clear enough? What kind of atmosphere will there be? After getting over my self-doubt, other logistical concerns started to surface. Is my Aunt’s house baby proof? How will I fit the stroller, baby gate, high chair, and play pen in the car? What will my husband and 14 month old son do while I am at the conference? Will there be too much morning traffic to commute from Kanata to Ottawa? All the minor details worked themselves out as I left Saturday morning with my husband and son in tow. After driving for three and a half hours, we arrived at my Aunt’s house. She was out getting groceries when we arrived, so I changed and fed my son on her front porch as curious neighbors looked on. Financially, I am very grateful to stay with family because it adds up quickly when you factor in hotel, travel, and meal expenses.

Sunday morning marked the beginning of my CSSE conference experience. After registering and donning my nametag, I toured around the congress expo to browse through the variety of literature for sale. Feeling a tad bit overwhelmed about what to do or see next, I decided to find a table and sit down. All the tables were occupied, so I asked a woman sitting by herself if I could join her. She was very friendly, and we started chatting about where we were from and what our research interests were. She mentioned that she recently defended her dissertation and was presenting her results at the conference. Upon explaining my interest in researching graduate student mothers, her eyes lit up! She was so excited as she described that one of her colleagues started a graduate mother support group on her campus. A group of graduate mothers would meet at a local coffee shop and would write for 45 minutes uninterrupted. Once the time expired, they would share their writing and support each other with constructive feedback. I had only been at the conference for 10 minutes, and I already developed a wonderful relationship with someone I am definitely going to keep in touch with. After saying goodbye to her, I realized the true value of relationship building while at a conference.

On Sunday afternoon, I attended a wonderful multi-paper session. I left this session feeling inspired and reassured that my topic is valid and important. I developed a great connection with a presenter who is also a graduate student mother. Her presentation and research were well articulated, and after chatting we discussed collaborating on a piece of writing down the road.

Monday morning, the day of my roundtable presentation, arrived quickly, and I ran around my Aunt’s house trying to pack up my belongings before heading to the University of Ottawa. Instead of preparing for my presentation, I was feeding my son while simultaneously trying to remove two cats off the kitchen table. After packing and preparing food for the trip home, I realized it was already time to go. Luckily the morning rush hour traffic only lasted for part of the trip, because I wanted to arrive early for my roundtable presentation.

Once I located the correct building and walked up two flights of stairs, the room was not what I had pictured in my mind. It was very small and the tables were not set up, let alone round in shape! Once all the tables and chairs were organized, most people gently nudged their way through the organized chaos. I found table #16 and met the other two presenters and the faculty and graduate student discussants. The woman I had met the previous day even came to attend my presentation, which I genuinely appreciated. The room was buzzing with energy and ideas; everyone was tightly packed into the room like a box full of crayons. Each person at my table was unique with their own research colour and contribution to the greater whole just like the crayons.

One hour and fifteen minutes was the time allotted for all three graduate students to present while leaving room for discussion. I had the luxury of being the middle presenter, so I adjusted my plan based on my observations of the first presentation. My plan was to talk for 10 minutes, and dedicate the remaining time for feedback and discussion. The first presenter was extremely passionate about her research; however, there was no time left for discussion. When my turn came to present, I started with a brief autobiography to help everyone understand what influences my work. The idea of a research puzzle resonates with me so I handed out four puzzle pieces to represent my paper with photos on the back. Overall, I felt good about my presentation, and I enjoyed sharing my paper with an academic audience.

The feedback I received was invaluable! I plan to make changes to my paper to further my thinking and improve the quality of my writing. The time flew by, and our whole table admitted that we could’ve discussed each paper for much longer. There is something to be said about interacting with other academics face-to-face. This human connection and relationship building was a very worthwhile and rewarding experience. Skype and email are fantastic communication tools, but personally sitting down with a group of people and engaging in face-to-face dialogue wins every time. If you have the opportunity to attend or present at a conference, I highly recommend taking advantage of the opportunity. You have nothing to lose; in fact, you will gain valuable relationships and feedback to help move your scholarship forward.

Happy Building!

[1] http://www.csse-scee.ca/about/


Critical Friendship

The following is a dialogue between Laura McRae and Marianne Vander Dussen, both in their first year of the Master’s program. We decided to build our blog post to capture the conversational quality that has enabled us to act as critical friends and editing partners.

MVD: In my first term, I noticed that Laura was in all three of my classes, which I thought was a fun coincidence. Initially, her posts intimidated me; she always had her responses ready right at the beginning of the week, and reflected a high level of writing ability and critical thought. After a few weeks, the isolating effect of working alone in an online program was starting to take its toll on me, and I was desperate to connect with other students. I reached out to Laura to see if she would be interested in partnering with me on an assignment for our Research Methods class, and I’ve been working with her as my accountability partner and sounding board ever since. It was a little scary… I was afraid she’d say no!

LM: I was definitely thinking along the same lines as Marianne. Her posts were always exceptionally insightful and thought-provoking, and almost poetic in style. She is an excellent writer, which intimidated me at first! I was very happy when she reached out to me, as it gave me a chance to get to know her as a real person rather than to keep seeing her as another paragraph on my screen – a side effect of doing an online program that I am still not 100% comfortable with. Having Marianne to bounce ideas off of and to share learning experiences as well as frustrations with has definitely helped me feel more connected to my learning environment, and has helped me be accountable to more than just myself (which, personally, I need in order to remain on-task and on-time).

MVD: I agree. The accountability piece is huge. We worked together to set deadlines for each other for drafts and final pieces. Knowing that I had someone who I respected who was waiting to review my piece made me much more inspired to push through and get the work done. It meant that through my Fall and Winter terms, I was able to stay on top of my work and not allow it to pile up. It was also very helpful to have another set of eyes, in terms of catching APA errors, and noticing where there were gaps in the logic or in the supporting research. I would always look forward to her feedback, because I would much rather have a critical friend alert me to inconsistencies or areas of need than discover it after reading the grading professor’s comments!

LM: Agreed! Style was a big part of it too. Knowing Marianne would review my work without judgment made it much easier to ask about specific spots in assignments that I was having trouble with stylistically. I also enjoyed having an insider to work with – a new perspective on what our professors were after, if my work reflected the course expectations, and how she thought our professors would react to my work. Obviously we would never approach an assignment from the exact same perspective, so reading her assignments, and getting thorough feedback, helped me gain new perspectives, new ideas (which we sometimes shared) and a better understanding of course material. I wonder if we had ‘graded’ each other’s work (like we did in our Research Methods course) if we would have come out with more from the experience of working with a critical friend?

MVD: I wonder what that would look like… what we do with each other is so completely subjective. Although we both work within the context of the assignment structure whenever we’re swapping our work, our viewpoints are always tempered by the fact that it is completely and totally our own thoughts and opinions. I think that provides a layer of safety; when I’m giving my piece over to Laura, I’m not expecting her to take on any responsibility whatsoever for its academic success. Having another set of eyes is really just for my own improvement and betterment; she’ll ask questions, note areas where clarification is required. She’s incredibly thoughtful and thorough. But we’ve both released each other from any kind of responsibility about the paper’s grading once it’s been submitted. Our work is just that… our own, even though we’ve had the opportunity to share, tighten, and hone.

LM: I completely agree with this, but I also feel that Marianne’s comments and suggestions have always helped me to achieve better grades (even though I never held her accountable for my grades)! I also feel that having Marianne as a critical friend has helped me overcome a lot of my anxieties about taking Master’s level courses, specifically in relation to ‘impostor syndrome’. When I started my first semester, I felt overwhelmed and like I was not keeping up academically – when Marianne reached out to me as a critical peer, I gained confidence in my position in the program and insight into the mind of another new graduate student. I think the EGS blog offers a lot of the same social benefits of having a critical peer – in that it helps connect students to the program, but I would definitely suggest going a step further and finding a critical friend. I definitely would not have had as much success this year without Marianne’s insight and support!

MVD: As we move into the next stage of our Master’s work (we’re both pursuing the thesis route) it helps to know that we’ll both be there to empathize with each other’s struggles, and also be willing to unconditionally celebrate successes. The level of detachment that exists, since we haven’t ever met each other in person, serves us well on the more objective front whenever I want honest, clear feedback, but in many ways we’ve overcome those barriers of distance because we’re able to share our stories with each other without fear of judgment. Earlier this week, I was sharing some of the challenges I’ve come up against as a researcher; I’m nearly halfway through my data collection, and sometimes when I listen to the recordings of my research sessions, I get embarrassed or down on myself because I didn’t facilitate as well as I could have, or I allowed a conversation to drift on too long before redirecting it. Laura reminded me not to be too critical, and suggested envisioning myself as a third party listening to the research as opposed to being thrown off by my own voice. It was solid advice, and helped immensely. I think the secret to our success as critical partners is empathy. We’ve both independently selected almost identical courses (5 out of 6 were the same), we’re both choosing thesis, and we’re both pushing through our own respective life challenges. Her ability to manage her workload is an inspiration, and helps me break free from moments when I’d rather watch cat videos than do actual work.

LM: I couldn’t have summarized our partnership better! Marianne is lighting the way for me as she collects data and does field work, while I am still in the process of acquiring a thesis supervisor and team… Knowing she will be there for me as I begin to research and collect data is comforting – it will be a long process for both of us, and yes, cat videos are tempting, but we will keep our course!

MVD: Moving forward, I think anyone who needs ongoing support (and really, who doesn’t?) would benefit from finding a critical friend.

What we would personally look for is:

  • Someone who completes work at a pace that matches yours… were they the first to comment? The last? Find someone who has similar working speed to avoid frustration.
  • Someone whose writing style speaks to you and engages you.
  • Someone who is able to take a critical approach in discussion, while remaining tactful.
  • Someone whose interests parallel or complement your own – (i.e., literacy and FSL complement each other, or with a similar preference for methodology)
Avoid this problem...find someone in your area of interest!

Avoid this problem…find someone in your area of interest!

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.

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