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!

Lessons from Parenthood: Graduate Studies in 2015

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. Melissa will be contributing an additional piece in the new year about preparing for the comprehensive exam at PhD level. We’d like to thank Melissa for her outstanding contribution to our community.

A new calendar year is upon us, and this prompts us to set goals and make New Year’s resolutions. Some people strive to eat healthier, exercise more often, or spend more time with loved ones. I have made personal resolutions in the past, however, this year I want to switch my attention to a few academic resolutions. My PhD coursework is now complete; my next goal is to prepare for the dreaded comprehensive exam. I want to finish the comprehensive exam in the spring of 2015 so my summer is open for submitting ethics. I will compose another post specifically focusing on the comprehensive exam later; for now, I will share with you what motherhood has taught me about graduate studies so far.  New Year

My baby boy is now 9 months old, and he is growing and changing so much each week. I wanted to share a few lessons he has taught me about graduate studies in no particular order:

  1. Sleep is important – this one seems like common sense, however I didn’t realize until after having a baby that I don’t function well on little to no sleep! Going to bed earlier has helped me become more productive in the morning as my little one doesn’t sleep in.
  2. Let passion guide you – children aren’t afraid to spend time doing what they enjoy. When choosing a topic to research it’s wise to choose something you are passionate about. When I wrote my MEd thesis, the topic was close to my heart and therefore my motivation to keep writing never wavered. For my dissertation, I have decided to write about motherhood and academia because I want to alter the negative discourse about combining both spheres.
  3. Don’t be afraid to play – my baby boy has taught me that it’s important to play and explore. I love watching him discover different rooms in our house, as everything is new and exciting. I hope to bring this same curiosity to my research and writing by asking questions and searching for multiple perspectives.
  4. Enjoy each moment – children live in the moment and are focused on the task at hand. I relish the time I spend with my baby boy and focus solely on him without any feelings of guilt. The same is true when he is napping and I switch gears to read and research for school. Each sphere is part of who I am, and the quality of time spent in each is more important than the quantity.
  5. Read often – I love reading for pleasure with my baby, he enjoys turning each page and laughs when I make different voices or silly sounds. Although reading peer reviewed literature is an important part of the research process, it’s nice to read a variety of material for a variety of reasons.
  6. Make yourself a priority – this one can be tricky especially when you become a parent. You automatically put your children before yourself. I am a better mother when I take time for myself and go for a walk, do yoga, or have a hot bath because when I return I feel refreshed and ready to tackle the next adventure.
  7. Laugh and smile everyday – I am grateful to have such a smiley and happy baby because his laughter is contagious. I laugh and smile a lot more now. When I start to feel stressed or anxious about my lack of progress, having a positive attitude definitely helps.
  8. Changing a diaper is like changing your research topic – it happens frequently, it can be messy and it feels better afterwards! Enough said.
  9. When you fall, pick yourself up and keep trying – over the last month I have watched my baby fall many times as he learns about balance and gravity. I am amazed at how proficient he has become while standing on his own. When I have writers block or feel disappointed with the way something turned out, I look at how resilient and persistent my baby is. Academia by nature involves a lot of rejection, whether it is a conference proposal, a chapter in a book, or submitting an article for a journal. The important lesson is to learn from the experience, not take it personally, and keep trying.
  10. Children are our greatest teachers – if we kept the curiosity, creativity, imagination, innocence, and honesty from our childhood, the world would be a better place. Never forget that children have a lot to teach us, if we take the time to stop and listen.


Whether you have developed New Year’s resolutions or not, I wish you all the best in your studies this year. Enjoy everything 2015 has to offer!

Melissa Corrente

Demystifying the Thesis

So you’re interested in a thesis! Perhaps you see yourself pursuing a PhD down the road, or a specific area of education speaks so loudly to you that you feel intrinsically nudged towards investigating and developing it. Something I have learned as I have been preparing to begin work on my thesis is that you must be passionate about it; you are going to spend countless hours reading articles, sorting ideas, writing proposals, and performing research, and the only thing (aside from caffeine) that will keep you going is your inner passion and motivation. Make no mistake, the thesis route is not for the faint of heart, but if you’re up for the challenge, it can also be immensely rewarding, both personally and professionally.

Note: if you are considering PhD down the road, it is strongly advised that you consider taking the thesis or MRP route. Many PhD programs will not accept students who have chosen the Research Project and Seminar route, as it does not demonstrate the skillset required at the PhD level. Alternatively, they may ask you to submit a Qualifying Research Paper in order to demonstrate the skillset.

Setting out from the Shire

My journey towards a thesis began before I even began my courses. Knowing that I was interested in pursuing graduate work, I began researching topics of interest nearly a year before beginning the MEd. Initially, I thought I was going to be investigating students who are gifted, and I read through several prominent books to get a snapshot of the current educational landscape. However, as I soon learned, there is a certain organic quality to research, and nothing was really speaking to me in that field. Shortly afterwards, I read a particular article linking gifted students to another field, and I happily switched tracks.

I met with my supervisor in April 2014, and was given several articles and books to read to help prepare myself over the summer. Having done this, I strongly recommend early research for anyone considering thesis. Some great books to start with are listed below. Touch base with your faculty advisor ASAP, and begin reading about your chosen area of interest. The sooner you begin reading and internalizing the theories and methods that will inform your research efforts, the better. I have had experiences while preparing for ethics where I’ve said, “Wait a minute, I just need to find that article I read back in May about such and such, and it’ll all get neatly tied together!” There is so much theoretical history to any given topic, and the depth of your knowledge will shine through in your writing.


Michelann recommends familiarizing yourself with a few websites and texts that will help you make the ultimate decision of whether to write or not write a Thesis or MRP:


**Kamler, B., & Thomson, P. (2014). Helping doctoral students write: Pedagogies for supervision. New York, NY: Routledge.

Murray, R. (2011). How to write a thesis (3rd ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Open University Press.

Oliver, P. (2014). Writing your thesis (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

**Roberts, C. M. (2010). The dissertation journey: A practical and comprehensive guide to planning, writing, and defending your dissertation research (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin: A SAGE Company.

And once you’ve made the decisions, check out these websites (in addition to our great blog!) for support:

American Pyschological Assocation gradPSYCH: A digital magazine aimed at graduate students.  Available at: http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/index.aspx

GradHacker: A collaborative blog and ‘bootcamp’ program that spans universities and programs.  Available at: http://www.gradhacker.org/about/mission-statement/

Dymystifying Dissertation (Inside Higher Education): A series of articles designed to move you from the initial stages of brainstorming to putting the final touches on your dissertation.

Available at http://www.insidehighered.com/career-advice/demystifying-dissertation#sthash.de12O0NI.dpbs

The Thesis Whisperer: A blog newspaper dedicated to the topic of doing a thesis edited by Dr. I. Mewburn, Director of research training at the Australian National University. Available at thesiswhisperer.com

Don’t forget to come up with an organization system for your readings so you can quickly access them later. I have them saved in my computer both under specific file folders and also in Mendeley. Mendeley is a great citation tool and organizer for your references, and is available for free as a desktop and mobile app.

Encounters with Ethics

Don’t let the ethics form fool you … it may look like a simple check-box system with a few paragraphs for writing, but it is a very rigorous process. It took me about a month to put together my ethics proposal, and that was with the literature review and research proposal for my methods class already complete.

Once you submit, you have to wait 6-8 weeks for it to be returned with revisions…if you make those revisions within 24-48 hours, you’ll likely make the next deadline for submission. Even experienced, tenured professors have to go through several rounds of revisions, so anticipate waiting several months before you are able to proceed with your research.

If you are performing research within a board of education, make sure that you have the go-ahead before entering ethics, and take a look at some of the board-specific forms you are to sign.Thesis2Financial Considerations

Woo hoo, thesis work! That means I don’t have to buy books for courses!

Hang on there, sparky. Now that you’ve budgeted several months worth of time for the ethics process, have you budgeted your resources for once you hit the pavement and start your data collection?

Unless you have a grant, or are working with an organization providing funding (which would need to be disclosed for ethics), you will be paying for your thesis out of your own pocket.

In my case, the board where I reside is not currently accepting new research, they’re already saturated with researchers and they can’t allow any more projects. So I had to look elsewhere, and the school in which I will eventually be working in is approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes away. Not only do I have to consider how this will impact the frequency of my data collection, I also have to consider vehicle rental costs (as I don’t currently own a vehicle). It’s a balancing act … too few times at the school could mean I don’t get enough information, but going down too frequently would drain both my energy and my finances. This is where my passion comes in; ultimately, I think the work that will arise out of this project is worth the cost of my time and money, so I see it as an investment as opposed to simply expenditure.

Waiting in Limbo

Now that my ethics proposal is submitted, all I can do at this point is fine tune my research procedures, continue to read up on my topic, and savour the excitement of starting new courses in the winter term. It’s also the perfect time to practise something that grad students are particularly poor at: self care. Although I still have some research commitments, this month I’ll be able to relax, get caught up on sleep, exercise, and hopefully try to start putting a health routine together (just in time for ethics to come through and completely derail it). For me, balance doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m providing ongoing self-care when I get super busy, but it does mean that I allow myself the luxury of a few days entirely to myself as a reward for when I finish.

On that note…

This blog will be taking a Holiday Hiatus. Have a beautiful, merry, and light-filled holiday season with your nearest and dearest, and we’ll see you again in January!


Written by Marianne Vander Dussen, verified by Michelann Parr.

Which Route? Three Pathways to the Master of Education

“So are you doing thesis, major research paper, or research project and seminar route?”

The first time you hear this question as a grad student, you may have the urge to panic, run away, or play dead. Many graduate students enter the program unsure of their area of interest, let alone if they wish to pursue that area of interest down the long and winding road to a thesis.

Although initially intimidating, being able to choose your path to the Master’s is ultimately a sheep in wolf’s clothing; it may seem frightening at first, but the ability to customize your path to the MEd is designed to serve your long-term career plans. Are you interested in eventually pursuing a PhD? Or are you acquiring your Master’s to attain a new level in your chosen professional field, with no plans to further your academic studies? Knowing this will help you determine the best route for your lifestyle and goals.

Which door will it be? 1, 2, or 3?

In order to attain your Master of Education degree, you must complete the equivalent of 30 credits, and complete the two designated mandatory courses (Research Methods and Understanding Education). Each course is worth 3 credits. However, if you choose to pursue the thesis (worth 12 credits) you need only complete a total of 6 courses. If you choose to pursue the major research paper (or MRP, worth 6 credits) you will need to complete 8 courses. Choosing the research project and seminar route means taking a total of 10 courses, with a research component within the context of a directed course.

Thesis and MRP

Image credit: XKCD comics

Image credit: XKCD comics

If you have any plans or interest whatsoever in pursuing your doctorate down the road, it is strongly advised that you consider the thesis or major research paper (MRP) routes. Many doctoral programs will not even consider granting admission, let alone any kind of funding, without published work under your name. Alternately, they could ask you to submit a qualifying research paper as part of the application process.

PhD work is incredibly rigorous, and proving you’re already capable of focused research and advanced technical writing will demonstrate to prospective programs that you’re ready for the challenge (and hopefully deserving of some funding).

Even if you’re not 100% confident that you do want to consider PhD right now, contact your faculty advisor to discuss your options. You don’t necessarily need to know what you want to write about in advance, but odds are high that you can puzzle it out through consultation with a Nipissing mentor.

What’s the Difference between a Thesis and MRP?

On the surface, very little: were you to go to the library and pull both a thesis and MRP, aside from the different coloured bindings, you probably would have a hard time telling the difference. The different lies in the scope; a thesis is very specific and concentrated in nature, while an MRP can be broader. Pursuing these routes will require fulfilling all the necessary steps to proceed with research; this will include ethics submissions, research proposals, establishing contact with potential research participants, and a lengthy data collection/analysis process.


Research Project and Seminar Route

That being said, many students choose to pursue the research project and seminar route, which allows you to complete your degree through ten structured courses, one of which guides you through the research proposal process. For some, the Master’s is the only graduate degree they wish to pursue; an MEd often opens professional doors and enables you to pursue higher positions in your career. Depending on lifestyle, or limitations such as remote locations or time, courses provide the opportunity to become exposed to a wide range of professors, teaching styles, and information. Perhaps one course will speak to you and capture your attention and passion, develop a relationship with the professor, and deepen the work you’re submitting to be able to count towards the research project and seminar component of your degree.

For more information, see the degree requirements page of Nipissing’s Graduate Studies’ site, and look under option e.

Image credit: Bill Watterson

Image credit: Bill Watterson

Written by Marianne Vander Dussen; validated by Michelann Parr .