Summary and Notes – EGS meeting (Feb 26th)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evolution of the Thesis – Part 1

This post is written by Marianne Vander Dussen.

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

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

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

Thesis 2

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Whoa, wait, what? Second reader? Chair?

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

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

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

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

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


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

A Hidden War: Self-Sabotage and How Not to Let You Get the Best of You

This week’s post by Amy Dickersona Master’s of Education student who balances her academics with both teaching and motherhood. We’d like to thank Amy for her outstanding contribution this week.   

“Having a low opinion of yourself is not ‘modesty.’ It’s self-destruction. Holding your uniqueness in high regard is not ‘egotism.’ It’s a necessary precondition to happiness and success.”  – Bobbe Summer

Often, we have naysayers in our lives sending us negative messages and challenging whether we can achieve what we have embarked upon. I know that I have personally had criticisms tossed at me such as, “You can’t have it all; You’re going to be 80 when you’re done; Get done so you can join the real world.” Most of the time, these messages are easy to dismiss and let slide away; at other times, it is more difficult to shrug them off. When the latter is the case, negativity may join our own thoughts and feed any lingering doubts we might have, and it is much more difficult for us to dismiss negative thinking when it comes from inside. But why on Earth would we deliver critical messages to ourselves when we have enough negativity from outside?


For me, I have felt a fear of success, which is really a fear of failure and when I take steps toward my personal and professional goals. I sometimes feel like I am not good enough, smart enough, or somehow don’t fit in, similar to the Imposter Syndrome. If I am someday ‘successful’ (whatever that means), is that going to be it, will there be anywhere to go when I get there? As a budding researcher, I realize that there is never going to be a shortage of topics to research and write about, so success cannot be a ladder-type scenario; it is more like a spiral in nature, opening more and more doors as I work through my career. I think I get caught up in that it’s ‘warm, safe and comfortable’ feeling of the status quo and forget that life (to me) is about challenge, taking risks and growing. I sometimes need to remind myself that I am worthy and capable; that I just need to keep moving, keep growing despite what others, or even my own mind, say.

I honestly did not even realize I had been actively participating in my own destruction, and was left wondering why I didn’t finish that project or why that relationship ended. Then one day a very sage and deeply grounded friend looked at me and simply said, “It’s called self-sabotage.” I started to reflect upon where it came from and why I was doing it, what was it serving me – or was it at all?

In my newfound awareness, it was up to me to change that acquired thinking and move forward in a more positive way. This is not an easy endeavor, and when you encounter external negativity and others’ desires to maintain a status quo, it becomes much more difficult. I have learned, and am practicing, as I move through my 30s, that assertiveness is not equivalent to aggression, and that meeting my own needs is not the same as being selfish. I make plans and take risks and have chosen to be led by my own desire and abilities on a path of personal and professional growth.

When I started this journey, I attended the 3rd Annual International Summer Colloquium at Nipissing in July 2013. I spoke with one of the organizing professors (and my Theories of Learning professor in the fall) and he said something that has really resonated with me, and helps me out when people wonder to me why I am doing all of this. Dr. Ron Wideman looked at me and said, “Your MEd will open up doors that you don’t even know exist yet; the doors may not even exist yet.” So how can we define what it means to be successful if the outcome of our journey may not even exist? I think it is more important to focus on the process and not on the outcome. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Life is a journey, not a destination.”


More about self-sabotaging:

Self-Sabotaging: Why We Get in Our Own Way

8 Self-Sabotaging Lies to Stop Telling Yourself

Self-Sabotaging in Work or Relationships? Why?



Chronic Illness: An Exceptional Graduate Student Experience

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 heartfelt and honest contribution to our community. 

Special Needs

Original poem by Ruth Reardon (the word student is substituted for child in this revision)

Post-secondary education is a unique experience. For some students, the years spent at university can be affectionately called the best years of their lives. Major perks of university are making new friends, learning new things, and taking in all the new experiences associated with emerging adulthood.

In a way, graduate school is an extension of the university experience. You become incredibly engaged in your courses and immersed in your research. If you choose to pursue a thesis route, it essentially becomes your baby throughout the duration of your degree. Graduate school is not easy at the best of times; it presents new and difficult challenges, but even moreso when you have the challenge of a chronic illness.

First off, what do I mean when I discuss chronic illness? Is it like a recurring cold or flu that just won’t quit? Not exactly. Chronic illness has several definitions but here’s the one that I prefer:

Chronic illness is a medical condition, disease, or injury that has lasted more than three to six months and has caused an individual to significantly alter his or her day-to-day activities (Repetto, Horkey, Miney, Reiss, Saidi, Wolcott, Saldana, & Jaress, 2012).

Why is it difficult to be a student (especially a graduate student) with a chronic illness? Imagine every grad student has been hired to be a juggler. Your task is to keep all the balls in the air without dropping any (these represent your classes, readings, research, writing, and social expectations). Now imagine that you must keep juggling while more balls are being thrown at you. One is labelled chronic illness (you may have more than one depending on what you’ve been diagnosed with). You catch it and carry on. Out of nowhere, five more balls are added to your juggling attempts. These represent every specialist you see and how often you need to travel to see them (because of course they aren’t local). Throw in a couple balls to represent the medications you’re on, the potential daily procedures, and how much the potential side effects impact your ability to function normally. Now you’re looking at roughly 14 balls that you’ve got to keep juggling, without letting any of them drop. You’ve figured out a system and you’re making it work but you don’t know how much longer you can keep it up. Remember Zack in She’s All That? It’s a little bit like that!

Suddenly, you experience a flare up in your illness and you have to drop all the balls that you’re juggling. There’s no way that you can keep up with school and the social expectations that go along with school. The words leave of absence get thrown around but you don’t like them one bit; you’re too stubborn for that (which can be both a good and bad thing).

But you are resilient and determined to make it work. Slowly you recover and can pick up a few of the balls that you’re supposed to be juggling. You resolve to juggle fewer things this time around but you know that it won’t last. Eventually the cycle will repeat and you’ll be back to where you started. Nevertheless, you love what you’re doing in school and in life and the juggling is a small sacrifice that lets you have a normal experience, at least some of the time.

Living and studying with a chronic illness is about making choices. It might be fun to go to the pub with your friends after class but by choosing not to go home and go to bed at a reasonable time you might be sacrificing your ability to function tomorrow. There is an unbelievable amount of unpredictability with chronic illness. One day you might be feeling totally fine while the next, you can’t get out of bed or might even be in the hospital. We are fortunate that at Nipissing there is a great degree of flexibility because of the online courses. That flexibility allows for the frequent trips home for medical appointments and for schoolwork to even be completed from bed (or wherever else you might be). A word of advice though… make those deadlines and never put off until tomorrow what you can do today, especially if you’re feeling well.

Those of us with chronic illness look just like anybody else. We can often fake wellness so convincingly that others may not be able to tell just how much we are juggling at any given time. In some cases, this works to our advantage but in others it can be quite isolating because it feels like no one (peers, professors, etc.) truly understands how hard we work to be here.

So what helps?

Here are some strategies that I have found to help mitigate the stresses of chronic illness throughout my post-secondary experience:

  1. Introduce yourself to your professors early so that they are aware that chronic illness might influence your academic timeline. Only share as much with them as you are comfortable- it’s your health and wellness that is important.
  2. Register with Accessibility Services. They can help advocate for you and your needs (both learning and health).
  3. Find a network of friends (with or without similar chronic illnesses) who can support you when you need to vent and who will respect your limits and needs.
  4. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Do the best that you can and allow for the necessary time to take care of yourself. That is what is really important, after all.
  5. Do things when you can. You never know what’s around the corner so prioritize and get as much done in advance as you can while you’re able.
  6. Have your good days! If you are feeling well and physically able, go enjoy some of your favourite activities (e.g., snowshoeing, skiing, swimming, knitting, etc.). This goes a long way to helping your emotional state of being and stress levels too.
  7. Keep track of your spoons (this isn’t as random as it sounds. Please refer to Christine Miserandino’s The Spoon Theory. I highly recommend reading it in its entirety to understand life with a chronic illness). Remember to keep one spoon in your back pocket for emergencies.
  8. It is absolutely possible to complete graduate school with a chronic illness. It is a matter of tuning in to your health, your capabilities, and your goals. It isn’t always easy but it is often fulfilling and worthwhile.

If you are a graduate student with a chronic illness (or are interested in the topic), please check out these blogs/forums!

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:

GradHacker: A collaborative blog and ‘bootcamp’ program that spans universities and programs.  Available at:

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

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

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.