Whether this is your first week in a graduate program or you are a seasoned grad student, we welcome you.
The Centre for Academic Communication (CAC) offers a wide range of services to grad students: from one-to-one tutoring and coaching to workshops and English conversation café. However, in this brief post, I’ll focus on just two of the services we offer: our Brightspace self-enrolling resource hub, called CAC Online, and our weekly Grad Writing Room.
CAC Online in Brightspace
We’ve created an online version of the CAC that you can access 24/7. Our CAC Online Brightspace is self-enrolling—once you are signed into UVic Brightspace, go to “Discover” in the top menu and find “CAC online.” Once you are in the site, explore multimodal material about all types of academic communication plus resources just for graduate students on how read critically, write strategically, present effectively, and publish your work.
Grad Writing Room
Writing can be a lonely enterprise. Would you like quiet companionship as you think and write? Sometimes, just sitting next to other students who are also on the graduate school journey can make you feel part of a community. Our weekly grad writing room makes the solitary act social. We’re all in this together!
On Wednesdays from 1 to 3 p.m., meet other grad students at the CAC grad writing room. Bring your laptop or pen and paper. We’ll work on our individual writing projects alone, but we’ll be together for solidarity. A CAC tutor will be available for consultation from 1 to 2 p.m. No registration required.
We’re located in the McPherson Library. Walk down the main hallway and turn right just after Classroom 130; we’re at the end of the Learning Commons. On the map you’ll see CAC staff members’ offices marked with hearts. Can’t wait to meet you!
Tip of the day: Did you know the CAC now offers appointments in time management? When making an appointment (first, create an account), select the schedule, “Time Management + more.”
Hello, returning and new graduate students. We know that graduate school involves lots of reading, writing, listening, and presentations. We offer one-to-one assistance with your academic writing challenges in three modes: Zoom appointments, in-person appointments at the Centre (in the Mearns Centre for Learning) and in the form of same-day written feedback. Create an account and make an appointment here: https://uvic.mywconline.com
As you embark on your courses and start researching and writing assignments, theses, and dissertations, we’d like to share our team members’ favourite writing resources. Perhaps one or more of these resources will provide knowledge or perspective that makes a difference to you.
Please leave a comment for us, letting us know your own favourites. We wish you well as you embark on your studies.
Emily’s favourite links
For graduate student writers
University of Minnesota “Graduate Student Writers” Resources:
The Center for Writing at the University of Minnesota boasts numerous “quick tips” resources for graduate student writers, including how to write thesis/dissertation/conference proposals, as well as how to organize, write, and present a thesis/dissertation, with specific emphasis on compositional cohesion and self-editing strategies:
For undergraduate student writers and for everyone
“EAL Learner Agency” WordPress Blog:
Below is a link to the WordPress blog I co-created with Jing Mao’s thoughtful input. The blog contains helpful information for EAL students on how to exercise greater learner agency by leveraging available academic supports as well as concrete tips for communicating effectively with course instructors and peers:
The University of Minnesota has produced a high-quality repository of resources for EAL learners including practical tips for improving speaking, listening, confidence, reading, writing, vocabulary, and grammar:
Writing Resources for Graduate Students (Yale University)
Yale University’s Graduate Writing Lab has a series of writing resources for graduate students on topics such as “Dissertation Writing” to “Prospectus Writing” that can help guide new graduate students navigate various forms of academic writing.
From their own site: “DoctoralWritingSIG is a forum where people who are interested in doctoral writing can come together to share information, resources, ideas, dreams (perhaps even nightmares!) in a spirit of building knowledge and skills around higher degree research writing.”
There are few students who do not know about this huge repository of information on general writing and grammar support. This is exactly why I make sure those few students also know about the Online Writing Lab at Purdue University.
A great collection of writing advice on fundamental questions about academic writing such as “how to overcome a writer’s block?” or “how to write an abstract?” These “advice files” are created by writing instructors at U of T based on the most common questions students have asked over the years and so cover a wide range of writing issues. The site is organized in a few categories, such as “Planning,” “Researching,” “Using Sources,” and so on.
Carlton University’s Online Writing Resources for the Humanities and Social Sciences
Carlton University’s graduate writing resources page is home to a comprehensive repository of resources for writing, from guides on work-life balance and common problems in thesis and dissertation writing to video workshops and blogs like The Thesis Whisperer, Three Month Thesis, and more.
For undergraduate student writers and for everyone
English Use for Academic Purposes (EUFAP)
EUFAP is a long-time favourite, despite its somewhat basic and outdated appearance. It’s a site dedicated to everything related to English for Academic purposes (EAP), which is typically an area of instruction for English language learners, but this site really has information that can benefit writers of all backgrounds and skill levels. It addresses the “four skills”: reading, writing, listening, and speaking.
The University of Manchester’s Academic Phrasebank
The Academic Phrasebank provides the “nuts and bolts” of writing a research paper, organized by function. It’s a great resource for when you need to make a connection between ideas or argue a point and you’re at a loss for words.
Helen Sword hosts writing retreats and workshops that focus on enjoying academic writing, being productive, and writing with style. Her books are helpful as well, particularly, The Writer’s Diet and Stylish Academic Writing.
Pat Thompson’s website has fresh posts coming all the time about timely topics for grad students: how to write the literature review, how to start a doctorate, how to manage your time effectively, and much more.
Wendy Belcher is another writer on academic writing for grad students and faculty. Her writing advice webpage has links to some valuable material, such as how to write a journal article (she wrote the book on it!), how to write a book review, and how to read journals.
For undergraduate student writers and for everyone
I don’t know, maybe it’s the silly video with the guy playing a guitar and singing about transitions? Or maybe it’s because this is where I learned about “adversative transitions.” In any case, this is my go-to for transition information and suggestions.
With a wry smile, I look back on my first class as a graduate student. I registered for twentieth-century African American literature and eagerly signed up for the first seminar presentation. The task was to comment on the third chapter from Paul Gilroy’s seminal 1993 book, The Black Atlantic, in which Gilroy presents his theory about a transatlantic Black culture that transcends diasporic differences.After a long spell away from university, I was jumping in head first. Little did I realize how deep the pool of knowledge was!
Although I knew a bit about the history of African America (slavery, the 13thamendment to the Constitution, Reconstruction, the Civil Rights era), I was completely unprepared for the kaleidoscope of concepts and ideas I needed to make sense of Gilroy’s jargon-laden writing. In every paragraph, I was confronted with dozens of new terms, for example, “post-structuralist,” “textuality,” and “metaphysics of presence.” What was the difference between “modernism” and “modernity”? What did Gilroy mean by “the politics of authenticity”? Who was W.E.B. DuBois and what was “double consciousness”?
My head was barely above water as I sputtered away. Worse, I had the haunting sense that the professor expected me to be familiar with the context and debates embedded in the book and the class, to breathe underwater. I wasn’t and I couldn’t.
The way I saw it, I had two choices. Quit now, or move forward. I had already quit grad school once in my twenties, and I didn’t want to disappoint myself again. So I chose to move forward. To avoid getting mired in feelings of inadequacy, I simply started where I was. I puzzled through the layers of ideas by making notes, asking questions, looking stuff up, and reading around the subject to build meaning from the chapter. I relied on prior knowledge, basic reference books (dictionary of critical theory, encyclopedia of African American history), the introduction to Gilroy’s book, and book reviews of The Black Atlantic to help me find my feet at the shallow end of the pool. Although my understanding of the chapter had big gaps, I was able to make a reasonable presentation and ask lots of questions as part of my talk. Despite having to catch up my knowledge, I ended up enjoying the class, and a seed was planted. I was inspired to focus on African American literature for my entire graduate school journey.
If you are feeling out of your depth, take heart. Things take time. I just had a chat with a student who was marvelling at how his capacity for reading academic writing has grown over the past three years. Material that he found obscure and dense at the beginning of his program, he now breezes through with high comprehension. But building facility in his disciplinary discourse wasn’t accomplished quickly. We don’t punish children for not learning how to swim quickly; rather, we put water wings on their arms and give them time to get comfortable in the shallow end. So don’t chide yourself for taking the time you need to learn to swim in the sea of knowledge. Things take time.
If you need support in academic communication, including reading to write, writing, presentations, academic integrity, or academic expectations, please see us at the Centre for Academic Communication (CAC). We get it—we’ve been there.
You can drop by our offices in the McPherson Library at the end of the Learning Commons or make an appointment online:
Technically, I’ve only concluded the first two terms, but I have yet to grow out of the undergraduate mindset of April signaling the end of a school year. Now that it is May, I have had the chance to reflect on the many types of writing that I completed since September. In this blog post, I hope some of my reflections may be of relevance to incoming graduate students, especially clinical psychology students.
Many types of writing
There are many types of writing to learn in graduate school. In the first year, there is a great demand on time: the course load is high, you must learn psychological tests, get familiar with the research in your advisor’s lab, and write literature reviews. This can distract from other types of writing, especially mastering the writing of assessment reports and scholarship applications. Yet both these types of writings are essential for long-term success as a clinical psychology student and deserve dedication of time and effort. During the first two semesters, I allocated little time to learn these skills, and becoming more proficient at both is one of my goals for the summer months. I have found plenty of resources in the library about both types of writing. This site has a lot of specific suggestions for proposal writing that I adopted for writing my tri-council scholarship application.
Extensive feedback from your advisor
If your advisor is anything like mine, you might be surprised and even feel a bit startled the first time you open a review paper or a research proposal with feedback. The many comment boxes may be unnerving, but they are actually great news. (At least, that is the perspective I have chosen.) First, they indicate that the advisor took time to read the text closely. In other words, your advisor cares about the work you do. Second, the comments are useful. I recognize that this might not always be the case, especially for “senior” students who have committee members who may provide conflicting suggestions or students who have developed a sufficient foundation in the area and their informed opinions differ from their advisors’. As a first-year student, I have always found adopting the suggestions improves my research. Third, the advisor may provide grammatical corrections and editorial comments. This brings me to my third realization.
Compensatory strategies for being a non-native English speaker work
As a non-native English speaker, I believe I spend more time revising than peers who are native English speakers. This habit partly stems from a lack of feedback on papers submitted during my undergraduate years. Not knowing why I received a better grade on one paper than another encouraged my neurotic and perfectionist tendencies – I just kept revising until a deadline. This is not necessarily a bad habit; it helped me improve the clarity and conciseness of my writing. As Gillian wrote in a post a few months ago, good punctuation and grammar requires practice. But in reality, as a graduate student there is little time for extensive rewriting. When time permits, I now try to read a style guide or visit the CAC experts who can efficiently point out recurrent grammatical errors I make. Also, simply incorporating the comments my advisor provides on my work improves the quality more than trying to revise on my own and it saves time! When revising, I now stop at the point of diminishing returns. A great law…
Experiment with writing
Since I had to do a lot of writing this past year, I experimented with systems of organization and writing settings to see how to become more productive. I finally started using a citation manager. Since I do my work both on a Mac and a PC I use Zotero; it syncs the information seamlessly. There are many other citation tools. You can find a nice comparison chart for what suits your needs here. Some people enjoy writing in groups, finding the presence of others to keep them accountable. Writing in a group did keep me from browsing online shopping sites and checking emails, but I also felt awkward. I tried writing in cafes, but the noise was distracting and the cost of snacks adds up quickly. Ultimately, I found that home is the best place for me to work – I can drink my weight in coffee and tea for free, and there is silence.
Somewhat surprising to myself, I find that my confidence in writing increased after the first year and the writing process is easier. I am looking forward to writing the introduction to my thesis over the summer. Anyway, happy writing!
Cindy Quan is a Master’s candidate in Clinical Psychology at the University of Victoria. Her research interests include the intersection of culture and mental health as well as risks and protective factors in vulnerable families. When not working, she loves spending her time playing racquet sports, travelling and cooking.