3.10.2010

Books for Grad Students

I'd like to discuss a few books that I'm toting around to help me to at least get started, if not to get through my dissertation. The first is Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day. Now, of course that statement is unrealistic, and actually the book has nothing to do with the title, it's just a eye-catcher. But what she does talk a lot about is establishing a writing habit. And this can start out as just writing for 15 minutes a day. The important thing is to write everyday. Now, she's more of a writer than a scientist, but the advice is still useful. And the book is fun to read. She gives other advice, but it's mainly about writing, writing, writing. So far, I'm implementing the getting up and writing for two hours every morning. Supposedly you just start out writing anything, then begin to narrow it down and then move onto the revision and getting to a "zero draft" stage. From there she talks about taking all that and making subsequent drafts, but I haven't gotten to that part yet. It's been very good to get all my thoughts out on paper, and my project is starting to take some kind of shape. I actually feel like I'm being productive too, which is just everything when you're on this kind of journey where you're the only one keep track of your progress. This book however, says pretty much nothing about the particulars of writing a dissertation, such as format, and sections etc. But it's valuable for getting you off the ground, and as a companion to the more technical books.

The second book, along those same lines is How to Write A Lot. Now, this is a similar book in that it makes the case that establishing a writing schedule and doggedly sticking to it is everything. This book is geared more towards people who need to churn out academic publications and have several smaller projects that they are working on. But it's a great book nonetheless. If you are a very dedicated person and you have scheduled writing time everyday that you stick to like glue, then don't bother with this book. If you need a nudge to help you get over being a procrastinator and seeming to do a lot without ever getting anything done, read this book. It will help, it's fun to read, it's very short, and full of great advice. There's a good chapter specifically for writing journal articles. One good point that he makes is that all academics are also professional writers, a point I'd never really thought of but am now taking more seriously.

On the writing front, one indispensable book is Strunk and White's: The Elements of Style. This is a classic which my adviser recommended to me the other day. I have realized that although I've always thought myself a pretty good writer, I'm not a very good technical writer. Scientific writing is so different. Making it interesting is even harder. This book will help with the fundamentals of writing that everyone screws up. I think I'll probably keep it by my side all the time. And then my dad loaned me The Craft of Scientific Writing - which is useful for that whole making it interesting part.

Finally, the book I mentioned in the last post, Destination Dissertation. This book is pretty awesome really. It very clearly outlines everything one needs to get done in order to get through this whole process. I think it will be especially helpful for me, since I don't have one of those advisers who's around much. At the moment I'm at the infant stages -- the "preproposal" stage. I'm looking forward to getting into the next part. This book is like a guidebook, it's extremely useful in squelching that totally overwhelmed feeling you get when you start thinking of all the crap you have to do/learn/accomplish. I'm very glad I found it.

I feel like saying "but don't take my word for it!"

That's it for now. I might update how these books are helping me later on, once I progress a bit further. Anyone have any other recommendations?

1 comment:

pixie658 said...

That Shrunk and White book has saved my life in grad school. Thanks for the info on these books as I was planning to get a couple of them when I start my Dissertation! :D Hope things are going well.

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