I’m nearing completion of my grad program. 1 Class and my Thesis are all that stands in my way. If you are starting a program, I would like to give you some advice that I wish someone would have given to me. Or maybe I should have asked for advice and listened to people.
First, take a lot of notes. Notes about your reading, notes in your classes, notes about what you is changing in you in your program. If you are like me, you started a grad program because you thought you were pretty smart already. And if you are like me then you will realize as you get closer to the end of your journey you have way more to learn then you ever realized. Taking good notes along the way will help you to reflect on the journey.
Second, get organized. You need a system for how to handle all the information that you are collecting. If you are primarily dealing with digital documents (PDF’s, word docs, powerpoint presentation) then develop a system for filing those documents so that things are easy to find. I have a folder NU MATC docs. Within that folder I have 4 Folders: Year 1, Year 2, Year 3, and Thesis. In each of those folders I have sub folders For each semester of that year. And then I have the classes that I took in each semester. Finally I have folders like, Notes & Handouts, Research, Papers, Assessments. If you want my notes from “The Meaning Of Christian Community” I can go right to them. And that has proven to be incredibly helpful.
Getting organized is even more important (I have found) as you begin to work more independently. No one is going to organize your thesis research for you, and you will have a lot of information to process, catalog, and access. If you are not intentional then you will get yourself lost.
When you are working with your thesis research, title your notes in such a way that you can find a book that you read, and the notes on that book quickly. I use this title formula for all of my Reading Notes. Author Last Name-Title Books-Reading notes. I then file those in folders labeled, Article Reading Notes, Book Reading Notes, Web Reading notes.
The top of all of those documents has the bibliographic information. Before you read anything from that resource, right the bibliographic information. Do it. Unless you plan on purchasing every book that you read for your thesis then you will not always have immediate access to that bibliographic information. So get all of that info right on top of the document will save you a lot of time in the long run. Trust me.
Third, Build a Research Rhythm. You could also say create a realiable practice for research. Where do you read with the most focus? What kind of light do you prefer? What kind of environment? What time of day? These are all important questions and if you can begin to build into your day times when you know you can do your best research then you will be poised to work and focus. I have found that if I just try to squeeze in some research time then I have to go back and review a lot more of what I’ve already done. Not worth it. If you are best poised to research at 4am then get up, make your coffee, and make it happen. If you are a night owl (like me) and can stay up until 1am reading and writing then do that. You have to figure out your rhythm and then play in that groove.
Four, write a lot. You will end up writing much more than you need to. But you need to write. One of the great values of writing a lot is that it gets all of the bad ideas out on paper and out of your head. So write. Edit later, you never know what you might stumble upon if you write. Capture your ideas when they strike and set aside the time to write them out.
Five, ask questions. Your prof puts his or her email address in the syllabus for a reason. You pay them to teach you and to answer your questions. So ask questions. If you need clarity on an assignment ask immediately. Don’t assume that everyone understands the assignment, don’t assume that your question is dumb. Ask questions. There I times that I didn’t ask questions and I did way too much work, and then times when I’ve asked the right questions early in the assignment and saved myself a done of work and frustration. Ask questions.
Six, invest in things that will help you. Bible software has been a great help for me overall, but I’ve also really been helped by my e-reader, my iPad, my iPhone (i take pictures of pages in books that I file away for later). And the latest things that has great potential to be a great help for me is a C-Pen. It’s a pen scanner. I’ve spent hours transcribing notes from the books that I’ve read. Hours. The C-Pen scans your books and put them in a text file that you can edit, copy and paste, and all that. Awesome! If you are looking to by one thing for your grad program I would advise something like the C-Pen. It will save your sanity!
This is from the C-Pen:
The distinction of the Head from the body and the superiority of the Head over the body find concrete expression in the fact that proclamation in the Church is confronted by a factor which is very like it as a phenomenon, which is temporal as it is, and yet which is different from it and in order superior to it. This factor is Holy Scripture.
-K. Barth Church Dogmatics I.1 pg. 101
That is with underlines. Pretty rad. Go buy yourself a C-Pen. You will be saved hours and hours of time. Do it.
If you are starting a grad program then I think these would be helpful things to keep in mind. But I do believe that everyone is designed to be learners. All of these tips I really believe could be helpful for you and your learning practice.