An open letter to graduate students seeking “information” and help

June 3, 2013

If you haven’t read Carl Zimmer’s “Open letter to science students and science teachers” on the National Geographic blog, drop everything and go read it right now. It is as fascinating as it is infuriating.

In it, Zimmer describes a phenomenon in which he receives multiple requests a week from science students asking him to do their homework for them.

As I read Zimmer’s post, I thought to myself, “I get the exact same kinds of e-mails!” Only mine are related to my field of study, principally education and language learning. The requests often come from people who have read an article or a book I have written.

Unlike Zimmer, the people who write to me are not junior high school or high school students, but rather they are Master’s or Ph.D. students essentially asking me to do their research for them.

It is one thing to write to a scholar to request a copy of an article that he or she has written, or to ask where you can get your hands on such an article. It is quite another to write to someone and say, “This is my research topic. Could you tell me what theoretical framework I should use and maybe write a few lines of my first chapter to get me started?”

I answered the first few dozen e-mails that I received asking for “information”. Then I thought to myself, “What the heck am I doing?” Learning to do research is part of being a graduate student. A big part.

From then on I developed a standard reply that goes something like this:

Dear ___________:

Thank you for your e-mail requesting information on __________________. Your research topic sounds interesting and engaging. I would be happy to help you delve further into your research topic and guide you as you learn more about the finer points of your topic. To get the process rolling, what you need to do is have your research supervisor contact me in writing with a formal invitation to become a member of your thesis committee as an external advisor. That way, I will be able to engage more fully with you, your supervisor and the other scholars who have committed to help you throughout your journey as a graduate student. This is an exciting time for you and I look forward to receiving the formal invitation from your university.

I never hear from them again.

What is happening with our education system (at all levels) where students entitled to ask others to do their work for them?

Zimmer hits the nail on the head… The practice is being touted by other adults (e.g. teachers and parents) as being a “communicative” activity.

Learning how to research and do homework is just as important as learning what the information is– if not more so.

I learned to research for myself. It’s hard work to learn those skills. And it’s something you can only learn by doing. It’s kind of like driving a car… If you only ever learn how to ask others to do it for you, you’ll never really learn the basics, the finer points and the tricks along the way.

It’s your bus. Learn to drive it.

_____________________

If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Share or Tweet this: An open letter to graduate students seeking “information” and help http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Cl

Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


How writers can learn to accept criticism

May 14, 2012

Sarah Elaine Eaton, speaker, presenter, keynote, technology, social media, Calgary, Canada, educator, education, professional developmentI teach a graduate level writing course for students enrolled in the Master’s of Education program at the University of Calgary. My students are from all over the world and are actively involved in the teaching profession. The objective of this course is to prepare them for professional writing as educators and scholarly academic writing. Their major assignment involves preparing a manuscript for submission to a reputable journal in the profession.

Some students have said that they cringe at the thought of their writing being rejected by an editor or criticized by a teacher. Most have never submitted a manuscript to a journal, with fear of criticism or rejection being a contributing factor. These tips are intended help novice writers learn to take criticism from instructors, peer reviewers and editors.

Start with the assumption that your work can be improved

The biggest mistake writers make is assuming that once they have submitted a piece of writing, that is finished… and perfect. This assumption sets the writer up for a frustration and anger when their work is returned with a request for revisions. Falling in love with your own writing is a dangerous thing.

It can be helpful to approach your writing from the point of view that a perfect piece of writing never (or at least only very rarely) exists. Assume that there is always room for improvement.

Expect rejection

There are many stories of famous writers whose work was rejected. Even great writers get multiple rejections. J.K. Rowling had Harry Potter rejected a dozen times, according to some reports.  Rather than assuming that your work will be accepted or accepted with minor revisions, instead expect that you will be rejected, not once, but numerous times. This will position you to be tenacious and resilient. Here’s a list of 50 iconic writers whose work was repeatedly rejected. Personally, I’d count myself lucky to ever be included on such a list.

Develop a thick skin

Some writers develop such a deep emotional attachment to their work that it can be unhealthy, or even destructive. It is healthy and productive to develop your writing until you are satisfied and proud of it. You have passed the point of healthy emotions when you are so fragile when anything but glowing praise leaves you feeling all crumpled up and hateful towards anyone who has offered you feedback.

I tell my students to think of TV shows such as Iron Chef. The chefs who make it to the top of their profession are deeply proud of their accomplishments, but they can also take criticism. They have a thick skin. Be your own version of an “Iron Writer”.

Learn the difference between criticism and cruelty

It is true that some editors are just plain mean. However, the majority are not cruel. They may be straightforward and clinical, but do not mistake this for cruelty. Your editor is not paid to be your friend. Sometimes they are not paid at all, particularly if they are editing an academic journal.

An editor’s job is to help ensure that the final written work adheres to an established set of guidelines and standards. If your work doesn’t meet a minimum set of standards, they have to tell you. That’s their job.

If you submit enough manuscripts to enough editors, chances are that you will eventually run into a jerk or two. When that happens, take whatever feedback you find helpful and disregard the rest.

In general though, editors are generally a clear headed and insightful bunch. Many really do want to help. Most love writing and words as much as you do, maybe even more. The truth is though, they see so much crap and poorly written material that sometimes, they  just get exasperated. They are human, too. So, they may learn to be unemotional or clinical in their responses. Do not mistake an editor’s lack of bubbly enthusiasm as a personal vengeance against you.

Accept the challenge of improving your work

Let’s use the analogy of TV chefs again. But this time, think of a cooking show such as Top Chef, where chefs have to compete for the title of “Top Chef”. One by one, chefs are eliminated. Those who reach the finale all have two things in common. First, their end creation is superb. Second, when they are given advice and criticisms by their judges, their attitude is “Bring it on!” They not only accept the judges’ criticism, they embrace the challenge of improving their work.

Focus first on creating stellar writing. Second, when you are faced with an editor or peer reviewer who challenges you to improve on your masterpiece, smile sincerely and say, “I’m here to bring my A-game… So bring on the feedback!” Take your editors or reviewers’ comments the same way a Top Chef takes criticism from a judge.

Be humble and gracious

Say thank you to your editor or reviewer. Chances are very high that your editor has just as much, if not more, experience in publishing as you do. He or she has likely experienced everything that you are experiencing yourself, including rejection. Editors vary in their tone, style and personality. You may be offended by an editor’s straight forward approach to your work.

An editor does not have the same emotional attachment to the work that you do; and nor should they. Their priorities include getting the publication out on time, and possibly working with an entire editorial or production team. By recognizing that your editor has more on his or her plate than your manuscript and and by being gracious, you are likely to build a better professional relationship. Trust me, it always pays to be on the good side of your editor.

Keep a lid on your anger

It is normal to feel angry when we are rejected. What is not OK is to take your anger out on your editor, your peer reviewer or your professor. Even if you believe your editor’s comments come across as cruel or unjustified, they may not have been intended that way. Besides, what you can not control is what others say or how they say it. What you can control is your own professional conduct. Never, ever send an e-mail when you are angry.

Here’s a trick I learned: If you need to write an angry letter to “get it all out”, the trick is not to put the recipient’s address in the “To” section of the e-mail. Instead, put your own address. Send yourself the e-mail first. Let it sit in your inbox for a minimum of 24 hours. Then, read it again. If you still feel angry. Leave it in your inbox for another  24 hours. Do not send it to the intended recipient until you can read it over yourself and not be flooded with the same feelings of rage. It is likely that you will revise and soften the language of your message when you do.

Don’t be a diva

Do not fight with your editor or go all “diva” on them. That means, do not tell them how wrong they are or how sorry they’ll be that they didn’t publish your precious manuscript. Seriously, nothing comes across as more arrogant or disdainful. The bottom line is, if your work really is that good, it will speak for itself… eventually.

Be patient and resilient

Writing is a process. It takes time. Revising and rewriting are part of that process. Mozart may have popped out masterpieces without revising them, but few musicians or writers can lay claim to such genius. Be patient with your editors and with yourself. Learn the subtle balancing act of having simultaneous confidence in your work and humility in yourself. Most editors, peer reviewers and instructors have benevolent intentions. They are not monsters set to duel to the death with your ego. When you see these people as your allies instead of your enemies, the writing process becomes easier. As they say… every rejection gets you one step closer to a “yes”. Patience is part of the process.

Resources related to this post:

How to Take Writing Criticism Gracefully – by Hannah Rice Myers, eHow

How (and Why) to Take Criticism – by Monique van den Berg

Developing a Thick Skin: How to Accept Criticism – by Betty L. Meeshack

How to Happily Accept Criticism – by Angus Shaw

__________________________

Share or Tweet this post: How writers can learn to accept criticism http://wp.me/pNAh3-1oA

Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


How to Publish your Amazon Kindle e-book (It’s easier than you think!)

March 15, 2012

Are you an author or a writer? Do you have a book in you that is ready to be shared with the world?

I published my first book in 2002. Last year, everything changed. I published 4 of my own e-books as Amazon Kindle books.

In Feburary, I had the privilege of presenting the nuts and bolts of the “how to” at the National Speakers Association 2012 Winter Conference in Dallas, TX on February 4.

A few weeks later, I did the same presentation for the my home chapter of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers. We taped the Calgary session and I have the highlights here for you. This video details the exact method for you, step-by-step.

My prediction is that teachers, students and writers of all types are soon going to be publishing and sharing their work on line in a variety of formats. Amazon e-books are just one way to do that. It is easier now to be a published writer than it has ever been in history. If you are a writer, this is your time!

___________________________

Share or Tweet this post: How to Publish your Amazon Kindle e-book (It’s easier than you think!) http://wp.me/pNAh3-1jm

Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


%d bloggers like this: