Tomorrow I’ll lead my first set of tutorials. In history, a tutorial (aka a conference session at Concordia) is dedicated mostly to discussing primary sources and teaching students how to read critically and how to get their points across. If done properly, I see it as also a venue where the students will learn most of the skills we expect of history students – the ability to write a variety of assignments based on secondary or primary sources and to question those sources with good analytical skills.

Teaching was precisely what first attracted me into a degree in history. Ironically, however, my career so far has been heavily focused on research and I have had no opportunity to teach so far. It’s only now, in my fifth year, that I’m finally getting to do what I came here to do: to teach university students. Although I haven’t taught, I’ve certainly never stopped thinking and preparing myself. I have taken a number of teaching workshops, I have had endless discussions with colleagues and professors about their teaching experiences, I have even helped organize a series of teaching history workshops in my department. But now the time of truth approaches: tomorrow at 9AM I’ll hold my first tutorial. I hope it goes well… I’ll come back and tell you about it…


Well, it’s done. I had two tutorials this morning, one from 9-10 and another from 10-11.  Both of them were great! From the 19 students that showed up today, only one hadn’t done the readings . I guess things will change once the semester gets busier and they start having midterms in other classes. It was a very good introduction to teaching since both groups were made mostly of good, eager students. I still need to work on my general pacing – parts of the first tutorial went a little faster than I anticipated – but I can say that I got every single student to participate today. So I think I fulfilled my duty 😉 I’m curious to see what the groups I’ll have on thursday are like…


It’s been a month since I moved back to Toronto and I’m still not quite into working mode yet. I need to get back into reading my sources and jotting down ideas and outlines. I just haven’t been able to make myself do that yet. I’m still putting away the thousands of photocopies I brought back from Spain and getting a little afraid of the next stage… I did have one breakthrough – I got ideas for at least four (possibly five) chapters! Two I’m not looking forward to since they’ll be boring to write but necessary. The other two should be very interesting so I think I’ll start with the interesting ones to get the ball rolling 😉 Anyways, these ideas just came to me as I sat in a café the other day… love when that happens…

Some interesting links:

Web tools for students.

Using a blog as a course website.

This discussion was in the Globe and Mail this past saturday. I don’t know how long the Globe will maintain it online, so I made a pdf copy for you here:Should we can Canadian history?. I’m still agast at the first piece in the discussion – I didn’t think anybody still spoke out loud about history as a western-led progress, the “advancement of civilization” led by our male, white, European forefathers. I think my eyebrows glued to my hairline at that… How can someone even suggest that “music, science and political philosophy are all largely Western achievements”???

One thing from the article that I found VERY interesting and that wasn’t reproduced in the online version is what students are expected to walk out of school with, if they take all their history courses. This is according to Ken Osborne, a professor emeritus at the University of Manitoba, who has spent his career training history teachers. Here is his list of the core points:

  • Canada has a long aboriginal history predating Europeans’ arrival and aboriginal peoples occupy a key place in our history
  • Canada was once a colony of France, then of Britain – and French-English duality is a defining characteristic of the country
  • Bilingualism, multiculturalism, regional diversity, federalism and parliamentary democracy are defining characteristics of Canada
  • US relations have been a formative element of our evolution
  • Immigration is a major factor in Canada’s development
  • International events play an important role in our past
  • History as a subject is characterized by ongoing debate and interpretation

Those are all VERY important points and certainly things I learned in my Canadian history classes at university. Hats off to any high school teacher  who has been able to pass on these core points to their students.

I’m an Internet junkie. I admit it. I honestly should be attending Internet anonymous meetings.

One of my biggest problems is how to get away from checking my email, rss feeds and other distracting internet sites, long enough to be able to get work done. This post has some very helpful suggestions for those of us working on a Mac but some of its advices  could be easily applied to Windows machines as well. I particularly like these points:

“Put an away message up on iChat and stick to it. Better yet: turn off iChat all together. No point in being online if you can’t talk anyway, right? Lower the refresh rates on Mail, your RSS reader and Twitterrific from, say, one to five minutes to a less eventful thirty minutes. If you think your task is going to take a bit longer than the norm, then lower the refresh rates closer to an hour. If everything stops beeping and bouncing in your dock and desktop, I’m sure you’ll be less tempted to break away from your work and be sucked back into your social life.


The portability of a laptop allows you to take it almost anywhere and some places you go may be distracting, such as Starbucks, the park or even your own living room. Even if you have a laptop computer, it is still useful to have an area set aside as your workspace in which you can focus and begin to work on what you need. After all, if you aren’t in a calm and comfortable place, how will those creative juices begin flowing? 


After a long period of time, you may grow irritable and unmotivated to continue your work. So, give yourself a break. All work and no play is never the answer. Even the biggest corporate geniuses take a lunch hour. If you give yourself a break each time your pump out a few paragraphs to your research paper or each time you complete a chapter of the family vacation DVD you’re creating, you will begin to feel motivated to do it again so that you can get the same reward.”

All these advices are very good. I do need a workspace to be able to feel motivated to work and that’s what my carrel has become. I also need breaks and I have no trouble in taking them, particularly for lunch. I never thought of lowering the refresh rates on my email though, and that certainly would help with the Internet addiction!!

[this was originally posted at my main blog]

We got our iMac and my iPod yesterday. More on that later… all I can say is… Holy cow, the screen is HUGE! I guess 24 inches was a bit of an overkill, but hey, we do lots of graphic work…

On another note, I’ve discovered I really can’t do much academic work at home. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the messiness of all the moving boxes that distract me, all I know is that I’ve been procrastinating writing a report about my research for the past two weeks. I finally decided to go out to the local coffee shop and write there. In one hour I had written two reports and a newsletter blurb! This morning I came to the library and in a  couple of hours I typed my reports, edited them, sent emails to my committee, fellow conference-organizer JP, the administrator of CRRS about a possible fellowship, and my department about a misplaced tax form… Suddenly, after a month and a half in limbo, I feel productive again!!

Hope the feeling lasts because I just received notice that my abstract was accepted for an international conference in Chicago next April. It will be my first big conference and I’m not even sure my paper is do-able… Hope so…

Since I’m finishing my main stint at the archives, the writing stage looms and I’ve started thinking how to go about organizing myself and getting onto a writing schedule. I really want to be done within 2 years and I would much prefer to graduate in the spring.

I came across some good advice by Dave at academhack today:

  • Get on a ScheduleThis was the most important advise I got. A faculty member told me how she wrote her dissertation in a summer. She said that she spent everyday of the summer in the library from noon till six working. While I am not sure this intense of a schedule is the way to go for everyone, I think getting on a schedule is key. For me I know I work better later, so I gave myself the mornings off to run errands, watch a movie, blog, or do whatever I wanted, but after lunch was work time. I tried to work five to six hours a day. Whatever works for you though. Develop a plan and stick to it, even if it is “eight hours a week.” This will help you to not feel guillty all the time that you are not working, and also get you in a routine. I know that many are in academia to avoid treating life like a job, but treating my dissertation like a job helped me tremendously. I eventually settled on a schedule of working at least five hours two days in a row, taking the third as a break. Sometimes I worked more then this, but this was my minimum.
  • Write, Even if you have nothing to say: Early on I spent time trying to write a whole chapter cleanly, start to finish. I thought I had to write the introduction, then the first section then the second . . .and do this by writing the first chapter then the second. Forget it. Just write. Later in the process I learned that what helped was just to start to write anywhere. I didn’t write the chapters in order (I wrote #3, #1, #4, #2, intro, #5), and the later chapters I didn’t even write within the chapter in order. That is, in a particular chapter I didn’t know exactly what I was going to say but I knew I was going to talk about a particular moment in Lolita or Patchwork Girl, so I just started writing. Sometimes you just have to write to figure out what you want to say. This means that you will probably scrap a lot of your work, or rework it, and you will have to organize it, but this is better than trying to write 50 pages in order from the start. (I know someone who writes everything three times-complete rewrite each time.) Rachel even mentioned that she had a long chapter which she eneded up cutting into scraps and organizing onto a poster board. Me, I like the giant whiteboard, with colored markers, but whatever works. I wrote about this before, when I discovered Scrivener. On a related note, I think blogging helped as it gave me writing to do that was less demanding, a sort of warm-up exercise for the day.
  • Read Other Dissertations: Shealeen mentioned this, and I wish I had though of this sooner in my process. Go to your Graduate Library (or where ever the dissertations are kept) and read some. Particularly read ones that were supervised by your committee, this will give you a sense of the expectations and the genre. Many schools and committees have specific expectations that if you discover early will help you.
  • Read a Book: When I was struggling with what I wanted to write, I read, even if what I read was only tangential to what I was writing. I found that this helped to get me thinking, and often I found inspiration in the strangest of texts.
  • Talk to Your Committee: Set up deadlines, let them know what chapters are arriving when. This will not only help you work to a timeline, but also insure that you are giving them time to work on the material. Giving them a chapter in the middle of grading, or when they have just been given three other chapters by other students, will probably slow down your feedback
  • Editing and Writing are Different: I know a lot of people disagree, but for me this was true. I wrote, global edited, and configured as one step, let the chapter sit for a while, and then returned to it to edit much later.
  • Do Something:If you are tired/exhausted and feel you cannot do any more work for the day, but still have hours left, do something simple: Spell check (surprising how long this process can be for a 40 page document-especially if you are me), run down a reference, format your bibliography. There are many mind numbing steps to the process that you can do even if you feel like never seeing another word about Thoreau (assuming you are writing about Thoreau).
  • Write What You Teach: Under the category of two birds one stone. This goes along with the bit about writing out of order. I was teaching a class, several weeks in fact, on House of Leaves. In my dissertation I have a whole chapter about this book, but it is late in the dissertation. Still when I was teaching it during the week it was easier to write about. I didn’t finish the chapter in those weeks of class, but when I did go back to that chapter over the summer I had some substantial work done, some of it as a result of class discussions. Bonus: Also made me more prepared to teach class.
  • Get Office Space, or go the Library: There is only so much writing one can do in one space. Sometimes shifting venues helps. I was surprised out how just the act of going to the library would help me to get work done.
  • Get Good Tools: Seriously some days you are going to spend six hours or more at a computer screen. It’s worth it to invest in a good/large monitor so you don’t get headaches and eye strain. Writing for that long can be exhausting. Along with this consider different word processing programs, honestly it helped me.
  • Back Up Your Writing: You never know when your computer will decide it doesn’t like you dissertation and delete it (especially if you are running Windows). Back-Up. I kept everything on my home computer, a copy on a flash drive, and a copy on a remote server (you can email yourself a copy of what you are working on occasionally).
  • Get a Life: Do something that has nothing to do with academia. Hang out with people who have no idea what MLA or APA or Chicago Style means. Do something that requires no books, no libraries. For me this was running, but whatever it is, do it.

What do you guys think? Any recent phds have anything to add?

This is pretty much the system I use:

by Dr Mike Kaspari

Replace the Hipster PDA for a small moleskine or moleskine weekly agenda and the rest is pretty much the same… Particularly the Moleskine Notebook part (I have a lined one instead of gridded) and the switching back and forth between scribbling on a paper and typing on a computer.

Check the full description at Getting Things Done in Academia

I found a neat article at Digital History Hack about how to easily and quickly be up-to-date with the current literature in your field. Check it out here. I set a site to keep track on Jewish history and it’s pretty neat although there aren’t as many online resources (particularly on the form of RSS feeds) for medieval Jewish history or medieval Spanish history as I would like…

From the Latin pro meaning for and cras meaning tomorrow… Ah, my days as an undergrad! I used to be SO organized… I set myself earlier deadlines for all my papers and assignment and always had them finished about a week before they were due. I wrote my honours thesis in about 2 months working only on fridays and during the week of spring break. I handed it in on March 23rd and my supervised joked that she probably shouldn’t accept it since nobody had ever submitted it so early before.

But then came grad school. I thought I could keep this up, that I would have more time to devote to each course, to the thesis, etc. How naive I was… Now I seem to be the queen of procrastination. I keep checking my email, writing blog entries, etc when I should be maximizing my research time. The truth is, my eyes are getting more and more tired of staring at the dark screen of a microfilm reader… Only 6 more weeks left!

For what it’s worth, here’s some tips on how to avoid procrastination.  I’ll probably need to put these into practice when I get to TO.

Hmmm, seems I’m not the only one to think it could be useful. Check this out.

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