Frequently asked question for Masters and PhD Scholars.
PhD Thesis (Can I complete a PhD if I'm bad at writing?)
That really depends on your gauge of what is considered bad writing. I grew up in one of the toughest education systems and my self confidence in writing was blasted out of proportion when I failed essay tests and examinations in streaks. Even at this age and maturity, when I compare myself to other Quora writers I see the difference between someone who knows how to write sensibly and accurately and someone who can write sharply and critically. I can only make sure that this answer addresses your question well, but I cannot make this answer interesting enough to have everyone want to read it nor even upvote it. Yet again, I am fully aware that I am a PhD student right now and I have to write. Once in a while, other PhD students actually come and look for me to edit their papers because they are even worse than I am at writing. Then I realized, plenty of people actually became PhD students because they were bad at writing. Being good at writing and also bearing whatever talents they have that qualified them as PhD students might have instead drawn them away from PhD programs to do other jobs. I don’t know what that could be, but for a fact PhD is not going to be the highest income path. So, I am spilling the truth for you, just apply for a PhD and do it. You will meet plenty who suck at writing instead of the other way around.
(Fiction writer question Question) How can I become a more prolific fiction writer? I really have to struggle to get the words out.
Struggling to get the words out can mean one of several things: You are too perfectionist and aren’t willing to write badly just to get the story down. In the first draft, it’s okay - advisable, even - to let ’er rip, and just plow through a certain number of words per day. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the “good enough.” Your inner editor can come out when it’s time to revise, but if you never get anything on the page in the first place, you won’t have anything to revise. You don’t know your story well enough. You maybe started with a great idea, but 20, 30, 50 pages in… you have no idea where you are going with it. You don’t have a clear idea of what kind of story you are writing, or your overall point/theme. You don’t know your character, what they want, who they are, etc. You don’t know what action should happen next because it’s not tied to a cause-and-effect trajectory with the protagonist’s character arc. I see this ALL.THE.TIME so don’t feel bad! These are things traditional writing classes almost never teach. The solution is to sit down and really think about these questions. Why are you writing this story? What is the point you want to convey? Who is your protagonist? What is their backstory in terms of how it affects the present? What do they want more than anything? How do the story events and other characters help or hinder them from getting it? I have a whole process and series of questions I go through around this for myself and my students. It evolves as I write the story, but it gives me a solid framework to make decisions about what needs to happen and why. Without this framework, it took me years to flail around and figure out the story I was trying to tell - and I’d keep jumping off on tangents that went nowhere. Note: there are tons of plot frameworks out there, and they can be useful, but readers read for character more than anything else, so always make sure that whatever framework you follow, it focuses on character development, not just “what happens.” An existential fear that you are not good enough, that anything you write will be terrible, that you aren’t a “real writer”, that success will mean leaving an old identity behind… any number of fears that our brains tell us are valid, but are actually not real. The amygdala, the oldest region of the human brain, evolved to alert us to all kinds of threats, like wild animals or poisonous plants. Nowadays the amygdala amuses itself by making us think that anything outside our comfort zone is a threat. Writing won’t kill us, but it feels pretty scary. We might make a fool of ourselves, we might fail to get published, people might hate our work… better just keep to the status quo and go watch TV. Writing takes effort, and do we really need all that stress? The answer to this is: Commit to sitting down and doing the work anyway. You can even consciously thank the amygdala for doing its job, and then decide you will sit down and write and not stop until you have hit 500 words (or written for 15 minutes, or whatever seems least scary. You can start as small as you need to and work your way up). Pretty soon you will train your brain to not view writing as a threat and it will be easier to do it..
(PhD Question)What is most important in a PhD admission, grades or publication?
None is more important than the other. Grades might slightly matter but overall, admissions do not work this way. PhD admissions are accessed as a package rather than based on components. First of all, you have to meet the minimum set by the graduate school for admission. I doubt if any university will require publications for admission but good grades will definitely help you get a good CGPA. After you meet the requirement for admission, In the US and Canada, Professors will look at your application with the aim of wanting to pick suitable candidates for graduate research positions. Different professors have their own ways of looking at applications. With grade inflation at its peak and the unfairness of using test scores to just assess applicants, many Professors will look at your Statement of purpose(SOP). Your SOP will give a brief overview of your research interest, your suitability for the position, your future research goals and your plans after the PhD. Reading your SOP coupled with your curriculum vitae (CV) will give the Professors an idea of the candidate they seek to hire for research. For evidence of what you have portrayed yourself to be and the reality of things, they turn to your CV and letter of recommendations. Professors tend to cherish the opinion of their colleagues especially those who are popular in their area of research. If they know them on a personal capacity, it makes things better. That is why Professors of high academic standing and integrity won’t just give you a letter of recommendation. They know the weight their written words carry. Publications is a plus but then, nobody expects you to be an experienced researcher. In fact, if you already have a PhD or something, it might be a problem. Aside grades and scholarly ability, many things such as your willingness to learn new things, work independently etc. are also important. This is not a rule of thumb but most times, you will see junior faculty wanting PhD students with publications as the pressure of tenureship kicks in. Nevertheless, it does not matter in the grand scheme of things. I have seen a lot of students get into top schools without a single publication. If you still have the chance to improve your grades, then do it by working hard. Don’t stress over publications but if you can publish your work, do it. I hope this helps.
(Random Question) Why do you think you deserve to win this scholarship?
I believe that by giving this award you are trying to help students who show academic promise and who will contribute to the community. Since my first day of school, my parents have instilled in me a commitment to academics, and I have a nearly perfect academic record. I am on track to graduating with highest honors. I have also been contributing to my community for many years. I started a program to provide books for a local elementary school’s library. By using funds from book fairs, I increased the number of books at the elementary school from 500 to 2,500. My commitment to learning and public service are two things that I believe in very strongly and I will continue to do so throughout my life.
(Random)How do professors feel about students who submit assignments minutes before they are due?
I would never notice. As an undergrad I had so many professors who would grade a full letter down for each day late a paper was submitted, that I lost a full .5 of my gpa due to late assignments. At the time I justified it knowing the quality of the work was recognized and that counted for more than the gpa, and while that give some personal satisfaction, nobody cares - they only see the gpa. And while I know I should have made better use of my time in order to finish everything on time rather than routinely a day or two behind the deadline, these same professors would often miss deadlines for journals, conference papers, and book chapters by months without consequence. The hypocrisy bugged me. The fact that you can’t tell the difference between an A student with a procrastination problem and a C student with this method of grading bugged me. Knowing that it would take them two weeks to grade every paper anyway and that a day or two made no practical difference bugged me. So as a professor, I tell my students deadlines are targets. If you are a little off, no worries, i probably won’t even be grading yet. Only if it stretches out beyond a couple days should you let me know as soon as you can. I would rather see a proofread paper come in a day or two ‘late’ rather than a draft come in ‘on time’.