Hey everyone! Spring has officially arrived, marking the end of the Winter semester! Although on some days, the actual weather still has remnants of the Winter season, but that is not all too surprising in St. John’s. Regardless of the weather, however, the start of Spring – or, rather I should probably say the start of May – brought on the beginning of the third semester for graduate students. In my case, this current semester just so happens to also be my last semester as a master’s student. Although I knew this point in time was coming, I’m still a bit shocked that my status as a master’s student is coming to a close. If you’ve been following my blog entries, you’ll recall that the past two years have been filled with both academic successes and personal challenges. Nonetheless, I feel like I have learned a ton throughout my program, and have made many awesome friends – some of whom (Kirk and Meagan) have been featured periodically in my blog entries. But this is not a goodbye blog from me! After finishing my master’s degree, I will begin my next journey as a PhD student. However, before I start my doctoral studies, I still have to finish up one key piece of my current degree in order to fulfill the requirements of the program.  Yep, you got it: writing my thesis. Although I feel like there is still a massive amount of work left to do, I am nearing completion of this phase. Interestingly, over the course of this writing period I stumbled across a couple of online sources that intrigued me, particularly related to some reading and writing aspects of graduate school. They introduced some interesting concepts that I thought might be worth talking about. Allow me to share them with you.

In this moment, I cannot recall how I exactly came across these sources, but I hope that you find some value in them. Specifically, I found a blog written in Scientific American that spoke about the benefits of writing in graduate school (but not in the way that you’re thinking). I also happened upon another article promoting the importance of actively reading sources beyond the ones directly related to your research. Naturally, given that I am one of the student bloggers for My Master Plan, and had spent the majority of my academic reading time focused on academic sources, I was curious as to what these sources had to say about such topics. I’ll leave it to you to go click on each of the links above and develop your own opinions about the articles, but the core ideas being presented advocated for grad students to write and read as often as possible, but to not always focus these reading and writing efforts toward academic pursuits.

Put differently, one author suggested that graduate students should take the time to write about various non-academic themes in diverse non-academic outlets (e.g., a personal blog, a newspaper column), while the other author suggested that graduate students should consider spending their extra time reading non-academic books and/or other popular reading sources (e.g., major newspapers, top selling novels – both classic and current). Whoa! Did Chris just suggest that I spend more time with non-academic pursuits on top of my already busy academic life? Does he actually think that a graduate student has time to do that? I hear ya! I initially felt the same way, but upon reflection I think that there is some merit to the points being made in these articles listed above.

If we, as graduate students, solely focus on our specialty area, then we may actually miss an opportunity to incorporate a wider selection of sources (as in non-academic sources or day-to-day news events) into our academic writing. Such sources can be used as examples to help explain our research findings in a more applied matter. For instances, I remember reading a paper (see “Why Confessions Trump Innocence” – Kassin, 2012) that used the Amanda Knox story to really make the notion of false confessions really hit home. That is, the real-life example helped the reader appreciate the importance of the concept given the relevance to a current world event (as a different non-forensic related example, I once read a paper about the concept of loyalty, and the author illustrated his point by utilizing the example of friendship between Samwise and Frodo from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings).

Reading widely and practicing your writing skills in non-academic outlets can actually be of benefit to you when you have to get serious and start reading/writing in a more academic focus (e.g., a master’s thesis!). Drawing parallels between popular stories or real-world events will really make your presentation of information come to life and make more sense to the non-academic reader. I’m going to run the risk of being a broken record here since I have mentioned this in previous blog posts, but having the mentality of looking beyond typical academic sources can be especially helpful if you ever consider participating in Three-Minute Thesis or The Storytellers competitions. Explaining not-so-easy concepts in a small window can be made easier by utilizing anecdotes from non-academic sources.

In other news, some of my lab crew and I traveled to Ottawa at the end April. As you can see from the picture above, we made a stop by Parliament Hill and snapped the classic tourist photo. This was my first time in Ottawa and I really enjoyed being in Canada’s capital city (the fact that Poutine Fest was happening on Spark Street while we were there may have had something to do with my delight). Of course, the main reason we descended upon Ottawa was to attend the Forensic Psychology in Canada Conference being hosted by Carleton University. Given that this was the organizers’ first time hosting a national conference, I think that Dr. Kevin Nunes and his team did a wonderful job! Not only did they generate interest from numerous researchers and students from across the country (and even from the UK!) to attend, they also brought in an interesting selection of expert keynote speakers to talk about relevant issues related to the current forensic domain. Overall, kudos to Dr. Nunes and his support crew for pulling off a very successful conference. I hope the conference continues next year and draws an even bigger crowd.

Thanks for reading my blog! Now go read something else and try to write about it in a non-academic source to continually hone and practice these skillsets!

Until next time…