Category Archives: Graduate Tools & Tricks

Great Help from Senior Grad Students

Help from J school

Before I applied to WVU, I only knew Virginia, but not West Virginia. And “West Virginia” to me was just a song– “Take Me Home, Country road”.

So, why did I choose WVU? J school?

I never thought I would attend WVU, for WVU was the last university I applied to. I didn’t much about it, and it was not famous in my country. But the thing was, one day the Direct of Graduate Studies, Dr. Urbanski emailed me that he wanted to an interview to see if I was right for this program and I can ask any questions about the program. I applied to several universities, but WVU was the one that wanted to interview me! Although four of them admitted me and one of them even provided me a scholarship, I still chose WVU as I thought having an interview was responsible for both the program and the applicant.

After that interview, Dr. Urbanski asked Boya Xu, a then second-year graduate student in our program to contact me to see if I would still have any question. As Boya is from China  too, Dr. Urbanski thought that would be easier for us to communicate and answer my questions in a international student’s perspective. Boya was really helpful, and she almost taught me everything including renting the house, applying for visa, what I should bring from China, etc, before I came to America. We became good friends and still keep in touch now.

Then, this year. There are four Chinese students applying our program, and Dr. Urbanski asked me to talk to them and answer their questions like what Boya did last year. I tried my best to help them as I really appreciated how Dr. Urbanski and Boya had helped me out.

Help from WVU Student Organizations Services

As I mentioned in my post last week that for those who want to study abroad or work in another country, finding your community is a great help, the students associations for international students are of great help.

This is the list of all the WVU Student Organizations. The Student Organization Service has clubs for almost every major and specific area. For example, there are 35 different organizations under the category “Cultural and International”, including the Chinese Students & Scholars Association, Japanese Club, Indian Association, etc. They are all run by senior students.

These international organizations are the communities for the international students and whoever is interested in foreign cultures. For example, besides celebrating festivals and holding parties, Chinese Association also provides Orientation for all new-comers, pick-ups from Pittsburgh Airport, Guidebook of living in Morgantown, job-hunting infos and academic conferences informations, etc.

Databases and the Art of Search Engine-Fu

The beauty of being a graduate student is that you have access to high quality databases.  As a research junky, this gets me pretty excited.  If I can spend a day in the library trawling databases and digging through big ol’ books, it’s been a good day.  This is not something I would admit at a party, but I feel that most graduate students can probably relate.

As a journalist, I have spent a significant amount of time buried in databases, and while they are phenomenal resources, they can be frustrating to use.  You need to be familiar with how they are organized, and you need to hone your search engine-fu.  First, a breakdown of my top three favorite research databases.  Some tips for manipulating search engine queries follow.

1. EbscoHost

EbscoHost is by far the most comprehensive article database available.  This is both a strength and a weakness.  Since EbscoHost aggregates multiple databases, covering a wide variety of subjects and disciplines, a single search can yield thousands of results yet none that are relevant.  To prevent this from happening, don’t be lazy.  Use the database selector to narrow your search.  We’ve all been lazy and hit “Select All,” and it never works.  Don’t do that to yourself again.

2. LexisNexis

LexisNexis is more focused that EbscoHost.  It focuses on legal documents and public records information.  While this sounds like it may have limited relevance for most graduate students, the magnitude of raw data available through LexisNexis has a surprising amount of application.  It’s great for researching companies or demographics, giving you very clear, reliable concrete data.  Even if you don’t think LexisNexis will provide relevant information, give it a shot anyway.  It just might surprise you.

3. Google Scholar

Google Scholar is like EbscoHost in that it covers a broad spectrum of topics.  It’s Advanced Search options are slightly different from EbscoHost, so if you are having trouble finding something on EbscoHost, trying Google Scholar might produce useful sources (or vice versa).  Also, I have found that, in general, the Google Scholar search function is a bit better at producing useful sources than EbscoHost, but I will often switch back to EbscoHost once Google Scholar has given me a useful string or a useful journal to explore.

Search Engine-Fu

When I am starting research from scratch, my preferred plan of attack is to start at the macro level, searching broadly to get an idea for how the research is segmented and who the big names are.  Typically, I browse Wikipedia and conduct some general Google searches.  Wikipedia, while not a reliable source in its own right, often links to sources that are reliable and appropriate for academic research.  These articles will either be some of the more important sources in that particular field of study, or their bibliographies will contain those sources, do dig through the sources they cite.  Also, these preliminary macro searches will often clue you into the terminology that exists with a particular field.  Familiarizing yourself with the language that topic experts use will give you some words and phrases that you can use in future searches.  If you’re that kind of person, you can write these phrases down.

If my macro search produced some important names, I go to EbscoHost or Google Scholar to find articles by those people and by people citing those people.  If I do not have any names to search, I begin to use the words and phrases that I found in my macro search to hopefully dig up relevant sources, and then again, I pillage those reference lists for useful more useful search phrases (often hidden in the titles of articles) and for reliable experts in that field.  When I am doing this, as I mentioned before, I eliminate irrelevant databases to help narrow my search.

Once you find one relevant article, you should be able to dig at least four or five relevant sources out of that article’s reference list, and that’s really the big secret to search engine-fu: finding more relevant words and names that you can mix and match in your search queries.  If you get really stuck, you should find someone at your University and ask them where you should start (or ask a librarian).

For more on search engine-fu, check out Mashable’s article on Google Fu, which is the father of search engine-fu.

Help for #gradschoolproblems that are outside of grad school

We all know the huge amount of stress that we’re put under as graduate students, and to top it off, we all have other tasks to accomplish that are outside grad school. Some things, like forgetting to file taxes, will likely result in an arrest and hours of interrogation with Chinese water torture – or at least the government calling about an audit. Others, like forgetting to change oil or pay the electric bill can cause other issues. So, here’s a few non-academic resources that have helped me out this year, or at least places where I’ve sought help.

TurboTax – Tax season is already over, but in the future, if you’re independent and your only income is a grad student stipend, you are likely well below the poverty line. Fortunately, tax agencies like TurboTax have agreed to file simple tax forms (1040EZ, for one) for people below a certain income. TurboTax also assists in finding deductions that you would otherwise not think to look for (at least I wouldn’t). Plus, it’s possible to file taxes for the feds and the state in one place. Since I changed my residency from Indiana to West Virginia this year, I had to file for both states, and since those states have both approved TurboTax, I was able to file all my returns with one program (yay!).

Housing/Neighborhood/Infrastructure Issues: By no means am I an expert on local building code, but Morgantown has a convenient online system for reporting everything from building code violations (i.e., if bricks are consistently falling off your building, it’s probably a violation) to burn permits to reporting graffiti to  inquiries about establishing a new crosswalk. I’ve never had any such issues, but I can see how certain problems may come up in other parts of town. Visit the FAQ page for common questions.

Towing problems: Morgantown is notorious for having cars towed throughout the day, whether by the city or by a private landowner (This is one of my alternative careers – open a towing company in a college town. I’d be rich in a week). However, the tow-happy people that summon the truck-of-no-return to your car may not have the right to have you towed. In addition, accidents and incidents can happen, and if you feel you were wrongfully towed or treated, you can contact the Public Service Commission of West Virginia. That information is listed here. But, you won’t get towed in the first place if you use…

#PUBLICTRANSPO: (yes, this is a real hashtag). I’ve posted before about using alternate transportation to get out of town, but in Mon County, the Mountain Line operates a pretty decent bus service that goes just about everywhere. Schedules and routes are on Or, just walk. Both are better for the environment, and a lot better than sitting in traffic waiting for some Jersey or out-of-area driver in their Acura SUV to realize that green means go.

Finally, utilities: In Morgantown, a common list of utility providers are MUB for water and sewer, Allied Waste for trash, Comcast for cable and MonPower for electric. If you live at a residential property in most parts of the city, recycling should come with trash service. If you’re like me and live in an apartment, dropping off recycling is convenient. Some of the more-used locations are at the Wal-Mart at the University Town Center, Wal-Mart off Grafton Road and behind the Star City municipal building in Star City.

WVU’s Office of Graduate Education and Life

The Office of Graduate Education & Life is the department deduced to graduate and professional students at West Virginia University. This office offers training and support activities, practical tools and news pertaining to graduate students.

Finding a program
A Degree Programs Database lists information about master’s, doctoral and graduate programs. This is helpful for incoming students or those curious about whether or not graduate school is for them. Take a look around and see what would be best for you.

On the website, this section talks about where to find financial assistance for your education. It also has a list of university fellowships, graduate assistantships and financial aid.

Career Development
There are classes specifically for graduate students listed on this site. Many are 1-credit seminars that help further specific skills. Other information in this section includes information on grant writing, certificates for teaching and upcoming events.

Electronic Thesis and Dissertation
This is a link to where we officially submit our theses. Though it might seem like a ways away for some of us, it’s always a good idea to get acquainted with what we’ll have to do.

Life in Morgantown
For those not acquainted with the town, this quick resource guide allows for easy navigation of airports, traveling, transportation, shopping, food, etc. It’s a lot of information in one convenient location for new students.

An area of the website is dedicated to diverse student groups and offices that offer resources in that area.

Have you used this website or visited the office before? Have you found anything particularly helpful on the website?