Tag Archives: PhD Student

Documenting the life of a PhD Student

I did this awhile back and I am doing it again. I just love taking pictures using my iPhone!

Working again. Yes, it’s a Saturday!

My new boss! He is supervising me while I work.

Can’t capture music in a photo. But my iTunes serenading me in the background.

Tea? This PhD student is cutting caffeine.

Catching up with the literature and enjoying a HK style milk tea. It’s only 5pm and the day is still young.

Wait!! My iPad apps read to me! Yeah!!!

Screen Shot 2015-01-06 at 11.50.51 AM

Another snowy day in Alberta. After being on the west coast for sometime, it has been a shock to my system to be back in -20 degrees Celsius and below territory.  Today it’s frigid and the snow keeps coming. I have already been out once in my “fancy” snow gear (my trusty grade 6 hot pink snowpants, purple ski jacket and green ski hat) to shovel the snow.

So my post isn’t about the Canadian winters. Yesterday I discovered that my Goodreads app (in the latest update) on my iPad reads PDF articles to me. I also discovered that my Kindle app has a similar feature. All I can say is, “yeah!!! I can spice up my reading now.” As a PhD student, I am sure many fellow students can attest, your eyes are exhausted when you read. It is nice to have an alternative mode.

Of course, this discovery has really got me thinking about how this app could work in a classroom. In particular the assistive technology potential for kids that prefer an auditory mode of learning or need it. It might mean scanning class handouts and uploading them into the app so that the child can annotate or have the app read the document out loud. So many ways to use these apps within a classroom context. Looking forward to sharing more of my ideas at conferences in the future.

What does a PhD student do all day?


I often get asked what I do all day. Although I am at home and physically not leaving for a “place of work,” my days are pretty hectic. I spend a lot of time in front of my computer. Usually I am answering emails, writing abstracts or writing a paper. I might also be checking on my online class or doing some data analysis. There is never a dull moment in my day.

For example, although I have over a month until my first conference of the year, I am already busy getting ready for it. I have pulled a variety of articles from the library and I am preparing to dive into the literature which will guide my presentations. Today I had to create   a  sub-website for my conference presentation.  I had the usual technical issues which required me to call my web hosting company. As I create this website, I am outlining my presentation and considering what I will be speaking about. Interesting to note that while I am waiting for the installation of various applications on my website, I am multitasking and finishing up an abstract. I am also checking into my online class (answering a student message) and responding to emails that comes into my inbox.

As I type this blog post, I still have half of my day left. I am mentally planning what I need to to get done (e.g., the emails that need to be sent, the writing that needs to be done, etc.).  After I “post” this blog entry, I will begin reading the articles I have pulled. However, I can’t do this until I have checked my email to make sure there is not anything urgent that needs to be responded too.


The Tale of the Unpublished


One of the major hurdles has been this notion of “publish or perish.” When you are a new (and hopefully!) emerging scholar, your survival depends on publishing or not. Perhaps this is one of the most frustrating aspects of my PhD life is publishing my research (or in my case the battle to publish with no prior research). It is a never ending negotiation of what to send in, what not to send in, and where to send it. As I have alluded to already the major challenge that has emerged for me is my lack of data from my Masters. Unlike other PhD students, I came into this PhD process with no prior research under my belt. Of course, I can naturally argue that I have much more practical experience especially in K-12 then many other researchers because of this tradeoff. However, the lack of data does pose an issue especially when your dissertation study has not officially started. Naturally it has caused me to be more resourceful when it comes publishing my work.

My writing issues haven’t been just about “data.” I have struggled with my identity as a “writer.” Before I came into this, I thought I was a writer but apparently I am not because the measure of a writer in academia is one that publishes. It is about finding the right words to express yourself (or at least the words that people in your field understand and appreciate). It also about taking on a register that is not quite you but in order to be successful you need to learn it well. It may also mean taking on an identity that does not fit.

I had an interesting conversation recently with a friend. English is not her first language and she expressed her frustrations with learning to write in “English.” She commented on how it might be easier for me since English is my first language. However, what she does not realize is that “Academic English” is often not anyone’s “first language.” I might be a native speaker of English but I spend hours learning how to mold my sentences in the “right” academic way. It is a “new” language for me. I need to learn the structure, lexicon and the right ways to say things.

Feeling inspired?! Who am I kidding?!

With that type of title, you are probably wonder what this blog post will be about. For those of you that are following this blog because you are curious about starting a PhD program or just curious about my journey so far. Today my so called “drama” is finding/developing an appropriate title for my upcoming dissertation study. I am at the point in my proposal writing as a PhD student that I need to come up with a  title for my forthcoming study. How is that after writing up over 76 pages of a dissertation that I don’t have one coherent title? How does one “wrap it” all up in one title? The pressure of basically saying it all in a few words is overwhelming.  There is always the title that features the famous “colon.” However, of course you want to be “witty” and “smart” and have some deep metaphorical meaning behind the actual words. Ha! Who am I kidding?! I think my “wit” went out the door on page 1 of my writing process. However, as I will be sitting here contemplating this title for the next couple of hours, I will reflect on the importance of a title and how you can “lose it” or “win it” all in a few words. This is at least easier in some ways then coming up with a varied title for every single conference abstract you submit.

Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 6.28.07 PM

Actually, my blog post isn’t about my PhD student “title drama.” However, I was reflecting on how to inspire and mentor. I came into this PhD program with a bigger goal of wanting to go into the business of “mentoring” teachers. Of course I have aspirations to further research etc. and as I go deeper and deeper into the literature I imagine the possibilities for me in terms of research in the future. However, as I have realized in my experiences, mentors are critical and there often aren’t enough. I have been very fortunate in my time as a teacher to be continually in the presence of a mentor. I have had some amazing mentors from the ones back in my teacher education days. Mike, my first real mentor, has been an amazing inspiration to me. He still cheers me on from the sidelines after all of these years.

I tell my teachers to find a mentor early in their career. It might be a peer or it might be just a more experienced teacher or someone that just inspires you. The reality is this person is someone that will support you from behind. I am certainly not an expert at this. However, I have noted from my experiences with people I consider mentors that these individuals encourage and support in little but large ways. These people are leaders. They don’t have to be in leadership positions to lead. However even in small ways they push people to be the best they can be. If you are in a PhD program or teaching in a school, mentors are a critical part of any journey.

Random Sunday…

This will be a VERY random blog post!


First, I get asked often what I am listening to. For those of you that don’t know me, my most productive writing sessions occur when I am blasting my “itunes” loudly. Lately it has been a mix of music from Christian Worship (Hillsong, Kari Jobe, etc.) tunes to Top 40 tunes (Zedd, Arianna Grande etc.).  My favourite variety is LOUD music past midnight (ha, as I recall I had Usher blasting a few nights back).   So for those graduate student peers that wonder why I NEVER go to a library to study its because my music is way too loud.  I went to a library awhile back, just to switch it up, and I got a really ANNOYED neighbour telling me to shut off my music (opps! Yes, I did have headphones on).


Second, there are so many benefits to living in Vancouver but one of my least favourite parts about being here is the RAIN! I don’t know how people do it. As soon as the clouds roll in, my eyes automatically start closing. No wonder my caffeine intake has increased 200 percent since moving here. It’s not because of the lack of sleep (well, maybe partly) but more the cloud cover. Today was one of those days. It started off raining (or I should say pouring). Thankfully the sun came later (see photo above).

Untitled_1Third, I always get asked for technology teaching tips. Here are two for all the teachers that read this blog. Consider using podcasting software (i.e. Garageband (MAC) or Audacity (MAC/PC) (http://audacity.sourceforge.net/ ) as an assessment tool. If you are doing Alberta ESL benchmarks or just wanting to do some formative assessment (i.e. informal reading assessments, etc.), podcasting is your answer. I just love using podcasting software to record kids’ talking (i.e. at centres or even during whole group discussions). You can capture quotes from the kids and use them for report card comments or (better yet) Pedagogical Documentation panels. For those of you not familiar with this, check out my website. I have posted online tutorials (http://melaniewong.ca/Teacher%202/index2.html ).

Another technology teaching tip is consider using Skype or Blackboard Collaborate (if your school district has it) to invite guest speakers into your classroom.  It is such a great opportunity for your kids to connect with experts from all over the world (i.e. a university professor etc.).  You can even consider doing a virtual field trip.  There are a lot of websites online that offer options for you to consider.  Please see below:




PhD Student Documentation (Day 1)

Hi all,

It has been awhile since I updated my blog so I thought to start myself off again I would do a PhD student photo documentation of one week in my life. Check back over the week to see what is happening in my crazy week.


PhD Student Documentation (Day 1)


Morning Coffee = More Productive


Listening to data and taking notes. I should have done this ages ago. Oops!


Reading my third dissertation in a week. Thank God for a iPad or I would be killing lots of trees.





Having dinner with a friend. Yes, this looks like a social life (!).