Paul Kei Matsuda

Jinglin Chen

Jinglin Chen, one of my MTESOL advisees, successfully defended her Applied Project, "Reexamining Chinese Students' Perceptions of Collaborative Group Work." Her AP exam took place from 4 to 5 p.m. on Monday, May 4, 2009.

The committee members, Professors Mark A. James and Ruby Macsoud, agreed that her AP paper is substantive and well written in an appropriate academic style. Her presentation also raised an intriguing question--the paradox between the supposed "collectivist" orientation and the challenges Chinese students face in group work--and brought out a range of issues and possible explanations through a critical review of literature.

She also handled committee members' questions well with thoughtful responses.

Congratulations, Chen! Well done!

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Advice to Graduate Students

In response to my advice to beginning Ph.D. students, George Braine from Chinese University of Hong Kong sent me two of his advice to graduate students who are beginning their Ph.D. studies. Here they are:

1. Time Management: Graduate students often underestimate the amount of time they will have to spend on conducting and writing-up their research. Learning to say "No" to people who exploit your time is probably the most important aspect of time management.

2. As part of a larger study, I surveyed and interviewed around 30 doctoral students from the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and engineering at Hong Kong universities to find out what led to their success or failure. The single most important factor for success was a sound working relationship with the thesis supervisor. Even the smartest students failed when this relationship broke down.

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From Discourse Communities to Activity Systems: Activity Theory as Approach to Community Service Writing

Michael-John DePalma, a student of mine from UNH, just published an article on service learning and activity theory, which he wrote in my Theory of Composition class.

His article, "From Discourse Communities to Activity Systems: Activity Theory as Approach to Community Service Writing," appears in the latest issue of Reflections: Writing, Service-Learning, and Community Literacy (7.3).

Congratulations, Mike! Well done!

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Finishing a Big Project in a Semester

Finishing a master's thesis or applied project is a challenge partly because students often haven't developed strategies for working on big projects--and they have to do it in a semester!

Here are a few pieces of advise I just shared with a group of master's students who are working with me to complete their applied projects (sort of like a mini-thesis):

Do start early and keep at it. It would be so much easier to front load it because—are you ready for this?—you will certainly find yourself doing more revisions than you are probably expecting. But don’t be intimidated—with the feedback from me and encouragements from your peers, you’ll be able to do it. Just don’t give up.

Here are some strategies that have worked for many people:

  • Post a project calendar on your wall so you can see how much time you have left at any given time.
  • Create a project-specific to-do list. (I have a clipboard at my desk just for this purpose.)
  • Set up a few applied project office hours each day just to work on the project. You can (and will need to) work extra hours if you feel like, but commit at least a few hours every day. The key is to make the office hours long enough so you can build momentum but not to make it so unrealistically long that you can’t keep it.
  • Set up a folder on your Google Docs account ( and upload the latest draft at the end of each day. (Name the file something like “ap_2009_01_16.” This would be an excellent way of keeping a back up. When you are ready, you can share your latest version with me and with others in this group.

If you have any questions or concerns, or if you get stuck, feel free to email me or call me on my cell phone any time. Don’t worry that I might be too busy; if that’s the case, you just won’t hear from me ;-) Seriously, I’ll try to respond as promptly as possible—even though my responses may be brief at times.

And don’t worry that I might be disappointed if you emailed me to let me know that you were stuck. I’m here to help. What would really disappoint me would be if you didn’t contact me when you needed help.

This might be helpful to others who are working on big projects for the first time. There are many other strategies, of course. The key is to try different strategies and find out what works best for you.

Obviously, some parts of this is applicable only to my current students. If you are not one of my students, for example, please don't email me or call me on my cell phone when you are stuck with your project. ;-)

Hopefully, you have your own advisor who can play this role for you.

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Last update: January 6, 2008