Paul Kei Matsuda

How to Read Everything?

The phrase "read everything" seems to have become my mantra in advising graduate students and scholars. I mentioned this when I was visiting National Chiao Tung Unviersity in Taiwan a few weeks ago, and more than a few people said they were going to start reading everything in their email message to me or even on Facebook!

Today, I just received a comment from Joe in response to my earlier blog entry on reading everything:

I've just come across this wonderful blog. Thank you so much for your valuabale advice.

People have been advicing graduate students (especially M.A. students) to read a lot. However, hardly do they talk about how to read. I have found myself struggling with reading for graduate school and so have my friends. Would you mind sharing your thoughts or your strategies on this? Do you take notes for
everything you read? Thank you, Dr. Matsuda.

Some of my answers can be found in other related blog entries (a list of related entries as well as other pieces of advice for graduate students can be found here) and in "Coming to Voice: Publishing as a Graduate Student" (2003). But I don't think I've had the chance to talk about taking notes.

The answer is: I don't.

Most of the books and journals in my personal library are clean--I could sell them on ebay or Amazon anytime, though I rarely sell my books because I consider them to be important tools of my trade.

I've always found underlining or highlighting texts to be more distracting than helpful. (My suspicion was confirmed in the introductory psychology course I took during my first year in college, where the professor mentioned a study showing that underlining is not an effective strategy for studying.) I also don't like how those marks left on the pages actually constrain my reading the next time I read the same text--they distract me away from grasping the meaning in larger contexts and particularly in the context of my current thoughts. For that reason, I don't like buying books second hand or borrowing books from the library. Sadly, some people underline books from the library!

When I was a master's student, I used to buy lost of sticky tabs at Staples and put them by the line that seemed important. The idea was that I would be able to take them off when I was done, though I almost never did. (Some of my books from those days still have yellow tabs sticking out.)

I thought the sticky notes would help me find places that I needed to refer to during class discussion or when I cite the source. What I learned after a few years was that: 1) I put too many tabs that they became meaningless; 2) even when I didn't put too many of them, they made me feel as though I had to talk about all of them during the discussion or in citing that source; and 3) too often, what I ended up citing was in places other than those that were marked with the sticky tabs.

I have also tried to take notes on separate sheets. It was useful when I was preparing for comprehensive exams, but I also noticed that I seldom looked at them again unless there were specific and immediate reasons for taking notes. I tend to lose my notes in the pile of stuff in my (cluttered) offices. Some of the notes have survived because I filed them away with the articles I read, but I stopped doing this because the same filing strategy wouldn't work for books. (I find it important to develop a thinking system to be consistent so my distributed cognitition does not become disturbed cognition.)

Even if I don't lose them, I often can't reconstruct what I meant--not only because of my terrible handwriting but also because the notes are always already out of context and outdated. So I stopped taking notes and started to rely on my memory.

I don't regret having gone through these stages of trying different strategies because they probably facilitated the development of my reading strategies and the understanding of the contents. But at some point in my professional development, I took the leap of faith--I learned to trust my own intuition. I felt that it actually helped me read faster, read more, and understand the important points better. And those ideas would come back to me when I need them because I've already rehearsed the conversations as I was reading them. That is, I felt my knowledge became more contextualized.

Some people ask if I have what's called a photographic memory.

The answer is: I don't.

But I do tend to remember books by their color, and the visual design of the text. I often remember which part of the page I found the idea (e.g., top left corner of the page, about half way through the book).

Some people might wonder how I could do this with academic publications, which are visually not as distinct as, say, magazine articles or web pages. Well, I thought the same thing about houses in Arizona--they all looked the same when I moved here, but now I can appreciate individual differences among various neighborhoods and individual houses.

I've also learned not to worry about sticking to the same text in the reading process--I read regular texts like hypertexts. (People in the field of computers and composition seemed to be busy theorizing the notion of hypertext in the early 1990s, but even back then, I found the concept to be straight forward and intuitive.)

Sometimes I start thinking about a related topic as I read. If that happens, I often put down what I'm reading and start looking for other related reading materials. They may be something I've read before or sources that are mentioned in the text I'm reading. Or I may follow my hunch and go to a text that might have something related, and I often do find something interesting, which is really exciting. It's like a mental game--I have a lot of fun doing this.

I can still keep track of who said what because I try to get to know them personally. As I read, I form ideas about each author. I also try to meet them at conferences and get to know them so I know where they are coming from. Academic reading and writing to me are really like joining a conversation with a group of people I care about.

For similar reasons, I usually don't take notes when I listen to presentations. I used to take notes to ask questions, but I stopped doing that as well. After hearing countless conference presentations, I know the genre inside out, and that helps me understand where the speaker is going. (I can also tell when the speaker is not going anywhere.) If I am the respondent, I may take notes, but mostly to outline my responses (if I have to respond, that is). They are not "records" of what I write; instead, they are part of my distributed cognition.

At CCCC this year, for example, I served as a respondent for a panel with Suresh Canagarajah, Bruce Horner, Min Lu, Catherine Prendergast, and John Trimbur. I used a small notepad (courtesy of the convention hotel) to create an outline of my response as I was listening. I started doing something similar at a TESOL academic session on writing (organized by Chris Tardy and featuring Lourdes Ortega, Meg Gebhardt, Youngjoo Yi, Ilona Leki, and Miyuki Sasaki). But in the middle of the session, I decided that it wasn't working, so I took out my laptop and start creating PowerPoint slides, which became my formal response.

I also don't take notes during meetings--I remember things better if I'm engaged. When I served as the chair of the CCCC Committee on Second Language Writing, I always asked someone I trust (e.g., Jessie Moore at Elon University and Angela Dadak at American University) to take the minutes. If I do take notes, it's usually to help organize the meeting.

If there are things that I need to follow up on, I would sometimes write them down, but if I don't act on them right after the meeting, they get lost. These days, I just email those tasks to myself (or ask others to email me) so I would actually follow up on them.

My strategy, then, has been to just read, read and read, and keep adding them to my mental intertextual map. Or sometimes they get integrated into my thinking directly as I get stimulated and start developing my own ideas. I don't even write down my own ideas, either, because if it's a really good idea (and one of my criteria for a good idea is that it responds to the particular rhetorical situation), it would come back in the context of my immediate thoughts when appropriate. If not, then the idea is going to be out of place, which is what I often see in manuscripts that I read.

I used to keep a clipboard by my bed so I can write down my ideas anytime, but I gave up on that as well. If I can't remember it when I needed it, I figure, it wasn't a good idea to begin with. If it really made sense, I would have the same thought again.

Of course this leisurely approach to reading (and thinking) requires a lot of time, but that's what my profession is about--I'm in the business of acquiring and making knowledge. If I have to know everything about my field, I might as well enjoy it. It may seem impossible, but it does get easier as my content and formal schema develop.

The key is not to wait until I have to read something for my projects. When I read as I write, my reading process becomes much more focused and purposeful. That's good, but that's different from "reading everything." Rather, it is the result of reading everything; I feel I can be more focused partly because I have already developed a strong intertextual network in my mind. I often know exactly what information I need and where I can find it.

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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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Graduate Research Fellowship

Zuzana Tomas, one of the doctoral students in the graduate seminar on Second Language Writing Research I'm teaching at the University of Utah, has received a Graduate Research Fellowship.

Congratulations, Zuzana!

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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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Congratulations to Tanita Saenkhum!

Tanita Saenkhum, one of my doctoral advisees specializing in second language writing at ASU, has received the Albert H. Marckwardt Travel Grant to attend TESOL 2009 in Denver, Colorado.

Congratulations, Tanita. Well done!

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Recurring Questions about Professionalization

This is the time of the year when people are thinking about applying to graduate programs, adjusting to graduate school, and applying for academic jobs. I have been mentioning a few of my blog entries that have to do with professionalization, so I thought it might be useful to highlight some of them here.

Finding a suitable graduate program

Writing a statement of purpose for graduate program application

Applying to the Master's Program in TESOL at ASU

Requesting letters of recommendation

Advice for new graduate students

Read everything

Read everything again

Read widely

Academic job search

Requesting someone to be a reference for a job application

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CFP: TESOL 2009 Graduate Student Forum

Call for Proposals
The 2009 Graduate Student Forum
at the 43rd Annual TESOL Convention
Denver, Colorado, USA
Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Eligibility to Submit a Proposal

Full-time and part-time students enrolled in graduate programs leading to the master's degree in TESOL (or related fields) at any institution of higher learning can take part in the Graduate Student Forum, either as presenters or as participants. (Please note that there is a similar but separate forum for doctoral students).

Types of Proposals

Proposals for three types of presentations are being solicited: papers, demonstrations, and poster sessions.

A paper (15 minutes) is an oral summary, with occasional reference to notes or a text, which describes or discusses something that the presenter is doing or has done in relation to theory or practice. Handouts and audiovisual aids may be used.

A demonstration (15 minutes) shows, rather than discusses, a technique for teaching or testing. No more than 5 minutes is spent explaining the theory underlying the technique. The presenter provides handouts and may use audiovisual aids.

A poster session (1 hour) allows for short, informal discussions with other participants during the 1-hour time period that a self-explanatory exhibit is on display. The exhibit is presented on a large (4' x 8') display board that includes a title; the name and institutional affiliation of the presenter(s); and a brief text with clearly labeled photos, drawings, graphs, or charts. No other audiovisual equipment is allowed. Exhibits are set up during the lunch hour before the session and dismantled immediately after the session.

Deadline for Submitting a Proposal

All proposals must be submitted by December 1, 2008. Proposals may be submitted via email using the Proposal Form. If you do not have access to a computer, send your proposal to the following:

TESOL Gradute Forum
Brigham Young University University
4064 JFSB
Provo, UT 84602 USA

Please enclose a self-addressed, stamped postcard with the title of the proposal on it for acknowledgment of proposal receipt. Please do NOT submit duplicate proposals.

Adjudication of Proposals

Submitted proposals will be refereed by graduate students at the host universities (Brigham Young University, Eastern Michigan University, Seattle Pacific University, Southeast Missouri State University). If you have any questions about the 2009 Graduate Student Forum, please contact the TESOL Graduate Student Forum at

Factors Affecting Selection

The Graduate Student Forum is intended to bring together individuals from a variety of institutions and backgrounds; therefore, an important factor in proposal selection is program balance. In adjudicating proposals, the Forum Program Committee will seek such balance in (a) range of topics, (b) level of expertise, (c) interests covered, (d) professional and geographic distribution of the participants, and (e) relevance of the proposal to the needs of graduate students in TESOL.

Another important factor is how well the proposal summary is written. Summaries should possess (a) clarity of purpose, (b) succinctness, (c) appropriateness, (d) significance for the intended audience, (e) an indication of the research quality (if relevant), and (f) evidence that the presentation will be well prepared.

Because institutional travel funding for many graduate students is contingent upon their presenting a session at the convention, the Forum Program Committee will accept only one primary presentation per presenter. Otherwise, if a presenter takes up more than one spot on the forum program, others may be prevented from attending the TESOL convention.

Factors Disqualifying a Proposal

Proposals will be disqualified if they promote commercial interests are not completed according to the guidelines outlined in this Call for Participation (e.g., the summary exceeds one page) are not received by the deadline of December 1, 2008.

Responsibilities of the Presenter

Notify all co-presenters about the status of the proposal. When two or more people are presenting, the first presenter is responsible for notifying the others. Register for the forum and the TESOL convention. TESOL is unable to reimburse program participants for expenses.
Do not change the conceptual content of your session once it has been accepted. Bring enough handouts for your room size, which will be indicated in the proposal acceptance message. Participate in all the activities of the entire Graduate Student Forum from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm.

Steps in Submitting a Proposal

Proposals that do not follow these steps are automatically disqualified.

1. If the proposal is accepted, the proposal must include an abstract that will appear in the Program Book. Participants in the forum will use the abstract to decide which presentations to attend. Make sure the abstract has the following information in the upper left corner: (a) title, (b) presenter’s full name, (c) institutional affiliation, (d) city, (e) state/province, and (f) country.

Title Guidelines:

(a) accurately reflects the content
(b) is clear to the intended audience
(c) has no colon in the title
(d) is limited to seven words. Each part of a slashed or hyphenated word counts as one word. Do not use quotation marks. Capitalize all major words. Examples: (1)Participants' Perspectives on In-Service Teacher Training (seven words), (2) Web Sites for Teaching U.S. Popular Culture (seven words).

Abstract Guidelines:

(a) does not exceed 50 words
(b) is written in the third-person present tense (e.g., "The presenter begins by ... and she/he ...”)
(c) avoids all references to published works
(d) is carefully edited and proofread
(e) is written to draw the most appropriate audience to the presentation
(f) spells out any acronym(s) used in the title

Sample Abstract: This paper reports on research conducted to determine how to best develop language learning strategies. The participants were EFL learners in a Southeast Asian nation. This research compared the natural development of strategies among students in traditional classrooms with the effects of specific instruction in strategies and their use.

2. Prepare a one-page summary of the presentation content. Only the referees will see the proposal summary; it will not appear in the Program Book. Make sure your proposal summary has the following information in the upper left corner: (a) title, (b) type of presentation (i.e., paper, demonstration, poster session), (c) designated interest area, (d) content area, and (e) audiovisual equipment needs.

Proposal Summary Guidelines:

(a) is limited to one 8 1/2" x 11" (21.5 x 28 cm) page. Longer summaries are disqualified.
(b) is typed: double-spaced, dark, and readable
(c) does not include names of the presenter(s) or institution(s)
(d) presents a clearly stated purpose and point of view
(e) includes supporting details and examples
(f) contains evidence of current practices and/or research
(g) uses appropriate format (e.g., paper, demonstration)
(h) uses a variety of techniques (e.g., activities, visuals)
(i) indicates that a presenter can cover the material in the allotted time
(j) is carefully edited and proofread

Proposal Summary Content:

(a) paper: synopsis that includes central idea and supporting evidence
(b) demonstration: central purpose and description of what will be demonstrated
(c) poster session: main ideas to be presented and description of the visual display

Registering to Attend or Present at the Forum

To attend the 2009 Graduate Student Forum, you must register for the TESOL 2009 Graduate Student Forum. Registration for the 2009 Graduate Student Forum is a separate process. Although there is no extra forum registration fee for students registered for the TESOL convention, registration is still required for the Graduate Student Forum because space limits attendance to 160 participants. To register, fill out the registration form and send it to the address below. Registrations must be received by February 25, 2009.

TESOL Graduate Student Forum
4064 JFSB
Brigham Young University
Provo, UT 84602 USA

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You Are What Conferences You Attend

An academic's identity is shaped in part by what conferences she or he attends. This is true especially for graduate students and junior scholars who are just beginning to discover and construct their own disciplinary alignments.

When I was a graduate student, I attended AAAL, CCCC and TESOL on a regular basis. I also attended local affiliates and special topic conferences being held in the area. But how can a graduate student afford to attend all these conferences? Attending multiple conferences can be especially hard for graduate students who are working in interdisciplinary fields. Well, I wasn't particularly rich--my spouse and I were both on TA stipends--but I was able to find ways to finance my trips.

Here are some strategies:

  • Apply for internal travel funding. Check with the graduate student organization and the graduate program in your department to see if they have any travel funding for graduate students who are presenting a paper. The graduate school at your institution may also have some travel funding.
  • Apply for external travel funding. Some professional organizations (e.g., AAAL, CCCC, TESOL) have travel grants and awards for graduate students. Many local TESOL affiliates also offer travel grants for attending the international TESOL conference.
  • Apply for graduate student awards. I applied for many awards for graduate students that provided some additional funding. It also helped enhance my profile and boost my confidence.
  • Look for volunteer opportunities. Some conferences, such as AAAL, provide graduate students with opportunities to volunteer for a few hours in exchange for registration discount or waiver. The volunteer work itself is a good way of getting to know the organization and other members.
  • Split the cost with someone else. Share a hotel room with other graduate students from your program or other programs. Plan to arrive at the airport at the same time with other people you know so you can share a cab. Making these arrangements becomes easier as you develop your professional network by attending more conferences.
  • Find inexpensive hotels in the area. Many cities have public transportation options that make commuting to the conference realistic. I personally didn't use this strategy too much, though, because I wanted to be in the middle of action. I tended to stay at the headqarter hotel (or ones that were close to them), which tends to be more expensive. I go to conferences to meet people, not just to attend sessions.
  • Find a grocery or convenience store and get water, cookies, energy bars, and other inexpensive and quick breakfast and lunch items. At conferences, it's usually more important to be able to go to dinners with people you meet, but sometimes you end up going to really expensive restaurants (depending on who you hang out with), so it's important to find ways to reduce the cost for breakfast and lunch.
  • Go to publisher's exhibits where coffee and snacks may be available.
  • Go to events and receptions where food is served. For example, CCCC invites first-time attendees to a breakfast where pastries and coffee are served.
  • Forget expensive vacation plans. You get to travel to a lot of different cities by attending conferences. Plan your vacations around them, if necessary.
  • Attend local and regional conferences. Attending small conferences could be more rewarding than people may realize because it provides opportunities to meet people in the field in a more relaxed and intimate setting.

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Ph.D. Program in Applied Linguistics at ASU

Here is the poster for the Ph.D. Program in Applied Linguistics at ASU. If anyone would like a hard-copy version to post on their bulletinboards for their undergraduate or master's students who might be interested, please let me know.

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I Miss Being a Grad Student

“I don’t believe it,” is the response I have come to expect from my graduate students whenever I tell them that I miss being a graduate students because I had more time on my hands as well as more intellectual freedom. They don’t quite say it, but the gasp and the look of disbelief are quite conspicuous.

Yes, professors are busy people, despite what many folks seem to think.

As I wrote at the end of “Coming to Voice: Publishing as a Graduate Student” (2003):

Now that I have a tenure-track job, however, I have come to think of being a graduate student as a somewhat privileged status. At Purdue, I was only teaching three courses per year. I had no obligation to administer programs, serve on academic committees or mentor graduate students, although I did so voluntarily. Most important of all, l had more freedom in choosing which conversation to join and in which form, whereas I now feel some pressure to focus on certain types of publications, such as monographs and articles in prestigious journals. Some of my professional colleagues have also told me about the pressure they felt about the need to develop a coherent professional profile that was in sync with their teaching. My professional identity will no doubt be influenced by the ever-so-unclear requirements for tenure and promotion. But will I be able to continue thinking like a professional whose goal is to contribute to the field regardless of how it will be evaluated? Will I start thinking like a junior faculty member who will publish for tenure and promotion—for the sake of having published? Or will I be able to find a happy medium? The biggest challenge I faced as a graduate student continues to confront me.
I wrote this in my first year on tenure-track at Miami University, but even after having gone through the tenure process twice—once at UNH and again when I moved to ASU with tenure—it still rings true.

I’ve managed to focus on what I think is important for the field and for second language writers, but I do sometimes think about things like the impact factor when I choose the journal to send my manuscript to, which many institutions now use as a way of evaluating faculty contributions. The impact factor is not the best measure of the relative value of a journal, but it is one way of measuring the impact that a journal has on the field. (I must say, though, that using the impact factor to compare across different disciplines--or even within subfields--is meaningless. To do that, we need an index that accounts for the size of the field, among many other things.)

I’ve also been struggling with the balance between what I want to do and what I’m asked to do (which is not altogether different from what I want to do because I can say—and have said—no). It’s nice to be invited to write on a particular topic, which helps me to expand the scope of my work, but sometimes it takes time away from those exciting new projects that I’ve been wanting to work on.

A few days ago, Abby Knoblauch, one of my collaborators and a former student of mine, sent me an email to let me know how she is doing on her new job as an Assistant Professor of English at Kansas State University. I was happy to hear from her especially because things seems to be going well for her—she surrounded by nice and supportive colleagues. What struck me the most, however, was her comment that she didn’t realize how busy being a professor really would be.
Suddenly graduate school seemed to be full of these grand expanses of free time. I know that's not true—or at least not how it felt—but yikes am I busy. I mean, clearly you know this, but it's all new to me.
On top of the heavier teaching load and committee work as well as the never-ending expectation to produce scholarly work, she is inundated with email and campus mail from various people, which takes up a lot of time to sort through.

I assured her that the workload will only increase as she moves up in rank, but that it is possible to learn to cope with it.

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Graduate Junction

I received a message from Dan Colegate at University of Durham, UK, who has created an interesting new website for graduate student networking. I'm posting the following at his request:

The Graduate Junction is the first website to bring together Masters, Doctoral and Postdoctoral researchers and scholars from any discipline across the globe. The Graduate Junction’s aim is to provide an easy way of meeting and discussing research interests with others in a multi-disciplinary environment, alongside comprehensive listings of information relevant to the graduate research community.

The Graduate Junction is still very new so if you can't find lots of other researchers who share your interests straight away, simply leave some details on your profile page so that others can find you as the community grows.

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Advice for Master’s in TESOL Applicants

Here is my advice to people who are thinking about applying to the Master’s Program in TESOL at ASU. The information provided here is my personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of other MTESOL faculty members, the Department or ASU.

Statement of Purpose. To me, this is the most important document. Here are some of the questions that I ask as I read through these documents:

  • Why do you wish to pursue a master’s degree in TESOL? To begin your career as an English language teacher? To become a more effective teacher in your current teaching context? To expose yourself to the most up-to-date ideas about the English language, language learning, and language teaching? To gain the credential to teach in intensive language programs or college-level ESL courses? To prepare yourself for a research career in TESOL (by continuing onto a Ph.D. program)?
  • What experience have you had in the field of TESOL? Have you taken a course? Have you taught English? Have you reflected on your own language learning experience? It’s OK not to have any experience at all—everyone has to start somewhere, and Master’s Program in TESOL provides an excellent starting point.
  • What do you hope to learn through your studies? Although Master’s Program in TESOL is a general preparation for professionals in TESOL, it helps to have a sense of what you hope to learn in the program, which helps you determine the best plan of study and identify appropriate faculty mentors.
  • Why are you interested in this particular program? It is the wide variety of courses that are offered by the program? Is it the opportunity to gain teaching experience through the internship program? Is it the reputation of the faculty members or graduates of the program? Did a graduate of this program recommend it to you? If so, what did they say that made you want to apply to this program?
  • Do you have a faculty member whose work you are interested? If so, you can mention the person as one of the reasons for applying to this particular program—it shows that you’ve done your homework. But don’t just drop names—listing everyone is not as effective as mentioning one or two people and explaining how their work has inspired you and relates to your professional development and career objectives.
  • What do you plan to do when you complete the program? Do you plan to teach in the United States or abroad? Do you plan to continue onto a Ph.D. program in TESOL or a related field? Are you thinking about starting a language school of your own? A graduate degree is always a means to an end. Have a clear idea about where you are headed. It’s OK to change your mind after you enter the program—you will be introduced to the whole world of TESOL during your studies, and you may discover new possibilities you’ve never considered.
Recommendation Letters. Ask someone who is in the field of TESOL and who knows you and your work very well. Although a letter from a well-known person in the field could help, a weak, dashed-off letter from the same person could actually hurt the case. It is more important to have strong letters that detail your academic strengths, personality traits, your relationships with mentors and classmates, and your interest in and commitment to the profession. (See Recommendation Letters.)

TOEFL or IELTS Score. Advanced proficiency in spoken and written English is essential for your success as a student and future English teacher. If you are an international student, the current requirement is a TOEFL score of 600 PBT, 250 CBT or 100 iBT, or an IELTS score of 6.5. If you don’t have the scores, ASU offers an excellent, multi-level English language program in the American English and Culture Program (AECP), where you can work on your English proficiency while preparing your application.

Official Transcripts. Be sure that your overall GPA is 3.0 on a 4 point scale (i.e., B average) or above. It would help if you have taken courses related to applied linguistics, linguistics or language teaching, but it’s neither required nor necessary.

Department of English Application. Fill it out completely and neatly. Type the form—hand-written applications can be a turn-off.

Graduate Application (online). Be sure to complete both Department of English and Graduate Application.

Best of luck with your application process!

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References for a Job

I've written on the topic of requesting a recommendation letter, but what about asking someone to be a reference (i.e., listing that person on your CV or resume)?

Of course it depends on the situation, but the same general principles of requesting a recommendation letter also apply.

  • Don't assume that the person can (or is willing to) serve as your reference. Ask for their permission to have their names included--before you include the name on your resume or CV.
  • Ask for the preferred contact information. Some people may wish to receive those phone calls at home while others may not like to be bothered at home. Others may prefer email over phone.
  • Provide some information about the job. Who is the employer? What's the nature of the job? (Summer job? Permanent job? Internship?) Is there a job description? In what ways do you think you qualify for the job?
  • Provide the timelines. When is the application deadline? When will they be scheduling the interviews? When does the job start? This type of information will help your prospective reference to anticipate when they might receive the call.

It would help if you could provide the documents that you would normally provide when you ask for a recommendation letter.

You would want the person to say that you are well organized and considerate, and has strong communication skills (among many other things). If so, it would help if you could demonstrate those skills when you make the request.

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Steve Simpson's Publication

The chapter on mentoring that Steve Simpson and I wrote together just came out:

Simpson, S., & Matsuda, P. K. (2008). Mentoring as a long-term relationship: Situated learning in a doctoral program. In C. P. Casanave & X. Li (Eds.), Learning the literacy practices of graduate school: Insiders' reflections on academic enculturation (pp. 90-104). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

It provides an overview of my approach to mentoring as well as Steve's perspective on how it worked for him during the first few years of doctoral studies.

It's been fun working with you on this project, Steve!

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New position for Abby Knoblauch!

A. Abby Knoblauch, my former student at UNH and co-author of the forthcoming chapter on the history of composition, has just accepted a job offer from Kansas State University. Congratulations, Abby! Well deserved!

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The Graduate College Concept

One of the first things I learned about graduate programs at ASU--even before I started--was the implementation of the graduate college concept.

This is nothing new--in Japan, graduate faculty members (people who are certified to advise graduate students) often identify themselves as belonging to the graduate school of X. (For example, at Nagoya University, I belonged to the Graduate School of International Development rather than a department or college.)

In the States, though, disciplines have traditionally been organized around departments, and each graduate program have been housed primarily--if not exclusively--with a department. For that reason, it was not always easy for a graduate student in one program to have a faculty member from another department to chair the dissertation committee even if that person is the ultimate expert in the area. Some of the reasons included the territoriarity of faculty members in the student's department and the lack of recognition or reward for the faculty who work with students in another department.

The graduate college concept, which sees faculty members as belonging to the graduate college or school, an interdepartmental unit, rather than a department, is designed to address this problem by allowing faculty members to work with students in other departments. At institutions like ASU, where experts in, say, applied linguistics are situated in various departments and units on different campuses, it makes a lot of sense.

The original program-in-department structure is not going to go away entirely because of issues like program funding, tenure and promotion. But there will be more fluidity in exchanging people and their experties. At least that's the idea.

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ASU Applied Linguistic PhD Now Official

Arizona Board of Regents has approved the creation of the Ph.D. Program in Applied Linguistics at Arizona State University. The program will be accepting the first cohort of students to begin in August 2008. Applications will be accpted between February 11 and 29, 2008.

What this means is that students now have the option of specializing in second language writing in one of the two doctoral programs: 1) Rhetoric/Composition and Linguistics; and 2) Applied Linguistics.

But how to decide? The relationship between the two programs will be evolving over the next few years, but at this point, all I can say is to look at both programs and see what seems to work best for your own purpose. (If you are unsure, I would even suggest applying to both programs.)

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Chronicle Careers: 1/8/2008: Taking Time for R&R

Chronicle Careers: 1/8/2008: Taking Time for R&R

Here is a useful tip about what to do when your manuscript receives a "revise and resubmit" from a peer-reviewed journal.

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Carnegie Foundation Creates New 'Owner's Manual' for Doctoral Programs -

Here is some news about a publication that looks seriously at the need for improving the preparation of future researchers in doctoral programs. (I personally think the Chronicle headline misses the point, though.)

According to the Chronicle article, the report (rightly, I think) criticizes the (historical) master-apprentice model that relies on accidental match of personalities. (The model of apprenticeship being discussed here seems to be the historical apprenticeship, rather than apprenticeship in situated learning.) It uses the term mentoring instead:

The study recommends that doctoral programs adopt new structures that allow students to have several intellectual mentors and come to think of mentorship as less an accident of interpersonal chemistry and as more a set of techniques that can be learned, assessed, and rewarded.

Some of these efforts are already in place, as we will see in Chris Casanave and Xiaoming Li's forth coming book. But it's true that it has depended more on individual initiatives rather than institutionalized practices. The good news is that ASU is being mentioned as one of the model institutions for encouraging successful mentoring at the doctoral level.

The challenge, of course, is to institutionalize these practices without falling into the trap of believing that successful mentoring relationships can be mass-produced. As Steve Simpson and I tried to articulate in our chapter on mentoring (to appear in Casanave and Li), this is something mentors and mentees have to work out as they develop their relationships.

What worries me about this report, as represented by the Chronicle article, is that it seems to reduce mentoring into a set of skills that can be prescribed to anyone. Well, it's not that simple.

While I agree that part of the problem is the heavy reliance on "accidental match of personalities," prescribing techniques seems limited as a solution. For mentoring to really work, both mentors and mentees need to recognize the need to make concerted and ongoing efforts to develop a productive relationship. And that, IMHO, takes much more than just "a set of techniques."

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Second Language Writing at ASU

Since many people have been asking this question lately, I thought I'd answer it here once and for all. The question is: "Does ASU offer a Ph.D. program where I can specialize in second language writing?"

The answer, of course, is a resounding YES, whether you are interested in situating yourself in the disciplinary context of either applied linguistics/TESOL or rhetoric/composition--or both.

I chose to come to ASU because, among many other things, it offers an opportunity for me to work with doctoral students who are interested in second language writing.

The English Department has a large and well-established doctoral program in Rhetoric/Composition and Linguistics, which is one of the few doctoral programs that programmatically integrate the major disciplinary perspectives that informs the field of second language writing.

Within the program, students can specialize in second language writing by integrating insights from various areas of inquiry that are relevant to second language writing researchers. By working with faculty members who represent a diverse areas of inquiry, students can learn to position themselves in different disciplinary contexts that are most appropriate for their research agenda.

ASU also has a large number of faculty members with relevant specializations in different departments and divisions throughout the institution.

Each year, I will be offering an advanced graduate seminar on second language writing research, and I'm looking forward to working closely with bright and highly motivated doctoral students who are interested in participating in this growing field of inquiry.

For more information about ASU's Ph.D. Program in Rhetoric/Composition and Linguistics, visit the website maintained by the English Department.

Also see:

Applying to a Graduate Program
Choosing a Ph.D. Program

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Applying to a Graduate Program

Many prospective graduate students are beginning to think about which programs to apply to and how to prepare the application materials. Since a few peoeple have asked already, I'm going to share a few thoughts.

I've already discussed how to find a suitable graduate program for you, so I'm going to focus here on how to write a strong statement of aims and purpose (aka. statement of purpose or personal statement).

First, read the guidelines carefully. If it says one-page, stick to one-page. Single or double spaced? If it doesn't specify, I'd go for a single-space document with block paragraphs with a blank line between paragraphs (just like this "document"). It's a lot easier to read than a double-spaced document. Use a font that's easy to read rather than those that look nice but slow down the reading process.

A strong opening statement that grabs the reader's interest is important, but don't get too fancy. In my experience, what appeals to the admission committee is not the style of writing (although the lack of style could work against you) but the substance: that you are an intelligent person who is devoted to the field; that you have a clear sense of purpose; that you know enough about the field and are eager to learn much, much more; that you have done the homework to find out about the strengths of the program you are applying to; that you have the determination to complete the course of study; that you are a pleasant person to work with (or rather, that you are not an unpleasant person to work with).

These are not to be stated explicitly. Instead, they have to come through to the readers as you state your sense of purpose in pursuing a Ph.D. degree.

In other words, voice--as I defined in Matsuda (2001) and Matsuda and Tardy (2007)--is crucial in this type of academic writing; it is inseparable from the substance.

It's also important to have a sense of what you wish to do when you complete the course of study and why you think the program you are applying to can prepare you for that professional goal. Is it the scope of the program? Is it the particular set of courses that are available? Is it a specific faculty member (or faculty members) who has the theoretical and methodological expertise that you are interested in acquiring?

In the process of preparing the document, you will (I hope) find out a lot about the program you are applying to, which will help you develop a realistic sense of what you can expect from the program. I also hope you will learn more about your own reasons for pursuing a graduate degree and how much you really want to study in that program. The opportunity to examine the match between you and the program of your dream might be the second most important function of the statement of aims and purpose.

The most important function, of course, is to get yourself admitted to the program.

Good luck to you all!

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Advice for New Ph.D. Students

An annonymous reader asks: "Do you have any (general) advice for incoming Comp/Rhet PhD students? I want to read this post!"

Here are a few things I can think of:

1. Read a lot. I've said this many times, and I'll say it again. Being a graduate student--no matter how you may feel at the moment--is a luxury. You may not have a whole lot of money, but you have plenty of time. (Relatively speaking, of course.) If you think you are already too busy as a doctoral student, wait until you get a tenure-track position. (But then again, you may not get to that point if you don't read a lot now.)

2. Start developing your own professional library. Your investment will start paying off as soon as you begin to write your first seminar paper. You will probably notice the benefits most strongly when you take the preliminary/comprehensive exam, but it will also continue to be helpful throughout your career. When I was a grad student, my professional library included all the books on my primary field of interest (i.e., second language writing) as well as most of those books that I found remotely interesting or those that were cited or mentioned frequently. Reference books (e.g., encyclopedia, bibliographies, MLA and APA manuals) would also help. Start early because you won't have the time (or money) to buy all the books you need when you get your first tenure-track position (if you get to that point, that is).

3. Have a "room of one's own." Create a space where you can focus on your projects. Even if you live in a small apartment, try to devote a desk to your professional work. Set it up so you have all the resources--including books, articles, a computer, a printer, notepads, pens, sticky notes, etc.--available at your fingertip. Stock up on office supplies so you don't have to put your writing on hold when you run out of notepads. A moment of interruption could kill the momentum!

4. Develop a network of people who share similar interests or concerns. Starting a reading group is one way of accomplishing this. Creating or joining an email discussion list is another. Going to a conference regularly is yet another.

5. Get to know the faculty members in your program. Taking classes is not the only way of getting to know them. When they are giving presentations locally or at conferences, go to their sessions and ask questions (but try not to monopolize them). Take them out for a cup of coffee or a glass of beer or wine or whatever they fancy--within your graduate student budget. Find out what they find interesting (and what they find boring), what they know (and don't know), what kind of methodological approaches they like (or dislike), and how they interact with you, with other students, and with other faculty members. Knowing the faculty members and the interpersonal dynamics among them would be especially important when you choose your dissertation/exam chair and committee members. (And when you choose your dissertation committee members, always consult your chair.) Keep in mind that your default advisor (if there is one) doesn't have to be your dissertation chair.

6. Be open to a wide range of theoretical and methodological approaches in your field. Although sometimes it's important to trust your gut feelings and follow your intuition, you don't always fall in love with the right topic or methodology at first. Try to develop a large repertoire before deciding on your dissertation topic.

7. Have fun. If you feel like you are sacrificing something else when you read and write in your field, entering a Ph.D. program may not be the right career decision. If you have that much discipline to complete the degree requirements without really enjoying the process, you might consider choosing from many other career options out there that don't require a Ph.D. and that you might actually enjoy.

Hope this helps. Good luck to you all!

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Choosing a Ph.D. Program

It's that time of the year again. I've been talking to various people who are interested in applying to Ph.D. programs. Here are some pieces of advice I keep giving out to help them choose an appropriate program for them.

1. Find out whether doctoral-level work is really for you. The doctorate is, first and foremost, a research degree that prepares people to become knowledge producers. It's not a glorified teacher certification program. (Teaching is an important part of professional preparation especially in my fields, but teaching proficiency or potential is a pre-requisite; training teachers is not the primary purpose of Ph.D. programs.)

2. Learn about the field you are getting into. It is important for a Ph.D. applicant to have a solid understanding of what the field is all about, what kind of research people have done and are currently doing, and what applications (if any) there may be. Familiarize yourself with some of the key ideas, terms and names in the field. Read widely and read a lot. (A master's degree in the same field is not always required, but even with a relevant degree, if you can't demonstrate a broad understanding of the field, getting accepted into a good program can be difficult.)

3. Know what your interests are. At least in the U.S. context, it's not always necessary for a beginning Ph.D. students to have a clear research program at the beginning of doctoral studies. A broad understanding and interest in the field as a whole and in a few areas of specialization would do.

Am I ever going to get to the question of how to choose a program? I know, I know. Be patient. It's not a quick and easy decision like picking the right avocado for making guacamole tonight. If you don't do your homework, you are going to regret it--big time.

4. Read more in the subfield in which you are particularly interested. In this process, you will familiarize yourself with key topics, issues and methodological approaches in association with particular names of authors who publish actively and are cited often. If you have a sense of who's who in the field, you are ready to look at specific programs.

5. Make a list of people whose work you find interesting--their topics, methodological approaches, and their arguments. Leave out people whose work you find incomprehensible or incompatible with your own orientation.

6. Go on line and find out where they teach. By now, you should be able to do this without looking up the information--from your reading of many of their recent publications. Find out whether they teach in doctoral programs and, if so, what kind of courses they teach, in what department, what other faculty members are teaching in the same program, what kind of courses are offered, what and how their graduate students seem to be doing in terms of presentations, publications, dissertation projects, and job placement.

7. Try to get to know these people. You might contact them by email. Be very polite, tactful, and to the point. If possible, state briefly why you are contacting that particular person. Don't ask any questions that can be answered by looking at the program/graduate school web site or by asking administrative assistants for the graduate program. Ask those questions that cannot be answered by anybody else. If possible, arrange a campus visit and meetings with faculty members and graduate students.

8. Try to get to know their students. When you go to conferences (if you don't, then start going to conferences in the field), go to sessions presented by faculty and students from that institution. (If you can't find anyone from the institution at major conferences in the field, then you know what to do--move the institution to the bottom of the list.) Tell them that you are interested in applying to their program and ask them to share their insights about the program, faculty members, financial support, and life in the program, at the university and in the area.

9. If a writing sample is required (as it usually is), choose one that demonstrates your broad understanding of the field and your analytical and research skills as well as the quality of writing. Remember: good writing is not complicated writing. Use keywords in the field, but don't use big words unnecessarily just to impress the admissions committee--they will easily see through it.

10. The statement of purpose or the "personal statement" should focus on your professonal aspirations, not the details of your personal lives. Admissions committee memebers couldn't care less about the close relationship you had with your dog when you were in elementary school--unless you are applying to a doctoral program in, say, animal psychology. The conventions and expectations may vary from program to program, but in general, include: why you are interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in the field (and perhaps what you hope to do in the future), what subfields you are interested in and, most important, why you are interested in the particular program (faculty, courses, quality of graduate student publications, etc.). You don't have to sell yourself too much--this is not a job application. Being a good student and colleague who will successfully and promptly complete the degree and become an active member of the field is sufficient.

Hope this helps. Good luck!

Related blog entries:
PhDing (freshcomp)
App season (Collin vs. Blog)

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Read Widely

Nels Highberg's comment and his related blog entry has inspired me to clarify my advice and to articulate its corollary: Read widely.

I try to keep up with the literature in both rhetoric/composition and applied linguistics/TESOL, both of which are highly interdisciplinary, drawing on various areas of humanities and social sciences. I often find myself having to go into many other fields to fully understand my own fields. And I happen to believe that borrowing ideas from other disciplines requires a deep understanding of the intellectual and historical contexts in which those ideas were developed--so I know what the idea can and cannot do as well as what my borrowing might do to my field and the field it came from.

Naturally, my reading list continues to snowball.

It's certainly impossible to have read everything in all of these (and many more) areas of knowledge. So, my advice, "read everything," is not an imperative to have read everything--a state no one will ever achieve. Rather, it's a call to begin and continue reading deeply and widely.

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"Read Everything" Again

My blog entry on reading everything seems to have generated some interesting discussion. I like what Derek Mueller says:

This paradox is the ongoing challenge, no? Read everything; to read everything is impossible. Still, one must. But cannot. Etc. The outlying factors bear down and raise related questions: write everything? How much to read before writing? While writing? How much to write while reading?
It is indeed paradoxical, especially because the professional literature keeps expanding. Nevertheless, it is important to "collect" everything, as Collin Brooke suggests, and to develop a mental map of the field that continues to evolve with the researcher's knowledge of the field.

Derek also poses an important question--when do we stop reading and start writing (or do we stop reading)? Of course the reading process never stops. As I write, I discover what I know as well as what I don't know or don't remember well, or inconsistencies in my thinking, prompting me to go back to various texts. (I sound like my dear friend Don Murray when I say this.)

When I was an MA student, I approached the process of reading to write as "information crunching"--and I had the image of defragmenting hard-drives in mind. I would type up relevant passages into the document, break them up into smaller clusters, rearrange them to fit the evolving organization of my own writing, and then paraphrase or summarize what I can, leaving the rest of the original texts as direct quotes.

After having read (and written) quite bit in the field (though still not enough), I began to experience what Jeff Rice describes:
At some point in my career, I found myself able to perform a pretty amazing (to me) feat when writing. I was able to pull out of my memory not details, but positions, ideas, arguments, stances from my past reading. That build-up is important. Out of it, I can write, and I can join the conversations.
My writing process changed quite a bit while I was working on my Ph.D. at Purdue. I would now just read, read, and read (though increasingly, I find myself drawing mostly on what I remember having read) and then, when I feel I have a good sense of the topic and my overall argument--the vision, if you will--for the entire article, I start drafting without looking at anything. I can often cite sources from memory, though I try to verify them later for accuracy. Then, as I read through my own writing numerous times, I keep adding more sources, this time checking the original sources for exact wording and page numbers.

I also feel that reading the professional literature has become much easier. I know what to read carefully (and several times) and what to skim through quickly because I can often predict where I might find certain arguments or pieces of information because of my genre knowledge. Sometimes I can even predict what the text is going to say before reading it based on my knowledge of what's been said and done; in those cases, reading is a matter of confirming my predictions and noting any discrepancies.

All of this may seem overwhelming to those who are only beginning to read--ahem--everything, but it'll come with practice. But it probably doesn't happen to those whose reading experience has not reached a critical mass.

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Read Everything

One of the stock pieces of advice that I give gradaute students is to "read everything." Of course it's impossible to read everything that has ever been written, but I do expect researchers to have read everything--literally everything--on subtopics within the field on which they are writing.

When I start a new project, I usually begin by collecting all the books and articles that have anything to do with that topic. I prefer to buy those books--especially those that are often cited in one of my own fields--rather than check them out from the library or through the ILL. I need to have all my intellectual tools at my disposal. That has always been my preference--even when I was a poor graduate student. Building a good professional library is an important investment.

I scan through them to explore the intertextuality--which sources get mentioned more frequently and how. I then collect more sources if I don't have them handy. Without this process, it wouldn't be possible to come up with viable research questions or to know what questions or concerns reviewers and readers might have.

Reading everything is especially important at the beginning of a researcher's career. One of the problem of novice researchers trying to read selectively is that they are not likely to have developed appropriate criteria for choosing what is important and what is not. The discernment in reading scholarly books and articles can come only from an extensive knowledge of the field, which is, after all, a synthesis of the diverse bodies of knowledge held by everyone who identifies herself or himself as a member of the field.

A novice researcher who doesn't try to read everything is like someone watching Star Wars Episode III without having watched the other five episodes. The main plot and some of the details might still be entertaining, but the person's appreciation of the film is necessarily limited by the lack of background knowledge and intertextual awareness.

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Breadth and Depth of Knowledge

Lately, I have been thinking (again) about the importance of breadth and depth of knowledge for doctoral students and, more important, what I can do to help them in this regard.

In the seminar on composition theory--where I emphasize doing theory rather than merely knowing or critiquing theory--I have mentioned on several occasions the importance of having the ability to construct and analyze arguments on the one hand and the broad knowledge of the topic on the other hand.

This sounds pretty basic, but these are the two most important things in philosophical inquiry, in which theory is developed discursively. If the argument is strong (not in the sense of forceful but in the sense of informal logic, where argument is evaluated on the strong-weak continuum), and if the argument accounts for a large body of existing knowledge, the bar is raised for those who seek to critique it. Likewise, those who can analyze arguments well and know more about the subject (or other related subjects) have an edge.

I can help my doctoral students with the analytical skills by focusing on theories of argument (the effectiveness of which is debatable, I realize) and by giving them ample practice in constructing arguments (through presentations and writing assignments) as well as critiquing arguments in the field (through reading assignments and discussion). But what about the breadth and depth of knowledge? The field of composition studies is quickly expanding and becoming more fragmented, and in many cases it is impossible to even give them a comprehensive reading list of publications related to the topic of the course. And if I assign too many readings, the quality of the reading experience may go down, and there is not enough time to discuss each of the readings in sufficient detail.

This semester, I have tried to solve this problem by assigning a presentation and a bibliographic essay about a topic in composition theory in the middle of the semester. The idea is to get students to practice defining a knowledge domain and tracing how different theories interact with one another while, in the process, helping them learn (incidentally) how to identify relevant sources and to read critically but quickly. I also encouraged students to think of it as a practice for the doctoral exam. All of them took it seriously and did a pretty good job--they are ambitious students.

If they got a sense of how much more there is to know about any given topic, I would consider that a small success.

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Last update: January 6, 2008