Top 10 Tips For Writing a Professional Research Paper

faq_overHow do we do it? How do we at Unemployed Professors manage to produce so many top-quality research papers in so little time? The answer is that we each have our own method that is designed to create efficiencies while not compromising on quality.
Although there is no single right way of producing a professional research paper, here is one possible approach:

  1. Follow the rubric precisely. If the essay question calls for a ten-side paper divided into two parts addressing two different themes, then write a paper that does just that. Do not imagine that eight or twelve sides is acceptable, or that you can get away with covering only one theme, or that the paper will somehow be enhanced by addressing three or more themes. If the instructions stipulate that Harvard referencing must be used, do not use MLA. It’s basic stuff, but essential.
  2. Search for relevant sources. Sometimes the sources to be used are indicated in the instructions. Most research papers, however, require the writer to conduct independent research and to find appropriate sources him/herself. Click here to find out how to do this. Finding the relevant literature should be one of the first things a writer does. Most are available electronically through university libraries and Google Scholar.
  3. Do the reading. This is often the most time-consuming task, as it can take many hours, if not days, to read the relevant literature. There are some ways to save time: in the case of journal articles, for example, read the abstract first, then the introduction, then the conclusion. That way, you will know the key points the author is trying to make and may also get a sense of where in the article to find other important information. Another option is to use a keyword search in the case of electronic sources.
  4. Take notes. Whenever you come across something in the literature that seems relevant, note it down. If often pays to copy exact quotations together with their page numbers. If you have any thoughts about the literature while reading, especially critical ones, write those down, too. Put your notes for each source in a separate Google Drive document to begin with. Once you have finished reading each source, go through that document and add in the author and year before each page number. This can be done quickly by copying and pasting, and it means you will have a ready-made array of in-text citations to choose from when it comes to the writing stage.
  5. Create a bibliography. Counter-intuitively, the first part of the essay to be finalized will (if you follow this advice) be the bibliography. As you take notes, create a separate bibliography tab on Google Drive and add in the full bibliographic references, organized alphabetically by surname. By the time you have finished note-taking, your bibliography will be complete.
  6. Organize your notes thematically. Once you have done all the reading – and only then – divide your notes into themes or categories. Those themes will probably have suggested themselves to you over the course of the readings; if not, look for common themes as you go through your notes. Using separate Google Drive tabs for each theme, copy and paste the most relevant parts of your notes from their “author” tabs into the new “theme” tabs. Do not cut and paste, as you may potentially need your notes in their original form later on.
  7. Think about structure. The structure of the essay will largely depend on the themes you have identified and the argument you intend to make. It is at this point that you must be clear in your own mind what your thesis statement will be and how best to go about arguing your case given the material and knowledge you now have available. The different themes will likely correspond to different sections of the essay, but you will also need to have something original to say in each section that can form the “red thread” of your argument.
  8. Write up each section in turn. Now that you have a good sense of the overall shape of the paper, go through each section, turning the ready-made array of relevant thoughts and quotations into beautiful flowing prose. If the referencing style requires footnotes rather than in-text citations, be sure to use footnotes as you write up. Style is not something that can be easily taught; it develops over many years. Nevertheless, the professional writer can be relied upon to produce lucid, unambiguous sentences as well as touches of stylistic flourish. Plagiarism is unacceptable. Collate the various sections into one document so as to produce a single flowing argument.
  9. Add the introduction and conclusion. Just as the bibliography comes first in order of completion, so the introduction comes last (along with the conclusion). For only once the body of the essay has been written up does it become absolutely certain what the argument is. Only at this point can a punchy introduction be written that confidently announces a thesis statement and offers a “roadmap” for the rest of the essay. Similarly, only at this point is it absolutely clear what the sum findings of the argument are, making it easy to summarize those findings in the conclusion.

Format the paper and proof read. Once the body of the paper has been written, add the bibliography and format the paper according to requirements. Usually this involves the Times New Roman font, size 12, double-spaced with 2.5cm margins. Be sure to include page numbers, and make sure the page count (or word count) is correct. Perform a spelling and grammar check using your word processor. Finally, proof read the entire paper to make certain that its quality is as good as it can be.

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How To Find And Evaluate Credible Sources For Your Research Paper

birthThe essence of writing a research paper is engaging critically with a particular scholarly debate and making an original intervention of some kind. Key to writing a top-quality research paper, therefore, is making sure that you draw upon and critically evaluate the right sources. This involves two stages:

Finding Credible Sources

The sources you use must, in the main, be recognized scholarly sources, principally journal articles, academic books, and book chapters. Other allowable, if less common, sources include (but are by no means limited to) government websites, reports published by NGOs, academic conference proceedings, and media pieces of special significance. This means that you must resist the urge to include newspaper and magazine articles, blog entries, and random internet sites unless absolutely necessary for some reason. Wikipedia must definitely not appear in your research paper. The key principle for determining whether or not something should be deemed a credible source is usually (though not always) whether or not that source has undergone some form of academic peer review. You might also consider whether or not the author of a particular text is a reputable scholar working within the Higher Education sector, rather than, say, an ideologue, a journalist, or a talking head. Remember, the intervention you are aiming to make must be a scholarly one, and to that end you must target scholarly sources.

The best place to start when looking for credible sources is your university library. Virtually all university libraries today offer physical and electronic access to an enormous range of scholarly resources. Start with the library’s search engine, and think very hard about the key terms you wish to search for. Be as narrow and specific as you can, otherwise you risk being inundated with thousands upon thousands of results, and finding your credible sources becomes like looking for a needle in a haystack. Most library search engines offer the possibility to refine your results by, for instance, books that are available in the university library and “peer-reviewed journal articles only.” Such filters are using for eliminating newspaper and magazine articles, which might otherwise also be thrown up. You can also usually filter results by “relevance” (how closely the item corresponds to the search terms) and by “date: newest first.” One useful tip is to begin by sorting by date and to read the most recent literature first. The reason for this is that the most recent literature will not only reflect debates that are ongoing, but it will also refer back to previous literature and give you a clear indication of what has already been said so that you do not necessarily have to read all the older literature yourself. Of course, searches by date should be accompanied by searches for relevance to make sure you are not missing a very relevant but older text, and the fact of starting with newer texts does not mean that older texts should not be read. It does mean that you will develop an overview of current debates more quickly, however.

Provided you have the relevant login details (normally your student ID and password), you should be able to download the vast majority of the electronic resources that appear in the search results from your university library. In practice, however, this is not always easy, especially if you do not have much experience with the process. Different university systems have different ways of accessing the texts that appear in the search results. Usually there is a link to “view online” or similar, which then takes you to database such as EBSCO Host or JStor, where you have to click again to access the text you want. Even when the text finally comes up, typically in pdf format, you still have to find a way of downloading it, and that will depend on the specific website to which you have been redirected by the database (e.g. an academic journal website). Other variants of this somewhat convoluted process are possible. The key point is, however, you should be able to access virtually every text that appears in your search results. Do not be put off by the practical challenges of doing so. Ask a librarian for help. It is important that you get hold of the right texts.

Another useful source for locating and accessing scholarly literature – though nowhere near as good as your university library – is Google Scholar. Sometimes you get lucky and authors have posted their articles in pdf format online somewhere (e.g. academia.edu), in which case Google Scholar often has a link to the article and you can download it for free. Often, however, Google Scholar will direct you to a journal website that requires a paid subscription to be able to access the article, in which case you need to make use of your university’s subscription (if it has one) by going through your university system.

It is also worth making use of Google Books: it never lets you see the whole book, and sometimes it does not let you see any of the book, but it certainly beats carting books back from the library or waiting for books to come through on interlibrary loan. Of course, you may still want to get hold of a physical copy, either because you cannot see the pages you need or the book is so important to your research that it would be easier simply to own a copy, but in many cases you can find what you need on Google Books.

Evaluating Credible Sources

Once you have the texts you need, the next step is to evaluate them critically. In order to do so, you need first to understand the argument the author of an individual text is making. To that end, it pays to take notes as you read so that you can go back through those notes and glean an overview of the key points of the argument, along with any key quotes. It also helps to read secondary literature: other commentators may be able to shed light on the text, or point out things that you did not see yourself. Having said that, do not feel obliged to consult secondary literature, and be wary of over-relying on others’ opinions. The aim is to develop your own critical analysis of the text, not to regurgitate what others have written.

When you feel as though you properly understand what the text is trying to convey on its own terms, you need to approach it a second time, only this time with a good dose of scepticism. You need to ask some probing questions. For example, where are the logical inconsistencies in the argument (there are usually some)? What important facts has the author neglected to mention that might run counter to his/her argument? What is the author’s ideological bias, and how does it affect the quality of the argument? What rhetorical techniques does the author use to mask the deficiencies in his/her argument? And so on. The aim of this second reading is to understand the text in your terms, not the author’s. Of course, it may be that you think the text is virtually flawless, which is fine provided you can justify that opinion (but remember: no text is completely flawless).

If, for each credible source, you are able to outline the argument, identify its strengths and weaknesses, and weigh those strengths and weaknesses against one another, then you are critically evaluating that source. By repeating the process for multiple sources, you will find that your own voice emerges strongly and authoritatively and that you have something interesting and original to say when it comes to making your own argument.

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Top 10 Term Paper Writing Mistakes

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Despite the fact that most university assessments take the form of essay writing, relatively few professors bother to explain the fundamentals of essay writing to their students. As a result, the same mistakes tend to recur in students’ essays.

Here are ten of the most common:

  1. Not following the rubric. All essays must meet certain basic requirements, such as an appropriate number of sources to include, the word count, the correct referencing style, and so on. They must also meet the deadline. Failure to follow the rubric will result in automatic deductions from the final grade.
  2. Not answering the question. Some students begin by answering the question directly, only to drift off topic part way through the essay. Others change the essay question without permission in order to make it easier to answer. Other, more industrious, think they need to show off as many aspects of their extensive reading as possible, even if it has little or nothing to do with the question asked. In each case, there is a failure to stick to the question asked. This can be avoided by paying close attention to the precise wording of the essay question and checking at the end of each paragraph that it answers the question in some way.
  3. Little or no evidence of independent research. Doing the reading is normally the most time-consuming part of producing an essay. Often students simply cannot be bothered. This results in essays that fail to situate their arguments with respect to the relevant academic literature. Such essays consequently tend toward mere expressions of opinion rather than critically scholarly analysis. The antidote is, of course, to take the time to do the reading and to make sure you refer to relevant texts in your essay. Only texts that are referenced in the body of the essay should appear in the bibliography.
  4. The student’s own voice gets lost. The opposite tendency to not doing the reading is to read too widely and to get lost within the arguments of other scholars. Such papers often amount to: “scholar X say this, scholar Y says that, and scholar Z says something else.” The student’s own voice is absent, drowned out by the opinions of others. The trick is to evaluate the literature critically – to say what you think about it in the context of your own argument, not simply to cite the literature for the sake of citing it.
  5. Poor presentation. This can take a variety of forms. For example, the essay may become increasingly illegible as the printer ink runs out. It may be printed using the wrong font type and font size (Times New Roman, size 12 is the default option), or it may inconsistently use a variety of font types and font sizes. The line spacing and the margins may be wrong (double-spaced with 2.5cm margins is the norm). There may be a large blank space in the middle of the essay because of a word-processing error. The essay might display the student’s name instead of a student number (most universities prefer the latter so as to facilitate anonymous grading). In most cases, a simple proof-read of the final copy of the essay before submission is enough to detect presentational errors so that they can be eliminated.
  6. Poor spelling and grammar. Good spelling and grammar are like good manners: they make it easy for the reader to follow the flow of the essay without having to pause in order to ask: what is the student trying to say here? There is no excuse for poor spelling and grammar, because all reputable word processors have a tool to check for spelling mistakes and grammatical inconsistencies. Non-native English speakers are advised to have a native English speaker proof-read their essays prior to submission in order to make sure that their English flows properly.
  7. Poor referencing. For most Arts and Humanities and Social Science subjects, referencing nearly always falls into one of three styles: MLA, Harvard, or APA. Within each style, students generally only need to know how to reference books, book chapters, and journal articles, as well as how to format a bibliography. Yet, a sizeable minority of students fail to invest the short amount of time needed to learn correct referencing. Consequently, they get a lower grade than they need to even if the quality of their argument is high. Referencing style guidelines are easy to find online: it pays to familiarize yourself with them.
  8. Failure to grasp key concepts. Where students start work on an essay at the last minute, do not read enough secondary literature, and/or fail to invest enough time in thinking through what they have read, they run the risk of not grasping key concepts. This reflects a basic failure of understanding. Usually the best remedy is simply to do the work in the first place, or else to make use of your professor’s office hours if you are still struggling to understand.
  9. Poor structure. Essays that have not been properly thought out tend to exhibit poor structure. There is no obvious rationale as to why ideas have been arranged in the order they have been. This makes it hard to follow the argument. There is little or no logical progression to poorly structured arguments, and their hallmark is always that the reader never knows what to expect next. Good structure is put in place at the planning stage of the essay. Do not start writing as soon as you have finished the reading; instead take a moment to be clear about what it is you want to argue and how you intend to argue it. Clearly structured essays might make arguments for and against a particular thesis (rebutting counterarguments along the way). Or they might work through material/events in chronological order. Or they might proceed topic by topic or text by text. There is no single right way of structuring an essay, but a sensible rationale must be inferrable.
  10. Plagiarism. This is passing someone else’s ideas off as your own. In its crudest form, students simply copy and paste parts of another author’s writings from the internet. Professors usually spot this immediately, because the writing style suddenly changes. A more subtle form of plagiarism involves paraphrasing someone else’s ideas and presenting them as your own without giving due credit to that person. Again, professors often recognize when students are stealing someone else’ argument. Sometimes students plagiarize unintentionally by not including enough references to make clear that another person’s ideas are being invoked. Paying someone else to write your essay for you also counts as plagiarism and carries severe penalties if detected. Most universities these days offer guidance on how to avoid plagiarism, and resources are also freely available online. The simplest way, however, is to make sure you include a reference every time you invoke an idea that is not your own.

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Going to graduate school

The Winner Takes All

imagesK2RQ71JLGoing to graduate school is generally a bad idea for at least 100 reasons – this I learned much too late in my career. As I learn to adapt to the current job market I find myself reflecting on the path that brought me to Unemployed Professors. My personal route started in some very humble beginnings and took me through a variety of academic situations around the globe. These experiences have left me with little faith in the U.S. higher education system. You may think that this view is jaded, but I am perfectly happy with my successive approximations of reality.

I believe that there are more than 100 reasons not to go to graduate school, all of which can be translated into reasons why undergraduate education is a bad deal for many. The one reason that tends to float to the top of the frothy head inside my mind is that the winner takes all in the world of academics. This is similar to pedigree, but applies to those who have managed to bypass those invisible barriers. Education is very much unlike the business world (although this is rapidly changing) in that one doesn’t need to be a high-level executive to make more than a living wage.

Think about high school. In practice, the faculty teaches two types of students, college bound and not college bound. This means that the educational resources go to the college bound, who are likely from relatively privileged parents. For those not going to college, the difference is negligible between the passing and top grade in a class.

This same grading structure applies in the universities. Sure, there is the priceless satisfaction of a job well done and some intellectual enlightenment, if you are lucky; however, for most students their only reasonable expectation is higher earning potential. And from what I have seen along the way here, this is the desire of most college students.

The odds are stacked against you. To think otherwise is to be foolish. If you are not a white male, then things are even worse.

For many universities, your return on investment is diminishingly small. It’s worse if you go to a community college for anything other than a trade. I usually tell most struggling students to go become a skilled tradesman – there’s more work, money, and job satisfaction.

My peers who have received the most benefits out of their higher education were born into a world of academics and/or privilege of some sort. Their parents are mainly educators, professors, doctors, and lawyers. College is easy for them because they have already learned everything they needed to know before you even thought college might be an option.

Those who already have the most benefits will continue to receive the most benefits.

I have yet to see any students become substantially recognized and rewarded for climbing out of failure and into top-level grades and marks. This is a crying shame because it is these people who have truly shown exceptional intellect and motivation. Only the awarded get awarded. If you were not the head of your class as a young teenager, do not expect much in the way of scholarships, fellowships, awards, citations, etc.

Do not expect your boss to care that you earned the highest grade in your epistemology course. Hell, most public school districts in the U.S. could care less about their teacher’s own grades. Sure, there are exceptions to this rule, but I am not talking about the tail end of the distribution.

Higher education has no place for students who are not already in first place. It is nearly analogous to why the rich become richer and the poor become poorer. But there is one crucial difference: Those at the top of the academic pile literally get everything and everybody else gets almost nothing – there is nothing in between. You can have good ideas; but, if they are not the best ideas, then you can expect no reward.

And guess what? The best ideas are not the best ideas. We all know this, but it doesn’t matter much. What matters in academics is if you have the privilege and prestige to back your ideas. These people get the very best resources, i.e. Ivy League and top government schools, while the rest of us can only ever hope to have one or two professors who care. I used to wonder why the professors at the top schools were the worst instructors. I now know that this is a stupid question; these students already have the necessary knowledge and background needed to succeed.

The best professors are at many community colleges. Period. These are the academics who entered the game for the right reasons: 1) They care about intellectual enlightenment. 2) They believe in equitable distribution of higher education. 3) They enjoy helping people achieve and overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. Coincidentally, these are the same reasons that ensure faculty failure at the best universities. Unfortunately, the community college students are not literate enough to understand this and the community college system is constructed in such a way that faculty are intellectually and academically castrated. At one community college, I was told that they do not normally hire PhD’s because they tend to overthink the job. I had to dumb down the way that I spoke to the hiring administration for fear of not getting the job. It is a depressing situation.

Universities have become quasi-trade schools for careers with no futures. In fact, a lot them started out as trade schools, uh, I mean, colleges for teachers. You are not walking into an environment that fosters enlightened discourse. You are entering a group that is a distribution between the extremes of people who like to party and those who simply want a well-paying job. Yes, there are a few students who have deluded themselves into believing that they are intellectuals. I say do not believe everything you think.

How do we accommodate all of these lovely students without failing everybody and collapsing the university system? We do this with grade inflation, student loans, and government grants. This means that most students need to get past some dickhead professor to get a degree that is effectively worthless.

The devalued bachelor’s degree has simply become another obstacle in life. Chances are that your new employer after college will not care about your sense of equality, imagination, creative writing skills, and so on. Your degree in anthropology only qualifies you to dig holes in the real world. Got a master’s degree in anthropology? Bigger holes. And guess what again? You will most likely end up with a boss that has the intellectual appetite of a goat and the human resource skills of Darth Vader.

At this point in my career, questioning the ethics of buying a model paper/essay is mooted by reality. To succeed in a situation where the winner takes all, one must not play by the rules. Disclaimer: However, you should keep it legal.

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Petra-Pirate

June 19, 2014

The Art of Unlearning

AToffler_fullThe illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.
–Alvin Toffler

No matter how many papers you buy from us, you’re going to have to learn the stuff that applies to your hoped-for career sometime. In the 21st century, that includes the ability to unlearn. Particularly in technical fields, stuff happens, and stuff unhappens. The pace of change of knowledge is speeding up all the time, and employers demand an ability to at least marginally keep up.

Which means that technical info, How (Your) Stuff Works, and programming languages and techniques are going to change, and change fast, and that is not going to stop during your career. Learn how to forget. The easiest way to do this is to deliberately replace old knowledge with new. Have short-term mantras – “There are no curly braces in Python” – and after a few hours, you will forget the idea that there ever could be curly braces in Python. Discard the mantra, and discard the obsolete no-longer-knowledege.

 

How to be a Better Plagiarizer

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The Real Reasons Your Professor Doesn’t Want You To Plagiarize.

Every semester around Week 12, I roll out my super-deluxe “Why You Should Not Plagiarize” lecture.  It’s a riotous good time for all involved: there are thrills, there are cliff-hangers, there are built-in drum rolls.  Every student in attendance leaves the classroom 100% pumped to write their own work and not plagiarize.  Until 10 days later when they turn in their research paper and then we get to have that really awkward conversation in my office as my lunch wilts in the corner of my windowless cubicle.

I’ve been doing this a while.  I’ve been busting plagiarists a while.  And check me out getting in on the ground floor of this plagiarism business here!  If you really want to know why your professors care about plagiarism so much, read on.

Ethics shmethics.  Professors want you to turn in your own work because you’re supposed to learn and because someday you might be the one resuscitating us in the ER.  Blah blah blah.  Your thesis on Wordsworth won’t save lives.  No new ground here.  You knew this one already.

Blame it on the Man.  Everybody has a boss, including us.  Plagiarism is one coefficient in a vast equation that keeps the university credible: if too many students plagiarize, the whole thing capsizes, and we’re on the streets.  They call it ‘losing accreditation’ or some such nonsense.  Enter institutional mandates, departmental meetings, subcommittees, and lengthy statements we’re required to copy and paste into our syllabi.

Some of my colleagues really care about students doing their own work.  They can’t believe students would pass up the amazing opportunity to do the work assigned to them and that they’ve paid for the privilege to complete.  Then there are the rest of us: we’re supposed to bust you, we work on a semester-to-semester contract (this means shit benefits [go, Union!] and no job security), and we worry there might be some faceless bureaucrat tracking how many of you we do bust and factoring that into our future rehire.  Which brings me to my next point.

Don’t make it so goddamn easy to bust you.  If you turn in a paper copied and pasted off Wikipedia (it’s really helpful when you leave the hyperlinks intact or the URL right above your name), we have no choice but to act (see that bit I just mentioned about the faceless bureaucrat holding our rehire in their hands).

And that’s when I personally get pissed off.  Because you broke my cynical little Daria-heart with your plagiarizing?  Because now I know all those times you smiled and nodded during class you were just plotting your evil plagiarist takeover?  No: it’s a much simpler math than that.

Time, like matter, is neither created nor destroyed.  Those two and a half hours you saved yourself by downloading some piece of shit from CheatHouse now cost me two and a half hours as I have to download the academic dishonesty form, climb two flights of stairs to retrieve it from an office that actually has a printer, fill in and sign said form, print out a copy of your original CheatHouse mess, highlight the areas of similarity in both documents, email you, set up a meeting with you, actually attend my own office hours, listen earnestly as you pretend you had no idea how this happened, campus mail a report to my Associate Dean and the Dean of Students, and keep two copies for my records for at least a semester.  Did you see how long that sentence was?  Multiply that by 3-4 students per class and 5 sections in a good semester.  Do you know now why professors hate plagiarism?

Graduate school installs Turnitin.com inside every Professor’s brain.  You’re probably beginning to see now that professors are just like you.  We like craft beer, we zone out too much in front of Netflix, and we live our lives to generate as many really awesome Facebook updates as possible.  We are just like you—except in one really important way when it comes to plagiarism.  Professors love language, and we spent the best part of our reproductive years reading books: reading motherfucking books instead of carousing, eating Bdubs, and honing our amateur porn star skillz.  Books.  I know.  What a wasted youth.

Now that you know this, you will know how I always bust students for plagiarism.  Language.  It is like an internal, always updated, never-fail Turnitin.com installed in my brain.  If you’re plagiarizing something from The New York Times, that section of your paper will sound just like The New York Times.  If your English 101 paper uses the word “phenomenology” and it doesn’t have to, I’ll know it for the JSTOR rip-off that it is.  If your paper happens to drop a “hitherto” or “hereunder,” I’ll know that, on the other side of the world, some poor resident of a former-English speaking colony is truly grateful for the $12 you kicked their way in exchange for writing your paper for you.

Remember this as your plagiarism credo: my professors are and are not like me.  These days, we’re poring over climate models to pick the best spot on which to erect our eco-bunkers and wait out global warming (the good spots called “refugias” and I’m not telling where mine is).  Back in the day, though, we wrote whole undergraduate papers on one use of the past progressive tense in an early colonial captivity narrative.  If we can take one verb shift and turn it into a whole paper, we can sure as shit spot when a paper does not sound like its author.  (Undergraduates are pack animals: cute, cuddly, and pretty predictable in speech, writing, and thought.)

No woman, no cry: no copy and paste, no proof.  So now you know why we really hate plagiarism and how we really detect it.  Here’s the unbeatable way around plagiarism: the way that you will never get caught.  Stop copying and pasting.  Stop paying former subjects of the British Crown to do your work.

Plagiarism is a very serious charge to level against a student.  That same faceless bureaucrat who holds our job security in their hands does not want to get sued by you, the student, because of a false accusation.  I may know, to my bones, that you’ve plagiarized: I may dock as many points as I can to compensate myself for the lost minutes I spent investigating your paper on Google and SafeCheck.  If I can’t prove it, though, if I can’t print it the proof and highlight it, I’m not filling out an academic dishonesty form.  Bottom line.

Do yourself a favor and hire a professional, preferably an English-speaking one. Better yet, hire an Unemployed Professor who’ll have the cultural literacy to know that when you need a paper on someone with excellent leadership skills, you mean Jason Varitek and not Adolf Hitler (true story).

Peace,

BettiePages

Risk and Reward in Your Undergraduate Career

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Grades are important, right?
More important than anything, right?
No, wrong. Sometimes you have to take risks that may result in a slightly lower grade for a bigger post-college reward. It’s easy enough to cram all the stuff you need for a multiple-choice exam. It’s a lot harder to weave a basket. The distinction is critical. In college, you are most likely to be handed a multiple-choice exam because they’re easy to create, easy to grade, and the grading can be done by a machine or that machine called a teaching assistant.

After college, no one is going to give you a multiple-choice test. You will be expected to weave exceptional baskets in huge quantities in very short times. If you’re in computer science, you know the enormous difference between regurgitating syntax rules and writing a program that actually works. If you’re in math, you know the enormous difference between spouting back an old theorem and discovering and proving a new one.

Even in the allegedly “softer” fields, the distinction applies. In some staff departments in some corporations, you may be asked to write research studies, but in most of them most of the time, you will be managing for results.

The upshot: work on mastering the material, even if cramming and forgetting will get you a slightly better grade right now. You’ll trade a few tenths of a point for a much more solid career.

Finally, if you want your prof to notice you, make introductions for you, find you internships, and so on, master the material. Most profs are good at spotting “skaters” and will not go out of their way to help them.

Comparing the G7 Educational Systems Part-1

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The term G7 sounds like a computer chip, but it is actually a nickname for the “Group of 7” countries: The U.S., Japan, France, Germany, Italy, U.K., and Canada. Famous for their higher levels of economic development compared to other nations, these countries also have highly developed educational systems. If you want to work in one of these nations, you would do well to familiarize yourself with their educational systems, since a degree from one of these systems will improve your odds of being able to work in these countries.

                In the United States, schools exist in three main forms: primary, secondary, and post-secondary (or tertiary). Primary generally runs from kindergarten to around grade 8. Then, all students go to secondary, commonly known as high school, which is usually grades 9-12. The states have wide latitude for outlining their requirements, and there is a significant amount of standardized testing, which varies based on the city, state, and national mandates at the time. Due to the No Child Left Behind Act, all states must test children, but there is no major national test required. You have probably heard of the SAT or ACT, but these tests are generally given to assess college readiness – they are not school-leaving requirements. Upon leaving high school, students who want to continue their educations have a wide range of options [[LINK TO BLOG ABOUT IVY vs COMMUNITY COLLEGE}.  Most areas have community colleges, or junior colleges that allow students to take prerequisite courses. All states have public institutions funded in part by the state (though nationwide, state appropriations have been declining rapidly). Two-year degrees are called Associate’s degrees, and four-year degrees are usually called bachelor’s degrees. While these degrees are often completed in 2 or 4 years, many people may take longer due to changing their area of study. The area of study a student chooses is usually called a “major,” and he or she can have the option of supplementing it with a “minor.” The type of degree a school can award is based on its accreditation. Private schools are the same, although the majority offer four-year degrees. These schools, generally far more expensive than public ones, are not generally funded by the state, although they may receive federal student funds for students eligible for financial aid. After the four-year degree, some institutions offer master’s or doctoral degrees. Master’s degrees are usually two to three years, and doctoral degrees vary widely. Education in the United States is highly diverse and politicized, and changing rapidly. Citizens of the United States are largely very dissatisfied with the cost of higher education and the diminishing job opportunities available to college graduates. The situation may change rapidly in the next few years.

                Meanwhile, across the pond in the United Kingdom, the higher education system is fed into by the national education system. Students in the UK achieve further education qualifications like the A-levels, the International Baccalaureate, Scottish Highers, or qualifications from abroad that allow them to enter university. There are two main forms of higher education in the UK: Undergraduate and postgraduate. Undergraduate education includes bachelor’s degrees, which are similar to those of the U.S. except they generally take three, not four years to complete. Degrees also have distinctions such as ordinary or Honours. Undergraduate degrees are classified as follows: First class honours (a “first”), second class honours, upper division (2:1), second class honours, lower division (2:2), third class honours (a “third”), or an ordinary degree (a pass). The higher the class of honours, the greater one’s academic distinction. The honours system is generally used for three-year undergraduate degrees.

Another UK degree is the Foundation degree, which is awarded after the first two years of an Honours degree. However, it includes work-based learning sponsored by an employer. A student’s area of study is known as a course. A DipHE (or Diploma of Higher Education) course is roughly akin to the American Associate’s degree in that it is a two-year, foundational degree (though not a Foundation degree) and can be used to transfer into a four-year course. These, too, are often job-related. Common fields for this degree include nursing and social work. A certificate of Higher Education is equivalent to the first year of an Honours degree, and are considered the most basic post-secondary educational qualification. They can be used to transfer into university-level studies, or for career changes. Finally, a Higher National Diploma (HND) is a two-year course that can, with enough success, lead to a third-year of the degree. These different diplomas comprise the various offerings at the undergraduate level, but the postgraduate level has its own opportunities. For example, there are master’s degree courses, MBA courses, PhD’s / doctorates (only available for those who achieve at least a 2:1 result), and numerous postgraduate diplomas and qualifications. Professional and vocational qualifications are available, as are conversion courses. Although the UK is smaller than the US, there are still numerous educational opportunities in a variety of topics.

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Differences Between Ivy League and Community Colleges

Differences between ivy league and community colleges

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Picking a college is overwhelming enough – even more so if you consider the fact that in the United States, there were 6,742 colleges (including two-year, four-year, and other) as of 2009. What are the different types of colleges? Where should you even start looking?

                Everyone has heard of Harvard. The myth stands tall in an ivory tower looming over people’s perceptions of their futures; Harvard is so famous that it is far more than a university. Harvard is part of the Ivy League, which is actually a collegiate sports conference comprising what are arguably the eight most prestigious private schools in the United States: Harvard, Dartmouth, Brown, Yale, Columbia, Princeton, Penn (The University of Pennsylvania), and Cornell. These schools are famous for their centuries-long histories, the historical leaders they’ve produced, their cutting-edge research, their cut-throat admissions, and of course, their jaw-dropping tuition price tags. Many people take it as a given that once someone gets into the Ivy League, they’re “set for life.” It cannot be denied that rubbing elbows or at least playing beer pong with tomorrow’s leaders will build one’s network in a way that is hard to rival. On the other hand, increasing numbers of accepted Ivy Leaguers are turning down admissions offers due to sticker-shock at the $50,000+ price tags. 

                At the other end of the educational spectrum are community colleges. In the United States, these educational institutions – also known as junior colleges or technical colleges – have largely open enrolment. In some ways, they have become community centers, as they now teach basic skills, ESL, vocational topics, and even personal enrichment classes such as art. Unlike traditional four-year schools, these colleges generally have no dorms and often cater to the scheduling needs of working students. But don’t write off these schools – community colleges mint very successful people too, and some Ivy League grads don’t go on to fame and fortune. For example, some famous community college alums include Walt Disney, poet Gwendolyn Brooks, former Congressman Jim Wright (who, in true politician style, resigned in disgrace due to the savings & loan scandals), perennial presidential candidate Ross Perot, actor James Dean, journalist Jim Lehrer, actor Clint Eastwood, director George Lucas, Billy Crystal, and, of course, Sarah Palin, to name only a few. Humbler and more bare-bones than their Ivy League cousins, community colleges are great places to get prerequisite classes out of the way or explore courses in a few majors you can’t decide among.

                Complicating things still further is the fact that in between your local community college and Harvard lie thousands of high-quality educational institutions, each of which would love to have you as a student (and would love to cash your tuition checks). Whether you pick Princeton, Harvard or Nowheresville Community College, what you get out of your education and network is proportional to the effort you put into it.

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