Saturday, March 21, 2009

My Paper Can Make a Bigger Splash Than You

At Nipissing University there is a rare opportunity that undergraduate students may not find anywhere else. The Second Annual Undergraduate Research Conference will be held here at NU next weekend. You won't want to miss this free event that will showcase some of the best research that our students have to offer. Be sure to arrive Friday evening at 6:30pm to register. And you'll want to be present for the keynote address set to begin at 7:15pm in the Fedeli Room that will feature Dr. Dean Bavington, NU's first Canada Research Chair. He'll be enlightening the audience about how he became a researcher throughout his academic career.

After recoverning from the free wine and cheese reception and viewing the poster presentations after the keynote, it is early to rise Saturday morning for a full day of research paper presentations. Even if you cannot attend the whole day, be sure to show up Saturday morning at 10:30am in room A224 for the "War and Society" panel. I will be presenting my paper that will shed light on the changing nature of war memory in Britain between the First and Second World Wars. Other members of the panel include James Bull, Robyn Cameron, Meaghan Edwards, and Lindsay Robinson who will present on many other specific aspects of War and Society including the Indian Army in the British Expeditionary Force, the role of Chaplains in War, and War Prisoners Interned in Canada. Many other panels throughout the day include Integrative Biology, Global Development, Culture and the Arts, Social Activism, Sociology, Environmental Science, Social Responsibility, Justice and Security, Eco-Management, and English. Really, there is something for everyone's interests and you might just learn something new.

For more information, you can visit Be sure to register and attend next weekend's event. I am sure that community members, North Bay locals, researchers, scholars, and guests will not be disappointed.

Friday, March 6, 2009

From High School to University: Essay Style

For students pursuing a university education after high school, you have much to look forward to and even more to learn. Depending on your university program, you will need to know how to write well. Some may say that the first thing you'll be told on your first day of a university class is to forget about the traditional 5 paragraph essay you learned to write in high school: a fancy-pantsy introduction that catches the readers' attention, a meaty middle part where you support your 3 main arguments, and a feel-good conclusion that is little more than a reiteration of your introduction.

When you write a 750, 1,000, or 2,500 word essay in university, there is no room for extra words. I would suggest taking an Orwellian approach and say what you need to say in as few words as possible. You have no room for catching a readers' attention with a smug story in your introduction. If you are writing an English literature essay, you need to start talking about the poem or story you are analyzing immediately.

Be Confident

What you are writing matters to you and your reader. Take sides of a debate and trust your argument. Leave nothing for the reader to guess. Let me know what your thesis is right away. And most of all be assertive. If you are arguing the legitimacy of stem cell research, don't second guess yourself. Purporting a new paradigm for adoptive children in Canadian society? Say so and believe that your views have weight; then give your argument credence by supporting it with fact-based information.

What grade?

In university you will not receive a marking rubric for writing assignments like you have in high school. There is no set of guidelines for grading essays in university. A professor or TA may have some idea of what a "B" or "A" paper looks like, but don't expect to receive a handout that lists specific criteria as such. Sometimes the closest staircase may suffice when grading essays by:
1) stacking the essays at the top of the stairs;
2) kicking the essays down the stairs;
3) receiving a mark based on which step your essay lands: the lower the step down the stairs, the lower the grade that you receive. Everything is relative.

At Nipissing University, there are many tools at your disposal to help you write well. A great resource is an older woman who works at the school, known as the "Grammar Granny," is not only pushing retirement age, but will push you to write better, to scrutinize every sentence, to avoid unnecessary words, and to reduce comma splices. Upper year students are available as tutors and some as mentors too.

But, the best resource available is your professor. He/she is able (and indirectly required) to meet with students and to hold office hours. These folks have written many essays during their time and many are more than happy to help you. Take advantage of them and heed their advice. It will help you make the leap from high school to university level essay writing.