Wednesday, October 24, 2012

7 Tools and Techniques for Making Grad School Easier

Namesake of the pomodoro technique.
Recently, I wrote a long email to a friend who'd just entered graduate school, chock full of advice on things that have helped me get through school over the years. And I realized (1) Wow, I've been in school for a long time, and (2) Hey, this information may actually be useful for other people.

While there are plenty of big-picture topics that are worth addressing (e.g. work-life balance, setting yourself up for your career after school), this post is about the nitty-gritty tools and techniques that I've found useful in  accomplishing the major tasks of grad school - namely reading, writing, and research.

1. Zotero: A lifesaver. This reference management software allows you to keep track of all your reading, along with notes and tags, and automatically insert citations and generate bibliographies. There are plenty of other tools (e.g. End Note) that help you can do this, but Zotero is extra awesome because it's free (at least up to 100MB), allows you to share your libraries, and is constantly improving. There are plenty of others, but the important thing is to begin using a reference management system as soon as possible. Because you will be reading many many things.  Mendeley and Papers 2 (which integrates reference management into paper writing) come highly recommended by others.

2. The pomodoro technique : Alternating periods of hard focus with breaks. Sounds simple, no? But beginning each chunk of work with an end in mind can really improve productivity.

3. Freedom: This keeps you from going online for specified periods of time. Sure, you can do this other ways, but this is by far the simplest. It's not free, but it's only $10 and is well worth it.  I've found this to be particularly effective in combination with the pomodoro technique - I set my computer to be offline for 25 minutes, and when I get notified that my time is up, I know it's time for a 5 minute break.

4. Journal writing is hardly a new idea, but 750 words is an awesome and fun tool for daily brain dumps, which can help not only to clear your mind each day, but also make writing easier. Some people have no fear of the blank page, but for those who do, this can really help with that.

5. GTD: Getting Things Done is a book and a productivity system that I was introduced to years ago when I worked in the tech sector (it was pretty huge among geeks in the early aughts). While I don't follow the full system, and think some aspects of it are cumbersome, there are several GTD concepts/techniques that I consider essential, especially when there are way to many things to get done.
Surrounded by stacks of papers? GTD can help.
  • Next Actions : Get rid of abstract todo items that invite procrastination, and replace them with projects and concrete Next Actions. Probably the most powerful concept in the GTD system. 
  • Inbox to zero : Process email instead of just reading it, and always strive to get your inbox to empty. Create a separate action folder for things that require more time, and check that regularly.
  • Simple filing system: Create a new folder even if you only have 1 item to put into it, get rid of hanging file folders and categories, alphabetize everything, and use a nice label maker so you can find things. Because if it takes you more than a few seconds to file something, you won't do it. 
  • 2 minute rule : If it can be done in less than 2 minutes, do it now. 

6.  The Single System: I was only recently introduced to this in a great book called "Demystifying dissertation writing," but I wish I had read it my first year. This is particularly helpful for those with fear of the blank page, or those who struggle with writing lit reviews. It provides a logical system for getting through your readings, taking notes, and turning it all into a coherent final product.

7.  The DissCo: If you're like me, you thrive on variety, a fast-paced work environment, and teamwork. In which case...I'm sorry. Because that is not what grad school is about. It's a long and sometimes lonely road, especially when it comes to the major PhD hurdles: thesis, comprehensive/qualifying exams, and dissertation. Though these are ultimately hurdles you have to jump yourself, you can still create a sense of teamwork and community by meeting with other students.  I do this with others, and we call it The DissCo - for Thesis Dissertation and Comps. You can schedule regular times to meet and include goal setting and reviews, or just meet informally and work side by side. Because what sounds better -  "I'm going to sit next to people while staring at my laptop for 9 hours" or "I'm going to The DissCo"?

Of course, no technique will help you if you're not sure why you're in school, if you're too distracted by other pursuits to make it a priority, or if you're not willing to put in countless hours of hard work. But if these conditions are met, productivity tools and techniques can make life and work way easier. I'm sure there are tons of other suggestions that other people have - including current grad students and those who've survived it - so please share them in the comments!

Gina Cardazone, M.A.
University of Hawai`i, Mānoa

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Communal Thriving: Pursuing Meaning, Justice, and Well Being

How can we help communities thrive? This is the question being addressed by the The Society for Community Research and Action (SCRA), which will be holding its 14th Biennial Conference next summer in Miami.

Want to know more about this topic, or have something to share with others? SCRA will be accepting proposals for sessions starting at the end of this month, and continuing through December 10th.

Proposals that emphasize participatory processes for sharing their ideas will be favored. There are six tracks, which are focused on communal thriving through:

  1. Community partnerships and social change
  2. Prevention and wellness promotion 
  3. Narrative, arts, and new media
  4. Equity, diversity, and social justice
  5. Research 
  6. Organizational and school transformation 

To submit a proposal, please visit and select the “submit your proposal” link and follow the instructions. The All-Academic system will be ready to accept proposals on or about October 30th, 2012. The deadline for receipt of program proposals is: 11:55 PM (EST), Monday December 10th, 2012.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Collaborating for Justice: Disproportionate Minority Contact and Community Psychology

Minority youth, specifically African American and Latino/Hispanic males, have historically been overrepresented at every stage of the U.S. criminal justice system (Piquero, 2008). For these youth, initial contact can lead to transitions from one correctional institution to another and diminish their ability to contribute to their community and society in healthy ways.  These trends have led to what the Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention calls “disproportionate minority contact (DMC).”  Numerous points of interaction across the ecological context can directly and indirectly affect DMC, from the family, neighborhood, school, and institutional level.

Among the most valued principles of community psychology are promoting systems change and social justice. Using these principles and responding to DMC, the Center for Community Safety at Winston-Salem State University is fostering collaboration among key stakeholders and researchers to address DMC in North Carolina. Under the direction of Alvin Atkinson, Executive Director, the Center is undertaking two forms of action: 1) leading a research team to examine contributing factors to DMC and identify areas of need across youth services; and 2) organizing key stakeholders from agencies (i.e., Department of Social Services and juvenile detention centers) and institutions (i.e., law enforcement and public school system) throughout Forsyth County to engage in dialogue and develop an action plan to address DMC. 
The process of engaging stakeholders was a daunting task and required some push from the national and state level; nonetheless, it provided the leverage needed to get stakeholders talking about the issue.  According to Mr. Atkinson:

“Initially, the DMC stakeholders were identified and assembled by a different agency that had received funding to address the issue. The Center was the research partner for this collaborative and our 2006 report on DMC in Forsyth County solidified our role on this issue. When the funded ended, we stepped up to serve as the coordinating agency for Forsyth DMC efforts. We did this with the hope that the committee and our community would pursue some of the recommendations in the report.  Our initial efforts did not gain any traction locally, but did on the state and national levels. For the next few years, we used our work at the state level to keep the issue alive locally but did not invest heavily in reconvening stakeholders until the end of 2010 when we were ready to bring our knowledge and experience from our state and national involvement to Forsyth County. Since most of the stakeholders were familiar with our earlier work and having heard about our DMC work in the state, we were able to reconvene the group.”

The Center for Community Safety was established in 2001 to “engage communities in the strategic utilization of research to shape action and enhance response to community safety issues” (Center for Community Safety, 2012). The Center has been integral to Forsyth County and North Carolina by providing research, training, and technical assistance to build capacity among organizations that address violence prevention and intervention.  As a result, the Center would expand the university’s connection with “external constituencies and communities to respond to community-identified needs” (Harvey, Mac-Thompson, & Easterling, 2003).
Historically the Center has served more as a facilitator within the community; however, through DMC, the Center is utilizing research and analytic strategies to bridge the connection between research and action. Mr. Atkinson believes that, “With DMC, our research contribution is valued and it also provides a service to the community.” 

Through the support of the Governors Crime Commission and Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Center is currently conducting a state-wide mixed methods study of DMC to assess the point where DMC is most prevalent across initial referrals to detainment and areas where there exist the greatest need to address youth and family services.  According to Mr. Atkinson, the intent of this work is to “seek to improve collaborative research efforts and regain the confidence and trust of the stakeholders.” Ultimately, the findings seek to support advocacy efforts by local leaders in promoting positive youth and community development and addressing systems’ change. 
Through the leadership of Mr. Atkinson and collaboration between community stakeholders and researchers from Winston-Salem State University, the goals of this endeavor are manifold. However, the Center is striving to become a relevant participant in facilitating systems change by advocating for strategies and initiatives that reduce the number of minority youth involved in the criminal justice system.

Dawn Henderson 
North Carolina State University 



Harvey, L., Mac-Tompson, D., & Easterling, D. (2003). A blueprint for sustaining community-based initiatives: A case study of the Center for Community Safety at Winston-Salem State University. A report submitted to the National Institute of Justice.

Piquero, A. R. (2008). Disproportionate Minority Contact. Retrieved on September 21, 2012 from

For more information about the Center for Community Safety, see

For more information about Disproportionate Minority Contact, see

This is a part of a series of bulletins highlighting the use of community psychology in practice.  For more information about the series, contact Bill Berkowitz at

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Are You Registered to Vote? Deadlines are Approaching!

I have a dream...of a day when registering to vote in the U.S. and figuring out basic information about voting is as simple and easy as booking a cross country flight, sharing your opinions with hundreds of friends, or instantaneously accessing ancient religious texts.

In an age of mind-blowing technological advances and an explosion of information sharing, in a country that often claims a large share of credit for these advances, you'd think that we'd be ahead of the game in enabling this most fundamental act of democratic participation. On the contrary, plenty of folks are seemingly outraged that there aren't even more barriers in place. 

But this is not a post about voter ID laws. This is about you, dear U.S. readers, and whether or not you're registered to vote. Because a functioning democracy requires full participation. And because voter registration deadlines are rapidly approaching. And while it's still not quite iPad-easy, there are plenty of organizations using technology to make the registration and voting process a whole lot easier. 

The League of Young Voters* has a list of resources designed to make the process easier, including: 

  • TurboVote - Here you can enter your information, print out your registration form, and mail it in. In earlier days, they would have even mailed it for you, but since registration deadlines are so soon, you've got to take that last step yourself. 
  • - A promising attempt to create a forum that provides information on what's on your ballot, and allows people to share their intended ballots online
  • Student Voting Guide - This state-by-state clickable map has information on voter registration rules and student voter rights, developed by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. 
  • 1-866-OUR-VOTE (English) or 1-888-Ve-Y-Vota(Spanish). Use the old fashioned telephone to find answers on voter registration and polling places, and to report voting problems. (You can also go to

All this is not to say that voting is a terribly a complicated thing. You register, you (hopefully) research the candidates and issues that are being voted on in your state, you mail in your ballot or show up on Election Day, and voila, you are an active participant in democracy! Sure, it could be easier, but especially with all these resources, there's really no excuse not to do it. Our forefathers and especially our foremothers fought long and hard for the right to do it, so let's not let lack of time or a stamp get in our way. 

Gina Cardazone
University of Hawaii at Manoa

*Historical sidenote: When I was first introduced to the League of Young Voters in the early 2000's, it was called the League of Pissed Off Voters. Incidentally, at this time I was both younger and more pissed off.