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2 Tips on Nurturing “Baby” — Dissertation Boot Camp Reflections

In last week’s post, Dustin offered some useful suggestions for PhD students with a baby (or babies!) to raise. While this week, I would like to start with baby in its metaphoric sense.cdce28187e1a3936f9ddfd80b2c251dc_baby-face-cartoon-clipart-cartoon-baby-head-clipart_450-450

Every Master and PhD student has a “baby” — the paper they currently work on. Raising a baby has never been easy, it requires huge amount of efforts. New parents go to prenatal/parenting classes, read books with titles like “Everything You Need to Know About Babies”, and talk with other mommies and daddies about their experience.

Likewise, writing academic papers is a challenging task. There are tons of instructional books on grammars, writing styles, academic formats, etc. Various hardships or breakthroughs of essay writings are always among the hottest topic in student lounges.

Academic-papers-cynically-explained1Academic writing has never been a born talent; it is a learned skill and requires continuous practice and periodical reflections. That is why I dedicated my entire reading week to the Dissertation Boot Camp, to nurture my “baby”, an essay on graphic narrative of film promotional images, and I do think the camp is a rare opportunity for everyone in grad school.


In this short blog, I want to address two things that I benefited most from the boot camp:

  • Writing with 2 kinds of goals
  • Freewrite in an authentic manner

The “Hidden Goals” of Academic Writing

When raising a child, you want to see certain achievements of him/her, big or small. Also, you want to feel the joy and the sense of accomplishment especially during the time that there are no visible achievements. Sometimes, the latter is more necessary and significant.

Likewise, when working on paper, you absolutely want to see it finished with the quality of publication, you absolutely want to inspire the academia by your groundbreaking arguments, you want…This kind of goals are important for sure, but while in pursuing those, you may ignore the other kind of goal you should also crave for, your “experience” during the writing, which influences you in a deeper level and for a longer term.

Unlike the visible goals, which focus more on the words that you produce which are outside of you, experience goals draws your attention back to yourself. The reason I call them “hidden goals” is that even there is time that no significant improvement is made, experience goals are achievable, but unfortunately people often let them hide and be isolated from writing.

f756a2a36662af81b364435b89d7912934Just ask yourself by questions like theses to check your experience goals: How do you feel about last 3 days’ writing? Were you feeling motivated while writing, or being forced by the deadline or your supervisor? Why did that happen? Any ways to make a change?


Oh and, remember to write down your goals, both the visible ones and the hidden ones, before working hard on your paper, just in case you forgot about your expectations.

Do the “Real” Free writing

Everyone knows about free writing. During the boot camp, we had 5 hours per day to free write, and most people do that on their laptops without using internet.

the-eternal-struggleFor me, I practiced free writing on real paper with a pen. Writing on a screen an writing on paper significantly differ from each other in terms of thinking patterns, and I call the latter “real writing”.

The best part of doing real writing is that I can easily use arrows and other forms of indicative marks to draw relations between phrases/sentences/paragraphs, which in the end usually result in a holistic mind map, which can be so helpful in building structures. Even drawing small icons or diagrams is at my fingertips, to settle down the thoughts that couldn’t be smoothly expressed by words at the very moment of writing, also to have a little fun while still focuses me on the topic.

In addition, Bilingual free writing is a plus for me. I always feel more creative and productive when shifting between Chinese and English during free writing, compared to writing in either one of the language throughout, partly because it mixes two thinking systems together, and there must be some kind of magic reaction going on.


Good luck with nurturing your “baby/babies”!



Ma Chengcheng

Name: Ma Chengcheng Program: Cultural Studies, Year 2 About Me: I Completed my undergrads at Tsinghua University, with two bachelors in Chinese Language and Literature; Journalism and Communication. I am now in Cultural Studies at Queen's, specializing in Film and Media. My current research interest lies in contemporary cinematic culture, mainly on the visual representation of cinematic ideology. I start with "textual" analysis of film publicity, and combine it to the new mechanism of movie-goers seeing and perceiving cinematic images in the postmodern society. I am also into arts outside academia. I had three years' training in sketch, but later on I took up photography. I've been trying to infuse my sensibility to the art world into my academic research. During the past two years, I've travelled a lot to Japan, Korea, Canada, America, Germany, France, Holland, Spain, and different provinces of China, which largely enriched my experience. During these journeys, I always carried what I had learnt in class with me, and embraced new things with a critical mindset. Why I chose Queen’s: I have to say that Queen's is really good at outreaching. The funding is satisfactory. But the main reason that I chose Queen's is owing to the department setting of Cultural Studies, which is extraordinary interdisciplinary. This is awesome because I've got a platform to combine my varied academic backgrounds and interests together in a productive way. What I’m here to blog about: Grad students are really bound up in the readings, conferences, TA jobs, and even part-time jobs. We may not be so active on social media. However, our voices need to be heard, either by ourselves or by others. We need a place like Gradifying to exchange minds, share opinions, and build up networks. I always love reading and writing. And I see this an opportunity to use my skills to benefit the community of grad students.

Posted in Events, Professional Development, Skill Development, Student Perspective, Thesis, Uncategorized Tagged with: , , , , ,
4 comments on “2 Tips on Nurturing “Baby” — Dissertation Boot Camp Reflections
  1. Colette says:

    Fantastic correlation between last week and this. Loved it. This was a great way to express what Dissertation Boot Camp is as well as give some practical and sound advice to all grad writers out there. I love the humour and simplicity with which you provided this to us.

    Thank you, a great read.

    • Ma Chengcheng Ma Chengcheng says:

      Thank you Colette for coordinating such a great writing camp, also the nice words 🙂
      Looking forward to the next one in June!

  2. Ronny Kamon says:

    I thought it was weird that I like to write on paper than on my laptop. My ideas flow more freely that way but I can see am not alone. I love the way you explained everything on your article because it is very easy to understand, so, keep up the good work.

  3. Nihal Singh says:

    The above article gave the tips to the dissertation boot camp reflection of the nurture your baby. It is one of the model of best dissertation writing for Ph.D. students and also improves the skills too. Thanks for the article and also keep blogging such useful information like this.

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