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Challenging yourself to reach farther each time

By Amy Nielsen

I am currently about half way through my Master’s program. I say half way because at every turn I keep kicking the can down the road and am now looking at including post graduate internships.

I did a thoroughly unscientific poll for advice early on in my first or maybe second term, asking my friends on social media how to A) make the best use of my limited time in the program and B) survive the depth of material I was wading into.

The answers that came back ranged from, “Wine. Lots of wine,” to “Find a study buddy from your cohort to tie at the hip to,” or even “buy stock in tissues and Pepto.”

My most favorite answer came from a dearly beloved family member who has been there done that. I took it to heart and have enacted it in plan - “Pick a subject and do every project from the perspective of that subject. It will focus the answers to all your assignments to the six basic questions that should be asked of every question; who, what, why, how, where, when. You will become a subject matter expert and will understand much more clearly how the system works as a whole.”

My program is of a medical nature so I chose a topic – a disease - I felt I needed to learn more about because it touched my life personally. It happens to be a subject that is of interest to a large segment of the population of the world and if studies prove right, a rapidly spreading issue. There is a large body of evidence to work from and has been studied for a significant period of time. It is a global condition that effects many different kinds of subgroups. My particular school and degree program give a spin to my research that allows me to integrate material from a wide range of interesting sources.

As soon as I started viewing the lessons through the disease lens I had chosen, it was like suddenly the fog cleared. I understood how pieces of many vastly different systems could possibly react to each other causing greater imbalance. I could see where I might be able to help nudge a trend to follow another slope towards health. I was able to categorize information as driving towards the catalyst of the problem or as a help in maintaining an even balance.

I started writing lots of detailed evidence based discussions and group projects. Remember those long research papers with references in high school – yeah, lots of those – only with peer reviewed sources. It seems like every class I am writing another five hundred word, five APA style referenced discussion post. That’s not including the end of term assignments at easily triple that length.

To say it’s a good thing I like to write is a blazing understatement.

Research and writing are strong suits of mine. I’m like a pig in – um – crap - doing this kind of work. I was tickled pink when I started to see the same authors pop up over and over again. I began to recognize resources I had used in projects for one class that fit multiple classes. I have begun to build a small library of references I know I can use for the introduction section of any assignment. The hard part is differentiating my tone and topic enough on each assignment so as to not plagiarize myself.

I ran into a time crunch last week when I discovered that I had almost missed the deadline to submit a discussion post. As I started to research the topic, several of the links in my returns were that telltale purple of having been opened before. After the third search turned up a significant amount of purple, I decided to check in my files to see what I had written about this topic before and for what class. Like I said, I write and research a lot, and just because I don’t remember writing an assignment about the topic, doesn’t mean I didn’t.

Low and behold, not only had I written one, I had already written two. No wonder it sounded familiar. Both assignments were written about the same substance as used by the disease and how it is deranged in different subsystems. The challenge now became how to write about this substance and this disease in a new and refreshing way for yet a third system. In five hundred words supported by at least five APA cited references - before midnight.

I looked at the two titles in my document list. I contemplated mushing them together into one giant passive aggressive piece of academic slop. But I stopped myself. Because, integrity.

What I did do was take the reference list, chose the two most relevant articles from each, and use them as a springboard to research a new submission. I did reread the previously written articles to remind myself of how the substance interacted in those systems, then took a different position supporting the new assignment.

By working smarter not harder I was able to write a submission that built on material I already knew. I was able to integrate past research with new that added to the references I can tap for the next assignment. Best of all I was able to cut down my research time and submitted the assignment under the wire.

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