Friday, November 29, 2013

Moving the Ball Forward

Today marked another step as I sent off my graduate school applications.  I still have a few documents to take care but the "guts" of my application have been taken care of and these other items shouldn't be a hassle (knock on wood).  The biggest challenge was definitely the proposal/statement of intent/statement of purpose etc. portion and something I grappled with for days.  Basically, this is where you try to sell yourself and make your application stand out.

My old Nunavut blog was a big help in many ways and I actually pulled a couple writing samples from it to submit.  It was also nice to re-visit portions and see what ideas suggest themselves as potential research topics.  In the meantime, I've been doing a ton of reading....some MA theses, a couple PhD dissertations, various other government and research articles, even a 2010 senate committee report, chaired by Senator Pamela Wallin.  So I suppose our hapless upper chamber does do SOME work after all.  Interestingly, a couple of the individuals interviewed for this report are people I'd more than likely have some contact with in the event I was to study at the one school I've applied to.  At any rate, any good finds I come across are written down and so I have the beginnings of a bibliography of sorts.

All this reading has led to a myriad of interesting topics for papers outside of just a potential thesis. Listing them here from the list in my head would definitely take some time so I won't bore you with all the details.  I've been in contact with some professors and doctoral students and my uncle, who's been through this process before, who have all provided some excellent feedback.

On top of my reading, the other thing I'm hoping to do is more writing and that's where this blog comes into play.  This is my way of reminding myself I need to get some serious blogging done over the next little while.  So who's up for some discussion on Diefenbaker's "Roads to Resources" program??  I kid, I kid.  But I do need to start writing again to get back into practice so that writing for school (and I know there will be A LOT of that) won't be as painful.

So that's where things stand at the moment.  If you see a few upcoming blog posts about northern development strategies, the DEW Line, arctic security issues or the odd military mutiny (yes, Canada did have some) it just means I'm working on honing my writing skills.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Eating A Sandwich

The past few weeks have certainly been busy for me as much of my free time has been taken up with school applications.  I initially began looking into pursuing an MA in History back in April.  For the most part that involved first looking at my interests (which are quite vast given how much I read) and looking at potential schools.  To be honest, I had little idea of where to begin.  I knew I'd likely apply to my alma mater at Windsor but I was also interested in exploring other schools as well.  The University of Calgary soon emerged as an enticing possibility, not just because it is one of the closest schools to me (a mere 650km as the crow flies) but also because it is home to a research institute, The Arctic Institute of North America, which seemed a good fit for my interests involving Nunavut.  As well, a few other professors who I had looked up at other universities as possible thesis advisors, also had ties to this school.

After a couple of months looking up schools, contacting a few professors and doing as much background reading as I could on a few topics of interest, I took a bit of a hiatus over the summer.  I found the task daunting at times, to be honest but I also thought it would be good to take a break and come back with a fresh perspective.

So at the moment I am in the process of putting my applications together for next fall.  I've managed to track down a couple of good referees (I've been out of university now for close to 15 years now so that was a lot of fun) and am working on a "statement of interest" for each school.   That's been the most challenging part to date as I've had to tailor my interests specific to both schools.  Given the research interests of both schools I can't focus entirely on Nunavut for both so I've had to look into two different sub-topics within the realm of military history in order to get things to work.  So far so good though and I've gotten excellent feedback from a couple professors as well as an uncle of mine who completed his MA not too long ago (Thanks Clark!).

Initially I thought that being out of school would be a big detriment (it did present challenges in terms of tracking down references as I mentioned earlier) but I like to think that my life experiences in Nunavut will be a big plus, especially with my Calgary application.  I have to submit a resume as part of my application so I can note my work and life experience there for them to see rather than using up words unnecessarily in my research statement.  It's also a bit daunting to think that I'd eventually have to submit a thesis running between 80-150 pages.  I think the biggest paper I've done was closer to 30-odd pages for a 4th year undergraduate course I took circa 1999.  But....just like a big sandwich I'll just take it one bite at a time.

In the meantime, I've also been reading up as much as I can, both academically as well as re-visited old posts from my Nunavut blog to get ideas and perspectives.  The internet is a wonderful tool for tracking down theses online and I've happened across 3 or 4 good ones focused on some of the topics I hope to one day explore. I do have to say that some of the titles I've come across make me glad my focus is on history or alternatively, make me wish I had paid more attention in science class at school......"Passive Cardiac Properties and Tintin Expression in Dilated Cardiomyopathy" or "Oncolytic Reovirus Combined with Sunitinib as a Novel Multi-Mechanistic Treatment Strategy for Renal Cell Carcinoma".  I think that last one might have something to do with butt cancer.  I don't know.

At the moment I'm slowly plowing through a 2012 Ph.D. thesis dealing with sovereignty issues over Canadian arctic waters.  Its runs close to 400 pages so I can see how some dissertations are later turned into full monographs.  At any rate, while it may not be everyone's cup of tea, it definitely is interesting and,  given the increased focus on the Arctic by the federal government in recent years, rather timely.

So there you have it.  I think I've moved through all the stages of the application process now from "should I do this?" to "what should I focus on?" to "what the heck am I doing?" to "I can't believe I'm actually doing this?" to "let's just do this!"

As I said earlier....eating that big bite at a time.