Japanese_reference_books

You Can Read Academic Japanese

Oftentimes reading academic articles in a foreign language can be a rather intimidating task, but this may come as a surprise: reading academic articles in Japanese is actually pretty easy.

Well, okay it does have two little prerequisites: a decent familiarity with Chinese characters and a basic understanding of Japanese grammar. This is nothing a little Remember the Kanji or some time over at The Japanese Pages Fast Track Grammar can’t fix!

Now let’s take a look at what makes reading academic Japanese so easy.

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Moving the discussion abroad

As I’ve been working on my Master’s degree here in Taiwan, I’ve gone out and looked for resources, tips, strategies and more for doing a dissertation and handling pressure during graduate school. I’ve found that, while there is plenty of websites/blogs/etc. talking about getting through the dissertation at home, very few discuss going through the process abroad–and not just in the sense of “from the US to the UK” but going to a country with a completely different language, where the degree requires you to write your paper and do your research in that native language.

It’s something I have recently been wanting to really emphasize in this blog. As I said, though, the focus will be on Asian languages as that’s where I’m located, but I believe it can be applied to any similar situation.

Some things I’d like to touch on include tools of the trade. Often it’s recommended to use Mendley, Sente, EndNote, etc. as the primary way to collect and organize resources and citations. However, these don’t really work well when dealing with Asian languages, and the citation systems don’t have options that fit citation styles used in different countries. So what do you do? As a result, I hope to bring to the table some suggestions on how to streamline this process as well as offer tips for what tools you can use to help you through organizing sources.

A lot of this really seems to hit a very niche market, and while there’s probably only a few people that may benefit from this, what I hope to show is that doing a degree abroad in a language you’re interested in is very achievable and if you have the opportunity, you should totally go for it!

Anyway keep an eye out for future posts on this and related topics! If there’s any specific questions or something you’d like to see in a post, please leave a comment below!

Get writing!

I met with one of my professors a few months ago just to have a cup of coffee and chat a bit about things. One of the topics we came upon was how my thesis was going (a question, I think, most graduate students dread when getting into their final months of writing). I had mentioned I was still hashing out some ideas and trying to organize things together to show to my advisor to make sure things were on the write track before getting writing. You know, to avoid wasting time writing something that my advisor may eventually recommend to remove, after seeing my thesis outline. His reply really stuck with me. He said:

你要開始寫,否則你會不知道你在缺甚麼東西。
(You better start writing, otherwise you won’t know what you’re missing.)

And I remember thinking, “well, what if it doesn’t get approved?”. Regardless, I took the advice and started writing. Now, after a few months of writing I totally understand what he meant. I can now know what exactly it is I am missing, be it a specific resource or even an idea that was never really flushed out. There’s a risky cliff, I believe, that most students find themselves on before writing. There’s certain assumptions being made about what kind of materials they have on hand and what the sources say, but this oftentimes overlooks what kind of materials they actually have and what the sources actually say.

There’s a lot of discussion online about whether or not you should just start writing or wait, or what. In my experiences it seems always be ready to write, but also always be ready to discard and rewrite as well. Plus, it always helps to get in a little more writing practice, too!

Spreadsheeting it out

Although I do love the mobility of Pages and Numbers, especially the cloud sync and having the documents up to date on all my computers–I find Google Docs is actually a very powerful alternative. Let me give a quick example of how I used a spreadsheet in Google Docs to keep track of data that I would constantly need to refer to for my thesis.

I decided to create a spreadsheet in Google Docs to keep track of all these important dates, numbers, events, people, etc., both before and after my target time period (1904-1922). Here’s what it looks like:

numbersandtrends

I’ve frozen one row (the headings) and one column (the dates) so that when I scroll through I’ll always know what it is I’m looking at. The right most columns have a variety of information from local events and textbooks, to important regional events and important leaders and officials.

Despite the initial time investment to get it going, once I had it set, I’ve found this kind of setup to be incredibly useful, and I constantly refer to it.

A little side note: I’ve also made sure to put where I am culling the information from below, under each relevant column. That way I can also be sure where exactly to refer back to.

Any tips and tricks to organizing all your data? Let me know in the comments below!

A little look into my schedule

In order to understand why GNDN and pomodoro techniques are necessary for me, I’m going to introduce a little bit about what my daily schedule looks like.

6:00 Wake up; shower; make breakfast and prepare lunch.
6:50 leave and catch bus to Taipei.
8:00 get to office (I take a 20 minute walk from the bus stop to the office for some exercise).
8:00-1:00 work work work (get coffee) work~
1:00-2:30 lunch! This is where I cram in any studying/editing/reading/etc. that I need to get done.
2:30-5:00 work work work
5:30 (20 minute walk back to the bus stop, have to keep that exercise going!) grab the bus back home.
6:30-10:30 get home, finish some chores, prep dinner and get to studying.
10:30 sleepy times! Though I occasionally go to sleep later as I need, depending on the day’s workout.

Weekends have been busy with some other chores I can’t get done during the week, like grocery shopping. I also spend time on the weekends going back to visit family, seeing my new niece. So, for me, being able to use something like the Pomodoro Technique is incredible, and keeps me focused when I need it the most.1

Why bring this all up? Because I hope this encourages you to think that, well, perhaps your day isn’t as busy as you think, and you can find the time to follow your dreams and passions!

Of course, on the other hand, this is where posts like PhD Lifestyle Guilt over at The Thesis Whisperer makes me look forward to doing a PhD in the future!

Footnotes

1. Copious amounts of coffee may or may not contribute to this as well!

Whistle While You Work

I’m someone that needs to listen to music while working, especially when writing. I can’t work in dead silence, which is probably why I never study in libraries. Music helps keep me motivated and also gives me the energy to keep going. I prefer instrumental tracks, like classical music (and dare I say) video game and movie soundtracks. However, recently, my friend introduced to Jazz music by sharing “It’s A Raggy Waltz” by Dave Brubeck, and since then I’ve been collecting more Jazz music to put on while I study. Below I’d like to share some of the collections I’ve found on YouTube. The best part? Some wonderful Japanese people have put these collections together–often lasting over an hour–which makes for great, distraction free listening as you study. Here’s a list with some comments about the content of each video! Hope you enjoy them.

JAZZ  雨降りの午後 【作業用BGM】
I particularly like the story this tells–going into a cafe on a rainy day, getting some work done/listening to soft Jazz, and leaving as the sun comes out.

【作業用BGM】 -ラウンジbarの片隅で- JAZZ
【作業用BGM】~受験に向けて頑張るあなたへ贈ります~ピアノ曲集 1時間
【作業用BGM】piano jazz~大人な時間を貴方に~【JAZZ】
These three all soft sets that aren’t distracting and keep me writing or working.

As I mentioned above, most of these sets tend to run around an hour, so you don’t have to worry about switching tracks or finding the next song you’d like to listen to.

To me, music is a very important role in setting the mood. Often, if I’m feeling particularly unmotivated to begin studying or writing, I like to start with a very uplifting track. I’ve found that video game music–especially from RPGs in particular–are very good at building this sense of momentum; a sense of setting out on adventure. This track from Star Ocean, for example, is particularly empowering. Here are two video game themed sets worth checking out:

真夜中の作業用BGM【高音質・厳選ゲーム音楽】
【作業用BGM】さすらいの旅に出たくなるかもしれないゲーム曲集

If you happen to find this music helpful in your studies let me know. Also, if you have any music you particularly enjoy listening to while working, put it in the comments below!

Footnotes

1. These are often referred to as 【作業用BGM】(作業用 = さぎょうよう by the way), so give that a search on YouTube and you’ll find a large variety of music collections. Very much worth your time to check out!

GNDN and the Pomodoro Technique

GNDN is a favorite acronym of mine which stands for “Goes Nowhere, Does Nothing”. That’s kind of how I feel when I don’t have any specific set goals or timeboxing set in place. Instead, I wander around the internet for a bit and effectively don’t get anything done until I hit crisis time. I’m someone that really needs a set time to work on things, otherwise I often wander about without accomplishing anything useful.

Enter the pomodoro technique and Focus Booster.

What is the pomodoro technique? Well, simply stated, it is a technique in time management where periods of work are broken down to 25 minute chunks, with a short break in between.1 There’s more on Wikipedia here. There’s also an entire website devoted to the technique, including their own timer, but I don’t think there’s any need to get that complicated. Just find a cheap (free!) and simple timer and get to work. The less complicated the better the process works, as you’re not wasting so much time setting things up and planning your time.

My preferred pomodoro tool is Focus Booster.2 The time is set into nice default chunks of 25 minutes of work and 5 minutes of break time. I find this to be the most suitable for my needs, and haven’t adjusted the time. The 25 minutes actually goes by pretty quick–and it’s hard to believe I’ve been working straight for so long with no distractions! The only downside is I often end up working into my break time, and sometimes need to make up for it (I feel this break time is important to keep your energy up for another 25 minute session).

When I first heard about the pomodoro technique, I figured it wouldn’t really work, and if I’m dedicated enough I should be able to focus on getting the task at hand done. Turns out I was quite wrong, and with a very busy schedule, this technique keeps me focused.

Has anyone else tried it? Does it work out well for them? Any other methods you’d recommend instead? Let me know in the comments below!

Footnotes

1. You’re also supposed to take a longer break after four or so sessions, but I end up continuing through as usual, oftentimes because I rarely have four hours to devote to pure focused work.
2. Focus Booster has recently had an update. I still prefer the older version, and while the new version is shiner, it still gets the job done. There’s also a huge slew of browser add-ons and websites. Of course, any old fashioned egg timer works just as well.