For those working on your thesis or dissertation, "social" is probably a word that you haven't heard in a while, unless it was prefaced by "anti-." I wanted to show you some ways to connect with others that are going through some of the same struggles and frustrations you are. Here is a short list of some sites that may help you connect with others and get some great insight on the process of research and writing.
Thesis Whisperer: This site states that it's "just like the horse whisperer, but with more pages." It's a great mix of writing helps, navigating the process as a doctoral student, and career advice. There's also the occasional "airing of the grievances" that can be healthy to explore.
Literature Review HQ: For me, the literature review is one of the easier pieces to write. However, I've known plenty of clever folk that have had real difficulty with this section. No doubt much of it depends on your overall subject matter. For those that are having trouble you can check out this site. This is a bit commercialized, as the author sells a number of products, but there are some helpful posts on the blog and the products themselves might be worth it if you're getting stuck with your writing process.
The Three Month Thesis: Particularly helpful for those of us in UK-style doctoral programs, this blog is also out to sell you some products that will no doubt help your writing process. There are some great posts for free, though, on the blog portion of the website too.
The Grad Cafe: This website is a great forum that has sub-forums based on area of study as well as sub-forums that deal with finances, the application process, and other important aspects of graduate school. While not specifically for doctoral students, it will be very helpful. It's also a very active forum, which is what you always like to see.
PhinisheD: This forum is also active and can be really helpful for those needing encouragement or to talk an idea out with people that actually know what they're talking about. This is one of my favorite stops when I need to discuss something with others. Since my dissertation deals with theology, literature, history, and archaeology it really helps to get input from people that are experts (or at least more so than I) in each of those fields.
Popular Social Media Sites: Twitter is great at connecting you with those that share similar interests. I have never found Facebook to be as helpful with professional associations and interactions. However, if you just want to jump off into the deep end of the pool of academic social media, check out Academia.edu. I've connected with some great international scholars through that and can read papers from organizations and individuals that I follow. It's also interesting to see who follows you and where they're from. Currently, I'm like the David Hasselhoff of Croatia.
While social media is very convenient and can be very encouraging, it can also be very time consuming. If you're going to delve into some of these sites, set a time limit or limit yourself to only check it once or twice a day. The only other caution I have is to not let social media replace actual, face-to-face social interaction. You're not helping yourself if you spend three to five years of your life having mostly online interactions with colleagues. Being socially awkward isn't a trait employers search for. Go to symposiums, scholarly forums, and professional meetings of academic societies that you're a member of. More than all of this, though, don't neglect your friends and family. Obtaining an advanced degree will cost you time, money, and some freedom, but it shouldn't cost you relationships - especially with your spouse and kids.
There are a lot of potentially useful resources out there that don't cost a whole lot and many that are totally free. While this blog is geared towards seminary students, some of this info can be used for just about any student in any discipline.
Resource 1: Seminary Chapels and Other Freebies
Most seminaries have chapel services for their students. At least in my observation, seminaries and Christian colleges that have consistently good chapel speakers will often have a way for the public to listen for free. This is sometimes done through iTunes, but some stream it from their website.
You should also check out Covenant's "Resources for Life" site which houses not only audio on specific subjects, but also has free online lectures and publications.
Resource 2: Cheap Books
One of the "hidden costs" of graduate school in general is books. You'll find that not only do you need textbooks, but it's also really helpful to have additional resources that perhaps aren't part of the actual curriculum. Feel free to mention other good book resources below, but from my experience getting an Amazon Prime account in grad school and buying your books through Amazon is about the easiest and cheapest way to go (you get free 2 day shipping, they usually have the best price for new books, and there is a great used option as well if you don't mind knowing that someone else's sweaty hands once perused the same pages). My favorite low cost book is Henry Bettenson's Documents of the Christian Church. It's only about $12 (USD) and has a great selection of primary source material from the early church up until the late 20th century. I've also used a Kindle to download free or extremely cheap primary sources from Amazon (I really should be getting paid for this endorsement). I was once on a camping trip with my Kindle last year and had it reading me Augustine at night. It was pretty great. Project Gutenberg and the Christian Classics Ethereal Library are also great resources for primary sources that are both free.
Resource 3: Free Seminary Classes
I mentioned Covenant Seminary's "Resources for Life" previously but a couple of other seminaries also offer free, online classes. Keep in mind that these aren't for credit, but they will hone your knowledge in an area that perhaps you're rusty in or even a subject that you just didn't get around to study in college or seminary. Most of these are Reformed in their theology. I don't know why that is. It's probably because those seminaries are part of some global conspiracy to funnel money from the stock markets of the world to fund a great, worldwide government that will teach Reformed theology and, among other things, will offer free seminary classes.
Fuller Theological Seminary on iTunes - http://www.fuller.edu/about-fuller/news-and-events/fuller-on-itunesu.aspx
Gordon-Conwell's "Dimensions of Faith" program - http://my.gordonconwell.edu/dimensions/
Reformed Theological Seminary on iTunes - http://itunes.rts.edu/
Resource 4: Free Ivy League Classes
You might have heard on the news in the last year that many Ivy League colleges are offering free, online courses. These courses are in diverse fields and are often taught by some great professors. Like the free seminary courses, these are not for credit and please don't state on your resume that you did graduate studies at Harvard based on these courses. Now most of the schools will have their own section of their website or something similar that will house their courses. However, you can also check this website out which is a consortium of many different colleges, including schools like Duke University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Michigan, etc. You can search by subject or by school. It's a great resource!
Your Turn . . .
If you use any other free or cheap resource that might be useful to others in grad school or seminary, put the links down in the comments section with a brief description of what it is and how you've used it.
Mark Stevens is a former seminary student himself and currently researches and teaches in the area of theological studies.