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How to Take Notes like a Graduate Student

31 March 2017

Katrina Dunlap

One of the more tedious tasks to studying or reading for your graduate course work is taking good notes on what you are reading. While this may or may not come easy to you as a student, it is an imperative skill to master as soon as possible. Below, I’ve summarized how to use the Cornell method on note-taking that you can apply to almost any graduate course you take.

Why take notes? Well the obvious answer is so you don’t have to waste time re-reading the text or article again. A somewhat less obvious reason is for a deeper comprehension of the reading. Whatever your motivation for note-taking may be, it will prove itself to be well worth the effort.

The Cornell method.[1] First, take your note paper and divide it into 3 sections and leave room to write (see picture on the right). On the top line write the topic’s name and the date of the lecture. The right side of the box is the notes column. Make sure you skip lines and do not cram everything together. Also, abbreviate wherever necessary to save time. Use the left column to draw out any main ideas, key points, or important people and dates. When writing these phrases or main questions down in the left column, make sure they are aligned with the corresponding text in the right column. The bottom section is your summary of a few sentences that wraps up all key points. Be sure to write this section as if you were going to explain this to someone who has never studied the subject before. This exercise aims to reinforce what you’ve read.

Why the Cornell method? I’ve personally found that this particular method of notetaking allows me to think critically on a given subject. Also, writing in a methodical way helps me recall what I read. Lastly, the Cornell note-taking method helps me to better understand the material and prepare myself for an exam.

Whether you choose to take notes by hand or by computer, find out what works best for you. If you find yourself struggling to complete your assignments, it may be time to re-evaluate your approach and try something new. Mason’s Learning Services offers additional resources to aid graduate students with reading strategies, including workshops, academic coaching, and online videos. Visit the Learning Services website for more information.

[1] “The Cornell Note-taking System.” http://lsc.cornell.edu/study-skills/cornell-note-taking-system/ Accessed March 27, 2017

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Learn More about Well-Being this Spring at Mason

By Whitney Hopler, Communications Coordinator, Center for the Advancement of Well-Being

24 March 2017

No matter what field you’re studying at Mason as a graduate student, you can benefit from learning about well-being at this year’s Spring into Well-Being (SIWB) campaign. “Life is not merely being alive, but being well,” ancient Roman poet Marcus Valerius Martialus pointed out. That applies just as much today as it ever did. There’s something for everyone in the lineup of more than 100 events planned for the six weeks of SIWB, from Monday, March 20 to Friday, April 28. Here are just a few highlights of particular interest to graduate students:

  • Thursday, March 30, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., the Quad, North Plaza, and South Plaza: Do a good deed at Mason Good Deeds Day, a celebration of positive change through volunteering, sponsored by Mason Hillel. You can choose from a variety of different volunteer opportunities, from making cards for people who need encouragement, to signing up to potentially become a lifesaving bone marrow donor.
  • Saturday, April 1-Sunday, April 2, all weekend, Elizabeth Furnace group camping area: Enjoy an outdoor adventure on a Graduate Life Outdoor Adventures trip to a beautiful mountain valley near Strasburg, Virginia. You can hike, fish, learn about history, and enjoy conversations with your fellow graduate students.
  • Monday, April 3, 4 p.m.-7 p.m., Auld Shebeen Irish pub in Fairfax City: Eat, drink, and be merry at a Graduate Student Life social/happy hour with others from Mason. Food and beverages (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) will be provided. (For graduate and professional students only)
  • Friday, April 7, 1:30-2:45 p.m., SUB 1, Room 3129: Learn how to sleep better at a workshop that teaches relaxation techniques to calm your mind at night.
  • Wednesday, April 19, 11 a.m.-2 p.m., North Plaza: Help take good care of the environment at Mason’s Sustainability Showcase & Seedling Sale. Learn about environmental groups at Mason, buy seedlings to plant, eat healthy food, and more.

Other SIWB events repeat multiple times throughout the six weeks. For instance, you can join faculty, staff, and fellow students to practice mindfulness meditation, which can help you reduce your stress and increase your concentration. Or, you can build your physical fitness by joining a “Who’s Walking Wednesdays” walk at noon any Wednesday during SIWB, meeting people at the Wellness Circle in front of Merten Hall and walking across campus together while learning interesting stories.

This year, let spring renew your passion for learning by making time to invest in your well-being. The better you take care of yourself, the more strength you’ll have to pursue your graduate studies. As artist and writer Emily Carr once said, “Oh, spring! I want to go out and feel you and get inspiration. My old things seem dead. I want fresh contacts, more vital searching.”

Editor’s Note:

In addition to Camping at Elizabeth Furnace and the Happy Hour at Auld Shebeen Irish Pub, Graduate Student Life, the office of UL Arlington and SciTech, and GAPSA are sponsoring many more activities and events during Graduate and Professional Student Appreciation Week. For a full list of activities, times, and locations, check out our event page for the Appreciation Week.

Have a great week,


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How to Read Like a Graduate Student

Katrina H. Dunlap


If you are in graduate school — whether part-time or full-time — chances are you are inundated with multiple reading assignments. From reading dissertations to textbooks, these assignments can be time-wasted without a having a strategic approach to pull something useful out of it. While there are lots of acronym-driven reading techniques, like “SQ3R” or “Survey-Question-Read-Recite-Review,” which aim to help you build a framework to understand your reading assignment, I personally believe that these techniques take too much time to understand and are cumbersome. Below, I’ve outlined some helpful tips for you to consider with respect to your graduate-level reading assignments.

Skim it! The longer the readings are, the more likely the paragraphs in those readings are going to be “filler” which include background and tangential details. Often you don’t really need to read these paragraphs in depth to get the information you need for your classes. So by skimming each paragraph very quickly, you then get a feel for the reading and figure out which paragraphs hold the most pertinent information.

Read backwards. Knowing how the story will end will help your comprehension of what you are reading. If you want to figure out what a certain chapter is all about, you can first go to the back of the text and review the summary, vocabulary lists, chapter questions. Additionally, look for a “review” section if it is a standard textbook to get a feel for what the actual chapter wants you to learn.  When you go through the chapter, you’ll be able to identify the vocabulary or a graphic that was referenced in the review section.

Think of questions. By coming up with questions while you read, you deepen your comprehension and understanding. When you are going through the chapter, if you are skimming and something comes up that you don’t really know about, then write it down as a question. Additionally, use headings and sub-headings in the chapter as potential questions. So if there’s a sub-heading that talks about a specific concept, re-word the sub-heading as a question, write it down, and when you go through the actual content of that section, answer the question for yourself.

Pay attention to text format. Take a glance at bold and italicized text because these are almost certainly going to appear on the exam or discussed during class. Pay attention to things that stand out, and write those down.

Highlight or take notes. Never read anything without a highlighter and pencil nearby. Note taking while reading is critical to comprehension and recollection. Using flags are helpful in marking up texts in a non-damaging way. Recording your notes in a central hub such as Evernote, Zetero, or Microsoft’s OneNote software, allows you to reinforce what you’ve read and catalog your notes for future use.

In conclusion, no matter which method or technique you use, you have to figure out what works best for you. If you find yourself struggling to complete your assignments, it may be time to re-evaluate your approach and try something new. Mason’s Learning Services offers additional resources to aid graduate students with reading strategies, including workshops, academic coaching, and online videos. Visit the Learning Services website for more information.

Edited by Austin A. Deray, 11/08/2017

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Fulbright Season Is Here!

Learn more about international opportunities for graduate students through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.

March 3, 2017

By Kay Ágoston, Director of Graduate Fellowships

Of all the grant and fellowship programs I advise Mason graduate students on, the most popular is without a doubt the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.  Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and administered by the Institute of International Education (IIE), the Fulbright program is one of the premier nationally competitive awards available to U.S. students.  Originally created in the aftermath of World War II, the goal of the program is to promote mutual cultural understanding and academic exchange between the United States and the rest of the world by offering high-achieving students and recent graduates the opportunity to undertake a year-long experience abroad.  Each year the Fulbright U.S. Student Program sends approximately 1,900 students overseas – among them Mason students.

Maybe next year, you.

The application for the 2018 cycle of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program (for awards in the 2018-19 academic year) will open on April 3, 2017. In the coming weeks and months, Fulbright information sessions will be offered at both the Fairfax and Arlington campuses – more on that below.  If you’ve always wanted to learn more about Fulbright opportunities, now is the time!

Who May Apply?

Applicants to the Fulbright program must be U.S. citizens who hold a Bachelor’s degree (or will hold one by the start of the grant) but have not yet completed a Ph.D.  Candidates from all fields of study are eligible.  This covers everyone from graduating seniors and recent college graduates (who, for example, hope to spend a year overseas before continuing on to graduate study) to Ph.D. students working on dissertation research.  Master’s students are eligible, as are those who have completed a Master’s degree but hope to enrich their graduate education through a Fulbright experience.  Students and recent graduates in Law, Business, and the arts are also welcomed.

Where Can I Go and What Can I Do?

The starting point for graduate students thinking about Fulbright is to decide what country you want to go to, and what you want to do there.  A large number of countries around the world participate in the Fulbright program.  You can see a list here. You may only apply to one country in a given year.

As for what you can do, there are three basic types of Fulbright grant:

  • Research/Independent Study/Arts grants support the awardee for one academic year of independent overseas research or study. The applicant must propose a project and a plan for completing it during the period of the grant. The project may consist of field research for a master’s or doctoral thesis, but it can also simply be an independent project unconnected to a degree program. Students in creative arts fields may propose an independent Arts project. Research/Study and Arts applicants must have a well developed project idea and the necessary contacts and skills (including language skills) to independently carry out the project.
  • English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) grants support to the awardee to spend one academic year working as an assistant instructor in at ESL/EFL classroom in the host country. ETA applicants must demonstrate a genuine interest in teaching and/or mentoring youth, and the capacity to serve as a good assistant language instructor and representative of the United States abroad.
  • Fulbright-Clinton Public Policy Fellowships offer an 8-10 month work placement inside a foreign government ministry in a participating country. This program is open only to students who will have completed a Master’s-level degree (or be enrolled in a doctoral program) by the start of the award, and who have policy-relevant academic and professional experience.

In addition to the grants described above, some countries offer specialized grants that are specific to that country. You can learn about these by reading the country profiles on the Fulbright web site.

Bear in mind that not every country has a Fulbright program, and not every country offers every type of grant. Calendars and requirements (including language requirements) may also vary from one country to the next.

Thinking of Applying?  Want to Learn More?

If you are interested in learning more about the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, the first step is to attend an information session.  Information sessions will be offered throughout the fall and spring on both the Fairfax and Arlington campuses, and are open to all Mason students.  The session provides important information about Fulbright opportunities, as well as a detailed explanation of the application process and next steps.  Presently the following information sessions are scheduled:

At the Fairfax Campus
Friday, March 31, 2017, 12-1 pm, JC Meeting Room C
Monday, April 3, 2017, 3-4 pm, JC Meeting Room C
Tuesday, April 4, 2017, 12-1 pm, JC Meeting Room C
Monday, April 10, 2017, 12-1 pm JC Meeting Room C
Tuesday, April 18, 2017, 3-4 pm, JC Meeting Room B
Wednesday, April 26, 2017, 5:30-6:30 pm, JC Meeting Room B

At the Arlington Campus
Wednesday, March 29, 2017, 3-4 pm, Founders Hall 716
Wednesday, March 29, 2017, 6-7 pm, Founders Hall 118
Wednesday, April 12, 2017, 6-7 pm, Founders Hall 118
Wednesday May 3, 2017, 2-3 pm, Founders Hall 118
Wednesday, May 3, 2017, 6-7 pm, Founders Hall 118

Any additional sessions will be announced at the Graduate Fellowships web site under “Upcoming Events.”

Fulbright applications are due early in the fall semester:  After the competition opens on April 3, the first major deadline will be September 15, 2017, when completed application files must be submitted for university endorsement.  The application is time consuming, and the summer months are therefore the most important time for crafting application essays and gathering required documents.

The Office of Graduate Fellowships provides extensive support and advising services for Mason graduate student Fulbright applicants.  Our goal is to help you navigate the application process successfully and put forward your strongest possible application.  We look forward to seeing you at an info session this spring!

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