Desmond L. Kemp, American Studies Doctoral Candidate
When I go back to the beginning of my graduate school career, I remember being concerned about my future as a graduate student. I spent a lot of time in bookshops sorting through philosophy textbooks and other miscellaneous texts for students who were planning to continue their education. One day in Barnes and Noble at DePaul University, I stumbled across a stack of hardback journals that were on clearance in the study aids section. I was intrigued about the placement of those journals but did not purchase one. At that time, I was a fan of the spiral flip pads that could fit in your pocket. Today, for instance, I sit with the same type of journal that I saw in Barnes and Noble years ago and I’ll explain why. To begin, take a pen, a sticky note, and your mouse or tracking pen, as you’ll most likely want to check out a few items by the time you’ve finished reading this blog.
As a master’s student, I honed my reflective writing skills, which were presented in my program as a useful learning and project development technique. We were given a prompt for thought before each meeting in our Liberal Learning seminars. After reading and discussing with our cohort, the prompts were also used as class writing assignments. We’d come back to that prompt at the end and write a commentary on what we’d “digested” during the learning and sharing process. When you think about the word digest, if you’re a gourmand like me, your mind probably went straight to food. Ha! That’s not a bad thing. It means you’re absorbing what you’re reading. If you were to stop reading now, your mind may wander and you may find yourself thinking of a lesson you learnt, or food to eat since I uttered the -f- word.
Reflective writing allows us to think critically and examine our learning, which can help us establish future methods and techniques to deal with similar problems in the future.  Have you ever sat down to write a journal entry about your day? If that’s the case, how far did you go? Is blogging a good way to clear your mind? Or did it inspire you to act? As a man, I initially battled with this discipline, and I had to force myself not to start each entry with “Dear Diary.” Journaling isn’t only for teenage girls, that’s a fact.
I enjoyed writing short stories as a child. Subsequently, I gravitated to reflective writing. I mentioned my flip book earlier; I’d like to call it a brain. It was easy to carry in my back pocket. This became a tendency when a random stranger once told me, “Keep a pen and a pad handy because you never know when you’re going to need to write”. The brain had every random thought, directions to my favorite restaurants (I aged myself here!), and a note about every time my boss got on my nerves. I believed my small flip book would suffice until I was trapped in the rain one day. I went back to Barnes & Noble in the hopes of finding a small 2×3 inch hardback flip book. Humph! I ended up purchasing a 5×7 black journal.
My first year as a PhD student, I sat in the front row of the class with my book of sticky notes, a subject notebook, pen, and a spiral journal that I dubbed, Research Planner. My research journal is utilized to record all the random thoughts and information on my topic. Dr. Stephanie Y. Evans (bio.) always encouraged doctoral students to write, write, write. I took her sound advice. Many Ph.D’s recommend that you write at least 15-30 minutes per day; Joan Bolker even wrote a book explaining the 15-minute process. I became more motivated to write after watching Laura Valadez-Martinez’s Ted Talk which frightened me. Now that I’m in the candidacy phase, I am glad that I wrote in my journal often. It eases the process of transcribing the chronology of my dissertation’s research sequence.
As graduate students we must remember that life is unpredictable. We aren’t built to remember everything we read and hear. Reflective writing activities can improve how you see and understand your study if you incorporate them into your daily, or weekly routine. In addition, writing can be restorative. Put the pen you grabbed earlier in motion, and I urge you to write, write, write.
Resources and Works Cited
Reflective Practice Toolkit https://libguides.cam.ac.uk/reflectivepracticetoolkit/reflectivewriting
 From “Learning through reflection: the critical role of reflection in work-based learning (WBL)”, by R. Helyer, 2015, Journal of Work-Applied Management, Vol. 7 No. 1, pp. 15-27. https://doi.org/10.1108/JWAM-10-2015-003
 Bio. (2021). Dr. Stephanie Y. Evans. http://www.professorevans.net/bio.html
 See Bolker, J. (1998). Writing your dissertation in fifteen minutes a day: a guide to starting, revising, and finishing your doctoral thesis. New York, New York: Henry Holt and Company.
 TED. (2016, December 13). Things about a Phd nobody told you about |Laura Valadez-Martinez [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CAKsQf77nHU&t=558s
 See How Journaling Can Help You in Hard Times. (2020). Greater Good https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_journaling_can_help_you_in_hard_times