Some Tips for (Vegan) Graduate Students Going to A Conference

Attending and presenting at academic conferences is part of graduate student life, and I have been trying to present at a conference at least once a year. Being in Canada, the Film Studies Association of Canada (FSAC) Annual Conference has been my main (and favourite) conference. The size of the conference from year to year, but I feel very much at home when I am attending the FSAC conference. I was planning to submit a proposal and hoping to present there in Victoria, B.C. this year; instead, I spent last week in Chicago to attend the Society for Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS) Annual Conference in Chicago.

2013 SCMS Conference Program

I submitted my proposal during the open call for papers back in August, and I almost forgot that I had submitted a proposal until November when SCMS e-mailed its members that they were experiencing a delay in finalizing their decision. I eventually received a surprising acceptance e-mail in early December, and started planning for the conference. I thought that I would share what I actually did here:

  1. Book flights and hotels ahead of time
  2. Keep all the receipts for reimbursement
  3. Research local vegan spots
  4. Get a prepaid sim card or a travel pack if you are going out of country abroad and using your phone
  5. Navigate the conference area with Google Maps and Offline map apps
  6. Check book sales at the conference

1. Book flights and hotels ahead of time
Here is my rule of thumb for booking flights and ho(s)tels: the earlier, the cheaper. Back in December, I did not know on which day I would be presenting my paper, so I figured that I would need to stay for the entire conference. (Also, this was the first time attending the SCMS conference, so I wanted to stay for the entire conference as well.) This year’s conference in Chicago was from March 6 to 10. Since I could be presenting in the first panel on the first day, which actually turned out to be the case, I decided to fly into Chicago on March 5 and then leave there in the late afternoon/early evening on March 10.

– Use mileage flight rewards 
If you have accumulated mileage for flight rewards, you may want to check if you have enough even for a one-way flight. I had accumulated some mileage with American Airlines (AA) over a few years, but I did not have enough for one way. Some airlines ask you to buy miles for the insufficient amount of miles, and others ask you to pay the price difference, which was the case for AA. By redeeming my AA mileage for a flight reward, I think I saved around 75% off of the original price.

– Subscribe to airline newsletters (or follow the companies on Twitter or like them on Facebook)
Many airlines offer flight sales once in a while, and if you buy your tickets at that time, you can get a really good deal. Particularly if you are booking your flights much earlier, you would be surprised by how cheap your flights could be. I think that Porter AIrlines quite often has flight sales of up to 40% or 50% off, and I booked my return flight from Chicago when it was about 50% off the regular price.

– Find a good deal for ho(s)tels
I usually stay at a university student residence or hostel to save money, but I decided to stay at a hotel with a kitchen this time since I was going to be in Chicago for 5 nights. I searched on online booking websites such as Expedia and Travelocity, but I found the most useful since it had a search criterion for a place with a kitchen/kitchenette. I am not sure how much I saved by using this website, but I saved at least $200 to @300 dollars, compared to the price that I would have paid by booking a decent hotel in the area where I stayed.

2. Keep all the receipts for reimbursement
For a lot of graduate students, including me, booking and paying for flights and accommodation upfront can definitely hurt our wallets, but universities often provide one or more types of funds, like professional development or conference ones, to which students may apply to receive reimbursement for a portion of their travel costs to attend and present at a conference. Make sure to ask or search for such funds at your school and remember to check the applications and deadlines so that you won’t miss your chance to receive some reimbursement. For some fund applications, you will eventually need to submit (original) copies of receipts for transportation, accommodation, and conference registration fees in addition to original ticket stubs, so make sure you keep all of your receipts and tickets!

3. Research local vegan spots

Delicious doughnut and latte at Fritz Pastry

Delicious doughnut and latte at Fritz Pastry

I am a foodie and a vegan, so I feel more comfortable knowing what food options I will have when I going somewhere. I stayed at a hotel with a full kitchen so that I did need to eat out for every meal, but I wanted to try some vegan places in Chicago. Yelp and HappyCow are good places to start with, and VegNews Magazine‘s website may have good lists for the the place where you are going. Finding blogs by local vegans may also give you a good sense of where to go as well. Once I found enough interesting places to check out, I created a map on Google Maps. Some places that I actually visited are:

  • Chicago Diner (I asked a server for a recommendation and tried their famous Radical Reuben Sandwich and a cinnamon roll. This place is similar to Fresh in Toronto, but I liked the atmosphere of this place much more.)
  • Karyn’s Cooked (Again menu is similar to Fresh, but I think that the atmosphere is closer to Live Organic Food Bar in Toronto.)
  • Fritz Pastry (I went here for their doughnuts, and they were amazing! This place closes at 1 pm on the weekdays, so you need to make a trip here in the morning to get their awesome doughnuts!)
  • Urban Vegan (This place seemed too pricey for what it served, but it tasted okay.)

4. Get a prepaid sim card or a travel pack if you are going out of country and using your phone
Living in Canada, we do not have great travel packs for our cell/smart phones. If you intend to use your phone while you are away, you should definitely buy a travel pack or a prepaid sim at the local area. Roam Mobility offers several options for those who live in Canada and are travelling to the U.S. A benefit of using Roam Mobility is that you will have a sim card or phone that you can use as soon as you arrive at your destination. If you have an unlocked phone and some time to shop around, T-mobile‘s prepaid sim seems to be a good option. I was actually going to purchase a T-mobile pre-aid sim card, but my offline map app was good enough for me to navigate the city, so I decided not to purchase one after my first day there.

5. Navigate the conference area with Google Maps and Offline map apps

My map for Chicago on Google Maps

My map for Chicago on Google Maps

Going to a conference is a great opportunity to learn new things and to meet new people, but we should also enjoy experiencing the local spots. I do not care about typical tourist spots, and almost all my attention goes to vegan food. What I used to navigate Chicago was the My Maps Editor app on my iPhone. You can import not only My Places/maps on your Google Maps but also other KML and KMZ files. I am not sure exactly how it works offline, but as far as you have opened the app and navigated an area beforehand, this app seems to work offline. As far as you are receiving some sort of cell tower signal and/or wifi, your GPS works so you can easily find out where you are on the map. And the beauty of KML/KMZ importing function is that you can add public transit lines and stops easily on the map as well. The City of Chicago makes a lot of data available online and you can find the kml files for the Chicago Transit Authority’s “L” (Rail) System stations and lines here:

6. Check book sales at the conference

Books that I bought 50% off at the SCMS Annual Conference

Books that I bought for 50% off at the SCMS Annual Conference

If you are attending a large conference, some major publishers will likely have booths set up at the conference and will be selling some books. Understandably, many of them do not want to take back the books that they brought with them, so you may get a great deal toward the end of the conference. Some publishers only take cash, make sure to have enough. (I actually needed to borrow some money from my supervisor to buy a book.) I bought four books at 50% off, which is a much better deal than what Amazon or the Book Depository usually offers!


I found many more vegan places in Chicago, but due to my tight budget and schedule, I was able to check only four places. I am not 100% sure, but Chicago seems to have more vegan spots than Toronto, though Toronto is now the fourth largest city in North America by beating Chicago by 80,000 people.  I hope that I can visit there again to try out other awesome vegan places!


Teaching Plagiarism: How to Avoid a Sad Situation

10 Types of Plagiarism
Ten Most Common Types of Plagiarism from

Have you ever needed to deal with students who ended up having plagiarisms in their assignments? Unless the students took phrases or sentences from obvious sources, identifying plagiarism has become nearly impossibly thanks to the Internet and computers. If you are living in the era of postmodernism and believe in postmodernist sensibility, plagiarism may not matter anymore. In academics and education, plagiarism is a really big deal, and it is essential for students to learn how to cite and use someone else’s ideas properly and for teaching staff to provide useful resources that can potentially prevent plagiarism.

Screen Shot of Plagiarism.orgThe top page of

I found this website,, last year, and it is a great website for students to learn about plagiarism. A company called iParadigms is behind the website, and its intention to create such a website is obvious: to encourage students to try out its new service WriteCheck, which is basically a lesser version of Turnitin. Regardless of the company’s intention, the website itself is useful and informative. It has four main sections as you can see in the screen shot of the top page: Plagiarism 101, which provides essential knowledge about plagiarism; Citing Sources, which guides students in learning how to cite properly; Ask the Expertswhich shares responses to previous questions asked from students; and, Resourceswhich provides further information about plagiarism. In the last section, I found this four-minute YouTube video that explains 10 types of plagiarism:

Showing this video is definitely an effective way to make students (re-)aware of plagiarism, but also sharing the top image in this post with students as a handout may be a better way for them to retain what they watched in the clip. The Resources section provides student materials that you can use as handouts in class. I have no idea how long the company will maintain this website, so you should download and save the files before the website disappears. The combination of the following articles may be also useful to raise awareness of plagiarism:

If you can use one tutorial session or a part of lecture, showing RiP! A Remix Manifesto by Brett Gaylor may be an interesting way to engage your students in the issue of plagiarism in general:

You would be very sad if you find out that one of your students has committed plagiarism. Your preventive actions for plagiarism by talking about it or sharing any of these resources can definitely decrease the chance of plagiarism in your classroom!

Stylish Academic Writing or Insanely Simple Writing?

I rarely read books directly or indirectly unrelated to my research and studies, period. During the winter break back in December, however, I unusually read two research-unrelated books, Stylish Academic Writing by Helen Sword, and Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success by Ken Segall. Sword is an academic, her book is about academic writing, and her main audience is likely academics; Segall is an advertising creative director, his book is about Apple’s marketing, and his main audience is probably the general public. These two books do not share similar content, but both offer some advice on how to make things better: academic writing and marketing/business.

Stylish Academic Writing

Interestingly, I learnt much more about writing from Segall’s book than Sword’s book. Despite all the pieces of advice that Sword provides, her prose in Stylish Academic Writing was not stylish at all. You can see how she implements what she suggests in the book, but she seems to be struggling to integrate them into a coherent way of writing. Some sentences are even longer than typically long sentences that you would encounter in academic writing; too many parentheses keep cutting off the flow of sentences; the use of data that she collected is sporadic and does not really help strengthen her discussion; and, she does not really exhibit the occasional humour that she claims great academic writers possess. If you bother to read this book for advice, I would rather recommend that you read old-style prescriptive style guides like The Elements of Style, or The Craft of Research. Sadly, Sword’s prose was not engaging enough to be stylish at all.

Insanely Simple by Ken Segall

Unlike Sword’s book, Segall’s Insanely Simple was engaging and full of intriguing anecdotes. Segall writes his understanding (and version) of Steve Jobs’s and Apple’s philosophy based on his own experience as a TBWA\Chiat\Day creative director, and breaks down such philosophy into ten “Think” catchphrases. Not all these Think’s are helpful for stylish academic writing, but some of them are straightforward and, at least for me, useful to improve my writing.

Think Small

Although “Think Small” basically encourages us to work in a small group of smart people, this attitude is applicable to the preparation and the content of writing. At the beginning of brainstorming or writing, I tend to have more topics or ideas that I need to write a specific paper. By narrowing down my scope of topics or ideas, I should be able to engage with ideas or topics more rigorously and productively.

Think Minimal

If “Think Small” is a larger work ethic, “Think Minimal” is a smaller work ethic and it encourages you to focus on one thing at a time or identify the common ground for multiple things. This mentality is directly applicable to academic writing where we need to focus on one workable idea at a time in order to make ourselves fully understood before going to the next idea.

Think Motion

“Think Motion” indicates the necessity to have a clearly defined goal and to work towards it constantly without being distracted by other factors. Setting up a timeline tight enough to achieve this, I should be able to make full use of my time and energy to work productively.

Think Human

This “Think” mentality asks business people to think beyond numbers and to think about their customers, or human beings, first. By foregrounding customer satisfaction, companies can focus more on what they want to deliver. In academic writing, we all need to think about our potential audience, and without a clear idea of what types of people they are, our prose can end up being too vague for them, which also means that the audience does not understand our message.

I may be stretching  Segall’s points a little too much by relating them to academic writing, but his thoughts on how Steve Jobs ran Apple would likely help me refine my writing and achieve more stylish prose than Sword’s book. For now, in order to achieve stylish academic writing, I will aim for insanely simple writing!

How to Deal with a Difficult Situation: “The Other Person is Never the Problem” from Zen Habits


Without giving you too much detail, I had a really difficult situation to deal with in the last term, and I felt more stress than I had experienced in my entire life. Eventually, I was able to resolve it with the help of several persons. While going through the situation, I was blaming someone else at the beginning but I eventually started blaming myself. In retrospect, both sides had issues, and that condition must have made the difficult situation more difficult.

When I read “The Other Person Is Never the Problem” on Zen Habits, a blog by Leo Babauta, I thought that I could have dealt with the situation without feeling too stressful. Here are some lines that intrigued me in the blog post:

They’re not the problem.

The other person is never the problem.

[. . . .] The problem is our reaction. The external event (someone is rude to you) will always happen, every day, often multiple times a day. We cannot stop others from being rude — but we can change how we react.

Unless we are omnipotent, we cannot change the world easily. The easiest part that we can change in any situation is our attitude. By changing our attitude, we may able to see the situation more clearly, and resolve it much more quickly and smoothly.

So next time I face any difficult situation, I will calm myself down and take one step back to have a better look at the situation. By so doing, I should be able to deal with it better than I did this time!

Let’s Use an iPad (Mini) as a Moleskine Notebook – Part 4: Adobe Collage App


In Part Four of this series, I want to expand on the visualization of ideas, the main idea that led me to use Prezi‘s iPad app to recreate the Moleskine experience on my iPad. While the Prezi app provides a basic way of taking notes on iPad, its limited functions means that we can’t enjoy the process of visualizing ideas fully. I have been searching for other apps that have similar functionality as Prezi, and I found the Adobe Collage app.

4. Create idea collages…

The Adobe Collage app provides its users with a platform to combine text, images, and drawings. For designers, this app may be useful to create mood boards, collections of text, images, and objects to visualize design concepts and ideas. The following sample collage on the app may give you a good sense of what you could make:

Adobe Collage Sample
 A sample collage on Adobe Collage app

As you can see, this app allows you not only to add text and images but also to draw. You can even mask images! (The coffee cup is the masked image.) This function is similar to the web version of Prezi: you can search and import images from Google and Flickr as well as videos from YouTube. You can even add web clips as well! Like Prezi, you can rotate and change the size of images and text, so emphasizing specific text and images is relatively easy.

If I had taken the same notes that I took on Prezi as seen in Part 3, it might end up looking like this:

Prezi's Notes

I didn’t change the relative positions of the original text, but I added some relevant images and some drawings. Since my handwriting is rather messy, typing text makes it easier for me to read what I wrote later, and the drawing function allows me to add lines, shapes, and marks as I would with a pen. The capacity to add images and videos is such a benefit for me especially since cinema and media studies is my field.

I would definitely choose Adobe Collage over Prezi on iPad to recreate Moleskine notetaking, but this app has few minor weak points:

  1. Less intuitive ways of rotating and scaling images and texts as in Prezi
  2. Limited size and expandability of its canvas
  3. Lack of presentation mode

Maybe you will get used to rotating and scaling images and text in the Adobe Collage app, but if you’re impatient, it may not work well. If you want to keep adding text and images to a canvas, you will quickly face limitation with this app. If you want to present your canvas like Prezi, Adobe Collage isn’t your best option to take notes. Beyond these points, Adobe Collage is my ideal app to take notes, collect ideas, and (attempt to) create ideas as I do in Moleskine.

For now, the combination of DODOcase Classic and Adobe Collage may be the best way to make your iPad (Mini) physically and functionally feel like your favourite Moleskine. With its compatibility with video clips, Adobe Collage can definitely make your iPad Moleskine 2.0!

Let’s Use an iPad (Mini) as a Moleskine Notebook Series

  1. Evernote and Moleskine suggest: Evernote Smart Notebook by Moleskine
  2. Dress an iPad like Moleskine: DODOcase and Moleskine Covers for iPad
  3. Think like Prezi: Prezi App
  4. Create idea collages: Adobe Collage App

Pitch Your Thesis in Three Minutes? Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) and Everyday Applications

I’m not sure if this is a popular competition at my home institution or others, but York University is hosting its Three Minutes Thesis (3MT®) competition in this term. The basic idea is to present your research to the general public in three minutes. It originally started at the University of Queensland in Australia, and here is their brief description of 3MT®:

The Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) is a research communication competition developed by The University of Queensland. The exercise develops academic, presentation, and research communication skills and supports the development of research students’ capacity to effectively explain their research in three minutes in a language appropriate to an intelligent but non-specialist audience.

And here is their introductory video about this competition:

One interesting criterion of this competition is that it allows you to use only one single, static PowerPoint slide without any other animation, video, or sound. Considering the idea that the presenter will need to condense their research idea into the duration of three minutes, the limitation of one single slide may make sense. Allowing the presenters to use more slides or other media may be a disadvantage to those who are not tech savvy enough to use software other than PowerPoint.

Going through the finalists quickly, I have had the impression that they include more science students, but I may be wrong. Anyway, here are some winners of 3MT® at various universities:

“Nanocantilevers: A New Tool for Medical Diagnostics” by Jennifer Campbell (Engineering Physics) at Queen’s University

“Prostate Cancer – ‘Probing’ for a Solution” by Amanda Pearce at University of Queensland

“Brain Waves That Predict the Future”
by Tim Paris at University of Western Sydney

After watching these videos, I felt that the 3MT® is an academic version of TED Talks: presenters share their ideas to the general public in order to show that their ideas matter. If 3MT® finds a way to work with TED, I think that the participants of the 3MT® will have much larger audiences to share their great research ideas.

– How Can We Apply the 3MT® to Everyday (Academic) Life?

The 3MT® itself is an interesting competition and worth participating and attending, but I thinks that its framework is useful to apply in various aspects of everyday academic life. Here are three aspects to which I think I would apply this 3MT® approach:

1. Grant and Scholarship Proposal Writing
As graduate students, universities expect us to apply for grants and scholarships unless we are already receiving funding beyond the minimum amount of funding from our school. The grants and scholarships with generous financial backing often have committees whose members have diverse backgrounds and do not necessarily share the same research field or interest as you. In this case, the 3MT® mentality to share your research with a general audience will help us break down complicated research ideas into more understandable chunks of information.

Reading out funding proposals will be also useful to identify awkward wording, phrases, and sentence structure. Pretending that you are presenting your proposal at a 3MT® competition, you will develop a presenter mindset for your proposals and should be able to revise them more easily.

2. Daily Planning
Start your morning by taking three minutes to talk to yourself or someone else about what you are planning to achieve in that day. If you already know what you are going to do on that day, three minutes will pass very quickly; if you have a vague idea of your plans, three minutes will feel much longer than they are.

You can also end your day by taking three minutes to go over what you did. Hearing what you did yourself may be awkward at the beginning but will become an efficient way to understand not only the progress that you have made for your various projects but also the condition of your mind as well!

3. Research Idea Brainstorming
If you have a clear vision and idea for your research, telling your classmates and supervisors about it is a piece of cake, and you will not likely have any difficulty in sharing it with your family members and friends as well. If you are not such a lucky person, you may need to identity a main question for your research and refine the framework of such a question until you can share your idea briefly, or in three minutes by adopting the 3MT®.

Find anyone who is willing to share three minutes with you, and talk about your research idea to the person in these three minutes. After you have shared your idea, ask that person if s/he understands the main point or question in your research. If you are not ready for this step, you can instead talk about the scope of your research to yourself in three minutes and ask yourself if it was clear enough to you. If not, it is even more confusing for other people!

Whether you are eventually going to participate in the 3MT®, the mentality of 3MT® will definitely help you work productively and achieve more in your research!

Let’s Use an iPad (Mini) as a Moleskine Notebook – Part 3: Prezi App


In Part Three of this series, I want to focus on the functionality of Moleskine and how we can re-create a similar experience on an iPad. When I think about the functionality of Moleskine, I can think of these basic criteria:

  1. Collection of ideas
  2. Creation of ideas
  3. Association of ideas
  4. Flexibility of writing on paper with a pen

Obviously, the advantage of Moleskine derives from my fourth point, which, in turn, allows us to explore various ideas freely. At this moment, even if you use the best stylus available on the market and an app that lets you write and draw freely, I don’t think you can achieve the same flexibility of writing on paper with a pen. If this is the case, I need to think of a way to achieve the first three criteria outside the box. Enter Prezi.

3. Think like Prezi…

For those who are unfamiliar with Prezi, it is a web-based presentation application and is a great alternative to PowerPoint. Prezi uses a canvas instead of slides and its primary purpose must be to encourage its users to think about developing a stronger storyline while allowing them to jump from one idea to another easily. I just started using Prezi recently, but its strength over other presentation applications is, for me, its ability to allow us to see ideas visually.

Reading and writing allows us to develop our capacity to understand and generate ideas linguistically, but freely sketching out our ideas on paper or Moleskine can let us see previously unnoticed connections among ideas, and such an identification of links among ideas further strengthens our engagement with them. I think that the flexibility of writing on paper with a pen must enable us to visualize ideas easily and that a lack of such flexibility on computers and tablets still make some of us to rely heavily on notebooks like Moleskine. I think this Prezi’s “Idea Matter” introduction video may be a good place to start thinking about the visualization of ideas:

Indeed, the narrator says, “Prezi is about creativity and the visualization of thoughts in motion.” But how does Prezi actually work? The following Prezi tutorial video “3 Steps to a Great Prezi” will show you to understand what you can achieve by using Prezi:

This video clarifies the three key steps to creating a great Prezi:

  1. Brainstorm
  2. Organize
  3. Direct

The first two steps – Brainstorm and Organize – are crucial in visualizing ideas on an iPad as we do in Moleskine. A basic notetaking process involves organizing ideas on pages while a more elaborative way to take notes likely integrates brainstorming processes in order to deepen our understanding of the ideas.

Prezi has an iPad app, and I thought I might take notes on it as I usually do on Moleskine, and this is what I got at the end:

This may be only understandable for me, but it is much better than what I would have jotted down in my Moleskine notebook. The advantage of taking notes on the Prezi app over Moleskine was constantly to change the position of words and phrases to clarify the relationship among them.

The Prezi iPad app has very limited functions though: to add texts and photos and to rotate and resize them. In the future, this app may receive more functions so that we can add shapes like arrows and lines, which are essential to clarify connections and relationships between ideas. Prezi has constantly kept updating its app since its original release, so it may add more functions in the near future.

For now, Prezi’s iPad app may not be the best app to recreate Moleskine experience on iPad, but considering that we can continue editing on iPad and the Web, it is a decent app to capture and develop ideas on iPad as we would do on Moleskine.

Let’s Use an iPad (Mini) as a Moleskine Notebook Series

  1. Evernote and Moleskine suggest: Evernote Smart Notebook by Moleskine
  2. Dress an iPad like Moleskine: DODOcase and Moleskine Covers for iPad
  3. Think like Prezi: Prezi App
  4. Create idea collages: Adobe Collage App