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Research Tips: GWC Dissertation Retreat - January 14, 2020 

Getting Help


Allen Foresta

Allen is Senior Librarian, Library Services. He provides in-class (and in-library) library information sessions for a variety of College courses; one-on-one research consultations; and email and in-person reference service. Allen compiles and maintains research guides specific to the College’s departments, programs, and courses; these are posted on the Learning at the Library blog on the Gottesman website. 

Allen received a BA and an MA in English literature from Cornell University, and an MS in library Services from Columbia University. He is interested in promoting and supporting research mastery among students and researchers (a few steps beyond “information literacy”), and he finds contributing to library users’ fluency in the use of rich resources very gratifying.  

Here is his story:

In graduate school, I gradually realized that the price of being able to immerse myself in literature and writing was that I would be obliged to teach, and though I did ultimately teach a Freshman Humanities course in English and American poetry and fiction for an academic year, and enjoyed it, my discomfort getting into each semester was extreme, and I eventually withdrew from graduate studies, in large part because I’d envisioned a career that involved writing and research, but not classroom teaching--I just didn’t like it or feel comfortable doing it. At the same time, I began working in libraries and soon found my interaction with users at the reference desk to be gratifying and rewarding in ways that my best experiences in the classroom had been. I found that I was able to teach, and learn, on a one-on-one basis with individual library users, and that I was pretty good at it.

After earning my library degree, I came to the library here and as I had elsewhere greatly enjoyed front line reference service and felt it to be the right place for me to be. However, it gradually emerged--I should have seen this coming--that I’d also be obliged to teach, to meet with classes, both in the library and in classrooms elsewhere in the College, to provide instruction in research procedures and optimal library use. As in the past, I found anticipation of these sessions to be unnerving; the dynamics of classroom interaction seemed unnatural to me, I felt self-conscious and ill-equipped for the job, and in general the whole undertaking was to me stressful and burdensome.

As it’s developed over the years (though after slow periods I still dread the approach of the concentrated instructional demands of a new semester), I’ve found that classroom teaching does good things for me, in terms of raising my energy level and focusing my mind, and that I enjoy meeting with classes quite a lot and feel I do a good job at it. So librarianship has turned out to involve teaching responsibilities I wouldn’t necessarily have sought out, but I’m not sorry that it does, and in fact I feel fulfilled by them.

Jennifer Govan

Tolkien on my lap and, I lie barefoot in the big fisherman’s hammock, watching the morning light trickle, loving the way the ripples in the pond play underneath the ash and weeping willow, listening to the wind in the trees. Instead of my book, I read the reflecting leaves that vary in color from the shade to the sun, ponder the years ahead, and think how lucky we are to be back in my mother’s home state so many miles from Chicago. If I cast my eyes far enough, I can just about see dragonflies shimmering above the pink and white lily pads, their fragile wings brightly, steadily beating at speeds that defy the glorious leisure of a Maine summer and sudden passing of my young father. 

It’s the beginning of August and school seems as far away as the midnight moon. My three brothers and I hook catfish for breakfast, race bullfrogs at the shore, swing like Tarzan into the leech-y watery deep, cannonball from the dock, skyrocket from construction sand, collect little bundles of pine needles to sew sachets for our clothing drawers. Mom sports a tight rubber cap and Timex in the shiny aluminum rowboat, as she commandeers the Great Race, a three-quarter mile swim across Fairbanks. It becomes an annual event, eagerly anticipated, with the watch keeper always delivering good on her promise afterwards of homemade ice cream in Waterville.

Our biggest project is naturally the Tree Fort. After surveying the terrain down the graveled road from our chipmunk-friendly cabin, we identify the perfect spot -- in amongst the wild strawberries, with a golden crown kinglet’s view of the water. We put our minds to task and master the woodlands, finding and collecting an ample stock of branches and even spare lumber in the slippery rain, busy as carpenter ants building a nest. But this is something more. Equipped with saws, hammers, and nails, we form a human chain that measures about fifteen feet up from the base of the towering Eastern white pine. We create a lovely open space in the tree, carefully pass up supplies, take turns at various stations – intent to build together, away from it all, but also to avoid the occasional, falling cone. There’s slight polarity as to the shape, but we settle in the end for a suitably sized triangle with an opening at the front, large enough for any of us, including my youngest neighbor who’s just five, to crawl through. On the third day, my finely freckled older brother drives home the last spike, joining the beam to the cheers of the team – and opening yet a new doorway, unwittingly just as the ancient Greeks intended; the weather has cleared, and we are once again freed for a smart new adventure…. It turns out to be a gray shingled lean-to in the opposite direction that Kim, my Kentuckian friend, and I decorate wall-to-wall with interesting pages from nature and fashion magazines – a cozy girls’ place smelling of wet wood and sweet coffee on the sly.

Jennifer Govan is Senior Librarian at Teachers College, Columbia University. She holds a BA Combined Honours in English and French from The University of Exeter, England, and a Masters of Librarianship from The College of Librarianship Wales, The University of Wales. An enthusiastic member of the Library Services team, she specializes in the provision of research and information by providing library information sessions, research consultations, archives assistance, and in-person/online reference service. She runs the Gottesman Libraries Education Program of collaborative events and offerings whose goal is to inform students, faculty and staff about the latest thinking in education, in ways that engage members of the community with one another and with a broad range of educational experts. She brings wide experience in library collection management, K-12 collections and services, archives, access services, and outreach through her dedicated work at Teachers College, Columbia University. 

Top Cover Image: Longfellow, Hiawatha, Picture Writing, from The Rothman Lantern Slide Collection, Gottesman Libraries, Teachers College, Columbia University

Research Support

Ask a Librarian - the best way to get help with a library web application or ask anything about the library.

Research Consultation - one-on-one appointment with a librarian to review research tools and strategies

Sample research topics:

  • novice teachers and spatial theory
  • the impact of special education programs on English Language Learners in NYC Schools
  • small talk and taboo topics
  • compliance with PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) standards
  • art walks as an art based educational research method
  • early museum studies programs in the United States and in France
  • how museums have played a part in pre-service teacher education in the past (in the United States)
  • progressive education and the history of the mathematics education department at TC
  • workplace learning in private equity organizations
  • technology-assisted collaboration

Services Desk - staffed by Associates when we are open

Note: The worst question is the unasked one!

Image: Russell Hall. 12 Views of Russell Hall Taken From the Grove, By Emelie Danielson, New York. View Number 7 of 12. (1929), Historical Photographs of Teachers College, Courtesy of the Gottesman Libraries, Teachers College, Columbia University

Research Guides

Accessible from the EdLab Blog and also from rhizr, Research Guides at the course, department, and program levels are descriptive bibliographies with links to relevant resources.

-- Learning at the Library on the EdLab blog offers research tips, event recaps, how-to's and best kept secrets from TC's Gottesman Libraries.

Image: Owl Weathervane, Wikimedia Commons


See workshops and stay tuned for upcoming instructional sessions.

Archival Research

Cited Reference Searching

Grant Seeking

K-12 Curriculum

Lit Review

Using Course Reserves

What Kind of Researcher Are You?

Image: Workshop, from The Ziegfeld Collection of International Childrens Art, Courtesy of the Gottesman Libraries, Teachers College, Columbia University



See Gottesman Libraries Orientation for Incoming Students

Image: Gottesman Libraries, SBLD Studio

Smart Searching


Some useful tools and sites:

  • A-Z List - alphabetical list of the e-journals and databases to which Teachers College subscribes
  • By Genre / By Department -  select listing of resources available
  • By Provider : Ebsco, Proquest
  • TC Super Search - federated search across all the resources available through Teachers College (and great way to quickly find full text -- you can enter all or part of an article title in quotes, e.g.)
  • CU QuickSearch - federated search across all the resources available through Columbia University Libraries..and great way to find access to a specific article or document)
  • Google Scholar - mega search / the universe of information and research (Tip: set your library links to holdings at Teachers College, Columbia University; Columbia University; and WorldCat, a consortium of shared catalogs)
  • Citation Searching - databases that allow you to see who is citing whom, the relevance or important of a work, including journal impact factor
  • Lit Review - resources that survey the literature on a particular topic or subject
  • Archival - primary source materials, including records, manuscripts, artworks, etc.


Here are some general search strategies, with examples drawn from Educat, our catalog.

Simple versus Advanced

  • Simple search is a free text/keyword search, Google-like. No need to think about database fields (subject headings, identifiers, or other de-limiters, like author, title, publisher, year) e.g. ESL

Keyword versus Controlled - keyword is free text; controlled vocabulary means using prescribed subject headings, often found through a database thesaurus , like the ERIC Thesaurus (or for books, the Library of Congress Subject Headings)

Boolean - AND, OR, NOT give the searcher more control over the search results

  • AND narrows down or intersect terms
  • OR broadens out, with like or similar words
  • NOT eliminates records with certain terms

"A" AND "B"

both words must be present in a record

e.g. puppy AND kitten

"A" OR "B"

at least one (or both) words must be present in a record

e.g puppy OR kitten

"A" AND "B", NOT "C"

the first but not the second word must be present in a record

e.g. puppy AND NOT kitten

Phrase Search - Search for complete phrases or specific phrases by enclosing them in quotation marks. Words enclosed in double quotes will appear together in all results exactly as typed. e.g. "spatial theory"

Truncation / Wildcard - lets you search for a term and all variant spellings of that term. To truncate a search term, do a keyword search, remove the ending of the word, and add an asterisk (*) to the end.

e.g. theat*

Proximity - The NEAR operator is used to retrieve records that contain the specified words or phrases within ten words of each other in the same indexed field. The WITHIN operator is similar to the NEAR operator, but allows you to specify the maximum number of words that may appear between the specified 

e.g. international NEAR conference, fractal WITHIN 3 geometry

Images: LCC Chart, Dewey Decimal Classification versus Library of CongressVenn Diagram, Wikimedia; Truncation, from 6 Techniques to Search Databases, Youtube

Learning from Experience

  • The nature, depth, and breadth of your topic will influence your choice of research tools and search strategy.
  • You will develop preferences for search tools and platforms, and get a sense as to what works best for you.
  • Keep an open mind and be willing to explore what's out there! 
  • Be a "bold experimentor with a spirit of adventure... a good draughtsman, but [do not make] draughtmanship an end in itself." *
  • Sometimes finding very little on your topic can be encouraging; you might hit upon a gold mine for new research!
  • Remember that you can't read everything and need to set limits... we have known students who have completed their dissertation in 2 years!
  • Remember that you are always the expert -- the best critical thinker / analyst of discoverable resources.
  • We are here to spark interest in research and guide you on your quest! 

Image: Bust of John Dewey in Zankel Hall, Teachers College. Courtesy of Viv Ellis, Ph'D.

Managing Citations


So, how do you organize what you find? Long gone are stacks of index cards and page son handwritten notes. You can e-mail or export references into tools that help you manage your research. You can also store full text, documents, and media within these tools.

See what's available for free download via Columbia University Libraries. Go to "Research Support" and "Manage Citations".

  • Zotero is available as a Firefox plugin as well as a standalone version, providing browser extensions for Firefox, Chrome, and Safari. Zotero's integration with Firefox is considerably more efficient than with the other browsers, however, so bear this in mind when getting started. Zotero allows you to collect, organize, cite and share your research sources and enables the download, capture, and indexing of full text from PDFs and websites.
  • Mendeley is another free standalone application, which performs largely the same functions as Zotero but behaves a little bit differently. For example, while both Zotero and Mendeley allow you to extract metadata (such as title, authors, etc.) from PDFs, Mendeley automates this process while providing the option of organizing your files directly in your hard drive in a customizable manner. Mendeley also allows for highlighting and annotations directly on the article PDF.
  • Endnote is the oldest software of the three available. EndNote groups citations into "libraries" with the file extension *.enl and a corresponding *.data folder. There are several ways to add a reference to a library: manually, or by exporting, importing, copying from another EndNote library, or connecting from EndNote. The program presents the user with a window containing a dropdown menu from which to select the type of reference they require (e.g., book, congressional legislation, film, newspaper article, etc.), and fields ranging from the general (author, title, year) to those specific to the kind of reference (abstract, author, ISBN, running time, etc.)

Which one? Columbia generally recommends Zotero if you're just starting out. Your specific work environment may dictate your choice -- e.g. are you joining a lab where something else is already in use? Do you expect a lot of collaborative work in which it might be useful to share citation libraries on the same platform? -- but in general, Zotero should work for all your needs.

Image: Cover, Good Housekeeping Magazine, February 1915, Wikimedia Commons

Getting Help

Teachers College Information Technology provides support for Endnote.

Columbia University Libraries workshops.

Image: Getting Help, PxHere

Proposal and Beyond

An effective research proposal is essential for getting approval for your work, whether it is qualitative, quantitative, ethnographic, or a mix of approaches. Here are some useful resources to get started.

Axelrod, Bradley N and James Windell. Dissertation Solutions: A Concise Guide to Planning, Implementing, and Surviving the Dissertation Process. Latham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, c2012

LB2369 .A94 2012

Bloomberg, Linda Dale and Marie Volpe. Completing Your Qualitative Dissertation: A Road Map from Beginning to End. Los Angeles: Sage, 3rd ed.

Contents: Taking charge of yourself and your work -- A complete dissertation : the big picture -- Gearing up : there is method in the madness -- Choosing a qualitative research approach -- A first step: developing your proposal -- Content and process : a chapter-by-chapter road map -- Introduction to your study -- Developing and presenting your literature review -- Presenting methodology and research approach -- Analyzing data and reporting findings -- Analyzing and interpreting findings -- Drawing trustworthy conclusions and presenting actionable recommendations -- Nearing completion -- Some final technical considerations -- Defense preparation and beyond

H62 .B58555 2016

Krathwohl, David R. and Nick L. Smith.  How to Prepare a Dissertation Proposal: Suggestions for Students in Education and the Social and Behavioral Sciences. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2005

Oversize LB2369 .K725 2005

McArthur, Dana Lynn. Scholarly Capacities, Habits of Mind, and Dispositions: Case Studies of Education Doctoral Students in a Dissertation Proposal Seminar. Thesis (Ed.D.)--Teachers College, Columbia University. 2011.

LB2369 .M33 2011, or via Proquest

Rossman, Mark H. Graduate School and Beyond: Earning and Using Your Advanced Degree.  Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, c2010.

Contents: Can I really complete a graduate degree? -- Online courses and degrees -- Financing your graduate degree -- The degree program -- The graduate committee -- The comprehensive exam -- Proposal and the thesis/dissertation -- The defense -- Now what?

B2371.4 .R67 2010

Another tip is to look at dissertations done at Teachers College in your program/area of study and/or by advisor, using Proquest Theses and Dissertations Global. You can search by and by department. Be sure to include ""Columbia University Teachers College" as "school identifier".

Image: Buzz Light Year, Pixabay

Additional Resources

Teachers College Graduate Writing Center provides a range of services designed to support all members of the TC community as writers and graduate students. As a school of practitioners, we believe that writing is a tool that can help students connect theory and practice. While ensuring that students have access to the norms of academic English, our staff also believes that language expectations should be fluid, and we value the notion that effective writing utilizes multiple forms of communication. As graduate students from a variety of disciplines, we work with writers to adopt multiple paths to clarity. Consultants work to help students understand writing as a process and facilitate students in navigating this process on their own.

Purdue Owl - The Purdue University Online Writing Lab houses writing resources and instructional material, and we provide these as a free service of the Writing Lab at Purdue. Students, members of the community, and users worldwide will find information to assist with many writing projects. Teachers and trainers may use this material for in-class and out-of-class instruction.

Included are guidelines and examples for citing in APA, the citation style preferred by TC departments.

For more APA manuals and guides, see here.

Image: Education: A Good Idea, Pixabay

Depositing Research


Pocketknowledge is the social archive and institutional repository of Teachers College. In Pocketknowledge, you'll find papers of the faculty, records of the demonstration and experimental schools, historical dissertations, curricula, art works, and much, much more. You can upload your own authored works to share.

To access full text, you will need to create a free account using your cunix e-mail.

As a social archive you are welcome to deposit your authored works and decide who has access (the world, institutional members, or a select group of users).

Office of Doctoral Studies

Be sure to consult The Teachers College Office of Doctoral Studies for announcements, forms, information on deposits, FAQ, and more.

Image: Milbank Chapel, Courtesy of The Office of Doctoral Studies, Teachers College, Columbia University


Milbank Chapel was created in 1897, and has stencil decorating of green and gold designed by the Tiffany glass and decorating company. If you’ll take a look at the back you’ll see 5 stained glass windows representing science, literature, art, and the new & old testaments, created by Clayton & Bell of London. This chapel is one of NYC’s finest surviving late 19th century interiors. This room is used on occasion for classes and presentations.-- from Walking Tour of Teachers College.

Academic Commons

Academic Commons is Columbia University's digital repository where faculty, students, and staff of Columbia and its affiliate institutions can deposit the results of their scholarly work and research. Content in Academic Commons is freely available to the public.


Image: Columbia Academic Commons, Courtesy of Columbia University

RemixesAcademic Commons *
by Education Program

Useful Library Applications

Library App

"It’s everything you love about the library in the convenience of a mobile app: search the entire catalog, reserve and manage study rooms, view your recent checkouts, and reach out to our librarians when you need some one-on-one assistance.

And that's just the beginning! Download our free app and be the first to experience cutting edge innovations from the library."

-- from Get the Gottesman Libraries App

You can download the Teachers College Library app from the Apple Store or Google Play.


Rhizr is a colorful platform for creating and sharing educational content, including text, images,and multimedia.

You can

  • organize learning content
  • present your work in different views
  • work with collaborators
  • reuse, remix, and pass it on

Learn more.


Vialogues is an award-winning video discussion tool where you can upload, watch, and comment on content as you watch it.