Starting in the summer of 2019, I began a post-dissertation brain dump of all the things I wish I had known when I started graduate school (either time).

Like most graduate programs, I was supplied with a student manual. It told me how to register, who to talk to about what, where the library was, and all sorts of practical information … but in retrospect, the manual I really needed didn’t exist.

What skills do you need to be successful in graduate school?

Now, this isn’t a one-sized fits all. I encourage you often to get lots of advice, and then adapt it to your particular working style. If it doesn’t work for you, then by all means … ignore it!

I was a non-traditional student (I frequently got to play “dad” in class, and let’s never mention that seminar I took with a professor who was markedly younger than me); working full time up until I started my dissertation research, and I had to learn how to navigate quickly and efficiently lest I become overwhelmed and burned out.

Just because you’re none of these things … well, quick and efficient is valuable for everyone!

Here’s what I’ve discussed so far (this list will be updated…as I remember to do it).

  • How to Read
    Welcome to graduate school! If you’ve noticed that everyone in your seminars seems to have Profound Thoughts about the reading but you, join the club! Here’s some suggestions about what no one told you, but expected you to know anyway.
  • How to Study
    Same same, but different. I eventually learned how to spend two hours with a book and show up in seminar with plenty to say. So can you.
  • Reading Time & Footnotes
    Okay, okay. Just because you can read a book in two hours doesn’t mean you’ll always want to. I just want you to understand that you have some control here. Also … what about the footnotes?
  • Reading for Comprehensive & Qualifying Examinations
    You’ve finished coursework. Congratulations! Now you just have three hundred books to read in the next year. Have fun! Let us know when you’re done! … so, now what?
  • Oral Examinations
    At the end of your comprehensive/qualifying exam year comes the oral examination. I won’t lie, for me it was more stressful than my dissertation defense. It doesn’t have to be. I’ll demystify it for you.
  • Someone else is doing my topic. Is my academic career over??
    You’re plugging along on your thesis when someone mentions that there’s another scholar whose topic is awfully similar to yours. And then the panic sets in. Is your academic career over? Is your work still original? Spoilers: no, and yes. In that order. Here’s why.
  • The Research Year: Planning a Workflow
    You’re off to do research at last! How are you going to capture the thousands of pages you find in an archive, get them into a usable format, and bring them home with you? Why, you need a workflow, of course!
  • The Mental Health Taboo
    Mental health problems present themselves in graduate school, and there is nowhere near enough discussion about it nor about what one should do. It’s time to change that.
  • Planning a Research Year
    OK, so you’re off for a year of research! A whole year? Where do you even start planning?
  • Planning a Research Year, Part Two
    Did I really just accept it when the archives said they had nothing of interest to me? Yes, I did … but that doesn’t mean you always should. Plus, the issue of “gifts.”
  • Funding (or: how to reconcile what you said in your grant proposal with what you actually want to do)
    You got a research grant. Congratulations! Except that your project now looks a bit different than it did when you wrote your proposal. What should you do?
  • My Research “Year”
    I crammed a year’s worth of research into six weeks. I made a few critical mistakes. In this post, I explain what they were, and why self care isn’t “trivial.”
  • Transitioning from Research to Writing
    You’re home from your research year. You’ve been all over the place, and have thousands of photocopies and scans and lots of great material. So … uh, now what?
  • Writing your First Book Review
    Writing book reviews is one of the easiest ways for graduate students to start racking up publication credits, but it can also be tricky figuring out how to engage in constructive criticism or (gasp!) writing a review of a book you actually liked.
  • Minding Your Manners
    Academics aren’t always nice to each other, especially intergenerationally. Maybe we should be.

Contact me or leave a comment if there’s something you want me to address that I haven’t!

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