I’m spending the summer of 2019 doing 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.
Contact me or leave a comment if there’s something you want me to address that I haven’t!