"An Open Letter to New Graduate Students"
By Brian Croxall
As we were wrapping up the previous semester, three different ProfHackers wrote Open Letters addressed to groups who were making transitions through higher education. Billie kicked off the series with a letter to 2010-2011′s first-time tenure-track teachers; Nels followed with a letter for the newly tenured; and Jeff wrote to the new department chairs. Today, I would like to address a new group: those students just beginning graduate school, specifically those full-time students enrolled in a PhD program.
Expect to feel lost and out of place for a bit.
Recognize that graduate school is a job
“Networking” is not just a word for MBAs. While you might think that the “life of the mind” should be played out by yourself, it’s important to know that networking matters as much between scholars as it does between business students. Get to know the people in your cohort, in your program, and in the field on a national level. When you go to a conference, use your time productively by mingling with the other participants. You’ll be amazed at the opportunities this can lead to. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post about attending conferences productively, mingling has led to invitations to write a review essay, to participate in a large project archiving and cataloging electronic literature, and hanging out with senior scholars in my field.
Recognize that graduate school should not be your entire life.
Understand that you’re not locked into a particular field, project, or personality.
Plan ahead for more than one job.
Build an online profile.
Build a personal research library.
Meet your subject librarian.
Use Dropbox. [...] When you’ve found a path, in other words, leave a trail of breadcrumbs for those who come after you. Take, for example, these tweets, which come from members of my academic soccial network when I asked them for one piece of advice for you, the new students (links direct to the original tweet):
- @clioweb: Do everything you can to do work you enjoy, and enjoy the work you do. Otherwise, it truly is not worth it.
- @loriemerson: assuming that [you]‘ll have to teach, don’t spend too much time grading papers! by that I mean heart&soul, ~30 mins/paper
- @cliotropic: Figure out which of yr faculty members has the widest professional network &/or shares unwritten rules well. Watch & learn.
- @dradrea: Wander through the stacks and read whatever interests you. And don’t be surprised if a google search points you to your diss.
- @kakennedy: there’s no shame in finding out another path is best for you.
- @lorenagibson: Grad school advice: a good advisor is vital; don’t be afraid to change or actively discuss/manage the relationship
- @wynkenhimself: Above all else, #alt-ac isn’t failure. Also listening can be more important than posturing.
- @whitneyrettien: treat it like a profession. find appropriate valves for anxiety. humble yourself; no one cares, make them (passion for work).
- @whitneytrettien: also, for pre-exam studnts: do the readings or admit when you don’t. can’t stand superficial displays. close mouth, open ears.
- @hwhitneyphd: if applicable, keep records of all conversations with thesis advisers, for keeping track of to-dos and mutual obligations
- @drnels: Find out what the job placements rates are for your program so there are no surprises.
- @samplereality: Grad advice: seek & make connections outside your department & outside your university. THATCamps, HASTAC, NEH Institutes, etc
- @CPHarbour: Don’t pick a short timer for a chair
- @karikraus: if you’re a humanities student, do everything you can to fund yourself through *both* teaching and research GAships
- @karikraus: avoiding student loans may be a side benefit, but mostly I’m touting the experience of working on a collaborative DH project.
- @j_l_r: don’t do all the reading!
- @mbtimney: Grad school: Don’t push yourself too hard. Allow time for contemplation, inspiration, motivation. Cultivate friendships.
- @billwolff: Have an online presence, read, experiment, and play with ideas—it’s the best time you have to do all of them.
- @billwolff: And, have co-chairs for your dissertation. That way, if one flakes the other can help everything stay on track.
- @billwolff: Also: push yourself through the writing that doesn’t come easy.
- @mkgold: Read up on the Stoic philosophers and to thine own self be true.
- @amndw2: Don’t believe the people who’ll imply that you’re not a real scholar unless you eat, sleep, & breathe your work 24/7/365.
- @amndw2: Also, if grad school produces mostly angst, misery, & neurosis, that’s probably a signal to go do something else.
- @loradawn: Fellow students are colleagues, not rivals. Enjoy the camaraderie, be encouraging. Collegiality makes you employable. And fun.
- @fearv: do something that matters.
- @eetempleton: be nice to the administrative support staff. They will pull your bacon out of the fire more times than you can count.
- @melissaterras: Find a couple of others at same stage as you, build your own student support network = invaluable.
- @melissaterras: eat well, sleep, exercise. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Learn to touch type. Take every opportunity offered.
- @melissaterras: behave like a pro from day 1, in how you deal with profs and other students. Your reputation will proceed you.
- @melissaterras: get your thesis done on time. If you take years too long, you won’t cope with the pressures of academic job.
- @melissaterras: take holidays. Do other stuff you find fun too. You can’t work 24/7. But when u are at work, work!
- @melissaterras: keep good bibliography of what you are Reading from day 1, and copies of online material that may vanish.
- @melissaterras: finally, if you don’t love the subject when you start, you are sunk. Everyone hates their dissertation by the end!
- @kakennedy: I started blogging my 2nd sem as MA student. Online community has made all the difference.
- @aeguerson: dont put your life on hold, take weekends off, dont hesitate to pursue hobbies
- @miriamkp: Get an internship.
- @jasonrhody: Branch out. Learn skills that can lead to jobs outside / alongside the academy. Take alt-ac job search seriously, from day 1
- @edmj: don’t try to go it alone. Reach out to your fellow students. Become friends. Collaborate. No matter the discipline.
- @triproftri: be prof[essional] to *all* faculty & avoid denigrating in pub venue. These r ppl you’ll work with.
- @nowviskie: Question any received wisdom & inherited structures that imply there’s only one valid or worthy path. #alt-ac
- @nowviskie: Related: only undertake research & projects that make you blissfully happy. Happiness will be long-term & trumps marketability
- @escapegrace: While you’re in school, teach but don’t make it a priority. It won’t get you a job. If possible, start an alternative career.
What one piece of advice or unspoken knowledge would you give to entering graduate students?