Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

Advice to a young graduate student (2)

More advice for first-year graduate students.

In response to my “advice to a young graduate student” posting of a couple days ago, a fellow history of science Ph.D. and good friend of mine e-mailed me his own list of things for first-years to know. It’s gently scrubbed, to remove a few unflattering references to specific institutions, and engaging yet distracting personal details.

1. Don’t be afraid to quit. You may hate it and there is no reason to stay simply because you started. Even if you are doing well, just leave it. Mind you, I don’t think many people do it. You can always take the Masters and leave. 2. Realize that it is a job. It can consume you or you can manage it. I spent every moment reading stuff, and I can honestly say it was the wrong approach. So make sure you have a life in grad school. 3. Only work on things that interest you, not the things that interest your advisor. I cannot imagine anything worse than working on something that is of little interest to me. 4. Get EndNote or some other bibliography program and start using it right away. And a database for archival materials or interviews. If you copy something, record it. If you can scan it, scan it. Make your data portable and accessible. 5. Get the most powerful and lightest laptop you can afford. Do everything with it and back it up every week on a DVD burner. I am tempted to say buy a Powerbook and abandon the PC universe, immediately. I am tired of Sobig et al. Use Word for OS X and either Filemaker or MYSQL. Nissus if you are working in foreign languages. 6. If you really want to do this, then do it right. That means avoiding some of the earlier advice, especially about having much of a life. Read, and read alot. Spend time with the journals, find authors you like and read them. Find people who write well and emulate their style. And start doing your own research early. 7. Publish. Publish crap. The one thing I learned from [name of institution removed] was that writing great essays or articles is a waste. All that matters is the number. As far as I can tell no one reads anyway, so it doesn’t matter what you say. 8. Don’t let present hot topics determine your area of interest. Everyone is writing on biology and genomics. Do something else, please. Hell, a study of how rape statistics in prison are calculated and managed would be great and exciting and have movie potential. Think [critically-acclaimed HBO series] Oz. 9. Remember that you will be unhappy and depressed much of the time. Graduate school is not fun, it is work. 10. Graduate school produces professionals, not intellectuals. If you want to be the later you have to do it on your own.

Hear, hear! Update: If you’re already through the graduate school stage and trying to figure out what to do next, “Journeyman: Getting Into and Out of Academe” may be of interest.

1 Comment

  1. I’ve just finished my first year in gradschool. After reading tip no. 4, I’m turning all my disperse “things I should read soon” notes into a database _right now_.

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