Grad Student Advice

Here are some lessons from my first few years of graduate school. Grain of salt, not the views of my employer, your mileage may vary, etc:

  1. You have the final say over how your time is used. If you supply your time as free labor to professors they will take advantage of it, in the same way that you take advantage of free pizza at seminars. No cost means infinite demand. Let them know (politely) that you have the primary property right to your time. Research and teaching assistantships typically come with an upper bound on time requirements. Use this as necessary. Authoring papers on your own or with other grad students is much more valuable than getting a “thank you” in a footnote. 
  2. Being an academic is more like being an entrepreneur than anything else. That means failures are common. Get over it. Go on to the next big thing. The system is not set up for your personal success. Create assets with transferrable value (that means publications).
  3. The university as we know it might not be around much longer. By “not much longer” I mean 20-30 years, which is short compared to the six centuries or so that modern universities have been around. Besides religion can you think of any other business models that are 600 years old and still thriving? I didn’t think so. Get yourself some marketable skills. This includes a foreign language, a computer language or three, and some math/statistics. If you came to academia to avoid those things you came to the wrong place.
  4. Classes are like meetings. Everyone in the work world complains about having lengthy meetings where people talk but do not get any real work done. The academic equivalent of this is classes. If you are in a Ph.D. program you are typically required to take classes for the first two to three years. Use this opportunity to gain new skills (see points 2 and 3 above). Sitting around talking about ideas is fun, but unless it leads to new research it is entertainment, not work. Don’t fool yourself.
  5. Write.

Below are more resources that I have found useful over the years (alphabetical by author’s last name). Suggestions are welcome.

You can find another list of great resources at the website of Charles Martineau.

See also: 

Surviving Your Stupid, Stupid Decision to Go to Grad School

Getting What You Came For: The Smart Student’s Guide to Earning an M.A. or a Ph.D.

How to Write a Lot

And on a lighter note:

3 thoughts on “Grad Student Advice

  1. Pingback: Grad Student Advice Round-Up | You Study Politics, Right?

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