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:
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
Below are more resources that I have found useful over the years (alphabetical by author’s last name). Suggestions are welcome.
- Marc Bellemare, Nick Carnes, and Amar Hamoudi on “How Should a Ph.D. Student Be?“
- Chris Blattman on the academic job market
- Chris Blattman on applying for PhD programs
- Chris Blattman on picking a dissertation project
- Don Davis’s “Ph.D. Thesis Research: Where do I Start?” (pdf)
- Lennard Davis on getting a job
- Matt Dickenson on blogging
- Richard Hamming, “You and Your Research” (video)
- Joseph Kasper on impostor syndrome
- Gary King on becoming a professor in political science
- Gary King’s dissertation advice (pdf)
- Gary King on open access, publishing, and the dissertation
- Matt Might on your thesis proposal
- Matt Might on your thesis defense
- Nuno Monteiro’s five rules for graduate students
- Mike Munger on stress
- Mike Munger on tenure
- Mike Munger on writing
- Dan Nexon on hiring decisions in political science
- David Ogilvy on how to write
- Tom Pepinsky on academic writing
- Steve Saideman’s tips for writing your CV
- Steven Stearns’ advice for graduate students (“No one cares about you.”)
- Richard Thaler’s advice for researchers (“Try writing the first paper on some topic, not the tenth, and never the 50th.”)
- Charles Tilly’s rules for seminars
- Theory Talks (various interviewees, all have advice for students)
- Nathan Yau on starting and finishing a PhD
You can find another list of great resources at the website of Charles Martineau.
And on a lighter note: