Well, kids…I did it! I made it through the first year of graduate school. I had my moments (getting on the motivation bus after spring break was rough), but I did it. In general, this has been one of the best years of my life. I’m academically challenged and intellectually stimulated on a daily basis. I had my butt kicked by a class, a paper, and a book.
I’ve learned a few things along the way, and even wrote a post on what I’d learned after the first semester. So now, in my wisdom as a student with one full year of her Ph.D behind her, I offer some advice to anyone embarking on a similar journey. Obviously, I’m no expert. I’m only drawing from my personal experience. But since many of you are similarly involved in the worlds of education, library science, and books, hopefully it applies.
1. The Ph.D is a collaboration, not a competition. I think a lot of us came into our cohort thinking that we were competing against each other for grades, assistantships, attention, and future jobs. However, we are quite specialized in our areas of interest and expertise. We learned that we all benefit when we help and support each other. That means tackling readings together, late night Facebook messaging over assignment details, and being respectful when offering questions/critiques after presentations or in papers. It also means we share information about conferences, opportunities, and assistantships with each other when we think they would be a good fit. I want to graduate with the most amazing colleagues in the country, why would I not help them get there?
2. It’s okay to be confident. This isn’t the place for humility. I spend my days with some really smart people, and it’s okay for them to acknowledge that they know a lot about a topic.
3. It’s also okay to say, “I don’t know.” This is different from humility. Saying “I don’t know” shows that I am realistic about my knowledge base. I’m self-aware. Often when I say I don’t know, I’m extending the statement: “I don’t know. How can I find about more about that topic?”
4. Pick your paper topics carefully. In all of my classes so far, the final papers have been fairly open-ended. Why spend all of that time on a paper that doesn’t serve some higher purpose? Maybe it’s something publishable, maybe it’s a future mini-section of something bigger. Take it to a conference. Basically, kill as many birds with that stone as possible.
5. Network. Network network network. Network with the faculty. Network across campus. Network with students in cohorts above you. Network with your own cohort, for goodness sake. This, to me, is the best argument I can offer for why this degree should be done full time. It probably sounds silly to people in the outside world (like my parents), but those connections made at afternoon happy hours, lunchtime lectures, and campus activities are priceless. Every time I leave a conversation with a faculty member I have a new opportunity of some kind in my pocket, even if I can’t always take advantage of that opportunity.
6. You will receive constructive criticism and you WILL appreciate it. In my previous life, I did not get a lot of cricism on my papers. I’m notorious for my poor editing skills, so a comment about better proofreading was typical (I try. Really, I do. I’m to the point where I’m just going pay a service to proofread for me, because I’ve yet to find anyone who can actually help me). Beyond that, I might have gotten a suggestion or two and that was it. Now the criticism is plentiful. And intense. We are no longer working toward “good enough for this class,” but “good enough for publication.” I can’t lie — it was tough at first. But that’s the game. Everyone is getting criticism like that. That’s how it works. I’ve had to stop being emotional about my writing and start being objective.
7. The Ph.D is about theory and research. We’ve struggled with this a lot in the first year. As former teachers, we want to make everything practical. What can teachers turn around and do tomorrow with what I’m learning. While that piece is important, it’s not crucial. Theory is important. Research is important. Don’t do a Ph.D if you are going to constantly ask about the practical application of everything.
8. No one outside of academia will care what you’re doing. This makes me sad, because I love what I’m doing and want to talk about it. People love talking about babies and weddings and home decor. And sports. They do not love hearing about research. It’s kind of made me realize who my real friends are. If I can listen to someone talk about various types of poops her baby has made, that same friend can listen to me talk about an idea I have for a paper.
9. …Or if they do care, they’ll tell you that you’re wrong. Several times in the past week I’ve explained a paper I wrote, and had people tell me it was a pointless topic. People who are not in education. It seems strange to me that anyone who knows nothing about a field would make such bold statements. The funny part is that these are always men. That’s right — they mansplained to me. It makes me mad, but it’s also a reality of this world. People who know nothing about your area of study and will give their opinions on it. Teachers are probably already familiar with this fact.
10. You will work harder than you’ve ever worked in you life. It’s true. My master’s degree was a cakewalk compared to this. I think somewhere the rumor was started that the Ph.D is like another master’s with a dissertation attached. Um, no. You could probably get by with that level of work, but you wouldn’t be successful with that level of work. This world is about 50% assigned coursework and 50% everything else. However, I also find that it’s one of the most rewarding experiences in my life. When the bar is high and I work my ass off, I’m impressed with what I accomplish. I like having my ass kicked by knowledge.
Okay, so there you have it. That’s what I’ve learned in my first year, and the knowledge I hope to pass along to anyone about to start this journey or thinking about starting a Ph.D. It’s not for everyone. This has been an awesome, crazy, ridiculous, busy, intense year, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What have you learned in graduate school?
7 Things You Should Never Say to A Graduate Student
Especially if that graduate student is me.
“When are you going to get a real job?”
First of all, I had a “real” job. It paid me a salary, and I have a set of very valuable skills that I brought with me from my six years of experience in public schools. I’ve lived in the world where I got up every morning at 5:30 to go to a job with a 401K, a pension, and health care. It was fine, and I could go back to that world any time I want to. But I have chosen to go back to school because it was the best decision for me.
Second, I HAVE a “real” job right now. I bring to this job a set of very valuable skills from my six years in the public schools. I am treated like a professional. I make a monthly salary. I have health care and whatnot. I don’t think people realize this, but the full compensation package for a graduate assistantship is about the same as a first year teacher’s salary in my state. (Cue the The more you know! jingle…)
We’ll get to call you Dr. Anderson!
Well, yes. I guess I’ll be Dr. Anderson, but that’s not why I’m doing this. Being called Dr. Anderson when I’m done is the least interesting part of why I’m here.
“It must be nice to have so much free time.”
Yeah. It must be. Let’s go find the person who has some of this alleged “free time” and ask them about it, because that person is certainly not me. Unstructured time and free time are not the same thing. I have 29 hours each week where I must be in class or at work. I also have many meetings and educational activities I attend (workshops, lectures, etc). Beyond that, my remaining time is up to me. Even though I determine the order of tasks I attend to and the location where I attend to them (coffee shops!), it doesn’t mean I’m not working my ass off. Friday nights. Sunday mornings. Up until midnight or 2am. Getting up early to finish work before class. I have some free time, depending on the week, but I have far less than I did when I was working in the public schools. I’m just not tethered to a bell schedule and a 7-period day.
“I can’t believe you misspelled that. You’re going to be a doctor!”
I don’t know if it’s jealousy that leads to a faux superiority complex or what, but I’ve noticed that some of my acquaintances like to point out any mistake I make. Like being a doctoral student means I am now a flawless writer or something. If anything, graduate school is a place where I’ve made more mistakes than I’ve ever made in my life. And I’m learning to be okay with that. I don’t know everything, and I’m secure in the fact that I don’t. Perfect grammar is not a prerequisite for admission, and it is not a requirement for completion of the degree, either.
On a similar note, just because I’m a doctoral student in education doesn’t mean I know everything about education. Or English. Or gender studies. Or biology (seriously. People assume this stuff).
“But you get summers off!”
FALSE. I have to get a job in the summer. Otherwise I can’t pay rent or feed myself. In fact, I pretty much have to get a different job every summer. So I’m always a little anxious about the fact that I don’t know where three of my twelve monthly paychecks are going to come from each year. Even my summer abroad in Munich this year is for a research job — I may be going to Europe, but I’ll also be going to work in Europe.
“I always wanted to get my Ph.D.”
What am I supposed to say when people tell me this? I hear it A LOT. I have two snarky answers to this. (1) “Because wanting a Ph.D and getting one are totally the same thing!” and (2) “I’m so proud of you for not following through with your dream!” Both would get me slapped. So I just have to say, “Oh. That’s nice” and change the subject. I also find that these are usually the folks who are more concerned with being called Dr. So-and-So than actually doing research in graduate school.
And finally: “When are you going to graduate?”
In high school and undergrad, the goal is usually to complete the degree programs in a reasonable about of time. Four years. Three, if you’re savvy about it. But graduate school is an entirely different beast. If I stick around for an additional year, it’s not because I’m dillydallying or failing. It’s for a good reason. Flying through a doctorate in the shortest amount of time possible is not always a good thing, especially for those who plan to enter academia. So rest assured, I will let you all know when that date arrives in 2016…or 2017…ish.
What are some things that you think people should never say to graduate students?
Title: Almost Perfect
Author: Brian Katcher
Publisher/Year: Delacorte, 2009
Length: 368 pages/10 hours and 40 minutes
Genre: YA Contemporary
Source: Purchased from Audible/Amazon
Logan Witherspoon is a senior in small-town Missouri. He lives in a trailer with his mom, runs track, and recently had his heart broken by his cheating girlfriend. Sage is the new girl in school — tall, strangely beautiful, and mysterious. She and Logan become friends in biology class, and it quickly becomes clear that there is something more between them. But when Sage admits that she was born a boy, Logan’s feelings turn to outrage. Logan seeks to understand Sage, and himself, and they both determine if they want to be friends, lovers, or nothing at all.
Almost Perfect is a daring little book in all the best ways. While there are a lot of books out there featuring gay and lesbian teens, there are far fewer books offering positive portrayals of the transgender experience. Even within the LGBT community, transgender people can be marginalized and misunderstood. Logan moves through every emotion, and readers can empathize with his anger, curiosity, confusion, and attraction toward Sage throughout the novel. Katcher does an excellent job of avoiding an “after school special” approach to the story — while the details will answer questions readers may have, the ultimate focus is on the friendship between two well-developed, multi-dimensional characters.
I also have to note that the book is very realistic. Life isn’t perfect, and things don’t always happen like we want them to. Sage’s story is heartbreaking at times, and Logan can be kind of an idiot. People aren’t perfect, and small towns can be very close-minded places. But there are also beautiful moments and beautiful people who make it all worthwhile. Every moment is just a stepping stone to the next moment. I felt that Almost Perfect kept everything in perspective. In that sense, I think the ideal audience for the book would be teens who have not struggled with gender identity. Transgender and queer/genderqueer teens will certainly get a lot out of the story, but I believe Logan and Sage’s story can be a thoughtful stepping stone in anyone’s life path.
FINAL GRADE: B Almost Perfect is…well…almost perfect. This is a very good read, and I highly recommend it. It’s a slow book, but it does pick up more near the end. It’s definitely one of the better LGBT books I’ve read. There’s a reason it has a Stonewall Award sticker on the front!
Required Reading: Required for anyone who works with or teaches teenagers. You need to have this book in your mental bookshelf, because I guarantee you will find an opportunity to recommend it to a teenager or another adult in your life.
Library Recommendation: Since the Logan and Sage are both 18, I’d say Almost Perfect is intended for a high school audience. For parents, be aware that sex, sexual urges, teenage drinking, and violence (including a hate crime) are major points in the story. Logan is actually a really good male role model, for what it’s worth.
Graduate school means a lot of reading. Hours each day of reading. So one question I get a lot is how I manage to balance that reading with my fun reading. This question is not a new one. Book bloggers have probably been asked similar questions about balancing school or work and reading, or just about how we manage to read so much in general. Let’s face it — we read far more than the average person. We all have our tricks and tips for how we fit reading into our busy lives, so I thought I’d share my particular method for balancing reading for school and reading for fun.
So how do I do it?
I have mastered the art of reading in small doses at various points in the day. One of my morning luxuries is sitting at the dining room table to eat a leisurely breakfast with a good book. I go to bed a little early so I can read for 30 minutes before I fall asleep. My Kindle and Nook apps allow me to read on my phone while waiting for friends, the bus, and appointments. E-books have really changed my life because I never have to remember my book, it’s always there on my phone!
At this point, I have made reading a habit. I have always been a reader, but sometimes an undisciplined one. But keeping a blog and holding myself accountable for review copies has forced me to think about my reading more. Since I’ve been building this habit for four years, meeting and exceeding my reading goals each year, it’s become part of my daily life. Most importantly, I built this habit before heading back to school.
Audiobooks have also significantly changed my reading habits. I subscribe to the two books per month plan on Audible, and usually manage to grab at least one audio book for review each month. Audiobooks do take a lot longer to read than physical books, but they make use of time that I wouldn’t otherwise spend reading. Buses make me sick, so I listen to my audiobooks while I ride. My favorite trick is setting the book to double speed! The narration on some audiobooks is sooooo sllllooooooowwwwww that setting the book to double speed even makes them more listen-able.
Being a doctoral student has also made me a more efficient reader. Because I read so much, I’m in better “reading shape” than I’ve ever been. After reading pages and pages of research articles, YA books feel like a breeze! More than anything, though, reading for fun is an escape. If I watch TV, my mind is still buzzing or I’m playing on my computer. But when I pick up a book, I can get totally lost. Even if I only get a chance to read for twenty minutes at breakfast or seven minutes while waiting for a meeting, reading novels takes me away from daily life and grad school stress.
One of my big worries going back to school full time was that I wouldn’t have time to read for fun, but I’m happy to report that hasn’t been the case. I’m currently three books ahead on my Goodreads challenge! Because I want to read, I find time to read. Sometimes I even give myself an afternoon to just crawl into bed with a book and read for hours — why not? With a little work, pleasure reading and grad school can go hand in hand.
How do you balance reading and school? Reading and work? What are your favorite tips for adding in a little guilt-free escape into a book?
Title: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
Author: Susan Cain
Publisher/Year: Crown, 2012
Length: 333 pages, 10 hours 39 mins
Genre: Adult non-fiction
Format: Audio book
Source: Purchased from Audible
Introverts, this book is for you. In a world that values the qualities of the extroverted and labels introverts as shy, anti-social, and sensitive, Susan Cain highlights the positive qualities of this undervalued portion of the population. She utilizes both personal stories from real introverts and significant research to prove her points along the way.
I have a feeling I’m preaching to the choir when talking about introverted-ness to the book blogger world, since I’m fairly certain we represent an above-average number of introverts, but this book was like a big hug. The world we live in sometimes makes me feel guilty for wanting to spend my Saturday night alone with a good book. We are living in a world that values extroverted qualities more than introverted ones, but Cain successfully shows why we need to celebrated the introverts’ contributions and viewpoints. We offer something unique.
I did have two nit-picks with the book, which kind of represent nit-picks others may have with various parts. First, when Cain talked about teaching she attacked teacher’s viewpoints of group work. She almost made it sound like the new teacher allegiance to group work is a conspiracy by extroverted teachers. I disagree, since there is a lot of research about cooperative learning and there are evidence based reasons why these new teachers are using this as one of many instructional techniques. Critique the lack of anti-coorperative learning research, not the newbie teachers. Second, she encourages introverts to consider careers in library science. This represents society’s gross misunderstanding of what librarians do. I was told in library school that it is common to get applications that read, “I want to go to library school because I like to read books,” and those often got rejected over applications that read, “I want to be a librarian because I like helping people.” Don’t be a librarian if you want to avoid contact with people! I often left work socially drained, longing for introvert time (which is okay!).
FINAL GRADE: B It definitely stands out as one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read in recent memory. Cain does jump to some conclusions and make a few points that I might argue against, but I’m going to forgive her due to the overall readability and awesomeness of the book. I read this as an audiobook, since I do enjoy reading adult non-fiction in this format, and I would definitely recommend the audio. It’s the kind of book that you can listen to while working out or driving to work — the starting and stopping to listen for an hour or so each day won’t ruin your experience. The narration is clear and non-distracting.
Required Reading: Required for all introverts. Also required for all extroverts, for the purpose of understanding your favorite introvert just a little better. Extroverts may feel a little offended or defensive throughout the book, but I’ll ask the extroverted among you to set aside your egos and give it a try.
Library recommendations: You could put this in your high school library, but it would be okay to skip it.
Are you an extrovert or an introvert? Do you think introverts are misunderstood?
A long time ago (like, this past summer) I read a post on Red Lips and Academics called “Things I’m Afraid to Tell You: Academic Edition.” She borrowed the idea from the Creature Comfort’s Blog, and it started as a sort of meme for crafty (like, Pinterest-perfect) crafty folks. The idea is that bloggers remove our air of confidence, the facade we wear that says, “We’ve got everything figured out. We’ve got our shit together. We’re so together that we blog about our amazing lives.” Okay, so those are my words, not hers. But today I’m going to share with you some of my vulnerabilities as an academic. I certainly have shared some of my insecurities along the way, but these are the biggies:
1. I’m a 95%er. Meaning, I’m not a perfectionist. I don’t have time to be a perfectionist. You can probably tell by the number of typos on this blog. I believe that perfection is terribly inefficient.
2. I was not a fabulous teacher. I wasn’t terrible, but I certainly wasn’t the teacher of the year. No one is very good in their first few years, so this isn’t surprising. However, I sometimes feel weird talking about all these ideals and theories of teaching when I look back on my experiences and cringe.
3. I get jealous of my friends who have lives. When I look at all my friends having babies, buying houses, going on vacations, getting married, I often feel stuck. Like I have this one thing I can do well (academics) and I’m a one trick pony. I regularly remind myself that things will look very different ten years from now, and I just have to be okay with that.
4. Now that I’ve started my Ph.D, I don’t know when I’m going to have children. My life will only get harder when/if I get a tenure-track position! There will be no good time. It’s just going to have to happen anyway, and I get tired just thinking about it!
5. I rarely miss teaching in the public schools. This makes me feel super guilty and I don’t really like to talk about it. However, I just love being treated like a serious adult and a real person. I like being able to go outside at various points in the day, eating lunch without being interrupted, and being able to walk out of class when I have to go to the bathroom. The introvert in me is loving all of the time I have to hyper-focus on things.
6. I have zero experience with research. And I desperately need some. And I will get some (I am already getting some), but right now it’s a huge deficit in my education that constantly stares me in the face.
7. I don’t talk fancy. I mean, my vocabulary has already changed a lot being in this academic wonderland. I’ve never been against jargon and ed-speak and fancy words because they are usually efficient for describing ideas. However, most of the time I just talk like a normal person. This may change over the next three years (…it will likely change over the next three years…), but for now I’m better at writing than talking.
So there you have it. Things I’m afraid to tell you. I know I’m not alone in these, and I know many of them will work themselves out over time. I’m generally a very confident, optimistic, person, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have my fair share of insecurities from time to time.
Also, please note that I’m not asking for solutions from anyone. I’m handling things very well in school and I’m very happy! I’m forging my own way and figuring it all out along that path. I’m fine with some stumbles and questions as I go, that’s life! The purpose for sharing this is to put a little bit of myself out there. It’s about transparency and realizing I’m not alone (and that you aren’t alone!) in the self-doubts of life.
Do you share any similar insecurities? What is one thing you are afraid to tell people?