Advice for Incoming Grad Students

Ahhh. . .back to school. A week full of orientations means summer has come to an end. *sigh

Monday was Day One of the incoming cohort’s orientation, and as I was sitting in the Grad Student Q & A (where incoming grads could ask returning grads questions sans professors and staff) I realized that, for the most part, as a first year student you really don’t know what to ask. Questions about Second Year papers and publications abounded, and though valid questions, those can be answered more formally by the Graduate Office or your Advisor. What should have been asked were questions about the unofficial ins and outs of the program and the Ph.D. process – on the ground, day-in-the-life, how to adjust questions. Of course, you can’t ask a question about something that’s not even on your radar, so here are some insights from my first year and advice that I received from friends who are in or just completed various graduate programs.

1. LEARN TO READ. Yeah, you probably think you already know how to read, and I’m sure you can read quite well generally but you have to learn how to read like an academic – much faster and much more critically and analytically. An excellent resource to help you do just that is How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren. Seriously, buy it now.

2. DEPARTMENTAL ENGAGEMENT. This one is pretty straightforward – attend stuff. Not just because professors will see you there but also because it will help in your professional development.

3. PROFS TALK – just as much if not more than your fellow grad students. So yes, they’re talking about your participation in seminars, your attendance at professional development events, and your excuses.

4. NETWORK. Build relationships both academically (in your department/field and in others) – peer mentors and faculty mentors – and non-academically – connections that are totally not school related because you do need to stay connected to the outside world. Plus, it’s the non-academic relationships that will help you stay grounded, think from different perspectives, and connect you with other people/organizations that you may not have considered but will end up being quite useful. Trust me.

5. TIME MANAGEMENT IS PARAMOUNT. No, seriously, with the amount of readings you have to do, plus your responsibilities as a TA/RA, not to mention working on your own research, and God forbid you have a job or a spouse or children or other people (or pets) that you have to be present with, your time is at a premium. There’s a lot to juggle, but it is manageable if you implement a plan to manage it. And you must plan to manage it. (For detailed time management tips, go here.)

6. HAVE FUN! Really, make sure you have some fun. Whatever fun is to you, other than academic stuff, do it, and do it frequently. This grad school thing is not everything; it’s only a part. And, even if you think it’s everything, in order to do it well, you still have to take a break sometimes. So, have some fun. Your brain will thank you.

7. FINALLY, academia is not free from the prejudices, narrow-mindedness, and other hypocrisies that are present in the non-academic world. I’m not sure if people still think of academia as the ‘ivory tower’ but if you do, let me tell you now to stop. Even a field like sociology, a field that’s often all about exposing social ills, is not free from perpetuating some of those same beliefs and mindsets.



For practical advice from my grandma and something all grad students should remember go here.