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by Peter Moskos

April 28, 2011

Grad School Advice

I always feel like who am I to talk about grad school? I didn't follow any of the standards Rules to Successful Completion. I liked school, but I wasn't hanging around the department and I took nine years to finish. I might have been the only Harvard sociology student history to fail the "oral exam" (go ahead and snicker, I would. I know it sounds dirty, but it's not). Most of my close friends, almost all of my employment (I was the sole worker in a very small library and was a TA to just one class during those nine years), and all of my social life were outside the sociology department. That's how I stayed calm and sane. I also became a police officer. I recommend that for all grad students (kidding... sort of).

I just came across this in a comment to this article. It's damn good advice if you're in graduate school and anything like me. It's also contrary to almost all "normal" advice you'll hear. And don' forget, "Friend, I don't know what the hell you do for a living, but damn!" It's the one time in your life you can spend all day in the library and reading books and consider it work:
7 Golden Rules for Grad School:

1. Never agree to live with someone in your program. Go home to someone who is either in a different program or who is a citizen of the "Real World."

2. Always try and remember that MANY of your colleagues have the minimal level of social skills required for functioning outside of academia and many of them are feeling, after being star pupils and overachievers for most of their lives, deeply insecure. Knowing this will help alleviate a lot of your stress. So when they say something to you like, "You only got to teach X class because so-and-so/that professor/the department ________________." Just quote Oprah and what one of my older colleagues said: "Don't let them steal your joy!"

3. "Invest your ego somewhere else and find some support system that's separate from this program—your family, your lover, or whoever." Truer words were never spoken. Your friends and family are your reality check, your cheerleaders, and they're the ones who are going to throw you a party post-defense. My best friend is always saying to me, "Friend, I don't know what the hell you do for a living, but damn!" That's all I need sometimes to get through a tough day.

4. "Be kind to yourself." - one of my professors who I taught for last year.

5. A little anxiety never hurt anyone, but just be aware of that fine line between knowing that you're just anxious and knowing that the lines on the bus's brakes were cut and the bus is barreling towards you.

6. In the words of Baz Luhrmann: "Don't waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind. The race is long and, in the end, it's only with yourself."

7. You're there because someone, somewhere, on some admissions committee put all the pieces of you together and wanted you to come and earn a graduate degree with them. If you couldn't do it, you never would've been recommended for admission by either your old professors or a bunch of professors who you've never even met before you set-foot in the door in August. You CAN do it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As somebody who has more degrees than a thermometer, I agree with ##1-6. I'm not sure about #7. Some grad schools will admit anybody they think capable of running a freshman section, with no regard to their ability to run the Ph.D. gauntlet.