Here’s the thing. Graduate school, particularly if you’re getting a Ph.D is not fun. There are plenty of reasons it’s not a great idea to go to grad school:
- It’s expensive, both in paying for it and the amount of time it takes to get a degree. When you get done you are often in debt, even if you are accepted into a program that supports you.
- You lose the chance to gain on the job experience and skills in other arenas besides teaching and academia. While these skills can be transferrable, it can be difficult to translate what you can do to the “real world”.
- For Ph.D. Programs, you spend a minimum of 6 years in the social sciences getting a degree. That is a long time.
- The culture of graduate school can be brutal. It can erode your self esteem, make you question your worth and can be a personally difficult time. Especially for minorities and women.
There are good reasons to go to graduate school.
- You LOVE the topic you are studying and you are passionate about spending your days thinking, writing and teaching about it.
- There is a job on the other side of the degree that you know you really want and couldn’t do without getting the piece of paper.
Many people start with loving the topic as a reason to go to grad school, but forget about the question of if they need to spend that much time/money/energy to get to a job they want. People do find out during the process of doing the degree that they don’t like the jobs available to them after the program. Sometimes you just can’t know, so you dive in anyway. My first piece of unsolicited advice is to look very carefully at the question of what you want to do when you get done with a degree and if you have an answer to that, figure out if you need the program to get there.
I (obviously) can talk most easily about Ph.D programs but I still think that it’s good to think about the long term career choice you’re making when you do any advanced degree program. Don’t spend the time or energy getting a degree that doesn’t give you something that makes you better off, either in terms of the kind of job want or the happiness in your life.
Finding the Right School:
Even though they are controversial, the US News and World Report rankings still matter. It is important to look beyond just the rankings however and take into account the issues that really matter to you such as location, time to completion, people you want to be around, professionalization of people in the program. I recommend looking at the US News Reports and then turning to PhDs.org’s website to take into account other variables that matter to you.
Once you’re in Grad School:
How do you navigate the crazy world of grad school? I recommend a couple of sites with helpful advice. First of all is Fabio Rojas’ excellent Grad Skool Rulz. I particularly recommend his thoughts about women in the academy.
Take a look at Academic Ladder, a website on dissertation coaching. While the goal of the site is in part to encourage you to use their services, there are also loads of helpful articles free of charge which are written in an accessible and supportive way. In particular I found the articles on articles on silencing the inner critic and advice for how to find your dissertation project very helpful.
Once you get into grad school, there is a lot of writing to do and it’s in a language that can at first seem like Greek. It’s really normal to find that you have a lot of questions about how to do this work. Luckily, there are a bunch of books out there, you’ll want to browse some of them and see which ones resonate most with you. The ones that were the most helpful to me:
- How to Complete and Survive a Doctoral Dissertation – David Sternberg
- The Clockwork Muse – Eviatar Zerubavel
- How to Write a Lot: A Guide to Productive Academic Writing – Paul Silvia
The word alone can become a really laden term, but it is worth spending some time figuring out how you are best able to do work. Think about when during the day you work best. Experiment with your workflow, figure out how you can do *your* thing. Not someone else’s.
Be cautious about getting too wrapped up into the technology you’re using to do your work, it can be a rabbit hole. That said, there are things like Software Carpentry that can be incredibly beneficial at giving you some tools that in the long run shave a lot of time off of your workflow.
To find a community of folks trying to “phinish”, check out PhinisheD. It’s a website that has a lot of neat people and a few good methods for getting things done.
As for technical support, I have found Zotero to be a fantastic web reference tool, reference sharing service and so much more. I know some are committed to other tools, but to me Zotero has only gotten better with time. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Sociologists for Women in Society (SWS) has a helpful series called Hey Jane. This series is mostly focused on issues coming from faculty life, but it is still a helpful series for woman in the academy.
I’ve also found Kerry Ann Rockquemore’s Monday Motivator Emails and website helpful even before you become a new faculty member.