Graduation Photo by Vika Photography (Charlotte-based photographer)
For those who are new to my blog, welcome! I began my PhD journey this past September. These past few months have been long, but full of many lessons. This post is five pieces of advice I learned along the way to assist you in your graduate program whether you are working toward you masters or doctorate degree.
1. Stay on top of your reading. Regardless of your discipline, graduate programs are comprise of a great amount of reading. This was no surprise coming from a masters program, but in a PhD program you have to adapt to not only class readings and research reading, but also reading for fields/comps. Currently, I read two books a week for class as well as 2-3 books/articles in preparation for my field. This will double next semester as I begin my major field list and into the fall as I prepare for my two remaining fields. So if I fail to stay on top of my readings, I will fall behind in class, my field, my program, and basically life in general. So how do can you manage this large amount of reading? Speed-read/skim. Which honestly I failed to do in undergrad and my masters program. It takes a few weeks to master the art of speed reading and hopefully these tips will help.
Speed Reading 101 (created with tips from my advisors/PhD students)
- Focus heavily on the introduction and the conclusion (also any corresponding footnotes). What is the author’s thesis/main arguments? Research Questions? Historiography of the topic and how his/her book challenging and/or expanding the current historiography? Source material? (Write notes)
- Read the introductory paragraph and concluding paragraph to each chapter. (Write notes)
- Choose one chapter to thoroughly read, specifically a chapter of much interest to you.
- Skim the remainder of the book paying close attention again to the introductory and concluding paragraph. It also helps when the author provides a conclusion in each chapter. Sometimes, you can “cheat” and read just that.
I can do this in 3-4 hours depending on the book (some are too good or theoretical to quickly read); however, create your own speed reading process.
2. Talk to your advisors. Luckily, I have two great advisors who are bad asses in their respective fields. Our communication began soon after I gained acceptance into the program and continued throughout the summer before I arrived to Hopkins. Although they are both relatively new to the department, I feel well equipped to succeed with both of their support and mentoring. And most importantly, they want me to succeed and it is amazing to have professors affirm that you are smart and that you belong at the university, especially when the space is white and male-dominated.
3. Continue to have a social life. I think we fall under this bad misconception where we equate graduate school to a life of exhaustion and seclusion from the outside world. I try my best, although it is inevitable, not to allow my stress or anxiety to build up in addition to my school work. In order to keep stress levels at a minimum, you have to create and STICK to a consistent schedule. My academic day begins early. My daily goal is to be on campus by 8:00am and I typically leave around 4:30pm (depends on my class schedule). If I met all my goals that day, I can relax, watch Greenleaf/Queen Sugar/How to Get Away With Murder, hang out with friends, and sneak a book in before bedtime. I also set a schedule of when to work on research papers, class, and personal research endeavors. Again, adjust this to your schedule and set your own personal daily and weekly goals. With this you can create a free day, a day to relax, read for leisure, and travel the city (or stay in your apartment all day and finally hit up that overflowing laundry basket).
4. Stay in touch with your family. The biggest mistake I made in my masters program was not staying in touch with my family. Now, I have a relatively large family, but it was still no excuse. What changed? My great-grandmother, who I promised to always call, passed away after Thanksgiving. By that time she was already sick and nonverbal. I really took the time to reflect on how much I prioritized my education over my family and realized something had to change. Communication does not always take the form of a phone call, if you live close by plan a surprise visit, write a card, send a text, or a Facebook message. No matter how you communicate, stay in touch.
5. Talk with other students. Make a study buddy, an advice buddy, a lunch buddy, and a venting buddy–in other words make friends. I converse with students within my program who provide tips on speed reading, note taking, forming a field, and navigating around the city. Also the random and much needed check-ins of how you are doing in the program is a great time to sit and say hey I am doing okay or hey I am not doing okay. They either been where you are or going through the journey with you. Smile a little and make friends.
Hope this helps. If you are a graduate student and want to add more advice, please feel free to do so in the comments section. If you are looking at graduate school as an option, feel free to leave questions.