Tip #5: Pointers

September 12th, 2011

I have covered my most important tips for managing grad school, so this post will have a smattering of simple tips that can’t really be expanded to compelling posts in their own right.

Use Your Committee
A graduate committee can be thought of as an easy version of the type of interaction you will encounter in the field at large. The core purpose of your committee members is to help improve your research so it reaches your institution’s standards. Make good use of your committee and consult them before the big exam(s). If for some reason a committee member is deviating from this mandate and is working with an agenda that doesn’t help your work (note: not you personally but your work. See below), it may be time to replace him or her.

Use Your Peers
Interaction with fellow graduate students is a vital part of the grad school experience. While one may be more inclined to listen to the professors rather than their peers since the professors are the seasoned scholars, don’t discount your fellow students. Learning in groups is highly effective. Also, remember that the grad students of today will define the field thirty years from now! Get a head start on forming bonds with your peers, both within and outside your department.

Remove the Ego from Your Work
A good mindset is to keep your work separate from your self as a mental construct. People will criticize your work, your ideas, your writing style, your work ethic, and many other aspects related to school. It is easy to get angry at them since they seem to be criticizing you as a person, but consider if what they say has value in improving your work. Maybe you really are using than/then in the wrong places and maybe you didn’t consider an important theory in your proposal. Accepting criticism doesn’t mean you are a fraud, but actually means that you are an excellent learner, which is a good thing. Criticisms such as these could lead to changes that make you a better scholar so they should be considered without negativity.

There Will Be Haters
…though at some point there will be someone who just doesn’t like you and/or your work. You are more likely to run into these people outside of your committee, in the academic world at large (for example at conferences). These people are different from your committee members because your outside critics may actually be out to get you and hope/make you fail. If you encounter a hateful person, do your best to stand your ground if your position is based on knowledge. Don’t let mean people win just because they’re mean! Take their criticism with grace to show that you are a scholar who is influenced by knowledge and not force of personality. Once you have determined that someone is mean, break off all contact if possible to reduce their future influence.

On Griping
One tip from experience: don’t talk smack in your department building! Sound definitely carries and you don’t know who is around the corner. Once, when I was waiting for a meeting, I overheard a group of students complaining about their TA. Guess who was working in a side room separated by a wall that didn’t reach the ceiling? Awkwardness was to be had when the TA made herself known.

That’s all for now. I may have a few more odd tips here or there but I have the most important stuff covered. Good luck with your grad school career!


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