All graduate students eventually have to face the fact that although we should know what we’re doing in graduate school, and are doing our best to act like we know what we’re doing, more often than not, we haven’t got a clue. The use of the third-person plural should indicate that I count myself among the throng of uninitiated graduate students who continually fumble around with building CVs, forming professional relationships, trying to get published, presenting at conferences, teaching, and searching for that elusive tenure track job at a major university, where we can finally settle into the scholarly life. The truth is, like most graduate students, I don’t have a clue about getting to where I want to be.
While some departments devote time and energy to the professional development of their graduate students, others are slow to recognize the need for such a project. Luckily, my department is finally getting around to taking professional development seriously and has developed a new program to guide graduate students in developing scholarly excellence and professionalism. Through this new initiative, I have been introduced to three books that I wish I had been reading 5 years ago.
The first one is Gregory M. Colón Semenza’s immensely helpful Graduate Study for the Twenty-First Century: How to Build an Academic Career in the Humanities. This book covers just about everything you need to know from the beginning of your graduate studies to landing your first job. The Table of Contents offers an excellent overview of the topics that are covered.
- The Culture of a Graduate Program
- The Structure of Your Graduate Career: An Ideal Plan
- Organization and Time Management
- The Graduate Seminar
- The Seminar Paper
- The Dissertation
- Attending Conferences
- Service and Participation
- The Job Market
The next book, The Chicago Guide to Your Academic Career: A Portable Mentor for Scholars from Graduate School to Tenure, was recommended by my colleague Cynthia R. Nielsen, who blogs at Per Caritatem. This book begins earlier than Semenza’s book and looks at the prerequisites for entering graduate school and the necessary skills and orientations that will lead to the successful completion of the Ph.D. It also reaches further into the future and offers advice on seeking and attaining tenure. Of particular interest for female graduate students is the authors’ attention to the role of gender in the academic life. This book can be read in tandem with Semenza’s book with considerable profit.
The final book that I would like to recommend for getting a clue about graduate school and the academic career is related to the dissertation. There are a lot of books that purport to be “Guides” to the dissertation, but they are usually long on theory and short on practice. Lawrence A. Machi and Brenda T. McEvoy have written a stellar guide to the first stages of the dissertation that will get you focused and writing immediately. The book is called The Literature Review: Six Easy Steps to Success. While the focus is on the literature review stage of the dissertation, the ultimate aim is a quality dissertation. The authors walk you through a six-step process of selecting a topic, searching the literature, developing the argument, surveying the literature, critiquing the literature, and writing a review of the literature on your topic. By the time you finish working your way through these steps, you will be on the fast-track to a completed dissertation that is interesting, substantive, and executed with scholarly rigor.
While this post has had little to do with philosophy, it has everything to do with doing philosophy well. I have spent most of my graduate career trying to figure out how to be a professional philosopher, mostly through trial and error. I have been privileged to receive wise counsel from professors at my university and outside of it, but these three books have given me the practical tools to make use of that counsel. I hope other graduate students find this post helpful. If you have further suggestions, or advice, leave them in your comments below.