Submitted by Jim Aune on September 29, 2005 - 9:03pm
From "Fontana Labs" at:
**JIM AUNE DIDN'T WRITE THIS, OK? I'M POSTING IT FOR DISCUSSION PURPOSES**
As Young Ben heads off to his first days of graduate school, I thought it might be a good time to offer words of advice to others at the very start of their graduate careers. Ben's talent and charm will carry him through with no problems, I'm sure, but for any interested parties I offer these opening salvos. Add your own in comments!
1. The most important thing: recognize that graduate school is not at all college+1. It's a job-training program designed to qualify you for a very specialized line of work. You're a professional now. Act accordingly.
2. As a corollary of (1), keep in mind that your relationship with your faculty is completely different from an undergraduate's. In some ways this is good: you're halfway a colleague. In some ways this is bad: you're completely dependent on them. Getting abused, harassed, or mistreated? Any of the official lines of complaint might well result in a lukewarm letter of recommendation, which pretty much kills your chance at a job. Never make the mistake of thinking that you're one of them.
3. In case you're unclear about what (2) means: it entails that you should not demand that the director of graduate placement offer you a fellatio. I know you're really drunk, but respect the boundaries.
4. Partly because your work is all-consuming, and partly because of the strange relationship mentioned in (2), you need to have some kind of outlet outside of your academic life. This will cushion you when, inevitably, the professional life hits the skids. If you can, make nonacademic friends. Keep up at least one hobby from the old days. You need to blow off some steam once in a while.
5. Keep fit. I'm completely serious about this.
6. Listen to your peers. At the start of my program, I got invaluable advice from older, wiser heads. Keep your ears open to learn the ins and outs, the standards, the expectations, and so on. No need to reinvent the wheel.
7. In any department there are stand-up, heart-of-gold people who are on your side. There are also complete pricks who don't give a fuck about you and would never lift a finger to save your career. Find out who's who, and don't take their word for it. You know the really hip prof, the one who really would rather be black? He'll talk all urban, but he drove someone from the program last year when the student got a little overfamiliar and replied in kind. Bite your tongue and bide your time, honky.
8. Do your fair share. From time to time, there will be annoying obligations. Go to the parties. Attend the receptions. Take the visiting speaker to lunch. You're building a little goodwill, and it can really help to be seen as a team player if things get rough. Being a good citizen is a good thing.
9. Network like mad. Meet people and impress them with your cleverness.
10. Don't waste time whining about the market-- you could be working with that energy. My advice: every six to twelve months, surface for air. Go meta about your career choice. If you're not enjoying graduate school, if the work isn't moving you, if it's not paying off as you'd hoped, consider dropping out. If you decide to continue, don't think about it until six months later.
11. There's no shame in dropping out, either. Smarter people than you are flourishing in nonacademic careers, and I invite you to bite their asses if you think your "Dr" means anything.
12. Enjoy it. You'll probably never be around such smart, interesting, and completely fucked up people ever again. It's good times.
I'm sure I've contradicted myself, come across like a jerk, whatever. I'll amend as appropriate.