Reflections

PhD Reflections/Tips After Year 1

Row of Books in Shelf

I recently completed my first year of a PhD in French. There are two major reasons why I have decided to post the following reflections/tips.

First, I believe that it is healthy to reflect periodically on one’s progress when undergoing a long-term project.

Second, my reflections may help current and prospective graduate students who come across my blog.

Reflections/Tips

Now on to the reflections. I have made a list of 10 PhD-related things that I have discovered about myself and about graduate school in the past year. All tips are inspired by personal experience:

1) Being a PhD student is very much like being a wannabe actor who has recently moved to Los Angeles, California. The odds of “making it” are slim but thousands of us try every year. PhD students and newbie actors are in their industries for one single reason: they love what they do.

2) Constructive criticism is so valuable. Most professors (across institutions) do not grade term papers, so take seriously any constructive feedback you receive. Constructive criticism from a professor who has taken the time to read and mark up a paper should be received with gratitude.

3) On the flip-side, nonconstructive criticism is not only demotivating but also utterly useless. Try to ignore anyone who criticizes you or your work without telling you how you can improve. They are not worth your time or mental energy. They don’t care about your success.

4) Make friends with the other PhD students in your program. Support each other. You are all in this together.

5) If you have been following my blog in the past year, you will be familiar with the following advice: Academic writing IS your job. This is especially true if you are in the humanities or the social sciences. Start thinking of yourself as a writer because you are one.

6) You are an apprentice learning a craft, not an artist trying to harness a Muse. In popular imagination, the image of an apprentice evokes practice and determination. The image of an artist, on the other hand, evokes a born genius who effortlessly produces one masterpiece after another while sipping a latte at Starbucks. The apprentice takes concrete steps to improve her craft. She knows that a poorly-constructed table is not a reflection on her character, and that practice means progress. For more on this, check out Joli Jensen’s excellent book Write No Matter What: Advice for Academics (I also made a video about it here).

7) Participate regularly in activities that take you outside of the academic bubble. You need frequent reminder that there is a world outside of academia and that this world can be just as fulfilling as the one in academia.

8) Mental health matters.

9) Attend local conferences in your field even if you are not presenting. You will learn a lot and meet other academics.

10) When a family member asks you what you study, try to explain. The act of trying to explain what you do to someone outside of academia will teach you a lot about yourself and the importance of your work for wider society. What you study matters, so share it.

Miscellaneous

Twitter for Academics

Woman in White Long Sleeved Shirt Holding a Pen Writing on a PaperStill alive, just crazy busy!

I am currently participating in a game of “How many pages can you write in two weeks?”, which will be followed by a Master’s exam. I already have one Master’s degree, but hey, why not get another one? Right? In my program, the MA exam is basically a preliminary qualifying exam that we all take at the end of our first year.

For the past few months, Academic Twitter has not only helped me get through the insanity, it has also demystified academia for me. Many of my favorite accounts share academic writing tips.

Here are some of my favorite Twitter accounts:

Medieval (not strictly for academics)
Medieval Manuscripts (@BLMedieval): Not strictly for academics. Shares pictures of medieval manuscripts from the British Library.

Discarding Images (@discarding_imgs): Wacky, outrageous, and sometimes inappropriate medieval manuscript art. Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of medieval marginalia!

Damien Kempf (@DamienKempf): The wackiest, most inappropriate marginalia art of the Middle Ages can be found here 😛

For PhDs and Early Career Academics
Write that PhD (@WriteThatPhD): Do you have questions about academic writing and/or publishing? Look no further.

Dr Raul Pacheco-Vega (@raulpacheco): I couldn’t more highly recommend Dr. Pacheco-Vega’s Twitter account. He posts and shares excellent tips for PhD students and early career academics. His blog is also fantastic.

Writing For Research (@Write4Research): All about that academic writing. Prof. Dunleavy also has a blog.

Shit Academics Say (@AcademicsSay): If you’ve never heard of this Twitter or Facebook account and you are in graduate school, where have you been? It’s here to give you your snarky-pessimism fix for the day.

Inside Higher Ed (@insidehighered): Lots of useful information here. Unfortunately, some articles are behind a paywall.

For Wasting Time
PHD Comics (@PHDcomics): Read moderately! The comics just never get old. In my opinion, the second film was way better than the first one they made.

Hashtags
#AcWri
#phdchat
#phdadvice
#phdlife

I could name many more, but these are my favorite Twitter accounts. If you are in graduate school or are an academic, what are yours?

Literary Miscellanea

Let’s Talk: Book Buying, Book Tastes, and Academia

I don’t think I buy too many books, but I do feel that I have too many books in my apartment.

When I began blogging a few years ago, I rarely bought books. I preferred borrowing from public and research libraries. Unsurprisingly, book blogs and booktube inspired me to buy more books. To limit my buying habits, I purchased a Kindle. Since I prefer reading Classics, I thought buying a Kindle would save me a lot of money. It did. However, I soon discovered Half Price Books (the second-hand bookstore in my region where all books are half off the original price), and my purchasing increased exponentially. I realized that I prefer to own physical books. I really don’t care what condition they are in, but I want to have my own personal library of books that I have read and enjoyed.

My TBR is larger than I would like. Although I want to keep a personal library, I don’t want to have too many unread books. I worry that owning too many unread books means that I am just a pretentious reader, keeping books that I have never read to feign my erudition. However, I do read a lot. I prefer to read works that are rich in philosophy and intertextuality. I actually enjoy reading the kinds of books that make one sound like a snob.

I blame this on Academia. It’s really hard to avoid reading obscure, difficult books while in a humanities graduate program. Academia teaches us to have very niche interests and to set ourselves apart from the general reading public. I am currently writing a term paper on the influence of materialistic determinism on Diderot’s Le Fils Naturel. All of our paper topics are as complicated and niche as this one. So inevitably (pun intended), the books I read are not the kinds of books the general public reads.

This only heightens the anxiety I have over my TBR. I feel a greater pressure to read the books that I’ve purchased because if I don’t, I come across as pretentious. I have a lot of difficulty determining which books I should review on this blog and which books I should read without reviewing. Will anyone care that I read this study on Diderot? Maybe I should review Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic, but how many viewers care enough about Biblical scholarship to read the Art of Biblical Narrative (a fantastic book by the way)?

I have not found a perfect solution to my dilemma, but I have decided to do something to minimize my discomfort. I have decided to limit my book buying and read more of the books on my TBR even if they are inappropriate for this blog. Today, I am giving away a stack of “read” books to the local public library. I don’t want to keep books I know I won’t revisit even if I enjoyed reading them the first time. Finally, I have decided to review less and make more frequent “reading update” posts.

What have you done to address your TBR problems (if you have any)?