Ten things I wish I could tell myself in advance of starting graduate school

By | June 16, 2015

1. They will want to indoctrinate you into the culture of busy, because for all the talk of how universities are liberal bastions, academia is as neoliberal a profession as they come. (See: Joern Fischer, academia’s obsession with quantity; PhD students and the cult of busy; Janet Choi, how to escape the cult of “busy”.) You’re going to love a lot of what you do in graduate school, and it’s ok to immerse yourself in your work. But there will be a line: People will pressure you to agree that graduate students can, should, and do work longer hours than they’re paid to work. People will pressure you to set aside other things that fuel your passion, so you can stay on the 5-year track. Do what you’re willing to do, but do it because it brings you joy–not because you feel like it’s what good academics do.


Ani DiFranco – Joyful Girl by GaleMcDonald

2. Read everything. Read everything you’re assigned for class, read stuff you find in the popular press, follow links on Facebook and Twitter. Read stuff that’s directly about your program of research, read stuff that’s not about your program of research. Read speculative fiction like it’s going out of style. Read film reviews and critiques of public education and teaching narratives and your students’ papers. Read it all. This is way more important than you’ll think it is in your first year or two, but a little less important than some faculty members will want you to believe.

3. Graduate school will be the time you come to terms with being queer, and before you have a chance to catch your breath from that you’ll get smacked in the face by being trans*. This is going to be the hardest thing, and I’m sorry.

4. Don’t expect institutional support for your sexual and gender identities; it doesn’t exist although many people will believe it does. Don’t expect people to understand how hard it is to struggle with gender and sexuality while building a program of research around issues of gender and sexuality; many people will think they understand and support you, but they’ll be wrong and I’m sorry.

But prepare to be surprised, because support and compassion will be extended to you from people you won’t expect, inside of and outside of academia.

5. OMG don’t date that one person. You’ll know who I’m talking about when the time comes.

6. You are predisposed toward outrage at social injustice. This is awesome and you should never feel bad about it. BUT: When you’re fighting injustice, try to remember to always punch up and never punch down.

7. Going gluten-free is going to change your relationship to your body. You’ll realize you forgot what it’s like to feel healthy, but you’ll realize this about 2 years before you’re finally willing to commit to a fully gluten free diet. Try to get on that train a little faster plz.

8. People will tell you that you’re super smart, and that you’re doing important work, and that the field is going to benefit enormously from your ideas. This praise will generally not be paired with a job offer. Learn to accept the compliment and figure out how to not let people off the hook–if these people truly think your work is important, get them to commit to helping the field make room for work like yours. You won’t have this figured out by the time you graduate.

And speaking of which…

9. You will graduate. With a PhD. And a dissertation that makes you proud. Whether this means you’ll end up with a tenure-track job is still an open question.

10. In the end, the people who say things like “the best dissertation is a finished dissertation” are absolutely 100 percent correct. Not only that, but in the last months of your graduate school experience, you will hear someone say that universities benefit from people who take forever to finish their dissertations, because they get to exploit your labor without compensating you fairly.

So, finish the fuck out of your dissertation. To do this, you will need to turn off your phone and email and you will need to check out of Facebook for a while. Also, the Pomodoro technique will work wonders for you.

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