Being an “Awesome First-Year Graduate Student”


As his son approaches graduate school, Eric Schwitzgebel (University of California, Riverside), has been thinking about advice he can offer him to be an “awesome first-year graduate student”.

Donald Judd, Furniture Installation with Chair 84

In a post at The Splintered Mind, Professor Schwitzgebel makes a number of suggestions, which I reproduce in an abbreviated form here:

  1. Do fewer things better. It’s better to have one project that approaches publishable quality than three projects that earn an ordinary A. Whether it’s admission to top PhD programs, winning a grant, or winning a job, academia is generally about standing out for unusual excellence in one or two endeavors.
  2. Trust your sense of fun. Some academic topics you’ll find fun. They will call to you. You’ll want to chase after them. Others will bore you. Now sometimes you have to do boring stuff, true…. [But the fun stuff] is what keeps your candle lit. It’s where you’ll do your best learning.
  3. Ask for favors from those above you in the hierarchy. Professors want to help excellent students, and they see it as part of their duty to do so. But it’s easy for professors to be passive about it, especially given the number of demands on their time. So it pays to ask.
  4. Think beyond the requirements. Don’t only read what you are required to read. Don’t only write on and research what you are required to write on and research. Actively go beyond the requirements.
  5. A hoop is just a hoop. Don’t let the more annoying requirements bog you down.
  6. Draw bright lines between work time and relaxation time. During the time for working, focus. Don’t let yourself procrastinate and get distracted. And then when it’s time to stop, stop. Although sometimes people regrettably end up in situations where they can’t avoid overwork, unless you are in such a situation, remember that you deserve breaks and will profit from them. You will better enjoy and better profit from those breaks, however, if you first earn them.

You can read the full versions of these suggestions here.

I’d also suggest readers check out “Grad Traps!” by Daniel Silvermint (University of Connecticut).

And if you have any suggestions for how to be an awesome graduate student, please do share it in the comments.

Related: “Profs: What Would You Tell Your Grad Students, But Can’t?“. “Grad Students: What Would You Tell Your Fellow Students, But Can’t?

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