More advice for graduate students

Since writing the last post, I have had a few additional ideas about advice to graduate students. Generally, these thoughts apply to any job in the academy. Also, I acknowledge that I am a postdoc, and therefore not ultimately an expert in these things. Yet I think these ideas will keep me in good stead throughout my career.

 

  • Stay positive. Optimism has a million benefits in this line of work. I think the primary one though is to motivate a person to keep being productive when there are no deadlines, very little accountability, and often, grim future job prospects. We are all a product of our thought life and self-talk. Think about people you know who are successful and those who consistently are struggling. Who tends to think and talk positively about themselves and their work? Who tends to denigrate their work and their own abilities? I think the main benefit here is that the academic job market is an endurance race, not a sprint. Day after day of working with very little outside direction and few deadlines means you need to be self-motivated. This also relates to failing well. If you fail often, you need to be positive to keep going. This also helps combat the imposter syndrome. If you believe that you are capable it doesn’t matter if others are smarter or better. You know that you are capable.

 

  • Prioritize work that matters. Focus on publications and grants. Everything else is unimportant (I’m kidding of course but having this in the back of your mind will help guide your priorities). It probably depends on the field but, I have been thinking a lot lately about the blend of what kinds of papers are best for the CV, at least in the PhD and postdoc. My conclusion is that you need a blend of middle and low impact papers, plus at least one, if not a few, higher impact papers. This may mean that you have less papers because the higher impact papers take more time. It seems to me at this stage that these papers are what matters most. However, you have to have enough total papers to get your foot in the door, and this means publishing some middle and low impact studies. Either way, don’t spend all your time on email, chatting, teaching, going to lunch, or whatever else it is a lot of graduate students spend all their time doing. Instead, make sure you are ‘touching’ a manuscript every day. This can be as little as five minutes, but you should be writing every single day. Papers are built little by little, not in infrequent leaps and bounds (binges). I think I have more to say on this, but it will probably be saved for an upcoming book synopsis I am going to write.

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