Getting Through That First Year of Graduate School (cause I'm done with mine - and that makes me an expert!)
Been working on this for a little while. My first year of grad school was - FAST. It goes by quick.. and most of the time you spend thinking you have absolutely no idea what you are doing. And most of the time - you may not - but neither do a lot of people. If you knew it all already, why would you be in graduate school? TIPS.
1. Read... everything.
They tell you this a lot in life. My mom is always telling her students that the more you read - the better you write. Authors are always telling wannabe writers to "read, read, read" (even though that advice would always frustrate me, like "okay? I'll read a whole bunch and TA DA I'm a famous writer now!"). And here I am... saying what has been said before and will probably be said over and over again. Read every book that is assigned in the class. Read the footnotes in those books. Read before you go to bed at night. Read when you are eating Pho at the Coffee House. Read. And then when you start to feel really overwhelmed by all there is to read... pat yourself on the back for all the reading you've already been doing, take a break and watch the first four seasons of Psych on Netflix. (It's a good show. I don't think it gets enough credit because it's well written, funny and has a lot of pop culture references to 80s movies, which I appreciate.)
2. Read the book reviews.
Before I start reading a book I will usually peruse a few of the book reviews (easiest way to find them is on Google Scholar). I do this because it gives me a sort of background on what I'm about to read. I like when I'm reading a few of them and they are all saying something about how "this book is really for a specialist" (AKA this book is kind of confusing/ dense/ hard to read/ philosophical/ requires a dictionary) or "this book has included a lot of extra information in the footnotes (AKA this book may seem like it's only 200 pages but when you count the tiny tiny print of the footnotes, it's more like 500... so thanks for that). What the book reviews can help you to do is understand in a very basic way what the book is about, what it's trying to say and what is going on. It's a very basic point to start from when you start to think about what YOU might want to say about the book.
3. When you professor assigns you a "review" or "short papers" on the books you are reading, always use at least two additional sources in your paper.
They probably aren't going to tell you to do that, by the way. They are probably going to give you some questions they want you to answer about the book and ask you to write a paper based on those questions. But no where will it say "and you can use additional sources" - but you should. You can actually use book reviews as a source at this point. But it also helps to take that extra step in (a) looking up the critique or analytical response to the book (GOOGLE SCHOLAR AGAIN) and (b) looking up the author.
4. Always, always look for connections.
You know what I used to hate about fancy shmancy know it all Graduate Students? That they would always be like "this is a lot like so and so (famous author/ writer/ philosopher) when he says (something cool)." I still can't do that. But I can find connections among the books we are reading in classes - and that's the first step. Think of it this way, your professor designs the class, and they pick the books they do for a reason. They also choose the order and the theme of the class and the paper topics. So somewhere there is a connection. There is something that you are going to learn from one book to the next. Once you figure out a few of these connections - you should write them down. When somebody in class says "isn't this a lot like so and so" then you should write that down to. And look up who so and so is. I met one girl who keeps this huge spider chart looking thing on her computer that shows all these crazy connections - and it all comes down to FACEBOOK. No I'm serious. CONNECTIONS.
5. Look it up, Google It.
So at the start of the year I had to take a class called "Ethnohistory" and my first thought wasn't "oh, I hope I can handle the workload" or even "reading a book a week will keep me... busy" but instead my very first thought was "what's ethnohistory?" I probably could have guessed. But instead I googled it. And then I read about it. And then I was ready to talk about it. And then I wondered why I didn't hear about this before. And then I felt really good about myself and started on the newest season of Psych.
6. Ask the dumb questions.
Some of my first questions were: "What's End Note?" "What's Google Scholar?" "What's the first rule of Fight Club?" (That's a trick question by the way - because we ALL know that the first rule of fight club is SHHHH).
7. Google It again.
Quite honestly my first few weeks of school I googled: "What's the best filing system for a Graduate Student" (a really detailed long one. Someday I'll write up the names of all my files in my filing system... but not today). "How do I finish my thesis?" (They have whole books on this subject). "What is the best way to stay organized as a Graduate Student?" (Keep to your calendar, write down how you spend your time, set aside ACTUAL time to do WORK like you are at a JOB because your JOB is Graduate School now...). "Where can you get good Mexican food in this darn town?" (You can't. It's just how it is.)
8. Go to your Graduate Student meetings and gatherings and social events.
I know, I know. You're a graduate student. You don't have time for FUN. But trust me they aren't fun! (Ba dum dum dum). It's good to get to know your fellow grad students. They've been doing this whole thing for a while now too - they may have some good advice, and they may know where to find the answers to things you don't know.
9. Get back to reading.
10. And watching Psych.
(After Psych you should start Ally McBeal. It's AWFUL. The kind of awful that makes you want to watch the entire thing from start to finish. Kind of like how I feel about Brothers and Sisters...)
About This Blog:
This is the stuff I do to survive Graduate School.
It's also other stuff I do in life.
My life is mostly Graduate School.
Cutcha RIsling Baldy is a PhD Candidate in Native American Studies at UC Davis.