Your Graduate School Survival Kit.

by Anna Blanch on August 20, 2010

For some of you, it may be a cup of coffee first thing in the morning, hence:

Coffee does more than Milton can,
to justifie the ways of God to Man.

(There’s a variation on that quote from A.D. Houseman, if you know it.) For others it may be getting your necessary 10 hugs a day (apparently that’s the number we all need to thrive), and for others still a hearty belly laugh! I am not one to deprive you so if you want/need all three have at it! (The last is a delightful little phrase that I learnt during my time in the great Republic of Texas).

What am I rambling on about you say? Well, for many today is the first day of classes for a new school year (in North America at least) and I’d thought i’d share some things that are, or should be, in a Graduate School Survival kit.

  1. The EEB Dialectic–This one is from Mike Kaspari. In the 1970’s, Steven Stearns and Ray Huey (grad students at the time) produced two documents that “live on as the best introductions to the psychodrama that is grad school.” Stearn’s “Some modest advice for graduate students” is a bit hard-edged (its first pearl of wisdom, “Always Prepare for the Worst”, sets its tone rather nicely). Huey’s “Some acynical advice for graduate students” begins with the not-so-opposite-as-it-may-sound premise “Always Expect the Best” then rolls on from there.  Print this out and put it somewhere where you’ll encounter it every once in a while. I suggest the bathroom or common area in your department.
  2. The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People–What is your definition of success and what is your strategy to get there? In other words, what are your goals or what do you want to accomplish? Stephen R. Covey’s guide is an oldie but a goodie for thinking about setting up good habits! Even if you don’t agree with his own premises it is helpful for establishing your own definitions of what constitutes success.
  3. Getting Things Done by David Allen– Knowing your goals is one thing, you need to work out a plan and take the steps to reach them. As Mike Kaspari says We all know folks who think big but never finish anything because they can’t seem to get organized.” David Allen’s book is pretty close to the best at helping you develop a mindset of being effective. GTD as it is often known has a very apologetic following. They often describe themselves as evangelical. this makes me somewhat suspicious, but i say take all the good you can get out of it, and leave the obsession to others! You can also take a look at this website – What’s Best Next. It tries to take a non-cultish approach to efficiency/organisation taking the best from a whole bunch of resources.
  4. Getting what you came for: Primarily focused on a North American audience, this book spends the first 11 chapters telling you all the reasons you shouldn’t have come to grad school before getting down to tin tacs and telling you how to get out gracefully. I learnt a handful of excellent and useful things and tons of scary statistics (like the average for a humanities PhD from the time you finish your B.A. is 11 years! seriously! and why you shouldn’t be doing a PhD for financial reasons). Not the bible but an excellent book to read and have around.
  5. A Good pen and a decent laptop. Seriously, nothing discourages me more from working than not having a good pen to write with or my laptop being hinky (that’s another texan word). If we are on technology – If you only buy one other gadget, make it an external hard-drive. I mean it. Do it today! you’ll thank me when your computer crashes/you drop your computer or your nephew spills milk all over the keyboard/it gets stolen because you were too cheap to buy a lock for it/insert other horrific loss of data here.
  6. A Sense of Humor: If you need daily input see XKCD or PhD Comics.
  7. Read Ten Things We Wish We Knew Before We Started Graduate School or any of the other posts in the Basics Series. A post that compiles a whole bunch of wisdom from some of my colleagues.
  8. Orientate yourself at your own pace. This may be breakneck or slow and steady. Don’t worry too much about comparing yourself to others. It’ll either freak you out or lead you to feel superior, neither of which is healthy.  Worry about your own worksheet – that was what they told you in kindergarten right? 
  9. A Healthy desire to Make Friends. Take time to get to know people. Accept invitations and if you are so inclined invite people over for dinner or out to eat after class. Read Ten Things We Wish We Knew Before We Started Graduate School for more on this.
  10. Bibliographic Software – I like Endnote. Couldn’t do without it really! I could, it would just take 5 times longer to do anything! Talk to others about what they use or ask your reference librarians!
  11. Mentors – Ask for help and be humble in accepting guidance. This is a harder one to achieve than pretty much everything else on this list. But being mentored and discipled personally and professionally is probably one of the most important things on this list! Keep in touch with that inspirational college professor or high school teacher – that kind of continuity is a rare but wonderful gift.
  12. Sleep – Sleep may soon become an incredibly precious commodity. This Lifehacker piece on how to reboot your sleep cycle offers some helpful tips – though given I too burnt the candle at both ends during my first three years of grad school I know that you may struggle with accepting that his advice is even possible to implement (what was that about waking up on your own again? ha!) But, that doesn’t negate the value of the article or of sleep!

 There’ll be another post specifically talking about your Grad School Survival Kit for Spiritual Health tomorrow – so stay tuned!

[image: Cyn74 ]

Anna Blanch is founder of Goannatree, and a PhD student in the Institute of Theology, Imagination, and the Arts at St Mary’s College, University of St Andrews, Scotland.

    • Goannatree
    • Jonathan

      I've been meaning to get an external HD for some time. Have you any recommendations? How reliable have you found your own? I've partly been put off buying one because I keep reading about them crashing and losing what you've entrusted to them!

    • Goannatree

      Thanks for dropping by. they (external hds) are so cheap (and i mean it, even for Grad students) that i think it is an investment worth making. The return on investment is one less nagging worry. I leave my external in a safe place in my office desk or at home while i'm overseas – i have my laptop – i know that the world will not end if i've backed up, even if things get stolen or broken. Always back up in at least 2 places. I've been known to have an uptodate copy of my thesis on my laptop, an online server (either university or dropbox type), an external, and a thumbdrive. I'm not making changes to each copy it's more a security blanket. If you buy a decent quality (like Western digital or any other company that actually specialises in data you should be okay – i am making no assertions that you will not be the unlucky one with a catastophic failure) then it will be money well spent. As an additional feature – reducing the memory demands on your first computer should help with speed, but i'm not a complete techy so i might not know what I'm talking about. I have a WD 180GB. It cost me under 100US. that was 16 months ago. I can think of much less productive places that money could have been spent. Think of it as an investment – some people buy the entire corpus of books by their author with their loan money. PS: I wish i was getting perks for this….but no such luck.
      My recent post Street Art- Accordian Player dans Quartier Latin

    • Jonathan

      Okee dokee, thanks for that. P.S. I'm very envious of your Parisian excursion 😉

    • Steve

      Good list, Anna. I don't know where I would be without my good pens.

    • TRR

      Awesome post!

      I picked up Getting Things Done a while ago and really like Allen's methods. I wish I used them more, but one thing at a time!

      I also make sure to back up all my documents regularly on a flash drive that I can take with me. Then I can just keep it in my bag in case something comes up and I'm at another computer somewhere.

      I will definitely have to check out Endnote. My first big paper is due at the end of the year and I want to make sure it's brilliant.
      My recent post what I’m drinking wednesdays

    • Graduate

      Very informative and helpful. I was searching for this information but there are very limited resources. Thank you for providing this information

      Graduate Dissertation

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