What I Wish I’d Known about Graduate School: Intro

Hannah Eagleson’s second guest blog series (i.e., following Summer Quotation Series), which she wrote before joining ESN as a writer/editor in 2014. What I Wish I’d Known About Graduate School was written just after finishing her PhD in 2011. Enjoy the trailer for the PhD Comics live-action movie 🙂 ~ Tom

Paul Graham, a programmer and writer who does a lot of work with startup companies, once wrote an essay for high school students called “What You’ll Wish You’d Known”. When I finally finished my Ph.D. in the very different field of English this spring, I realized how much I could have used a similar essay for graduate students. So this series of blog posts, in a similar vein, tries to summarize things I wish I’d known at the beginning of graduate school, or in some cases things I did know but didn’t implement very well.

A few notes:

  • I’ve tried to balance thoughts about overarching disciplines, like making time for community, and nuts-and-bolts issues like specific time-saving strategies.
  • My Ph.D. is in English. I hope that many of these thoughts are applicable to graduate work in science as well, but some of them may be humanities-specific.
  • I’m not at all claiming that these thoughts are comprehensive. These are the things that stand out in my personal experience, but I would welcome additional discussion in the blog comments or via email.

I’ll begin next time with some thoughts on what I wish I’d known about balancing life and graduate school. For the moment, I’ll briefly describe what happened when I didn’t balance the two.

At first I took the approach that life and graduate school were pretty much coterminous. I burned out spectacularly at the end of my second year of Ph.D. work. It happened at the end of the spring semester, so I was able to get through the semester without damaging my coursework too much. However, I lost a lot of valuable dissertation writing time over the summer and even beyond. It took me about a year to recover fully. I did work during that year, of course, but a lot of my work pursued trails that were ultimately unproductive in finishing my dissertation. If I hadn’t been so burned out, I think I would have realized this more quickly and been more able to correct my patterns. It takes a lot longer to recover from burnout than it does to avoid it in the first place. Even if it hadn’t caused major burnout, my life/work ratio at the beginning of graduate school wasn’t healthy.

My next post covers a few specific things I recommend to keep life and work in balance. I did theoretically know the importance of these things at the beginning of graduate school, but I definitely didn’t feel their practical urgency strongly enough, because I didn’t really start to do them until I’d crashed.

Update: 8/6/2016.

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Hannah Eagleson

Hannah Eagleson is Interim Associate Director of InterVarsity’s Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). She launched and still edits ESN's collaboratively written devotional for academics, Scholar's Compass. Hannah also crafts other community-building events and materials for ESN. She holds a PhD in English literature from the University of Delaware, and an MA from St. John's College in Annapolis, MD. she’s working on a novel about a dragon who gave up fending off knights to become a tea importer in eighteenth-century England.

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