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 a writer/editor on staff with InterVarsity’s Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). She edits ESN's collaboratively written devotional for academics. Hannah also crafts other community-building events and materials for ESN. She holds a PhD in English literature, and 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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