Advice to a young graduate student

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang has some excellent advice on her weblog for the young and I guess in my case not so young graduate student. I’ll quote a few of the best tips from the two entries:

  1. Start keeping a notebook, or research journal, or whatever you want to call it. It’s the place you’ll write down library call numbers, the names of interesting-sounding things that you come across in footnotes, impressions of what you’re reading, research paper ideas, etc., etc.. I started doing this when I was writing my dissertation, and was dogged the sinking feeling that I was looking up stuff, then having the same idea two weeks later. You’re going to be thinking about a lot of stuff. You need a way to keep track of it.
  2. Go to the gym, or go running, or something, every day. It’ll give your mind a break, and your mind will need breaks. (Every now and then you’ll find that your mind just turns off for 24-48 hours. Don’t fight it. Just do laundry until your brain comes back online.) Every Saturday or Sunday, do some reading in the morning, then take the rest of the day off.
  3. Realize that it is a job. It can consume you or you can manage it. I spent every moment reading stuff, and I can honestly say it was the wrong approach. So make sure you have a life in grad school.
  4. Only work on things that interest you , not the things that interest your advisor. I cannot imagine anything worse than working on something that is of little interest to me.
  5. Publish. Publish crap. The one thing I learned from [name of institution removed] was that writing great essays or articles is a waste. All that matters is the number. As far as I can tell no one reads anyway, so it doesn’t matter what you say.
  6. If you really want to do this, then do it right. That means avoiding some of the earlier advice, especially about having much of a life. Read, and read alot. Spend time with the journals, find authors you like and read them. Find people who write well and emulate their style. And start doing your own research early.

I wish I had read some of the advice when I started grad school a year and half ago. Of course everyone has a different experience. I started my current program working fairly regularly with a professor and devouring a great deal of written material. The second semester was devoted to course work and projects. This past semester was probably the least productive with absolutely no interaction with faculty and little with fellow students. Now faced with starting my thesis and feeling a little removed from the whole process I feel a certain sense of panic setting in. Hopefully I can use this feeling to jump into action.
Link:Advice to a young graduate student, Advice to a young graduate student (2)