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Surviving Grad School: Testing the Atmosphere

Posted in Surviving Grad School by Caroline Roberts on March 9, 2010
Tags: , , ,

To paraphrase a certain rapper who goes by the name of Pitbull, when choosing a grad school, think “MIAMI,” or “Money Is a Major Issue.” But it’s not the only one. The blog Thoughts Arguments and Rants offers smart advice regarding a grad program’s overall atmosphere:

And don’t just look at the individual students – look at the culture. This can be tricky, because cultures can change. But they tend to change slowly. A culture where everyone is competing to be the best student, and denigrating each other along the way, is going to be a bad place to be at grad school, and it will stay that way. On the other hand, a culture where everyone is trying to help everyone out will, in all probability, keep being a fun place to work for many years.

If you really want to get ahead, you may be surprised to discover that you can’t get ahead on your own. Your studying and reading might take place in a single room, but you won’t get anywhere unless someone is challenging, pushing, and even supporting you. You will also need to network and make connections in order to get slots on conference panels, chapters in books, and your first big job.

Speaking of jobs, the same rule goes for that, too. Even if you don’t have many choices for jobs after the MLA, don’t take a job just because it was offered to you. Ask yourself what the atmosphere is like at the school. Sniff out vague statements and faux-chipper attitudes. Talk to as many people as you can to find out the truth. No grad school or department is perfect, but the pros must outweigh the cons. If they don’t, you can do better. Either wait for another market cycle, if possible, or start taking your skill set elsewhere.

Advice for Incoming Grad Students [Thoughts, Arguments, and Rants]

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One Response to 'Surviving Grad School: Testing the Atmosphere'

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  1. Arnold Pan said,

    Great post, Caroline! In fact, it pre-empts some of the things I was going to address in part 2 of my post on choosing graduate schools. I would say, though, that “Thoughts, Arguments, and Rants” might be a little too idealistic about the atmosphere of a dept. Or, another way of putting it, I can see how depts can be filled with collegiality and competition. The former is always something you look for, but I can’t see how you avoid the latter, when fellowships and funding are getting harder and harder to come by. That’s my take at least, from my experience at UCI, where people seemed to get along well, but also have some pretty serious disagreements and flame wars too.


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