I once asked a professor in my department "why do professors take on graduate students?" He was taken aback by the question, and said it was somewhat like asking why do fire fighters put out fires - in both cases it's central to the job. With professors, there is flexibility on how many students they take on. I think it's worthwhile to consider what motivates a professor when they agree to supervise a graduate student. The Sacred Duty of Teaching This is what the professor who joked about the fire fighters was referring to. At the core of a professor's duties is teaching. Although university teaching typically involves undergraduates, graduate courses are a similar dynamic between a … [Read more...] about Why Do Professors Have Graduate Students?
In her recently published book, "The Professor Is In", author Karen Kelsky makes the assertion "Do not take out new debt to attend graduate school." I would go further than this and say do not pay for graduate school. What I mean by this is, only attend graduate school if, after tuition and living expenses are deducted from your stipend it's still a positive amount of money. “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery.” - Charles Dickens How funding is arranged differs by field of study. In STEM areas it's often a basic stipend augmented … [Read more...] about Do Not Pay For Graduate School
Back when I was in graduate school we used to talk about academic incest. The idea behind this was that you would be less competitive on the job market if you did all of your degrees at the same institution. This is different from academic inbreeding, which refers to institutions hiring their own students as instructors. In retrospect, I have no idea why we were so focused on this one issue. It would have been far more productive for us to agonize about our publication count, h-index or our teaching experience. At one point I brought this up with my supervisor, a very senior academic approaching retirement. She remembers this being discussed about candidates at our school over the … [Read more...] about Academic Incest: All Degrees From The Same School
Quite often when students have to apply for a position requiring a letter of recommendation they don't know how to proceed. I was very uncomfortable asking professors what I felt was a favor. My viewpoint, which is shared by most faculty members, is that providing letters of recommendation is part of our job and if a student (or colleague) requests one we'll happily provide it. As long as you follow a few guideline, professors should be happy to provide a letter of recommendation for you. Decide You're Asking The Best Person It's a bit of an uncomfortable situation, but I've had students who did quite poorly in my class and never talked to me one-on-one ask me for a letter of … [Read more...] about Requesting Letters of Recommendation
I've previously written about applying to a PhD program, where I talk more about the logistics of the application. In this post I'll write about a few things people try that are a bad idea, in my opinion, and my suggestion for how to apply if you're really serious about it. Spamming Many students will send bulk e-mail, i.e. spam, to every possible professor at every possible university asking to study with them - usually wanting funding. I started getting these e-mails while I was still a PhD candidate and continued to get them while I was a lecturer (teaching faculty with no graduate students), a post-doc (working as a researcher without my own graduate students) and as an assistant … [Read more...] about A Back Door into a PhD Program
Pursuing a PhD is a big undertaking, and it's worthwhile to consider WHY you want a PhD. One of my friends referred to our having gotten PhDs as "financial suicide", which I certainly don't agree with. HOWEVER, I think there's some merit in the perspective that you should only pursue a PhD if you want to be a professor - a PhD is the union card of academia. For most other goals, there are more straightforward paths there. Lifestyle Being a PhD student is pretty great. I've often told people that they were 4 of the best years of my life. You're given tons of autonomy, get to work on interesting projects, spend time with intelligent people and will be working on a project that you feel … [Read more...] about Reasons to get a PhD
A big part of academia involves making a case for yourself, I hesitate to say selling, when you apply for a graduate program, grant, job or submit to a conference or journal. Eventually this comes down to someone saying "yes" or "no". For many people in academia, who have been quite successful in their life, it can come as a shock when they eventually reach a point where "yes" is no longer a foregone conclusion. Everyone Hears No Sometimes Reaching this point is a great thing, as it's an indicator you're no longer a "big fish in a small pond". It's easily possible, and I know people who have done so, to never challenge yourself and live an easy life below what you're capable of. I … [Read more...] about Dealing With Rejection in Academia
For the nuts-and-bolts of what you have to do to apply for graduate school, do a google search on the name of the school you're interested in attending, the name of the department there and the word "admissions". It should bring you to a page that details what the expected background is for students who apply to their program, important dates and what paperwork is required. It's a pain in the butt filling out everything, but quite a bit of what you do is reusable for other applications - and eventually grants and scholarships - that it's worthwhile doing it as well as you possibly can the first time. The part that take the longest, at least it did for me when I was applying for my … [Read more...] about Applying to a Graduate Program