My #1 Best Piece of Advice
I have one top piece of advice to offer grad students and faculty at all levels: read Robert Boice's book, Advice for New Faculty Members. This is The Book. It is the book that changed my life. It is the book that completely altered how I think about writing, teaching, and service. 95% of it is as applicable to grad students as it is to assistant professors (the intended audience). Read. the. book. Just read the book. And here are some other handy links.
General Academic Advice and Resources
How to Not Die: Some Survival Tips for Black Women Who are Asked to Do Too Much: very important advice from Robin M. Boylorn of the Crunk Feminist Collective. See also the brilliant "Back-to-School Beatitudes: 10 Academic Survival Tips." The CFC aims to "create a space of support and camaraderie for hip hop generation feminists of color, queer and straight, in the academy and without, by building a rhetorical community, in which we can discuss our ideas, express our crunk feminist selves, fellowship with one another, debate and challenge one another, and support each other, as we struggle together to articulate our feminist goals, ideas, visions, and dreams in ways that are both personally and professionally beneficial." Consistently one of the best sources of insight into gender and race in and beyond academe.
Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia, edited by Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, Yolanda Flores Niemann, Carmen G. González, Angela P. Harris. This is a phenomenally important book, self-consciously in the tradition of This Bridge Called My Back, that combines personal narrative with empirical research on women of color and white women in the academy. The editors also maintain an informative and frequently-updated facebook page. The book's sections include "General Campus Climate," "Faculty/Student Relationships," "Networks of Allies," "Social Class in Academia," and "Tenure and Promotion." A vital resource.
How to Grad School While Poor, an excellent crowdsourced resource maintained by Dr. Karra Shimabukuro.
Conditionally Accepted, a site that "aims to provide a space for academics on the margins."
Melissa Febos's utterly brilliant essay "Do You Want to be Known for Your Writing or For Your Swift Email Responses?" provides feminist analysis and advice on setting priorities.
Kerry Ann Rockquemore is a columnist for Inside Higher Ed (she's also co-author of the excellent which I discuss below). Check out her columns on how to mentor junior faculty and other crucial topics.
Victoria Reyes, another columnist for Inside Higher Ed, offers excellent advice on a range of topics. I especially like "How to Write a CV for the Academic Job Market" and "10 Tips for Thriving, Not Just Surviving, in Grad School."
"On Mentoring First Generation and Graduate Students of Color," by Marissa López (in collaboration with the MLA's Committee on the Literatures of People of Color), presents “a nuts-and-bolts outline to working with PhD candidates who are either first generation or students of color, making readers aware of the issues such students face and offering concrete, practical suggestions on an individual level.”
"Should-ing All Over Ourselves." Wisdom from Koritha Mitchell about black feminisms, the pressures of "should," and how and when to say no. My favorite part of the essay: "Because saying 'no' is so difficult, it is important to remember that it is not someone else’s job to censor themselves by not asking you to do things. I always tell people: 'Never hesitate to ask if you think I can help with something. It’s your job to take initiative by drawing into yourself the resources and support that you need. It’s my job to say ‘no’ if I need to.' Don’t take the approach that someone is putting you in a bad situation by asking. They are just asking. It is not their fault if you haven’t learned how to say 'no' when necessary."
"To Teach and To Mentor: Toward Our Collective Future," brilliant sanity for mentors and mentees from Jill Dolan, a.k.a. The Feminist Spectator.
Guide to Faculty Mentoring in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard's handbook.
The Southern Association for Women Historians offers a terrific "Mentoring Toolkit" with advice on research, teaching, life, and other important topics. The site is intended for historians but much of the advice is generalizable.
"Career Advice From an Oldish Not-Quite Geezer": Robert J. Sternberg's wisdom on what's really important in an academic career.
"What I Wish I Knew Before Becoming a Professor," by Carole McGranahan, is a must-read.
How Grad Students and Junior Faculty can Publish, Not Perish: Stacey Patton's report on an American Studies Association roundtable with Sarah Banet-Weiser, Joanne Meyerowitz, Michelle Mitchell, and Tavia Nyong'o
"Getting Better Cited": a very helpful essay from the London School of Economics and Political Science on how to write effective titles and abstracts for articles and books
"Zombie Nouns," Helen Sword's excellent essay on nominalizations and other linguistic monsters. Bran Dougherty-Johnson animates Sword's ideas in "Beware of Nominalizations (AKA Zombie Nouns)." See also Sword's 25-minute lecture, "Stylish Academic Writing," after her book of the same title. See, too, Sword's superb "Writer's Diet" assessment tool. I don't care for Sword's "fit vs flabby" metaphor, but this assessment tool provides useful, automated feedback that will help you tighten your prose. All highly recommended.
"10 Top Writing Tips and the Psychology Behind Them" by Josh Bernoff teaches you to write, as he puts it, "without bullshit."
"How to Write a Sophisticated, Dynamic Scholarly Argument," by Katie Van Heest, explains why list-based arguments are rhetorically ineffective.
Wendy Belcher's book, Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success, is stunningly effective.
The Digital Research Directory (DiRT) organizes online digital tools that assist with research, analysis of data, collaboration, notetaking, managing research, mind-mapping, writing, and many other tasks. Highly, highly recommended.
Ig Nobel Prize winner John Perry advocates Structured Procrastination, a technique of getting crucial things done by avoiding something that's even more important. This method really works!
Phil Nel maintains "Nine Kinds of Pie," a great blog about children's literature and related topics. His academic advice is excellent. I especially like his idea of "procrastigrading." And his "Advice for Aspiring Academics" is simply brilliant.
Philip Guo maintains a lush, multi-layered website with excellent advice for grad students, junior faculty, college and high school students, and others involved in education. Highlights include "Why Academics Feel Overworked," "Superpowers of Highly Successful People," and "Advice for New PhD Students." He also wrote a 122-page memoir of his doctoral education titled PhD Grind. All recommended.
"Why I Love Academic Conferences," by Devoney Looser.
I quite like Eric Barker's blog, Barking Up the Wrong Tree, which offers pithy, evidence-based advice on productivity, happiness, negotiation, and related topics. Check out, for example, his helpful post on the relationship among exercise, happiness, and mental capacity (spoiler alert: the first enhances the second and third). And here's a related post on the best ways to motivate yourself to exercise. You can subscribe and receive the short, well-written, well-documented posts by email.
"Humanities Unbound: Supporting Careers and Scholarship Beyond the Tenure Track" by Katina Rogers, Senior Research Specialist for the Scholarly Communications Institute. This white paper provides useful information and ideas to help departments support graduate students who seek careers outside academia.
I offer students the option of "walking office hours" in which the student and I talk while strolling around campus. For more information about the intellectual and health benefits of walking meetings, see Nilofer Merchant, “Sitting is the Smoking of our Generation.” On the intellectual benefits of walking (not necessarily during meetings), see Ferris Jabr's "Why Walking Helps us Think."
Useful (and sometimes funny) Links for Grad Students
Graduate students experience what I call "structural inadequacy." That means that grad students read great academic works--those works that not only got published but that got assigned in courses and that otherwise rose to the top of the heap of scholarship--and they recognize, correctly, that their own work is not as good. To be a grad student is to aspire to do something that one is not yet capable of doing. That is to say, grad students are structurally inadequate. The problem arises when grad students notice their (very real!) inadequacy and mistake structural inadequacy for personal or essential inadequacy. Students who make that mistake may get mired in self-flagellation and low self-esteem or, equally destructively, they may put effort into denying their inadequacy--potentially to the point of being unable to evaluate their own work critically. However, there is another option, and this is what I recommend: acknowledge your structural inadequacy. Remind yourself that it is real but it is not personal--and it need not be permanent. There is exactly one way to become adequate, one way to make your abilities match your aspirations: work. Work very hard. Work for a long time. Do that, and your scholarship will improve. Here's a two-minute video about inadequacy, work, and change: "The Gap," by Ira Glass.
"Welcome to Wonderland: Advice for Beginning Graduate Students of Color" by Daniel Heath Justice and Marissa López (in conjunction with the MLA Committee on the Literatures of People of Color). For notes on how this essay was produced, see "On Mentoring Graduate Students of Color."
"Welcome to Graduate School": David Shorter's excellent advice about that all-important first year of grad school.
"The Professor is In," Karen Kelsky's superb advice and wisdom for grad students and anyone on the academic job market. See also Kelsky's excellent column, "Graduate School is a Means to a Job." Kelsky has compiled much of her best advice in her book, The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning your PhD Into a Job.
"How to Get the Mentoring You Want: A Guide for Graduate Students" from the Rackham Graduate School at the University of Michigan
"What Mentors Wish their Mentees Knew" by Vineet Chopra and Sanjay Saint
"The Four Golden Rules of Effective Menteeship" by Vineet Chopra
"Tips for Mentees" from Harvard Graduate Women in Science and Engineering
"Academic Mentoring: How to Be a Good Mentee" by Cathy Hannabach
"Should You Have a Baby in Graduate School?" by Sarah Kendzior is the best response I've read to this oft-asked question. "The greatest threat to getting an academic job is not a baby. It is the disappearance of academic jobs." Wise words.
How to Read a Book in One Hour, by Larry Cebula
Dissertation Advice from the University of North Carolina
How to be a Good Graduate Student by Marie desJardins
Some Modest Advice for Graduate Students by Stephen C. Stearns
For Junior Faculty
The-Awesomest 7-Year Postdoc or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Tenure-Track Faculty Life." I didn't have the good fortune to read this essay before I got tenure, but the advice in this essay closely resembles the strategy I pursued.'s deeply wise essay, "
"Real Tenure is Portable," by Gene C. Fant Jr. This essay had a profound effect on me when I read it in 2009. The author contrasts "institution-based tenure" with "real tenure" or "professional tenure"--meaning active status in your field. "Institution-based tenure" can only be granted by your college or university, and it provides job security only as long as the institution remains habitable. "Professional tenure" or "real tenure," in contrast, is something that only you can give yourself, and it provides not only security but also mobility. When I was up for tenure, I was aware that I was at an institution in which tenure is never assured. I therefore focused on going for professional tenure--a stance that I found empowering, because I knew that my professional or "real" tenure process was in my control.
Rick Wilson has compiled some of the best Advice to Junior Faculty available on the Web.
Resources for Women of Color Faculty by Robyn Magalit Rodriguez. Most of the resources here date before 2009, but they're still very helpful.
If you are are considering a career beyond the academy...
The Versatile PhD is "a web-based, woman-owned, socially positive business that helps universities provide graduate students with non-academic professional development. Its mission is to help graduate students identify, prepare for, and excel in possible non-academic careers." Much of the website is accessible to all; some parts are accessible only through institutional membership (a list of member institutions appears on the main page). This exceptionally rich website provides resources, job listings, advice, and support to scholars in diverse fields. Highly recommended.
#alt-academy "is both an edited collection and a grassroots, publish-then-filter approach to networked scholarly communication." The website aims to produce "community-building and networked scholarly communication around the theme of unconventional or alternative careers for people with academic training." The site posts many excellent essays, including Brian Croxall's "Playing for Both Teams, Winning for One: Finding and Adjusting to an Alt-Ac Job and Getting Over 'Failure.'"
Beyond Academe is a website that "seeks to educate historians about their options outside of academe. Beyond Academe also provides detailed assistance to historians who are looking for jobs outside of the academy and it seeks to encourage all historians to participate in the public sphere."
Many universities have websites that help grad students pursue "alt-ac," or "alternative academic," careers. Harvard, for example, has Nonacademic Career Resources. This page lists resources including workshops, student groups, and opportunities to connect with alumni. While these services are only available to Harvard students and alumnae/i, other resources listed on the page are accessible by all. For a list of other universities' web resources, see the splash page to The Versatile PhD.
"So What are You Going to Do With That?": Finding Careers Outside Academia, by Susan Basalla and Maggie Debelius, is a good "basic book" on the subject.
Doctorates without Borders organizes meetups for scholars seeking careers outside of the academy.
If you are considering applying to grad school...
Is Graduate School a Cult? by Thomas H. Benton [William Pannapacker]
"What are You Going to Do with That?" by William Deresiewicz. I don't agree with every word of this essay, but I wish all my undergraduate students would read it.
"Working Classes," Jonathan Senchyne's important response to the "just don't go" school of thought