Much like my anthro article that’s about to come out in print, I’ve been working on this “advice for grad students” for *several* years. It’s time, I think, for it to face greater scrutiny. Nota bene: this perspective assumes that the goal is to get a job in academia and, because I’m in the interpretive social sciences, undoubtedly has that bent, too.
Ph.D. Program Advice for the First Year of Grad School
Key principle: Although “five-year plans” went out of vogue in the 20th century, they’re still really useful for graduate school. Know what’s coming up, manage multiple deadlines, plan ahead years in advance.
Key principle: Be a junior scholar, not a grad student.
Strategizing the Coursework
Coursework is where students get to read widely, get to know the field, improve their writing, build relationships with faculty, try out new areas, and even try smaller research projects. Don’t be a perfectionist to the point of getting incompletes. These will make it very, very difficult to finish.
There are several things to keep in mind when choosing courses:
A) Take the required courses (obvs).
B) Take the classes offered by faculty who you hope to work with, even if the classes don’t sound exactly like what you want to research. It’ll help you build relationships and it’ll give you greater depth in your field in general.
An unfortunate tactic is to read for critique. That is, to say, “I found this text weak because it didn’t address race fully.” Or “Famous Scholar is a little thin because she doesn’t take into account blah blah.” It’s very tempting to, because grad students feel intimidated by peers and professors and think “the way to seem smart is to criticize and find what’s flawed in a text,” read texts as if the goal is to find what’s wrong with the text. This is a mistake.
Another mistake is to slack off on reading by thinking “oh, this isn’t really very interesting to me or important to the issues I really care about.” (Or by getting wasted.)
These two errors come across as callow.
Feel free to leave thoughts and questions in the comments!
 Not cool: asking faculty to do an independent study with you on the topic of a class that they taught, but you just didn’t feel like taking.
 The two common exceptions that prove this rule: political science loves to hire economists; area studies departments will hire anthropologists, historians, literature scholars, etc.