So you want to get a PhD in ***? Or, My Life in Graduate School

It has been a hectic 2 months. Hopefully this pared-down explanation sufficient to explain my long absence from this blog but in case it isn’t, here is an annotated list of some of my academic activities in the past 2 weeks (with special notes for anyone considering graduate school in the near future.

1. Class. I am taking 4 classes this semester – 1 required seminar on research by resident faculty, 1 course cross-listed with the law school on corruption, 1 “core seminar” on research methods in comparative politics, and a class on formal modelling (also known as the demon-class). I took the same number of courses during my MA but I feel way more over-loaded here (probably largely due to the modelling class which sucks up time like a hoover and spits out frustration and confusion like they are going out of style).

Note to Applicants: Take a look at the course offerings at the schools to which you are applying. You probably want to go somewhere with (a) a large amount of selection, (b) some cross-listed offerings with departments relevant to your intended field of study, and (c) good methods training for when you emerge onto the job market with your freshly minted doctorate. Do not underestimate the importance of these factors as they will dictate the quality of your first 2 years of study.

2. Studying. Studying and class are not the same. They involve completely different time commitments and completely different skill sets at the graduate level. When you have close to 500 pages of reading a week, it becomes extra-important to manage your time carefully.

Note to Applicants:Studying in graduate school (at least in the first 2 years) will take up lots of your personal time. It is important that your chosen school has lots of good study spaces and even that the general environment at the university is conducive to the type of studying that you like to do. I enjoy quiet-ish spaces with a low buzz of activity and no “shushers”.

3. Speaker Series’ and Colloquiums. My department requires that all PhD candidates attend and participate in at least 1 weekly colloquium meeting (there are about 7 to chose from). These meetings are good opportunities to see where your field of study is going in the future and to shape your own research by thinking critically about the types of questions that need to be asked during the process of paper-refinement.

Note to Applicants:How well connected is your future school? If you are going to go somewhere and then never interact with other departments (students and faculty), you will quickly lose touch with your discipline. Think about the importance of intellectual interconnectedness when you apply – it is one reason why big named schools with lots of money tend to perform well in a wide range of rankings.
OH… and I have also made time to have fun. Here is a shot from my school’s super-serious Canadian Thanksgiving celebration at one of the residential colleges. My friend M insisted we bring Quatchi.

M, Quatchi, and I at Canadian Thanksgiving


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