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Graduate students: do you still struggle with readings?


redonkawa
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I’m set on getting my PhD in philosophy, but I’m afraid that I may not be capable. I love philosophy and get great grades, I do independent research, and I do the best in my undergrad classes. However, at times, I get so discouraged when reading certain articles that I can’t help wonder if grad students have capabilities greater than my own. Do you ever have moments where you stare at a paragraph to no ends? I eventually understand it but it can take me a considerable amount of time sometimes.

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And some topics, even within a subfield you know a lot about, might click more than others. The experience you describe sounds perfectly normal, and one of the things that grad school helps you get better at.

Grad school in philosophy may or may not be the best decision for you for other reasons, but I don't think this one should discourage you!

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As the others have said, this is totally normal.

But I'd like to add that you will get better at it over time, too, if you continue on a while. You're an undergrad. You're not supposed to have skills at the same level as a professional philosopher, or even a graduate student. Despite what some people (still) think, philosophical competence is learned, not innate. It's something you develop through practice, and you've only just started. It'll get a lot easier. And it will keep getting a lot easier as you get more practice, and more practice with specific goals in mind (e.g. reading because you've got to teach the thing to undergrads who didn't read it).

(Also, most philosophers are just not very good prose stylists, so that doesn't help.)

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  • 5 weeks later...

It is inevitable and it is good to keep this experience close to heart: it keeps you humble, and you can recall times like these when you've overcome major hurdles in understanding (namely, you can be grateful and glad for how far you've come).

Also, if you lose this feeling, get worried that you aren't reading widely enough (or you're likely reading authors who confirm your views more often than not).

While you have this feeling, take note what your methods are to solve the problem. Seriously, think about the steps you're following to grasp it. Are you writing things down? Are you journaling? Are you just getting frustrated and trying again? Are you looking at secondary literature to get another perspective on the text? I ask because many of these should be clearly set out in your mind as strategies that actually help you, that you can tell others to do, and for which you may remember and renew when you are feeling like you haven't had innovation or challenge lately. Undergrads will want this advice too.

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  • 3 months later...

Yes I struggle with some readings, I have also made, dare I say, a B in a philosophy class. None of these things will doom you. Pick an area to focus on, write, publish, go to conferences and make sure you're pursuing philosophy for the right reasons. It'll work out one way or another.

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