Jump to content

Pre-First Year Advice


Recommended Posts

As the summer goes by at a rapid pace, I've been consistently mulling over a few concerns about my first year in grad school and thought I might as well ask them here and get some advice.

1) I've been advised by another grad student who is further ahead in our program to reach out to my major professor/advisor via email and introduce myself. While I have no problem doing so, I'm at a loss as to what to say. Do I go into detail about me and my academic career or do I keep it short and simple? I just do not want to come off as dumb/vain/arrogant before having ever met this woman in person.

2) I was also advised to not overload myself with reading seminars. At the moment I'm registered at 9 credit hours with one being the required History: Theories and Methods course along with 2 reading seminars (American Colonial History &  Epidemics ). I know that graduate level courses require a lot of work and I was just wondering if this was too extreme. There are only a certain number of courses offered to graduate students and was told by the graduate office to really try and stick with areas that were of interest and would fit within the realms of my own research area which is US History. 

 

Link to post
Share on other sites

1) keep it short. Haven't you met this person?

2) depends on your dept, but 3 seminars was what was expected of me. In fact, your dept. (and your adviser) should be providing guidance here.

Edited by telkanuru
Link to post
Share on other sites

@rhiannonsdreams I'm not a history major, but as far as your initial classes they should be more seminar/theory based versus practice.  @telkanuru is right as it does depend on what you and the department academic advisor come to the conclusion of. 9 credit hours is definitely appropriate (my advisor suggested 12 and I wasn't sure if I could handle that right away). 

Would you suggest emailing your professors prior to class beginning or just wait until they start @telkanuru? I want to begin reading and preparing myself, but don't want to come across as too eager lol.

Link to post
Share on other sites

On the whole, I don't think you have to email your professors ahead of time. There's plenty of time for that once you get there, honestly. If you do want to write to them, though, keep it short. Something like "I'm a rising first year interested in X and Y. I was planning on taking your Z course in the fall, but I was wondering if there was anything you might recommend I do to prepare ahead of time" would be sufficient.

3 readings courses is the norm. I took 3 readings courses plus a half-credit history and theory class first year, and it was fine.

Link to post
Share on other sites
8 hours ago, easybreezy said:

@rhiannonsdreams I'm not a history major, but as far as your initial classes they should be more seminar/theory based versus practice

@easybreezy, as you're not a history major and as you have not yet begun graduate school, I think it would be prudent to hold off on giving guidance in response to discipline-specific questions. Despite your obviously good intentions, your desire to be helpful has lead you to offer advice that could lead graduate students in history astray.

It may well be that @rhiannonsdreams should take a research seminar in her first semester if [1] she plans on doing more work with the professor offering the course, and/or [2] if the course is not offered every semester or every academic year. Also, as the practice of professional academic history is rooted in historiography, many research seminars (all in my experience) are going to require additional reading.

IRT to contacting a POI who is an established historian, I think one is better served by developing and implementing a plan of action before asking questions. Compare the following two questions.

Professor Finch, I'll be entering the program this fall, and I plan to take your course on [insert topic], what may I do to prepare?

OR

Professor Root, I'm an entering student who will be taking your course on [insert topic]. In preparation, I've read the course syllabi for the past [Y] years, and I've read [insert two or three books and one or two key journal articles]. While I am developing my understanding of [insert topic], I am wondering if I am on the right track with [insert subtopic]. If it's not too much trouble, could you recommend what I might read next?

Which question says "I'm hungry. Feed me." and which one says "I know how to fish, at least a little. Where's the next pond?"

Link to post
Share on other sites

This person is your advisor? Isn't this a relationship that may be highly personal, perhaps with lots of close and hands-on work? And wouldn't you therefore want to send a fairly warm (but professional) email introducing yourself? I don't see why you can't discuss your interests and be brief, or why talking about yourself necessarily means you will come off as arrogant or "dumb."

Edited by AfricanusCrowther
Link to post
Share on other sites

Have you considered sending a brief introductory email (a few lines about yourself) and asking if it would be possible to have a longer chat when you're in the area? Perhaps the two of you could meet for coffee when you come to town to search for housing (I did this with my PhD adviser the summer before I started the program) or meet during orientation week for lunch or coffee to have a longer conversation? This way you're not relying solely on email and have a chance for a more natural dialogue about your interests, course planning, etc.

Link to post
Share on other sites

1) I didn't. I would advise that to anyone, but I wouldn't advise against it either. Just introduce yourself. 

2) Bullshit. (Sorry, I am in a blunt mood). We historians read a lot all the time. I've realized that only now in comparison to friends in other humanities or social sciences. 9 credits should be fine, and if they are all reading seminars, I'd say that's the norm among History Departments. Tough? Maybe, but nothing weird about it. That said, pay attention to other assignments besides reading: Weekly response papers, final assignments, oral presentations, etc. Those take up a lot of time and you don't want to register for three reading seminars that require 5-page weekly assignments each (if you can avoid it).

 

All the best!!! :)

Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm not going to comment on question 2, as I'm starting this fall myself.  But re: question 1, I reached out to all of my POI and read as much work of theirs as I could before the application process, to see how much I could garner of our compatibility so that I was familiar when my application came up.  That's obviously behind us, and now we're at the present, where you've already accepted an offer.  But I see academia as a constant learning feed each way.  I see my adviser as my mentor.  Once I had narrowed my schools down to two, I emailed each professor who would be my adviser at each school.  I wanted an adviser as excited to work with me as I was to work with them.  I do not think you should show up on the first day with no idea what to expect.  You have time right now to try and start building that relationship on your own, without your adviser being distracted by undergrads and by the others students she mentors.   I think you should write to her, and ask her if she'd be willing to meet with you if you came to campus before classes start.  Then, in a closed space with just the two of you, you can talk about research interests, goals, you can ask her questions about her past research, etc.  I felt so much more comfortable after I did that with my adviser.  He had told one of my undergraduate professors and a former grad student of his own that he was so excited to work with me, but seeing that for myself took away a lot of my anxiety, and now I'm really, really excited for school to start.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Did you not email with your potential advisor after you were admitted but before you committed to attending? If you did, I might let it stand. Or have you registered for courses? "Dear Professor So-and-so, [introductory stuff], I was thinking of taking Courses A and B, but for my third/fourth course [depending on what's normal at your program], I was choosing between C and D. The pros of C would be xyz; the pros of D would be mnp. What do you think?" is also a good, actionable reason to write. (Perhaps I am a lazy beans, but I am not doing reading ahead of time for any of my own courses.) If you haven't corresponded ever, I would send the email, personally.

Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, HayleyM said:

 I see my adviser as my mentor. 

In the strongest possible terms, I respectfully urge new/newer graduate students in history not to make assumptions about one's advisers also being one's mentors.

Professors decide if they will mentor students based upon criteria known only to themselves. A handful of professors will be generous with their guidance. Some professors are much more selective than their peers. Some do no mentoring at all. A few scoundrels will sandbag you in ways you won't realize until you figure out things for yourself. #notbitter

Link to post
Share on other sites
7 hours ago, Sigaba said:

In the strongest possible terms, I respectfully urge new/newer graduate students in history not to make assumptions about one's advisers also being one's mentors.

Professors decide if they will mentor students based upon criteria known only to themselves. A handful of professors will be generous with their guidance. Some professors are much more selective than their peers. Some do no mentoring at all. A few scoundrels will sandbag you in ways you won't realize until you figure out things for yourself. #notbitter

Absolutely.

Mentorship does not equal advice/supervision. I participated in many round tables about this in my school because we, the student body, wanted faculty to realize the difference between these two and the need that we had of both of them. Further, you have a say in who you mentor is. In my case, my advisors are my mentors, but I see in other case they are not. 

Link to post
Share on other sites

I totally see what you both are saying, which is why I said *my* adviser, not *all* advisers.  And I say this all based on explicit conversations we've had on the topic, and conversations I've had with former grad students of his.

Obviously, things may prove to be very different once the year starts, and I recognize that.  But at this point, I see *my* adviser specifically as *my* mentor specifically, and that's not to make a comment on all advisers, it's a specific comment about my adviser specifically.

And I'm really sorry, Sigaba =(.  That sounds horrible, whatever it was that happened.

Link to post
Share on other sites
22 hours ago, Sigaba said:

Professors decide if they will mentor students based upon criteria known only to themselves.

Really? The criterium seems straightforward to me: are you or will you be useful to them?

Individual definitions of "useful" vary, of course.

Link to post
Share on other sites

To the OP:

As others have said, there's no need to be *in touch* with your primary adviser unless s/he has said something about needing to be in touch before the semester starts.  S/he may decide to wait until the week before once his/her schedule is set for the semester so the two of you can set up a time to meet.

If you mean other professors whom you'd like to take a class with, feel free to introduce yourself and your interests (briefly!).  S/he may appreciate hearing from you and tailor the reading list appropriately to make sure that there's at least one book you might like (it's fairly common in my department).

As for courseload, ask the Americanists in your field.  If everyone takes 3 reading seminars (because they don't have to take languages), then so be it. Research seminars take up a lot more time so you might want to arrange for an independent study as one of other credits. If there is a research seminar in your area of interest in the fall, please do e-mail the professor for a syllabus and find out the expectations.  Do you have to have primary sources on hand right then and write an article/chapter (25-30 pages) or can that semester be used for research itself? 

 #bitteraboutthoserequired12credits

Link to post
Share on other sites
On 7/14/2016 at 8:18 PM, telkanuru said:

Really? The criterium seems straightforward to me: are you or will you be useful to them?

If only! (Still #notbitter.)

Link to post
Share on other sites

Does anyone have any other general advice for those of us going into our first year in the Phd? Things you would've liked to have known when starting out? Things to be aware of that we might not be anticipating? Whether regarding classes, advisors/faculty, cohort, etc. Any tidbits or pearls of wisdom would be much appreciated!

Link to post
Share on other sites
On 7/14/2016 at 10:18 PM, telkanuru said:

Really? The criterium seems straightforward to me: are you or will you be useful to them?

Individual definitions of "useful" vary, of course.

Would it be possible to expand a bit on this, please? How can a lowly graduate student make himself/herself useful to an eminent historian who's read everything in the field, and more? I'd appreciate any advice :)

Link to post
Share on other sites
5 hours ago, boomah said:

Would it be possible to expand a bit on this, please? How can a lowly graduate student make himself/herself useful to an eminent historian who's read everything in the field, and more? I'd appreciate any advice :)

That's the wrong attitude.  You cannot ever compare yourself to your professors.  They will always know more than you do until you have passed your comprehensive exams (if not, your dissertation defense).  They work with you for a reason: to teach you how to build up your knowledge independently as a budding scholar.  You will find yourself wanting to ask a lot of questions for the first few years that can very well be found within your exam reading lists.  Your job is to keep your head down and work, demonstrate intellectual curiosity, about the discipline and your chosen fields, and participate in the academic life of your department as a good citizen.

Most importantly, these eminent scholars know a lot but they don't know everything and they are flawed humans.  I have had conversations with people top in their fields and while they are quite knowledgeable, the very gracious ones will want to hear your ideas of why/how/what happened in history and demonstrate inadequacy in their knowledge (particularly in specific areas of your dissertation research).   They may be grounded in their own reasons but are open to hear others' thoughts based on their interpretations/findings/experience.  Just relax, enjoy the opportunity and listen, and ask questions.  

Graduate students who don't ask questions make professors wonder what they're doing with them in the first place.  It's those with gigantic egos who don't care and you'd do well to minimize your contact with them.

Link to post
Share on other sites
On 7/19/2016 at 3:59 PM, boomah said:

Would it be possible to expand a bit on this, please? How can a lowly graduate student make himself/herself useful to an eminent historian who's read everything in the field, and more? I'd appreciate any advice :)

What TMP said. The 'useful' criteria comes a lot more into play when your supervisor decides to answer your emails within 24 hours or two weeks (or more), putting real effort into a reference letter, or proactively helping you with your fields, grant applications or just generally caring that you haven't gone crazy. They may decide this for entirely personal/selfish reasons - your work interests them, you are a stepping stone in their career, that waging a proxy war through you, they see you as entertainment, possibly free labour for RAs (depending on the institution), etc.  You probably won't every figure out their motives and you might not know it unless as a student you are treated different by a supervisor than someone else they're supervising at the same time. But remember that in many ways we want our supervisor's to be 'useful' as well - they help us get the knowledge, network, etc.  It's a two way street but sometimes very bumpy.

1. To the OP, definitely send a brief introductory email to your supervisor maybe a week or two before the start of term if they don't do it first.  It would be really awkward to not meet or hear from your supervisor until you're well into the program. 

2. Credit hours doesn't mean much to me, but 3 half-courses a semester is about right.  Depending on the prof it can be a ton of work (or not). Follow your department's guidelines - I'd be surprised if they don't have something. (Mine says you have to take 4 courses in the first year - but you can mix up if you do 2-2 or 3-1). Some supervisors can also be very particular about what courses you take - introducing yourself will help you find that out early. 

Link to post
Share on other sites
On 7/19/2016 at 9:40 AM, Calgacus said:

Does anyone have any other general advice for those of us going into our first year in the Phd? Things you would've liked to have known when starting out? Things to be aware of that we might not be anticipating? Whether regarding classes, advisors/faculty, cohort, etc. Any tidbits or pearls of wisdom would be much appreciated!

Understand that there will be a set questions you need to ask and a set of questions you will be expected to answer even though professors may never draw your attention to either set. (An example of the former is what are the books do you not need to read carefully? An of the latter is why is it not necessary to read certain books carefully?) Figuring out these these sets of questions and how to answer them will be two of the most important tasks you undertake as a graduate student.

On 7/19/2016 at 0:59 PM, boomah said:

Would it be possible to expand a bit on this, please? How can a lowly graduate student make himself/herself useful to an eminent historian who's read everything in the field, and more? I'd appreciate any advice :)

I am going to differ slightly with TMP's thoughtful reply. While being mindful of her guidance, especially the point about being self reliant, I recommend that you

  1. keep in mind what you bring to the table as a graduate student,
  2. play to your strengths,  
  3. behave as a peer, and
  4. have just the right amount of swagger in your intellectual stride.

This is to say that if you're the type of historian who is intellectually competitive, benchmarks herself against her professors, and keeps her head up, find ways to hone those skills in a manner that is professional, respectful, and in line with the type of academic you envision becoming. To be clear, this approach has the potential for some amazing screw ups that will lead to professors standing on your head during office hours. This approach also has the potential for developing different types of relationships with professors. Conversely, if your temperament and skill set is that of the Gray Woman (or man), understand that such an approach has a different set of risks and rewards.

What ever your approach, demonstrate your swagger by finding ways to push intellectually your professors. Yes, they absolutely will know more than you 90%-99% of the time. However, since your objective is to extend the frontiers of knowledge, that 1%-10% difference can be important. In those situations, you have an obligation to confirm, fine tune, or revise your professor's understanding. 

Link to post
Share on other sites
On July 19, 2016 at 1:03 PM, rising_star said:

@Calgacus, there's excellent advice over in "Officially Grads" that you may want to check out: 

 

Many thanks, @rising_star. Sometimes I foolishly forget to spend much time looking at the threads beyond the History forum. Thanks for the link :) 

And @Sigaba, thanks for the tip. Your example questions are really interesting ones that I hadn't really considered in that framework before. It usually seems like a focus on "what do I need to know," but it makes sense that it would be equally useful--if not more so!--to determine/recognize what I *don't* need to know.

Edited by Calgacus
Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.