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Preparing for your first semester/graduate school

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What tips do you have for transitioning into graduate school/adapting to the workload of the first semester? 

I've been out of school for about three years and am going into a PhD program without a master's, so I'm thinking I should rebuild my knowledge of the literature to help ease my transition. It'll also hopefully help me to become a faster reader.  

Any other suggestions to make returning to school easier?

 

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2 hours ago, sociologicals said:

What tips do you have for transitioning into graduate school/adapting to the workload of the first semester? 

I've been out of school for about three years and am going into a PhD program without a master's, so I'm thinking I should rebuild my knowledge of the literature to help ease my transition. It'll also hopefully help me to become a faster reader.  

Any other suggestions to make returning to school easier?

 

Doing a little reading is about the best you can do, maybe sketching out some preliminary thesis/seminar paper ideas. In general though, this is just one of those things that you get thrown into and will eventually acclimate. You'll be fine.

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3 hours ago, sociologicals said:

What tips do you have for transitioning into graduate school/adapting to the workload of the first semester? 

I've been out of school for about three years and am going into a PhD program without a master's, so I'm thinking I should rebuild my knowledge of the literature to help ease my transition. It'll also hopefully help me to become a faster reader.  

Any other suggestions to make returning to school easier?

 

I agree with @bradley610, you could do a bit of reading, but other than that, I think it's best to trust that you will acclimate. Did you do any sociology in undergrad? Maybe re-familiarize yourself with the basics of classical sociological theory (like Marx, Weber, Durkheim, DuBois, CP Gilman). You could also email some current graduate students at the institution you're thinking of attending and ask them for advice. One of my friends who is currently at UCLA said that one of the people in his cohort read the whole of Economy and Society by Max Weber on their year off... but that's a pretty intense task. As for myself, I have a few paper ideas that I think I'm going to maybe do a bit of light reading for, but I'm also going to enjoy the time I have off before the mayhem begins in August.

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5 hours ago, sociologicals said:

What tips do you have for transitioning into graduate school/adapting to the workload of the first semester? 

I've been out of school for about three years and am going into a PhD program without a master's, so I'm thinking I should rebuild my knowledge of the literature to help ease my transition. It'll also hopefully help me to become a faster reader.  

Any other suggestions to make returning to school easier?

 

Honestly, I would say you could do some light reading of the classics or basic concepts, and maybe write short summaries of them to get used to writing again because that will probably be as big of a transition as the amount of reading you'll have. But other than that, I'd say you should relax. What you don't want to do is try to take on a huge reading/paper project before you even start in on the PhD and then feel overwhelmed, etc. You're about to enter into 6ish years of intense reading and work; take some time to relax, maybe reflect on some life goals outside of academia that you want to accomplish during these years, prep yourself mentally for the impending challenge, etc. That's my 2 cents.

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Thank you all for your comments!

I did not do any sociology in undergrad 😅 

I know to start with the classics, but did any of you have any particular readings (articles, collections, textbooks) you would recommend?  Thank you!

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ISBN-13: 978-0534624699 (Classical soc theory overview) and ISBN-13: 978-1412987615 (contemporary theory) are the two I'm going to revist this summer before starting a program.  I used the classical one in a theory class in undergrad and found the other by asking a soc professor what she'd recommend I use to prep.  

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8 hours ago, sociologicals said:

Thank you all for your comments!

I did not do any sociology in undergrad 😅 

I know to start with the classics, but did any of you have any particular readings (articles, collections, textbooks) you would recommend?  Thank you!

Yeah, the classics (Marx, Weber, Durkheim) are the best place to start. I also think a little bit of postmodern reading is a good thing to undertake, Foucault's theory of power, Bourdieu's (some would say he's not postmodern, though) habitus, etc. Then maybe just reading through some things that are more pertinent to your future research: foundational articles within your subfield(s). Maybe even looking at methodological writings a little bit also. Really, there's this modern/postmodern split in sociology that manifests in many ways, and can branch off into all kinds of things. Thinking about that, at the level of society, will help you to acclimate.

Edited by bradley610

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This question is also bothering me! I am struggling with whether to read introductory textbooks of theory, or to read those classics directly. I have tried to read the original texts of classics many times in the past few years, when doing my master's in sociology. None of those attempts worked, as I always found it very difficult to understand those original texts, especially Weber. However, I always feel an urgency to read them before this September. If we cannot manage to do it now, it is very likely that we will have a hard time in the first year, suffering from hundreds of pages of readings per week. Another issue is that from time to time I heard that 'it would be impossible to understand those classics without some knowledge of earlier authors such as Adam Smith, John Locke, etc'.

The strategy I am going to adopt is: start from a textbook (https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Classical+Sociological+Theory), then try to read some original texts, as much as I can. Meanwhile, always bear in mind that never aim to FULLY understand the whole text. Just try to get the main idea so that you get some fun and also become better prepared to pass the upcoming first year theory courses.

A Coursera course on classical sociological theory:

https://www.coursera.org/learn/classical-sociological-theory/home/welcome

Not sure if it is a high-quality course.

Edited by syf08678

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3 hours ago, Woody Wu said:

 Another issue is that from time to time I heard that 'it would be impossible to understand those classics without some knowledge of earlier authors such as Adam Smith, John Locke, etc'.

The strategy I am going to adopt is: start from a textbook (https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Classical+Sociological+Theory), then try to read some original texts, as much as I can. Meanwhile, always bear in mind that never aim to FULLY understand the whole text. Just try to get the main idea so that you get some fun and also become better prepared to pass the upcoming first year theory courses.

 

I think there is some truth in this. And it seems like a good method to me.

 A basic knowledge of intellectual history is very helpful when reading theory. For the OP, there are a bunch of books that summarize philosophical thought since Plato. Something like Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy could help you to orient yourself.

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I have a professional degree & master's and have a different set of advice--if you have free time and want to spend that time getting ready for graduate school, and you are a quick learner/strong reader, and are going to a program that offers classical and contemporary sociology survey courses, consider spending your time working on skills rather than content/knowledge.  For example, you could purchase a grammar workbook and brush up on your writing skills.   Or learn to code in a data scientist-oriented language (e.g., R or Python).  Or, if you are proficient in a foreign language that could be helpful to your studies, brush up on those skills. But if you are not the fastest study, it makes sense to do foundational reading.  Stats is my weakest subject, so I plan to do some very basic review so I am ready to go in the fall. 

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A data scientist-oriented skill is a great idea, but before people delve into classical theory or sociology textbooks, I  would recommend reading books written by sociologists that interest you. There will be plenty of dense reading to do in grad school. Why start early? Central books in the field (largely ethnographies) engage classic and contemporary theory, but also demonstrate the sociological imagination and give insights on how to generate questions and conduct research, all while being written for a rather general audience. Plus, they equip students with topics and conversations that they can use in a variety of professional settings because so many people will have read them or are familiar with the general ideas. You want to decide what appeals to you, but some places to start might be The Managed Heart and/or Strangers in their Own Land, Pedigree, Flat Broke with Children," Dude, You're a Fag," Unequal Childhoods (2nd Edition), On the Fireline and/or Evicted, Paying for the Party, The New Jim Crow, etc. The list is endless! Malcolm Gladwell also engages a lot of sociology in his books. 

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I thought I'd bump this and also share the advice I've been given, which is different than what people have been saying so far. My mentor told me that I should start reading as much as possible and reading fiction. Basically that over the next 5-10 years we will have no time to read for fun, but we will have to read several books a week. So her advice was to get into the habit of reading that much every week, but read whatever I want basically. And read different things and challenging things because it will make me a better writer as well, which is also an important part of grad school. Good luck everybody!

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Hi! My question/concern is relevant to this post, so I'll drop it here. 

So I majored in Sociology at a liberal arts university/college. Did a fair amount of work on theoretical and qualitative content, but spent almost no time on quantitative methods/statistics.

My predicament/problem: I will be moving onto a UK Sociology Masters program, and the program consists of a statistics class. In the future, I would love to do a PhD; hence, I need to attain a high GPA. But I am worried that my lack of experience in statistics will become an obstacle at grad school. Sooo I was wondering if anybody can recommend  me a good introductory statistics/quantitative methods textbook/book. There is plenty of time till starting my program so I thought I could use this time to introduce myself to statistics. 

I will also ask my supervisor from my undergrad institution but I wanted to hear something from the GradCafe community.

Thanks!

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1 hour ago, AgumonIsAPokemon said:

My predicament/problem: I will be moving onto a UK Sociology Masters program, and the program consists of a statistics class. In the future, I would love to do a PhD; hence, I need to attain a high GPA. But I am worried that my lack of experience in statistics will become an obstacle at grad school. Sooo I was wondering if anybody can recommend  me a good introductory statistics/quantitative methods textbook/book. There is plenty of time till starting my program so I thought I could use this time to introduce myself to statistics. 

I don't have any book recs but I will say that although it is good to be prepared, your course should be designed to teach you from the ground up. If they make you take an advanced quant/stats course right away, it might even still be from the ground up but more accelerated. The best prep you can do in my opinion is to see what quant software they use ahead of time and just play around with it. The biggest hiccups you'll find in a quant methods course is not understanding how to get the software to manipulate the data how you're asking it to... in my first bat of using SPSS in grad school, I always had the most trouble with analyses if my variables weren't coded correctly, etc, which are such simple errors but so difficult to understand as a new person once the mistake has already been made. The software can be financially difficult to acquire though, unless you find a torrent or something. Your school should offer prescriptions at a discounted rate in which case it might be best to wait til the fall begins anyway.

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9 hours ago, sociologicalpizza said:

I thought I'd bump this and also share the advice I've been given, which is different than what people have been saying so far. My mentor told me that I should start reading as much as possible and reading fiction. Basically that over the next 5-10 years we will have no time to read for fun, but we will have to read several books a week. So her advice was to get into the habit of reading that much every week, but read whatever I want basically. And read different things and challenging things because it will make me a better writer as well, which is also an important part of grad school. Good luck everybody!

This advice is honestly good and I had never thought of it. My reading list has gotten so long I just never make the time to read! I've decided to try to do 1 book a week until fall semester (17) which will get me in the habit of sitting and reading etc. I'm going to try to work in some nonfiction so that it will reflect more of what we'll be studying. Thanks!

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I’m coming from an undergraduate program outside sociology and an MA in communication. So my background isn’t in sociology, although my MA research was partly rooted in the Sociology of Communication. Like the original poster, I've been out of school for several years.

Here’s what I’ve been doing to prepare for starting a PhD program next month:

I listened to an audiobook (Audible is a great resource!) introduction to sociology, as well as a couple Great Courses on intellectual and political philosophy (Audible doesn’t offer a Great Course on social history, but the political philosophy one touches on Marx, Durkheim, Weber, and Habermas), and one on American religion (I’m interested in soc of religion and social movements). I also listened to books on movements like Black Lives Matter, a book on Christian fundamentalism, and Pankaj Mishra’s Age of Anger (a challenging look at critiques against liberalism, the enlightenment, etc.; it gives some good background to the classics, but applied toward contemporary populism).

Regarding theory: I started with Coser’s Masters of Sociological Thought (any edition), which was recommended by my program’s Director of Graduate Studies. It gives a good intro to the lives and times of classical sociologists. Lately, I’ve been working through the classics, starting with Durkheim’s The Division of Labor in Society and The Rules of the Sociological Method. I’m hoping to read some of Weber and Marx in the next month. I don’t think I’ll have time, but I wanted to read Mind, Self, and Society, as my interests fall within the symbolic interactionist school of soc.

I write a brief summary of each section I read, and then a summary of each chapter, right in the book. The classics are tough, so I expect to read a good deal again. But I think it’ll be easier the second time with my notes and the class discussion.

I’ve read/listened to several books that are part of my program’s Prosiminar, including one I’d suggest anyone pursuing an academic career work through: Kelsky’s The Professor is in.

I may be going overboard. But I found out a couple months ago that my wife and I are going to have a baby at the start of the second semester (which is great news, but kinda scary at the same time as I’m going back to school). So I’m trying to do everything I can to free up time to work extra (and make extra $) during the first semester so that I can avoid going crazy during the second.

Edited by kotanko
Added relevant detail

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