seung

Preparing to start program

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I know there are similar topics in different forums, but I also know that there are some necessities and tasks that will be unique to religious studies students. I'm starting this in hopes that we can share different concerns/experiences we are having or have had preparing to start a program.  I hope it is of help to you guys.

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It depends on MA v. PhD naturally.

For MA: My big pre-first day concerns were finding a place a live, moving, spending time traveling (walking and driving) the area to get a lay of the land, lining up some part-time work, attending school and public social events to meet people only to ask "Wanna go grab a beer?" Individually emailing professors and acquiring reading lists so that I can buy the books off of Amazon b/c lol at the univ. bookstore prices! 

I'd encourage M* students not to spend too much time worrying about reading pre-first day. It doesn't hurt of course but neither is it that necessary, since a lot of M* programs expect full-time students to be doing 12-15 credits/semester.

PhD: A lot of the above applies still but there's a lot more reading involved. I've learned to forego reading most books cover to cover and instead find a review in a trusted journal. If there's no such review and it's not a new or super old book, I question its value. Still, fully read books within your prime area or at least enough of it! Continue to review language(s) until you're past your exams.

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I'm in my last semester of my MTS program. Here's what I will offer:

1. HABITS: Don't be a procrastinator...It doesn't work with this caliber of work. Study something from all of your classes everyday (this depends on the structure of your program, of course). You just can't afford to get overwhelmed by your own fault. If you stay on top of your work, the rhythm of your schedule will feel natural. Xypathos makes a good point. Don't kill yourself by doing tons of outside reading on top of full-time work. If you can, keep maybe a couple of books going that supplement what you're studying. If you want to do extra reading, seek out suggestions from your professors. In most cases they will happily recommend extra reading/resources that bring clarity to the subject matter. It's a good way to get to know them and in turn they learn about your interests. Don't be a brown-noser, but get to know your professors and let them get to know you. It's important to have a couple of professors in your corner as you prepare to apply for other programs. 

2. OPPORTUNITIES: Take every chance to participate in on-campus events in your department (clubs, guest lecturers, opportunities to present papers). If there's a conference on (ex.) "Interfaith Dialogue," go to it. You don't necessarily have to be very interested in the subject matter, but I guarantee you you'll gain something from attending (networking, research ideas, etc.). If you can study abroad, do it. If you can audit an extra language course, do it. If you can present papers through a conference or symposium, DO IT. This is a small window in your life, so soak up every opportunity.  

3. RELATIONSHIPS: Find a handful of people in your class/cohort (if you're an Mdiv student) you can really trust. It's strange: grad theology programs are more like high school than college was. People can try so hard to be something --to fit in or build a reputation as the next prodigy-- that they create for themselves an embarrassing persona. Don't be the guy that's trying to outdo everyone in your class. They all want to succeed just as you do, and hopefully they will become colleagues one day. I'm in a program with a few kiss-ups, and both the professors and students can see through it. Professors are much more perceptive about those kinds of things than you'd expect. Also, be kind and genuine towards the non-faculty staff in your department's office. Just don't be "that guy/girl" that used people for favors/letters of recommendation, sucked up for something, or tried to one-up other students. Be yourself, work hard, and build healthy relationships with the people with whom you are working and studying.

4. RESPONSIBILITIES: Finally, stay on top of your own work/transcripts/thesis, etc. Don't expect advisors to simply guide you along the process and give you everything you need...nobody cares more about your future than you do. You might get 9hrs shy of graduation and find out you never took the course you needed to graduate, and it won't offered again until next year! Stuff like that happens. Also, if you're investigating MA/PhD programs (as I am), do your own research. I've got one professor who is really pushing me to apply to a certain program (and I probably will), but from what I've gathered I wouldn't be a great fit there because of my strong interest in continental philosophy of religion. Take their advice and definitely lean on their counsel, but don't expect them to carry you from A to Z. 

This is nothing really groundbreaking...just stuff that I wish I'd know two years ago.

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FearNTrembling got a bit more preachy on how to approach the program itself, which is all fine, but I was trying to suggest specifically that we discuss here on the process of preparing for a program (housing, getting in touch w. profs, summer language, finding jobs, etc.)

In regards to selecting courses for the first semester, a professor gave me good advice--use the first semester to get to know the department. Many of us pursuing religious studies have interdisciplinary projects, and probably want to spend some of our time during our coursework period exploring other departments.  I, for instance, am interested in dabbling a bit with the Comp Lit and German departments.  As per the professor, such venturing ought to be held off the first semester; instead, one ought to get to know one's advisor and other faculty in the dept.  Another helpful piece of advice he mentioned was getting an early start on thinking through which courses will be helpful for comps. In my program, a theology course is being offered called "The Reformation to the Present,"which offers a broad enough spectrum of literature that I think will help me begin thinking about what I may wish to explore for my comps.

As someone who took a year off before applying, the biggest challenge for me right now is my anxiousness to get back in the grind. I'm so ready to hit the books again and be immersed in an academic environment, I'm neglecting the smaller details and necessities.

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On 5/5/2017 at 7:51 AM, Rabbit Run said:

Read your professors's books so you have a leg up on understanding them better in seminars, what their project is, and how you can put your interests in conversation.

Definitely doing this. Also helpful might be looking through the texts assigned for the seminars you will be taking to help you have a "leg up" once the semester begins.

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1 hour ago, seung said:

FearNTrembling got a bit more preachy on how to approach the program itself, which is all fine, but I was trying to suggest specifically that we discuss here on the process of preparing for a program (housing, getting in touch w. profs, summer language, finding jobs, etc.)

In regards to selecting courses for the first semester, a professor gave me good advice--use the first semester to get to know the department. Many of us pursuing religious studies have interdisciplinary projects, and probably want to spend some of our time during our coursework period exploring other departments.  I, for instance, am interested in dabbling a bit with the Comp Lit and German departments.  As per the professor, such venturing ought to be held off the first semester; instead, one ought to get to know one's advisor and other faculty in the dept.  Another helpful piece of advice he mentioned was getting an early start on thinking through which courses will be helpful for comps. In my program, a theology course is being offered called "The Reformation to the Present,"which offers a broad enough spectrum of literature that I think will help me begin thinking about what I may wish to explore for my comps.

As someone who took a year off before applying, the biggest challenge for me right now is my anxiousness to get back in the grind. I'm so ready to hit the books again and be immersed in an academic environment, I'm neglecting the smaller details and necessities.

LOL I didn't mean to get too "preachy." :) If I had known your criteria for "preparing for a program" I would have spoken to such. Best of luck with your program.  

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My biggest advice for preparing to start a PhD program is enjoy your summer—you won't have too many years left that you don't have to be doing something. This is a chance to refresh a bit, especially if you're coming immediately off an M*. Get back to speed with reading, sure—return to books you already know to help get sea legs back, if you need it. Do some experiments in writing to limber up, including creative writing exercises. But remember that a PhD is a marathon, not a sprint. If you over-prep, you're going to hit December and be burnt out already. Be kind to yourself.

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Regarding prep. for doctoral work:

Without dismissing some of the great comments above, I'll suggest to the OP that s/he might take them with some hesitation. There is no magic formula. Everyone is different. And one 'successful' summer is a disaster to another student. I didn't let up my summer before the PhD; I basically kept trucking along (I was doing a summer language intensive program). And honestly, I was far from 'burnt out' by December. Yes, some people may have run dry come December; but plenty of us are fine (and quite happy, in fact). Only you (and perhaps your friends/family) know how you will react to the added stress. Oh, and speaking of added stress, I actually felt less stressed once starting the PhD. There was, at least to my mind, simply less at stake in the first couple years during coursework. I cared less about impressing professors for that golden letter of rec. and instead dug deeper into my own interests. I cared less about my grades (though I did care a great deal). Oh, and professors treat you like you matter and some measure of confidence (and bombast!) follows. Your toils in the trenches are far from over; but now your labors do not go (entirely) unnoticed. Cheers.

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To combine both sacklunch's and theophany's advice a little bit:

How one responds to the first year of a PhD program is absolutely dependent upon both the program and your own constitution as an academic. sacklunch rightly points out that some people are totally fine to keep plugging along at the same pace and, importantly, that things change once you're in a PhD program.

So, to echo theophany a bit, one shouldn't feel bad for not being the kind of person who can keep up that same pace--primarily because it really doesn't matter. I began my first year thinking I had to attend as many on campus talks/lectures as I could, join as many reading groups as I could, read as much secondary material, read everything in German, etc., etc. But I was also newly married--just 4 week--before moving 2,000 miles across the country to a brand new city, no family around, just me and my wife, to begin my program. So doing all of those things was not sustainable, and I realized that very quickly. But I also worried a lot about possibly sacrificing things that were going to be helpful to me (a worthy sacrifice, no doubt, but one not everyone in academia understands unfortunately.) Now at the end of my fifth year, I can say with great confidence that those things didn't matter in the long run. They didn't necessarily help me get the grades I got in my seminars (also mostly meaningless IMO) and have contributed only in the most indirect way to my dissertation. The papers I've given at AAR and other national conferences and opportunities I've had to publish are what have opened professional doors for me, and those opened without sustaining the insane schedule I made for myself in my first quarter. That's not to say the same schedule would be insane for everyone--some people would probably thrive with it. But what a feeling of freedom I had the day that I looked around at the work habits of everyone else and said "Nope, that's not how I do it, and I'm not going to feel bad about it."  

What Fear N' Trembling has suggested is great if you're in a M* program because you really are hustling to get noticed, get letters, etc. You can definitely relax a bit once you're in a PhD program because the important things are not the same as they were as a M* student. 

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I'm starting an ancient Mediterranean religions PhD program in the fall, so three main things I'm doing this summer are: Greek and Latin, Greek and Latin, and Greek and Latin. I finished my MA about four years ago, and while I've been teaching RS in colleges, my language skills aren't what they were. So I need to get back up on that horse. 

Also, my adviser wants me to find 7-8 publications this summer that could go on my exam bibliography.  

But I'm hopeful that these tasks will help me get back into the groove of things so that I can hit the ground running in August. 

I'm also considering taking some kind of speed reading course this summer. Has anyone here ever done anything like that before? Can it help?

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17 hours ago, rheya19 said:

I'm also considering taking some kind of speed reading course this summer. Has anyone here ever done anything like that before? Can it help?

I taught myself some of the basic skills, but had to untrained myself a bit because it was negatively affecting my comprehension.

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