Chris Uggen's Blog: drek's unhelpful hints for graduate students

Saturday, September 08, 2007

drek's unhelpful hints for graduate students

drek's 22 unhelpful hints for graduate students are about the least unhelpful hints i've seen on the subject. since it seems to be that time of year, here's my personal advice for new grads and a cautionary note about taking any advice too seriously. i've got little else to add, but ...

1. beware those who speak with great confidence about the one true path. in my experience, true no-brainers are rare in this business. flipping a coin when faced with a career decision often gives you a 50 percent chance of a good outcome and a 50 percent chance of a teensy-bit-better or teensy-bit worse outcome. but it is really much more complicated than that, since you might get a good outcome on 1,964 dimensions and a teensy-bit-better-or-worse outcome on 1,964 other dimensions. or, sometimes, a 50 percent chance of the best possible outcome on one dimension, and a 50 percent chance of a completely awful outcome on 3,928 other dimensions. try not to make really stupid decisions, but don't worry about optimizing at every possible decision point.

2. we rank one another incessantly in academia. appreciate the amazing people around you, but don't beat yourself up worrying about how you compare to them. call yourself on your own petty jealousies (e.g., if you catch yourself minimizing someone else's accomplishments with a bit too much gusto) and use them as inspiration to do your thing just a little bit better.

3. i found that when i was dragged down by a few problem students (e.g., those who don't show up for class but demand a high grade, or those who threaten litigation because they didn't like their midterm grade of A-), that my job satisfaction improved dramatically when i gave a little more attention to great students. ditto for colleagues and staff members.


At 4:57 AM, Blogger Valerio said...

Chris, thanks for the reference to Drek's post - it is certainly the least unhelpful hints one can receive. Something that bothers me for a while now is how to balance between different disciplines that one works in. I often feel as if I am distancing myself more and more from sociology, while on the other hand I am not getting significantly closer to the other discipline. In essence, I am realizing it is difficult to do interdisciplinary work, and even more difficult to work in two disciplines in parallel. There is always this feeling of having to catch up. However, something that ties these two disciplines together - your research topic - serves as a good orientation mark when navigating through them. Of course, it gets much more challenging when there are more than just two disciplines. Did you have any similar issues with sociology and criminology?

At 6:15 PM, Blogger John Manzo said...

"We rank one another incessantly in academia. Appreciate the amazing people around you, but don't beat yourself up worrying about how you compare to them."

That's easy for you to say! I'd add that it's a lot more fun, if more deluded, to bask in reflected glory, so thanks, Chris! :-)

At 12:00 AM, Blogger christopher uggen said...

hey valerio, you seem to read well and widely, so i think you'll do a great job working within and between disciplines. the start-up costs are high, but there are often great gaps in knowledge in the "interstitial areas" between two fields. you can make your mark in such spaces.

john, we're all basking in reflected glory. that's one of the great perks about being chair -- you smile a little with every accomplishment by your colleagues.

At 7:04 AM, Blogger Valerio said...

Thanks, the interstitial areas certainly offer the most exciting research opportunities. It is astonishing sometimes to realize how there is no knowledge transmission between disciplines that research the same topic. And, indeed, some people have made a great academic record in filling these gaps.


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