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.