Backup advisors

Reading through Fontana Labs twelve tips for surviving graduate school (via Crooked Timber), I felt compelled to suggest a few of my own.

  • Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. I consider myself lucky that my advisor has survived major spinal surgery, car accidents, and illnesses to still write letters of recommendation for me, but I know of many people who were not so lucky. I’ve heard horror stories about suddenly having to switch course half way through writing up a dissertation because someone’s advisor died. Backing up your hard drive isn’t enough, you need to have a backup advisor as well.
  • Teach. Even if you can make more money working as a web designer, or you have enough grant money to pay for the rent, if you want a career in academics you need teaching experience. Moreover, teaching will let you know very quickly if you really want an academic career. If you don’t love teaching, you better rethink your career plans.
  • Blog. I know some people are saying not to, but I think it is a great way to “have some kind of outlet outside of your academic life” as Fontana suggests – one that can work around your busy schedule. It is also a great way to test ideas, to be involved in topics outside of your narrow research area, and to have the kinds of discussions you wish you could have with your classmates if they weren’t all so distracted with their own work.
  • Graduate. Like many people told me: The most important thing about your dissertation is that it get finished. Nine years is the average for anthropology (fieldwork and language learning taking up a few of those years), but some people seem to go on forever. Your dissertation isn’t the end of your career – it is just the beginning.

For more advice see the comments on this earlier Savage Minds post.

5 thoughts on “Backup advisors

  1. The time to completion in anthropology is a separate issue in its own regard, but it urgently needs thinking about by departments of anthropology (unlikely to happen). Failing that, in specific, anyone contemplating a doctorate in anthropology needs first to understand this aspect of graduate study as distinct from the norm, and needs special intense reinforcement on your last point. An anthropology dissertation needs to be written with special intensity and speed and with far less hang-ups about completion: the normal pace of writing that tangles up doctoral students in some cognate disciplines elongates an already interminable course of study for anthropologists past the breaking point in some cases.

  2. NINE YEARS?!?!?!?! Are you freakin’ kidding me?! I’m going on 8 (measuring from start of MA) and I thought I was a freak — and I’m getting all sorts of pressure from my department to get my ass in gear. And you’re telling me the *average* is even longer than I’ve been at it? I don’t know whether to feel relieved or pissed off that nobody told me this 8 years ago…

  3. I forget where I read/heard that figure, but I think of it this way: The quickest way through a program (unless you already are a native speaker in the language you will be doing research) is as follows:

    3 years for course work
    1 year to work on your proposal and write grants (or wait for them to come through)
    1 year language study
    1 year fieldwork
    1 year writeup

    That’s already 7 years. Now, many people I know are working part time, spend more time writing up, spend more time in the field, and/or spend more time waiting for research funds before leaving (often teaching part time while they are waiting). Not to mention people who basically drop out for a while, or who are asked to write a masters thesis before being allowed to continue, who have children while in graduate school, etc.

    It took my mom 20 years! But then she had a family somewhere in there…

  4. Kerim, I assume you mean this is for someone who is doing it full time? Wow, I will have to do mine part-time if I want to keep my job. Perhaps I will get my Ph.D before I die, then, for what it’s worth.

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