The Six Stages of Graduate Education

I spent six years in my Ph.D. program. Looking back, I think the experience had six relatively distinct stages:

Application Year: “This graduate program will be great. I’ll get to study the things I enjoyed as an undergraduate, and they’re going to pay me enough to get by in an exciting new city. And when it’s all done, I’ll become a professor and get to write books and teach classes at a research university or maybe a liberal-arts college. I won’t be rich, but I’ll be comfortable, and I’ll be doing useful work without having to sell out.”

Years 1-2: “This is really hard. Everybody speaks in ‘theory’ all the time, and they all seem to know so much more than I do. And I’m taking on all kinds of extra work as a research assistant so I can pay my rent. How can I possibly read 2,000 pages a week, keep up with my research projects, and learn a second foreign language? I’m going to fail my qualifying exams. I feel like an imposter. Maybe I should leave.”

Year 3: “OK, maybe I can do this. I did pass my exams, and I won an essay prize and published a few things. Teaching sections for two different courses is hard, but I’m learning a lot, and I have plenty of time ahead of me. I’m enjoying reading books, gathering research materials, and thinking about my project, and I can make real progress on writing the dissertation in the summer.” <Read more.>

Via William Pannapacker, Vitae on The Chronicle of Higher Education.