Brown University professor Matthew Pratt Guterl has compiled the following tips for graduate students. His top ten are listed below:
- Remember: there are no non-professional interactions.
- Fundamentals matter. Practice your talks until they flow. Do some editorial work. Volunteer. Wear clean clothes. Update your software. Eat. Sleep. Take showers. Laugh. Love. Don’t obsess over the university—explore your city or town. Make friends everywhere. Eat cupcakes.
- Figure out what you stand for politically. Be prepared to speak up.
- Value loyalty over cool or influence. Make friends with people who care about your ideas and your well-being. Bleed for your friends and allies.
- Do not work with anyone whose first desire is to burn things down. Eventually, they will.
- Try not to get lost in departmental/teaching politics.
- Always say “thank you.” And always be “nice.” Until, of course, it is time not to be nice. Insisting on politeness—at least at first—isn’t about suppressing dissent. It is about recognizing that no one wins in the long term when everyone starts every conversation by shouting. Anger only nets short-term gain and inhibits long-term goals.
- From the moment you arrive, start thinking about the book you are going to write. No matter how daunting it seems, mess around with titles, and tables of contents, and story-lines. Think about archives and methods. Get in the habit of talking about it. Don’t be worried if, at first, you don’t know what you are doing. Choose a book that you can research and write well within five to six years. Don’t choose a topic so obscure that only a handful of people care about it. Don’t choose a topic so broad that it can’t be finished. Search for something that appeals to you and that connects with bigger issues. So choose wisely and be excited.
- Learn how to say “no” politely and firmly. And do so often. But also learn how to say “yes.” Learn how to recognize when someone has gone the extra mile to extend an invitation to you, to introduce you to someone, and say “yes” as a sign of respect.
- Take teaching seriously. Watch great teachers in the classroom. Ask them questions. Ask them to explain. Audit an undergraduate class. Draft syllabi, but don’t be weird about it. Talk to your comrades about what you’ve seen work in the classroom. Treat the discussion of teaching with as much seriousness as you do the discussion of the latest, coolest essay or book you’ve all read.
Do you have any other tips you would like to share?