dude, like what omar said

Get the entire book – Grad Skool Rulz: Everything You Need to Know about Academia from Admissions to Tenure – for only $2. You can read it on personal computers, Nooks, Kindles, iPads, and smart phones.


In response to my recent post on course work in graduate school, Omar has this useful comment. In response to jimi, who found courses useful because his graduate work was in a different field than his undergrad, Omar wrote:

Thanks for your comment. It does bring up a good point. If you have no background in the discipline taking courses is extremely important; after all, it is impossible to be an effective producer if you do not master consumption first (after all, the most avid producers in every culture production field tend to also be the most avid consumers). In fact, that is what your first few years in grad-school should be all about.

That said, I think that by the second to third year of grad school, you should already have begun to develop a “taste.” These are the things that I like, these are the things that put me to sleep. These are the articles that I consider exemplars of good research and theory, these are the ones that I do not. Notice that some of the habitus of the critic is necessary here; however the problem with the critic is that he stops at this stage.

In addition to developing a taste, you should already begin to look at the intellectual products that you are consuming not simply as “pieces” that may be fodder for classroom (or drunken bar) conversation, but as products that can be reverse-engineered. When looking at a paper you should not be focusing purely on logical, argumentative, rhetorical errors or other purely verbal circumlocutions (the critic’s favorite tack) but instead be asking “If I wanted to write something like that, how would I go about it?” “How can I get data like that?” “I am familiar with that method/technique?” “How did the author frame his or her argument?” “Is that an effective organizational device that I can use in my own work?” In other words, you want to begin asking practical production questions, rather than superficial finished product questions revolving around vague allegiance to metatheoretical precepts (this article is too rat choice or too macro…) or chic allegiance to this or that methodological dogma (I am SI and I would never touch Stata, etc.), which is once again a critic’s thing not a producer thing.

So get this in your head, grad skool kidz. Criticism is good. But like the rest of life, being constructive is better. Shouldn’t you get back to work now?

Written by fabiorojas

February 19, 2007 at 3:59 am

Posted in academia

2 Responses

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  1. I can’t tell you how useful this series has been. Thanks so much! I especially think that it will help me mentor my graduate students (to that end, would you mind tacking on the “academia” category to this post, so it comes up with the others? thx)

    I wonder, however, how best to get this information to sink in. Like Kieran mentioned in an earlier comment, you can give this info to grad students, but it often doesn’t sink, perhaps because of the multitude of different info sources, and perhaps especially due to the various insecuritites and vanities that grad school seems to magnify or promote.

    In a field with a very limited pedagogy of professionalization, this may well serve an even more important role, given that the “straight talk” from a recent grad student might be an easier to swallow pill than advice from one’s advisor.

    Do you folks have additional insights on how you soaked up all this professional knowledge and how advisors can better deliver it to grad students?



    February 19, 2007 at 2:48 pm

  2. tina,

    Unfortunately, given the rather informal and laissez faire (I like Fabio‘s term “benign neglect”) way in which training at most grad programs is organized, I doubt that there any systematic explanations as to why some grad students “figure it out” and others don’t. My guess is that the same thing that makes you a good sociologist–the ability to be self-reflexive and sociologize yourself, your situation and the situation of proximate others–allows you to read the implicit rules in your environment and translate them from practical rules in their unverbalized state to “theoretical rules” in a discursive state (which is what I think Fabio has been doing such a great job of so far).

    Grad school itself is a great sociological experiment; tough admission systems reduce the standard deviation of ability to such an extent that the proportion of variance explained by ability when it comes to outcomes further down the line has to be meager in comparison to other more “sociological” things. When you try to explain for instance how come this person was successful and this other person was not even though they seemed equally smart of even smarter than you, then that leads you to focus on relational, institutional and other sociological factors that are operative in a grad training situation.

    So in the end we are a pretty self-selected group, and obviously lots of what we have to say is hindsight 20/20 (which sounds kind of obvious once it is put into print) and not Orphic nuggets of wisdom that are the purview of the initiated few (as noted by Kieran). But once again the sequence of selection events that led to a Fabio post on grad school rulz are pretty improbable. First you have to make out of a top program; then you have to be somewhat successful and then you have to get invited by Brayden and Teppo to blog alongside other people that made it out of comparable situations. Now what are the odds of that?



    February 20, 2007 at 3:01 pm

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