In the following article, guest writer Ariel Schindewolf, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, shares what she wish she had known earlier in graduate school. Ariel also shared her advice in a previous GradPost article (Graduate School Tips for Success).
As I get closer and closer to the finish line, I discover more and more things that make me think: "If only I had known sooner!" So, I'd like to take this opportunity to share with you the new tricks that I have recently learned that can hopefully benefit you throughout your graduate school experience.
1) Use technology to save you time (and frustration). If you have a lot of tables and figures in your paper, these can, and should, be auto-numbered and auto-updated. I never realized this existed. You can do this in OpenOffice and Microsoft Word (see Automatic Table of Contents and Lists in MS Word).
You can also create an automated table of contents. I recently removed the first section of one of my chapters in my dissertation and then I had to update ALL of my headings and subheadings in the table of contents because it changed the page numbering. Fortunately, this no longer needs to be done by hand. The automated table of contents feature tracks your headings and sub-headings and can update them automatically for you.
2) Get to Know the Graduate Division Peers. There is a writing peer on campus (Ryan Dippre). He can help you with the above items. I met with him multiple times and can attest to the fact that he is great. He read an entire chapter for my dissertation and gave me some positive feedback, which was a pleasant surprise. He also gave me some useful tips to improve my writing. It's nice to be able to discuss your writing with a third party individual who is invested in what you are doing and who is someone neutral that is not evaluating you. You can contact the Writing Peer by emailing: email@example.com. Another idea is to have writing partners or groups.
The Graduate Division also has an Academic Peer (Torrey Trust), who helped me revamp my professional website (http://arielschindewolf.com/). A professional website is an important part of the job search these days. It's also a way to share your work and unique perspective with the world. Torrey helped me set and adhere to deadlines, which made the website project manageable for me. She could do the same for you!
Note: Torrey is graduating soon, but don't despair, the Graduate Division will be hiring a new Professional Development Peer in her place.
3) Enjoy the journey! Getting a Ph.D. is definitely about the journey and the destination. As I get closer to graduation, I look back at all those times that I felt SO lost and worried that I might never make it and I feel sorry for my past-self. If only I could have completely believed that, in fact, at some point, my journey would all become clear. For me, my dissertation came to fruition by continuing to put one foot in front of the other and doing the work day in and day out, whether I understood why or not. For me, this has been a painful process of facing many of my own weaknesses, but I realize more and more that it's really related to the learning process. Learning anything new can just be challenging, but this challenge is why I'm here.
So, my advice is to keep on plugging - you may be in a dark, mysterious tunnel right now, just know that where you are is a normal part of this mysterious process. Trust yourself and keep going.
Anyway, these are the lessons that this old dog has been learning lately. Hopefully, you might find something useful for yourself in here. One of the most important things we can do for ourselves in graduate school is to get the help we need. Resources are available to you now that may not be in the future; don't just ignore them.
Con mucho cariño,