Some Modest Advice for Graduate Students

Stephen C. Stearns provides Some Modest Advice for Graduate Students which is punchy and useful:

?When you first arrive, read and think widely and exhaustively for a year. Assume that everything you read is bullshit until the author manages to convince you that it isn?t. If you do not understand something, don?t feel bad ? it?s not your fault, it?s the author?s. He didn?t write clearly enough.

?Nothing elicits dominant behavior like subservient behavior. Expect and demand to be treated like a colleague. The paper requirements are the explicit hurdle you will have to jump, but the implicit hurdle is attaining the status of a colleague. Act like one and you?ll be treated like one.

?To learn to think, you need two things: large blocks of time, and as much one-on-one interaction as you can get with someone who thinks more clearly than you do.

?Describe your problem as a series of subproblems that can each be attacked in a series of small steps. Devise experiments, observations or analyses that will permit you to exclude alternatives at each stage. Line them up and start knocking them down. By transforming the big problem into a series of smaller ones, you always know what to do next, you lower the energy threshold to begin work, you identify the part that will take the longest or cause the most problems, and you have available a list of things to do when something doesn?t work out.

And my favourite bit

?Pick a date for the presentation of your thesis and work backwards in constructing a schedule of how you are going to use your time. You can expect a stab of terror at this point. Don?t worry ?it goes on like this for awhile, then it gradually gets worse.

He also recommends the excellent style guide by Strunk (rather forcefully: Buy and use a copy of Strunk and White?s Elements of Style. Read it before you sit down to write your first paper, then read it again at least once a year for the next three or four years.) which is available here

One reply on “Some Modest Advice for Graduate Students”

Comments are closed.