The tips presented today are best suited for students who are already in a Ph.D. program, on a path to dissertation writing, as well as people who maybe still in grad school speculating about “Next Steps”. Tips in this blog post were originally recorded from the PhD Podcast interview with Dr. Sharde M. Davis. At the time of the recording, Dr. Davis is a tenure track assistant professor at the University of Connecticut (UCONN).
Identify a solid mentor. Sometimes your mentor can be your advisor. If you get both, you get a two for one deal. But sometimes that’s just not what it is. This is especially true if you are a graduate students of color. You need to have someone more senior who looks like you, and who really understands your experiences. So you must must must have a mentor and really cultivate that relationship. It’ll go a long way — that person can be in your department, at your university or even in your field.
In your homestretch of writing your dissertation can get rough sometimes. And that’s honestly where a lot of folks experience difficulty and never make it cross the finish line. So I encourage everyone to figure out what your writing system is going to look like. You know, for me, I was on fellowship, I rented a two bedroom apartment so that I had a dedicated office space in my apartment. Because I was on fellowship, I didn’t have to teach my last year. So I just wrote every day. So I had a very strict schedule about what my day would look like. And I had large blocks of writing every single day. For some people that may not be feasible, but you have to figure out what your writing schedule is going to look like in the midst of other aspects of your life. That is key. You have to set aside time to write.
A bonus tip for writing the dissertation, if you have some monies, or you can find some monies, hire a copy editor. Once you’re done writing, your eyes will be cross eyed and you are still on the hook to edit the thing. It’s much easier if you can hire someone to do the editing for you.
For those who are on the job market, connect with other people who are on the market, but where you both aren’t going for the same jobs. So for me, I’m an interpersonal communication scholar. So I went and connected with someone who was a rhetorician. And we both were on the market together at the same market season and it really helped. Sometimes it just helps to connect with someone, talk with someone, trash talk with someone, debrief about how your interview went, exchange tips. And so it’s just really helpful. But again, try to connect with someone or partner up with someone who is not applying for the same jobs that you are because then it gets awkward. Really awkward.
When you get into an academic position, you are on the market, you found a job, you signed your contract, you have moved…. do not be hard on yourself on the first semester. A successful first semester in a tenure track position is you being alive. Honestly, being alive and having any wits about you being a full fledged adult, you paid your rent on time, you’re getting to work every day, and you are staying at least one step ahead of your students when it comes to teaching. That is a successful semester. Do not put any more pressure on yourself to do anything else because it is a lot. It’s a it’s a really significant and difficult transition.
Once you get to the end of your first year, I then suggest doing some serious strategy planning. I did that in my first summer. The first summer after my first year on the tenure track. I went and took that summer, because I didn’t really have anything going on, and I created a timeline of what my 10 year process was going to look like in terms of when I’m on the clock. What projects I wanted to do, what data I already had, that could that I could flip into a publication, and other projects I was on. I did this this to ensure that by the time I went up, I knew I was going to have at least 12 publications. But if anyone knows anything about the publication process, it takes a long time .. and can be really uncertain. So riddled with a lot of uncertainty so you have to do a lot of forward planning.
Money. You will go broke moving. it is just the facts of life unless you are a trust fund baby or your parents are very wealthy. If you are a regular Joe Schmo like I was, you’re going to go broke and that was even after having moving costs that were paid for by the University, which you absolutely should negotiate. So if you can do any saving that summer before you move or if your willing to create a GoFundMe, or some other account for people to put money in, that will help you because it’s really expensive and nobody tells you that.