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Going to Graduate School

Was a full set of information and opinions presented at this forum on Art History graduate school? I hope so. For example, any discussion which does not mention cautionary tales (e.g., here and here) is highly misleading to undergraduates who might not know any better.

It is fair to say that Ephs coming out of Williams in my era did not, as a group, get good advice about graduate school.

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#1 Comment By rory On May 3, 2006 @ 1:41 pm

Though I’m only in year one, I’ll just say that the advice I received from Williams professors about graduate school has been unbelievably useful in actually enjoying the process and getting a good start to it.

The most important: it’s not 24 hours a day–have something completely unrelated to campus that you do regularly (hello obsessive TV watching. and poker nights at which sociology is an illegal topic of conversation) AND get used to the idea that the profs are colleagues as quickly as possible.

other advice shall be held in trust only for those thinking of joining the grad school ranks. I will say that the scare blog by the swarthmore prof is pretty strong…perhaps too strong. Either that, or I’ve lucked out (or am naive as hell…all are good possibilities for the truth).

In short, talk to profs about grad school one on one. that was the best thing I did when I was looking at schools (plus, it helps get them more into the process which can only help with their recs. for you…) and find Williams graduates in grad schools or fields you’re interested in and talk. I went to a couple of sessions for groups about grad school that were nowhere near as useful as one-on-ones when I was looking at schools.

(that, and be prepared for the teaching to not be up to the williams standard. For me, that’s been the hardest transition…Williams profs really are just that damn good as teachers comparatively!)

#2 Comment By Loweeel On May 3, 2006 @ 2:31 pm

Shocking everybody who knows both of us, I will agree with Rory yet again. In my 4 semesters in EE at Columbia, I had no more than 4 professors who I felt were Williams-quality in terms of conveying information effectively to students.

#3 Comment By Richard Dunn On May 3, 2006 @ 2:38 pm

The most important people to speak to about grad school are actually the current graduate students in the programs that interest you. The dynamics of individual departments will vary constantly and thus information about particular places is best collected by those already present.
The most important experience in terms of grad school at Williams was being on the student hiring committee in the econ department. To see what the job market looks like, what is valued in the market, and how stressful the process is was invaluable. I think every department should, if it does not already, include students in the hiring process, if only to witness what it involves.

#4 Comment By CalEph On May 3, 2006 @ 5:10 pm

>>The most important people to speak to about grad school are actually the current graduate students in the programs that interest you.>>The most important people to speak to about grad school are actually the current graduate students in the programs that interest you.< Agreed. I have a suspicion that undergraduates from Williams (and other top liberal arts colleges) are increasingly more likely to enroll in PhD programs than their counterparts at Ivies (and other top research universities). And that one important reason for this disparity is that the undergraduates at research universities are better informed -- and therefore less enthusiastic -- about graduate student life. Undergraduates at places like Princeton can easily see and talk to current grad students and post-docs in their natural environment. And by graduation time, they probably have a relativevly realistic understanding of the problems and stresses that this choice entails. In contrast, you can spend four sheltered years at Williams without ever meeting a real live grad student. This is great from a teaching standpoint, but it may lead to idealized and unrealistic expectations about PhD programs.

#5 Comment By recent(ish)eph On May 3, 2006 @ 9:46 pm

I’ll agree strongly with caleph on this one, and with rich. at my first grad school, the grad students actively told accepted students NOT to go there — the department was too unpleasant an environment. I got seduced by the name anyway and went, then realized my mistake and was out of there like a bat out of (almost-literal) hell.

at williams, we can be too-easily lulled into the feeling that all professors everywhere are as great as our williams profs and that everyone everywhere will have as great a relationship with their advisors as we had with our departmental advisors at williams. this is (sadly) not the case, and it’s extremely important to recognize this when leaving williams and heading out into the rest of the academic world.