Recently, I have seen a number of senior scholars asking for advice on Twitter about how best to give a constructive peer review to a graduate student whose work they find fundamentally flawed. It’s a good question and a particularly important one. (And, as a graduate student, one I feel particularly qualified to answer.) For many graduate students, peer review is the way we get our first exposure to the discipline beyond our own departments. Our experiences with peer review shape the way we see our broader field and our willingness to pursue careers within it.
Those first (and often, repeated) rejections also take a big toll on graduate students’ mental health. I have yet to meet a graduate student who didn’t ask themselves if they belonged in academia after receiving that first rejection letter. No matter how much academics try to normalize rejection as part of the process, graduate students’ impostor syndrome flares up and it can become really difficult to sit down and start writing again. If you’ve never had validation that your work is good, it can be hard to believe that you can produce something great.
It’s easy to recognize that senior scholars sending out long, tough reviews want to improve the scholarship before them, but you can’t improve the scholarship if you scare the scholar out of pursuing the project they submitted for your review—or out of academia altogether.
Facing my own particularly harsh rejection this week, I spent some time thinking about the reviews I have found the most helpful at this stage in my career—and those that were such a gut punch that I disregarded them altogether. I came up with a list of recommendations for reviewing articles you imagine have a graduate student as an author.
Currently, I’m one semester into what I anticipate will be two years of data collection for my qualitative dissertation. There is a lot of good advice I got in the first four years of my PhD to prepare me for this moment—memo often, get a writing partner or two, bring your questions and confusions to trusted colleagues (or Twitter), schedule regular massages to stave off repetitive stress injuries and chronic back pain. Still, there is one arena that I wasn’t fully prepared for and that’s just how much spending your days in interviews or participant observation can affect your relationships with the people you love most. I always knew that writing a dissertation could be an isolating experience, but I never understood that one reason why is that qualitative work is so unbelievably emotionally exhausting that you have nothing left to give your loved ones–even though you need them more than ever.
As I move into the new semester of data collection, I have reflected a good deal about how to do better at balancing being a researcher and being a fully-functioning and social human. On the top of the list is communicating more clearly with my friends, family, and partner about how dissertating can impact the relationships we’re trying to build and strategizing about how we can strengthen them anyway. Here’s what I intend to say:
Yesterday, I passed my publishable paper requirement. It’s a triumph and a milestone worth celebrating, particularly because I failed my first defense.
I was really, really surprised that I had failed. I had done everything students in my program were supposed to do to pass the publishable paper requirement. I developed the paper in my methods classes, brought the paper to a workshop, took a class on academic writing to edit it, presented it at a conference, and I received positive feedback every step of the way. A lot of that positive feedback came from members of my committee. Two members had even recommended an earlier draft for publication at the top journal in my subfield. Just before my defense, the chair of my committee had talked about how she expected the paper would pass easily, leaving time for my committee to discuss expectations for my dissertation. Walking into my defense, the requirement felt like a formality and an opportunity for some additional feedback before I sent the paper out to the next journal on its long road to finding the right home for academic publication.
It’s that application time of year again and my inbox is flooded with emails from prospective students asking for advice about how to apply. To benefit everyone who didn’t have the courage to hit send (which we know can be raced, classed, and gendered), I offer you the advice I give out the most regularly. Continue reading “tips on grad school applications”
As sociologists, many of us are deeply involved in work on politically-relevant issues in our professional lives, but we hesitate to bring them into our personal worlds. It can be daunting to confront your most stubborn relatives or involve the family members who still think you’re a psychologist. Still, there is a lot to be gained from engaging the people you care for the most on topics related to your version of sociology. Changing hearts and minds isn’t impossible and bringing more of your political academic ideologies to Facebook is one way to do that. To help you, I offer my guiding principles for political Facebook engagement.