The Ideal State of Mind in Graduate School

Karen Kelsky’s article “Graduate School is a Means to a Job” was posted a few weeks ago, but I keep thinking about this one piece of advice in particular. She says that a graduate student should:

Cultivate a professional persona as a young scholar. That persona is separate from your previous identity as a graduate student and is, instead, confident, assertive, sophisticated, and outspoken.

Confident, assertive, sophisticated, and outspoken. This is the ideal persona to cultivate as a grad student. It’s interesting to me that this persona is supposed to be different from a “graduate student identity”. But I guess I have find this to be largely true: many grad students are not very confident or outspoken, either in class or in their research. Part of being a “young scholar” then is developing ideas and opinions such that you have something to say about a wide variety of issues in your field. If you have nothing to say about any given subject, what will you be doing as an academic except spouting the ideas of the older generation of thinkers? As Kelsky as aptly noted, part of becoming an academic means being willing to step up to the table and make assertions and be opinionated. Of course, it’s nice to back up these opinions with facts and arguments, but it’s also challenging enough just to find something nontrivial yet interesting to say that hasn’t already been said before. And if you have well-developed ideas and opinions, then you can afford to be confident in your ability to engage with other academics. And the more you engage, the more sophisticated you will become in your ideas. This is all part of being a young scholar. I really like Kelsky’s article for how she shows that self-conception goes a long way towards laying the foundations of a career in academia. The article also has a bunch of other good practical advice well worth reading.

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