Things I learned during my MA that I wish people would have told me (and that I should keep in mind for my PhD)

Longest title ever.

1) You read a lot. duh. I read a lot. 700+ pages a week first semester (yes, I was a geek and kept track). The thing that one needs to remember to do is write just as much or more. I think that I spent too much time reading, and not enough time writing.

My plan for the next quarter (since I’m no longer at a school with semesters) is to keep a journal of things I’ve learned. Each day, I’ll try to sythesize everything I’ve learned that day into a cohesive essay. Of course this won’t always work out, but it will be a quick step in retaining more information without having to really dig into the catacombs of my mind (which is quite scary sometimes).

I’m sure all of you would appreciate it if I kept it in a public blog (like this one). We’ll see…

2) Life is short. Too much work, no fun= boring life. Again, simple, right? Wrong. What’s wrong with no social life, isn’t that what grad school is all about? WRONG again. The stuff that I remember the most, the information I best retained, came from shooting the breeze, BSing, or enjoying a relaxing adult beverage. So, no fun and boring living actually equals less information consumption.

So, how does one make time for it all? By cutting out the waste, trimming down the fat, and doing a little more work and a little less filler. In the first semester I had a set plan. I got to school at 8, messed around until 8:30, read until 11, and worked on homework until 12 if I had any. Then class for until 3, and then repeat until 7. I started to fall from this routine, and it seemed like more of the day was occupied by academic (ie reading) life. I waste a lot of time during the day. If you trim that down, you’d be amazed at how much you can get done.

3) The times I was most “on the ball” during class discussions is when I exercised my “Articles+1” rule. I would read the articles for class, and then find 1 extra that was in the topic but not assigned (usually through JSTOR or AnthroSource). You get a leg up and find new avenues to go. My other motto for the first semester, along with the +1 rule, was that if I finished all of the readings for all of my classes, I wasn’t reading enough. Strange, right? No. Become a critical individual and an intellectual sponge. Some readings for some classes will suck, and you won’t want to read them. Don’t just not read them though, replace them with something else (doesn’t have to be anything even related, just make sure you’re absorbing something). This leads me to my next point.

4) Be wrong about things. Liberal Arts degrees are about critically thinking about how arrogant you are. I assume things in discussions all of the time. I’m wrong sometimes (don’t make it all the time, or you look like an idiot). But, some of the most complex things I’ve learned have been because I thought I knew what I was talking about, but ended up having no clue. It sucks, and is an ego blow, but the amount of information that you absorb so that you don’t look dumb another time is amazing (thanks to Brian Friedberg for being such an efficient BS detective.)

5) “Essential Knowledge” is not only kept in non-fiction, or theory, but it lives in fiction too. Fiction is an amazing portal between the world of reality and the world of social theory. Live it, love it. It gives you neat quotes, great references, and new views on social situations that you may have thought through at some point. Fact of the matter is, don’t just read information, read stories. It’ll also help your writing (note to self).

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