Book Review: Is Graduate School Really for You? The Whos, Whats, Hows, and Whys of Pursuing a Master's or Ph.D. by Amanda I. Seligman
"[W]hile I studied as a graduate student, had friends who were graduate students, and talk to graduate students, I also played ethnographer, paying critical attention to the ups and downs of their experiences, the things they needed to learn about academic life, and what do they understood intuitively that I had to learn the hard way."
Is Graduate School Really for You? The Whos, Whats, Hows, and Whys of Pursuing a Master's or Ph.D. by Amanda I. Seligman (2012, Johns Hopkins University Press) is a fast read, but packed with information. The book is presented in question and answer format. It covers many topics students may be curious about but may not know to ask about—such as what equipment grad students need, why some students join unions, whether online degree programs are respectable, who reads dissertations, how intellectual work can take a physical toll on students, whether dropping out of school can be a good decision, and what professors do in the summer.
(Read: Why I Went to Graduate School)
This isn't a book explicitly about how to succeed in graduate school. It is, however, a helpful guide to what graduate students do and what graduate school is all about.
Seligman explains that people have a wide variety of goals when enrolling in graduate school. Achieving that wide range of goals will take a similarly wide range of approaches; success will look different and will require different metrics to measure, because people are trying to get different things from their time in grad school. As a result, instead of giving advice on how to succeed, Seligman provides,
"a neutral description of the culture, expectations, and experiences of graduate school."
The book's Q&A format is its strength. Each chapter has a brief introduction on the general topic, followed by questions and answers exploring various facets of the graduate school experience. Seligman covers who attends graduate school and what you need to gain admission, how graduate students finance their education, the expectations about how students work and how grad school differs from a full-time job, the different degree requirements, what a dissertation is, academic culture, work-life balance, and career paths.
(Read: Why I Left Full-Time Academia and What I Do Instead)
Seligman includes expert tips and quotes from other researchers (including several who wrote their books about getting through grad school), which helps give the reader a broader perspective on the grad school experience.
Overall, Seligman's book is practical, informative, and still feels relevant, even though it was published a decade ago. I enjoyed it.
If you're considering attending graduate school, Is Graduate School Really For You? may help you decide if, indeed, graduate school is the right path for you through Seligman's answers about admissions qualifications, financing your education, work and life in school, and job prospects. It may also be helpful for current students who have questions about how the academic system works.
Seligman includes a list of additional books that might be helpful. Read my reviews of:
- So what Are You Going to Do with That?" Finding Careers Outside Academia by Susan Basalla and Maggie Debelius
- Book Review: Leaving Academia: A Practical Guide by Christoper Caterine
- A PhD Is Not Enough! A Guide to Survival in Science by Peter J. Feibelman