Sunday, October 26, 2008

Review: Peters Getting What You Came For: The Smart Student’s Guide to Earning a Master’s or PhD.

This is now the second book I’ve read on the topic of getting a PhD. My interest is both functional and theoretical. Just as my interest in languages has led to quite an interest in language pedagogy, my extended studentship has led to an interest in the structures and processes of graduate education.

Unlike the former book I read, this one is targeted to the US market. There are fundamental differences between US style and UK style graduate programs, and you should bear that in mind if planning to purchase this book.

Peter’s book covers everything from those important pre- questions (what is grad school like, should you go, should you work first, etc..) to post-questions, such as looking for a job. The pre- question sections are really strong. They help burst bubbles about what graduate school is like, especially pointing out how universities virtually employ grad students as cheap academic labour, and your odds of getting an academic job are pretty slim.

There are three things I found this book particularly helpful for. Firstly, the opening sections really helped me rethink some aspects of graduate education. The reality is, I’m not interested in a top-name institution for the purposes of reputation, because I’m not aiming to base my career off trading a first rate PhD program for a first rate academic position. I’d be happy to go to whatever institution can offer me what is best for my education, and really that will come down to supervisor options and broader life goals. There are some aspects of my life plan that really only require the paper, not the prestige, and I’m okay with that.

Secondly, the book continued to remind me that I’m far from enamoured of the US style of graduate programs. They have some good things going for them, but I’m not convinced they are any superior to other doctoral programs. So it has further confirmed me in the plan not to head to the US without some serious mitigating factors.

Thirdly, I did find the thesis-writing sections helpful. Mainly because I have problems writing thematically instead of writing commentary on texts, and the thesis writing section gave me some ideas for fixing that and for generally approaching things in a more systematic manner.

That’s me, but what about you? I think Peters has written a fine book, full of helpful information. There might be better books on the subject out there, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to read this one. If you’re in, or contemplating, graduate studies in the US, I’d recommend picking this book up and having a read. 4 stars.

Getting What You Came For: The Smart Student's Guide to Earning an M.A. or a Ph.D.

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