Some Advice for Prospective Graduate Students in History


This is a very helpful piece at AHA Today from Christina Copland, a graduate student in history at the University of Southern California.  If you are an undergraduate who is considering graduate school I think you will find Copland’s article worth your time.

Here is a taste:

And, I would add, it is much harder to keep the stakes of graduate study in perspective if you don’t (even occasionally) get outside of the bubble of academia. Be it catching up with family members and old friends or a hobby (as someone with few discernable sporting or crafting skills, I use the term hobby very loosely here), make time for an activity entirely unrelated to your scholarly output that will make you happy and keep you in touch with the world outside campus.

Without that foot firmly planted outside of the academy, what are, in reality, fairly low-stakes events can assume titanic importance and meaning. Every harsh bit of criticism on a historiography paper, a meeting with your advisor that doesn’t go entirely smoothly, all of it can start to undermine not only your self-confidence but strip away your ability to enjoy the study of history—the very reason you’re there in the first place.

As you give yourself room to breathe in the present, keep one eye on the future. Connect your career possibilities to the tasks you actually find rewarding in graduate school. I found out pretty early on that I found teaching extremely stressful. This made my decision to forgo the professoriate very, very easy. But it was only through a fairly random opportunity in my fifth year, when I had the chance to contribute to a project on public history with Southern California nonprofit broadcaster KCET, that I realized I loved communicating history to broader audiences. If you’re stuck for ideas as to how you might translate your talents and interests outside the academy, the AHA has a good resource on “Where Historians Work” for the many career options that historians have. (And watch out for an upcoming post on ImaginePhD, a tool designed to help humanities and social sciences PhDs explore careers and plan for the future.)

I can’t help but wonder what other opportunities I missed in the first four years. If these sorts of nontraditional tasks are not built into your program, seize any chance to make them happen yourself. And don’t wait until you’re nearing the end of your degree to start. Equally, it’s worth sooner rather than later to look at the AHA’s “five skills” vital to the successful pursuit of both academic and nonacademic careers.

Read the entire piece here.