[EAS] Graduate School - Playing the Game
Peter J. Kindlmann
pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Tue Jan 23 19:28:06 EST 2007
If you're a student, you might find this useful. If you're a faculty
member, you might want to know what your students read.
I'm just sending the mailing whole, with apologies for the header
debris. This way you also have all the information about the
"Tomorrow's-Professor" list from Stanford, in case it interests you
(check out their extensive archives).
Although the book being reviewed is oriented more toward the social
sciences, the social and political dimension of doing graduate work
in the physical sciences and engineering have grown enough so that
the book has relevance. --PJK
From: tomorrows-professor-request at mailman.stanford.edu
Subject: tomorrows-professor Digest, Vol 11, Issue 7
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1. TP Msg. #769 Playing The Game: The Review (Rick Reis)
Date: Tue, 23 Jan 2007 08:50:58 -0800
From: Rick Reis <reis at stanford.edu>
Subject: TP Msg. #769 Playing The Game: The Review
To: tomorrows-professor at lists.stanford.edu
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Reminder: You can comment on this or any past posting by going to:
"This book is lewd, rude and superb!"
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The posting below is a review of the book, Playing the Game: The
Streetsmart Guide to Graduate School. that gives important, if
irreverent advice on how to succeed in graduate school. The review
is by Dr. Mary McKinney of Successful Academic Coaching. Feel free
to visit her web site at http://www.successfulacademic.com for
additional tenure track tips and dissertation writing strategies.
Copyright ?2006. Reprinted with permission.
reis at stanford.edu
UP NEXT: Modalities of Teaching and Learning
Tomorrow's Graduate Students and Postdocs
--------------------------------------- 1,112 words
Playing The Game: The Review
Giggle Towards Graduation
Want to laugh instead of snooze as you read advice for getting degree?
Buy Playing the Game: The Streetsmart Guide to Graduate School.
Instead of the usual, dry advice from a senior faculty member, this
book is an irreverent take on the process of succeeding in master's
and doctoral programs.
The authors - using the pseudonyms Karl Frank and Fred Stein -
provide great tips, but they cloak their sage suggestions in an
obnoxious tone, with plenty of juvenile humor. The result is a
side-splitting take on the secret rules for finishing graduate
Embedded in a humorously obnoxious tone, these bad boy authors
provide great advice. Who needs to read a book where professors and
readers are routinely insulted, misogyny sometimes erupts and cocky
white male egos are celebrated with tongue-in-cheek cheekiness? This
book is USEFUL. And if you are a grad student, or want to be a grad
student, you need to read it.
Over the years, I've read dozens of books about succeeding in grad
school. As far as I know, this is the first how-to manual in the
genre written from a graduate student's point of view. I think you'll
find that it's sassy and fun rather than stodgy and dull - a far cry
from the tomes that earnestly profess to help students with their
dry, pedantic exhortations.
These guys are irreverent and sarcastic. If they offend you, well,
they mean to. They're happy to insult anyone and everyone (especially
each other). No one flies beneath their radar.
Frank n' Stein's underlying premise is quite important: most graduate
students take themselves way too seriously, and this only contributes
to their stress and anxiety. Frank n' Stein want you to lighten up
and enjoy getting helpful advice in a naughty package. Take note of
their tone and relax. Get a life. You'll not only enjoy graduate
school more, you'll do better.
Simply put, it takes street smarts as well as book smarts to succeed
in graduate school. Frank n' Stein explain, in their quirky style,
that understanding the unspoken norms of grad school and navigating
the politics of your department, are at least as important as
researching your scholarly topic. They also emphasize that you should
always be thinking three steps ahead to the next phase of your
program. I enthusiastically concur. Being pro-active makes the
difference between getting a Ph.D. and getting stuck with a terminal
Starting with advice for people considering graduate school, Frank n'
Stein point out prospective students to choose their universities
well - which means not only getting into the most prestigious program
possible but also avoiding dysfunctional departments. Many novice
applicants don't realize that the general prestige of a school might
not translate into a great graduate program. When it all depends on
the department itself, you may want to reconsider applying to the
The book highlights ways your approach to graduate school needs to
differ significantly from ways you operated during undergraduate
years. You can't get through a masters or doctoral program by
cramming at the last minute. These foul-mouthed wiseguys alert us to
the fact that grades don't matter in grad school. Forget about trying
to become a valedictorian or receiving a summa cum laude. Just pass
and get on with it.
Rules for success are quite different from undergrad life and these
differences are explained in great detail. GPA doesn't mean much. You
can't read everything that is assigned and you shouldn't try.
Finishing quickly is 90 percent of the game. Frank n' Stein focus
more on just getting out of graduate school than preparing yourself
to go into academia - but this is still a savvy approach. Most
students who get stuck are trying to write the perfect dissertation
rather than a passable version that will help them on the job market.
I'm glad that Frank n' Stein tell grad students that they don't need
to (and can't) read everything that is assigned in graduate school
courses. It is different from the undergraduate years during which it
was possible (if rare) to do all your homework for classes. In
Master's or doctoral programs you need to learn how to pick the most
important material, learn to skim, and, according to these
scatological sages, spend much of your free time sitting on the
toilet (their favorite place to study.)
Frank n' Stein point out that you should choose your dissertation
chair and committee wisely. Yes, this advice is obvious, but it is
amazing how many students I work with have picked their main
professor on the basis of scholarly expertise, despite evidence that
the person is a narcissistic jerk. With funny (and accurate) profiles
of typical professors, the authors explain in detail what you should
be looking for and what you should avoid when choosing your
dissertation advisor. You've got to dodge inattentive, incompetent
and malevolent advisors in order to get out. And they point out the
often-overlooked importance of making sure your committee members
work well together.
Keeping your work focused on the end goal - the M.A. or Ph.D. - is
the bottom line. I agree with the arrogant authors that every paper
for every class should be related to your dissertation project. If
you plan carefully, the majority of your coursework, most of your
class papers, and all of your work on your comprehensive exams, can
be used toward your dissertation.
While Frank n' Stein's specific dissertation writing advice is
targeted towards grad students in the social sciences, the advice
will still be well-worth reading, if somewhat less comprehensive, for
wanna-be-docs in the sciences and humanities. With that caveat, they
offer up some great tips for writing and defending the proposal, for
working on the methods section and for pleasing the Institutional
Despite their naughty style, the more serious and earnest
personalities of Frank n' Stein do peek out from time to time. They
genuinely understand the plight of overworked professors.
Specifically, they are realistic about how long it takes professors
to read and return material, and they give good suggestions about the
work you can be doing while you wait to get your comments back. I'm
so glad that they point out the pro-active strategy of staying on
track while you wait for feedback. So many students I work with come
to a screeching halt for weeks (or months) while they're waiting for
their advisors to return drafts of dissertation chapters.
Finally, and happily, Frank n' Stein have found funny quotes to
sprinkle throughout the book. I laughed out loud when reading some of
the quips they've unearthed.
In short, buy the book. You need it.
Mary McKinney, Ph.D.
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