[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

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Today's Topics:

    1. TP Msg. #769 Playing The Game: The Review (Rick Reis)


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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
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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.


Rick Reis
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 
programs quickly.

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 
Review Board.

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.
Clinical Psychologist
Academic Coach

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