David Drew and Paul Gray just finished a four-part series of articles in Inside Higher Ed, aptly called “What They Don't Teach You in Graduate School”. Some of the advice is rather cynical, and some of it is just plain wrong, but it's all worth reading (including the reader comments).
- What a PhD means, finishing your dissertation, and finding your first academic job
A Ph.D. is a license to reproduce and an obligation to maintain the quality of your intellectual descendants. Once you have the Ph.D., it is possible for you (assuming you are working in an academic department that has a Ph.D. program) to create new Ph.D.’s. Even if your department does not have a Ph.D., you can be called upon to sit on Ph.D. examining committees either in your own or in neighboring institutions. This is a serious responsibility because you are creating your intellectual descendants. Recognize that if you vote to pass someone who is marginal or worse they, in turn, have the same privilege. If they are not up to standard, it is likely that some of their descendants will also not be.
- Teaching, service, research, grantsmanship
Avoid serving on a committee on which you have technical expertise. If you know something about libraries, don’t serve on the library committee. If you do, you will be put on the subgroup (or, worse, become the subgroup) to make recommendations or solve the mess in your area of expertise. Such service will eat up enormous amounts of your time with little visible result and even less personal gain for you.
- Tenure, academic ranks, and department chairs
Understand why tenure is such a hurdle. Consider the cost of a positive tenure decision to your institution. Assume for simplicity that you are making $66,666 per year and will serve the university 30 years after tenure. [...] From your point of view, you certainly think of yourself as worth the $2 million dollar the university must make. But think of it from administrators’ view. [...] Any statistician will tell you that, given these upside and downside risks, universities are absolutely rational to err on the no side, not on the yes side.
- Life as an academic
“The rich get richer” holds in academia as well as in society in general. Once you establish a reputation, people will pursue you to do things such as write papers, make presentations at prestigious places, consult, etc. To reach this position you have to earn your reputation. If you do reach it, remember that fame is transitory. You have to keep running, doing new things, to keep the demand going. Those who read these Hints will want your place!