introduction to doctoral studies bleg?

BLEG: (Internet slang) To create an entry in a blog requesting information or contributions.

I’m hoping to get some guidance from the readers of this blog.

I’ve just learned that I’ll be teaching our department’s Introduction to Doctoral Studies class for newly admitted PhDs in the Fall. This is a course in which the overall set of topics is established by an Instructor/Facilitator, so that other faculty can come in to discuss their particular research specialties with the students. This kind of class seems to be fairly standard, at least among American PhD programs, for the first-year of graduate school.

In our department, one of the biggest challenges will be that literary scholars, creative writers, rhet/comp scholars, and possibly even linguists will be represented, both in terms of the students and the specialties.

So here’s my question:

If you’ve taken or taught such a course, would you be willing to share what you liked, disliked, or would have changed in your course? Any and all suggestions for readings would be appreciated.

And if you’ve taken such a course, I’m particularly interested in hearing about the specific readings or topics that you found useful for your long-term development as a professional scholar and teacher, for whatever reason.

Many thanks in advance,


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8 responses to “introduction to doctoral studies bleg?

  1. I haven’t taken such a course (we don’t take classes in England for the doctorate), but I can say a few things I’d want to know as I embark on my degree:

    1) Entering the academic discourse: conferencing, publishing, etc.
    2) Networking: what societies should I join? How do I approach a ‘big-name’ scholar in my field?
    3) Teaching: …self explanatory, I believe.
    4) Discussing your research: how to give the elevator pitch
    5) Preparing for the job market: what steps can I take *now* to be ready for a job search?

    I have no idea if this is what you’re looking for Dave, but these are the things I found lacking at my programme (which my DGS is now remedying with seminars and workshops).

  2. Dave Mazella

    Thanks, Kelly. This is a pretty succinct description of what new grad students want, in terms of concrete advice and direction for the job market, university, etc. Interestingly, faculty tend to want to teach this as an “initiation” course, where you get to hear about the institutional history of your discipline. The course can range from very nuts and bolts, to quite rarefied, depending on who teaches it. I’m trying to get broad input, from in- and outside my department, to see if I can pitch it in a way that makes sense to people in a number of fields simultaneously. But the pragmatic approach you’ve described helps make it accessible to a variety of fields.

  3. Hello! I’ve never commented here before, but I have Many Opinions on this subject, having taken a course like this myself. This might be a bit different from what you’re looking for, but hopefully it will help you round out your plans.

    The course that I took was close to what kcentrelli outlined above. We met three hours a week and focused on a different topic each session, like How Do Conferences Work?, What is the Job Market Like?, How Do Literary Journals Operate?, etc. These topics were useful, but I and my colleagues finished the semester wishing we had only spent one hour a week talking about them, and spent two hours a week focusing on how to survive the semester. The class that I remember enjoying the most was the one where we workshopped each other’s papers.

    My experience is that most grad students waltz into the first week of classes THINKING that they want to know all about the job market. A couple of months later, however, they’re figuring out how to deal with their seminar papers and couldn’t imagine a greater or more stressful waste of time than sitting down and talking about the job market for 3 hours. Many people are overwhelmed during the first semester of grad school simply trying to handle the workload and re-tool their writing styles. The workings of the job market are something students shouldn’t start thinking seriously about for another couple of years, but the questions of how to do research, write papers, and work in the archives are immediate and pressing.

    That being said, grad students need to know what the professional landscape looks like from the very beginning. Perhaps using Gregory Semenza’s Graduate Studies for the 21st Century as a course text could help you out there. But if I were you, I would make time for what your students will find immediately helpful that semester, even if they don’t know it the first week of classes

  4. Dave Mazella

    Emily, welcome and thanks for your comments. Your experience suggests that entering grad students are balancing short- and long-term anxieties, and so a course like this needs to similarly balance its approach. This is also something that emerges from the scholarship regarding the needs of brand new grad students and TAs, who are struggling with the multiple roles they are asked to play by their programs. Apart from the workshopping of papers, were the students in your program able to collaborate and learn from one another? Those tended to be the moments where I got relief from the usual stresses of grad life.

  5. Emily brings up a good point, which I think delineates a difference between US and UK programmes: in the UK, our coursework is completed (one must have a Master’s degree before applying) and we jump right into the dissertation/thesis. As such, our concerns–I’d imagine–lean towards ‘end-game’ topics like those I have aforementioned.

    For further collaboration, some assignments could include networking with students from other years in your school with similar research topics (e.g. meet with a 5th year 18c-ist).

  6. Dave Mazella

    My impression was that US programs, at this point in time, are more likely to include professionalization and placement programs for their PhDs, but I could be wrong about this. Certainly the coursework and distribution requirements of the US model make it easier for students to lose track of longer-term goals. That’s why, I think, these programs were instituted; at least in part they were initiated when time to degree became part of how departments were evaluated.

  7. Hi Dave,

    One very useful thing we did was take a trip to an archive (in our case, an overnight trip to the Newberry Library in Chicago, but I can imagine even just taking a trip to the nearest special collections library.) Most of us had never done archival work before, so getting some hands-on experience and then comparing notes was very helpful. Having grads who were further along in the program come and speak to us about various topics was also great.

    Perhaps you could divide each class session so that students share questions or anxieties and discuss solutions among themselves with your guidance at the beginning, and then move into the professional curriculum a little later. Helping students blow off some steam and get some answers to their questions will probably help the classroom environment when discussing other topics, at any rate. Even though my cohort hit it off right from the beginning and had drinks every Friday night, Intro to Grad Studies made us feel so anxious that everybody came into that class wearing a poker face! That was due to a number of factors, of course, including our stupid notions about what grad students “should” be like, but it would have been nice to let down the poker face (or whatever it is that you do with a poker face.)

    Good luck with your class!

  8. Dave Mazella

    Thanks, Emily, for these suggestions. My challenge is preparing readings and assignments that would work for a number of specialties, but I definitely would like an opportunity to introduce students to archival research. And I also think that some degree of group work helps with the anxiety levels, too, if it’s managed properly.