Five Truths About Graduate School That Nobody Tells You

Some Good Advice for Graduate Students From Psychology Today Online:

Five Truths About Graduate School That Nobody Tells You

The importance of shifting from the “student” to the “professional” mentality.
Published on October 28, 2013 by Nathaniel Lambert, Ph.D. in Publish and Prosper

There are some crucial things to know about graduate school that are not typically discussed out in the open, but that could make all the difference for you (or for your graduate students). It ultimately boils down to this: the ultimate key to graduate school is transitioning from a “student” mentality to a “professional” mentality. Having published 23 articles in research journals before graduating, I think I successfully made this change of mindset and I can help you to do so as well. Here are five important truths to assist you in making this transition:

Truth #1: Graduate School is Not School at All, but an Apprenticeship.

The term “school” makes you think that the most important aspect of this experience is class and that you are a student who must do well in the class. However, your goal is not to get straight A’s, but to learn to become a productive, independent researcher. A more fitting term for graduate school would be “professorial apprenticeship.” The apprenticeship system was first developed in the later Middle Ages to help novice tradesman to learn a skilled vocation (such as carpentry) from a master teacher. This is the true purpose of graduate school, to learn the trade (publishing) by doing the trade, not by simply reading about it and talking about it in classes. If you were the manager of a large furniture manufacturer looking to hire someone, would you be more interested in applicants who had read a lot about building furniture, knew all the theory behind it, etc., or would you like to hire someone who had already built several pieces under the hands of a master teacher?

Truth #2: Your Career Starts on Your First Day of Graduate School

People with the “student” mentality think that their career begins when they get the coveted tenure-track position and they procrastinate seriously doing the research job that they’ve been hired to do. Those with the “professional” mentality recognize that everything they do as a graduate student counts towards their overall record and they begin to work on publications immediately. They show up every day ready to work on their job of publishing rather than spending most of their time preparing for their enhancement workshops (class). They know what the priority is and their time allocation reflects this. An important facet of this recognition is to not be limited by the clock. Those with the “student” mentality work until their assigned 10 or 20 research assistantship hours are complete, whereas those with the “professional” mentality know that any additional time they spend on this core task will be “counted” toward getting a job and future advancement and so they do not limit themselves to time for which they are being paid. I often put in 2-3 times the hours that I was paid for and believe me it paid off. Think of yourself not as a student logging in some hours, but as a salaried professional working toward a promotion!

Truth #3: Grades Don’t Really Matter

As an undergraduate, I was a grade grubber. I would study long hours and then show up to office hours to demonstrate to the professor why my answer on the test should get partial credit so that I could get an A rather than an A-. That was important back then, but it sure isn’t in graduate school. This was so clear to me as I applied for a jobs at over 70 universities. How many asked me for my transcripts? One. Don’t just take my word for it. In “A Guide to Ph.D. Graduate School: How They Keep Score in the Big Leagues,” Charles Lord (2004) writes the following:

Since I have been in my department, we have hired more than half the current faculty. I have been intensively involved in all of these searches, both during the time I was department chair and later. Would it surprise you to know that I have never seen the graduate transcript of any of my colleagues? We do not request a transcript of graduate grades because my colleagues and I would regard that information as useless. We are trying to hire the best scholars, not people who got the best grades in their graduate courses (p.10).

What you have created (your publications) is ultimately the best evidence of a successful apprenticeship and your best selling point. I’m not recommending that you not put in a good effort in class, because you will learn things that will help your publishing and in most programs you still need a B to pass the class. In some programs you may lose your funding if you don’t meet a certain threshold and certainly if you are just getting a Master’s and plan to get a Ph.D. elsewhere, your grades matter. So do try to do pretty well, but I’m just saying that it just shouldn’t be your top priority as you don’t have to get perfect grades anymore. There’s a huge difference in effort from an A- to an A or a B+ to an A-. Put that effort into research!

Truth #4: You Can’t Afford to Check Out For Long Breaks Like Undergraduates

Individuals with the “student” mentality follow the same pattern as undergraduates, once finals are over they live it up and check out all through Christmas break and the summer. Life and priorities are scheduled around class. However, with a professional mentality you realize that you can’t afford to take such long breaks because you’ve got a job to do that is not centered on class. Everything is scheduled around research. I’m not suggesting that you need to become a workaholic. Have some fun, play hard, but don’t play as long as the undergrads because you have already started your career and everything you do counts. For example, those with the professional mentality enjoy the extra time in the summer, unencumbered with classes to make huge strides in their publishing.

Truth #5: Theses and Dissertations Can Actually Hamper Your Progress

Whoa, you might say, this guy is really radical, how can a thesis or dissertation actually hurt you? Aren’t these research based after all? It’s true that going through the research process and getting some extra input and supervision can help you learn the craft. But here’s when it can be counterproductive: when doing this project is perceived as the ultimate objective and the ultimate achievement you should strive for. Let me illustrate. I’ll never forget running my first experiment in a computer lab that was shared by several other graduate students and everyone kept asking me, “So is this for your master’s thesis or for your dissertation?” After a while I felt like screaming, “No, don’t you get it, there’s more to graduate school than a stupid dissertation. I’m doing this just for the sake of publishing an article!” Focusing on a dissertation gives those with a “student” mentality a false sense of accomplishment as if they have now completed their research requirement. Truly these milestones exist, in my opinion, to give structure for the weakest of students to get them some exposure to the research process. My graduate advisor wisely counseled me to have multiple manuscript projects underway and then when it came time for my dissertation, I could decide which project was at the “right stage” to call my dissertation. Obviously, you need to complete these hurdles, but they can be completed as one step toward your bigger goal of publishing several manuscripts.

Making the mental switch from the “student” mentality to the “professional” mentality will make all the difference for you or for your graduate students. I am curious to hear from you, which of these truths did you find to be most surprising? I cover all of these core truths in much greater depth with helpful application exercises in my book Publish and Prosper. Also, if you are enjoying the content, receive regular updates on the posts by liking my Facebook page.

Take Action

I encourage you to take action now to change your outlook of graduate school by completing some “Wrap Up Exercises” that will help you apply the important principles I’ve discussed here. Simply go to my website and then click on “Book Exercise Downloads” and then click on the free download of “Chapter 14 Wrap up Exercises.” This will be very helpful for you to cement the principles I have discussed!

Hot Buttered Humanity!

POPATH Hot Buttered Humanity

With a subtitle like that, I’m either going to love it or hate it.  I love it.  It’s as eclectic as the mind of an anthropologist.  Check it out.

popanth-culture-soup-180x300“PopAnth translates anthropological discoveries for popular consumption. Academia does a lot of good work researching, decoding and understanding human societies – past and present. We discover all kinds of really cool stuff about human nature and culture. Anthropology can help us understand who we are as individuals and as a global society.

However, our discoveries are often locked away in academic journals. We take anthropology’s collective knowledge and translate it for mainstream audiences, much in the way that popular science books, tv shows and trivia quizzes make even the hardest of sciences accessible. We strive to provide you with the best of anthropology in a format that makes you go, ‘Wow! I didn’t know that!’ Our cross-cultural stories aim to help you discover things about yourself and the world you live in.

Welcome to the anthropocene!”

AND… They’re looking for contributors.  Maybe YOU can create something to contribute to the anthropological blogging world.

Panda’s Thumb

pandasNO, this is not a blog about pandas. Hopefully, most scientists will recognize the reference.

When I saw the title, I actually thought this was a Stephen Jay Gould tribute site.  Turns out that this is a great summation of EVOLUTION, EDUCATION, MEDIA, and other things SCIENCE.

“The Panda’s Thumb” is many things…

… And now it is a weblog giving another voice for the defenders of the integrity of science, the patrons of “The Panda’s Thumb”.

Keep up on education and evolution with the Panda’s Thumb.

Breaking News About Paleoindians at Clovis!!!


Portales Daily News.  Note that there was no “Clovis” cultural group yet…\

News1936-1jpgNews1936-2jpgClick HERE for the pdf, with bonus Coronado article OR link below:

Towards the Origin of America’s First Settlers

Interesting news from the genetics world.  We’re slowly building a clearer picture of early Americans.

“A new genetic study of South American natives, published on the journal PLOS Genetics, provides scientific evidence to reformulate the traditional model and define new theories of human settlement of the Americas” from a new article by Professor Daniel Turbón, from the Department of Animal Biology of the University of Barcelona.

“This new research is based on the analysis of male Y-chromosomal genetic markers in about one thousand individuals, representing 50 tribal South American native populations.”

Read more about it here.

Cynthia Irwin Williams Lecture Set for February 8, 2013

The annual Cynthia Irwin Williams Lecture will be from 7-9 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 8, in Buchanan Hall in the Music Building. It is free and open to the public.

photo catherine cameron feb 8

Dr. Catherine Cameron (photo by Jason Ortiz)

The guest speaker will be Dr. Catherine Cameron, professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Colorado.  She works in the northern part of the American Southwest focusing especially on the Chaco and post-Chaco eras (A.D. 900-1300).

photo catherine cameron 2 feb 8

Jonathan Till and Vaughn Hadenfeldt expose one of the wide core-and-veneer walls in the east end of the great house. (photo by Ken Abbott, CU Public Relations)

Her research interests include prehistoric migration, the evolution of complex societies through the study of regional social and political systems, methodology of defining social boundaries in the past, and prehistoric architecture.

She works in southeastern Utah at the Bluff Great House, a Chacoan site and in nearby Comb Wash, and published a monograph on this research in 2009 (Chaco and After in the Northern San Juan, University of Arizona Press).  She also studies captives in prehistory, especially their role in cultural transmission.

photo catherine cameron 3 feb 8

University of Colorado field school student Tracey Chirhart excavates in Feature 2, one of the large, deep rear rooms at the Bluff great house. (photo by Steve Lekson, University of Colorado)

She published an edited volume on this topic in 2008 (Invisible Citizens, Captives and Their Consequences, University of Utah Press).  She has been co-editor of the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory since 2000.

For more information, call Andrea McDowell at 575.562.2696.


  1. The Bluff Great House and the Chaco Phenomenon

Catherine M. Cameron
University of Colorado
Cynthia Irwin-Williams Lecture, February 8, 2013

The Bluff great house site is located on the San Juan River in southeastern Utah.  It was the focus of six seasons of excavation research conducted by the University of Colorado (CU).  Bluff had some involvement with Chaco Canyon, the great Pueblo center of the 9th to 12th centuries and is one of the few Chacoan sites in this region to have been recently excavated.

The location, in use since at least A.D. 500, saw the construction of a multi-storied Chacoan great house, great kiva, earthern “berm,” and prehistoric road segments in the late 11th or early 12th centuries.  The great house continued to be used (perhaps most intensively) during the post-Chaco era until about A.D. 1250.

Southeastern Utah contains a number of Chaco and post-Chaco great house communities and CU also conducted survey and test excavations at the Comb Wash community about 25 miles north of Bluff.   Our primary research questions focused on Bluff’s relation to the complex developments in Chaco Canyon and the nature of post-Chaco use of great houses both at Bluff and Comb Wash.

This presentation highlights some of the remarkably Chaco-like aspects of the Bluff great house, and presents surprising continuities at the site after the Chaco region collapsed. In contrast, the post-Chaco great house at the Comb Wash community has a number of Chaco-like features, but others that recall typical construction throughout the northern San Juan region.

Bluff and Comb Wash are used to explore and evaluate current models of the Chaco regional system.

Reading List If You Want to be Prepped for Lecture

Cameron, Catherine M.
2009  Chaco and After in the Northern San Juan:  Excavations at the Bluff Great House.  University of Arizona Press, Tucson.

Kantner, John, and Nancy Mahoney (editors)
2000 Great House Communities across the Chacoan Landscape. University
of Arizona Press, Tucson.

Lekson, S. H.
1999 Chaco Meridian. Altamira Press, Walnut Creek, California.

2009  A History of the Ancient Southwest.  School for Advanced Research Press, Santa Fe.

Lekson, S. H. (editor)
2006  The Archaeology of Chaco Canyon: An Eleventh-Century Pueblo Regional Center. School of American Research Press, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

2007 The Architecture of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.

Mills, Barbara J.
2002  Recent Research on Chaco: Changing Views on Economy, Ritual, and Society. Journal of Archaeological Research 10(1): 65–117.

Reed, Paul F
2008  Chaco’s Northern Prodigies: Salmon, Aztec, and the Ascendancy of the Middle San Juan Region after A.D. 1100. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake.

Van Dyke, Ruth
2008  The Chaco Experience:  Landscape and Ideology at the Center Place.  School for Advanced Research, Santa Fe.