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Thinking About Getting a Ph.D.? What a Ph.D. Taught Me That Translates to Life

As I come up on the last few months of my obtaining my Ph.D., I can't help but to think about what I have learned, outside of the Ph.D. classroom, that has greatly impacted the way I articulate my brand (i.e. apply for postdoctoral fellowships and assistant professoriate jobs). Today, I'm sharing the lessons that you won't find in any textbook. Let's get into them.

1. I learned how to handle criticism. Graduate school, particularly the Ph.D. process, thrives on strong critique. If you thought you were a good writer, graduate school will help to remind you of all the ways you need to improve on clarity, where you need to delve into further research, and why the foundational questions that you are asking should be revised. In other words, a Ph.D. program will provide the best editor for your work in the form of your peers, graduate chair, and dissertation committee. The reality is, you are writing at the highest level. The expectation of your abilities is immense. Handling criticism, the good, bad, and ugly, is a skill that will help you to master criticism in the world outside of academia.

2. To that extent, my Ph.D. program taught me how to communicate to multiple audiences. Graduate school teaches you how to communicate effectively. What you write to sell a book at a Barnes & Noble, for example, is more than likely not what you will write to get you tenured on the collegiate level. I learned how to sell myself to multiple levels of people to make my work and my brand palatable. If I am applying for a job at UCLA, my language looks much different then when I am writing blog post for this website. My writing may even shift depending on who is reading my work within the academy. For example, if I am speaking to an English department, I am going to pull on the language provided by literary criticism as opposed to, say, the language used in anthropology. In order for messages to get across effectively, you have to be mindful of who you are speaking to and what matters to them.

3. I learned how to challenge facts and conduct extensive, in depth research. I am a firm believer in the saying, "trust but verify," and graduate school made me that way (lol). I verify EVERYTHING. If you have ever read an academic book, then you will know that there are a ridiculous amount of bibliographic resources, footnotes, and endnotes. Why? Because the author is trying to establish their position as an expert on that topic. They want you to see the number of resources (primary or secondary) that back up whatever argument they are trying to make. The truth is, we should always be careful not to take the first answer as the only answer. I have found that, more often than not, real information is just below the surface of shallow knowledge. Trust what everyone says, but be sure to verify.

4. To that point, the Ph.D. taught me how to respect the knowledge and expertise of those who are already doing what I want to do. It is a foolish man or woman who believes that they know, or even can know, everything. Playing the game of intellectual olympics with well-established professionals in a field is dangerous if for no other reason than that they, at the very least, hold the cards for your reputation. The second you are perceived as anything beyond humble, it can negatively impact someone's decision to give you a good letter of recommendation, give you a reference, or even sign off on a paper or final thesis. Remember to always maintain the position of operating as a lifelong learner and that includes remaining humble.

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