Words for Students
Sometimes in academia, you feel like you need to know a lot about everything. In fact, you don't have to be an expert in everything—that's what collaboration is for. What you might want to do, though, is to prioritize your scholarly skills and requisite research endeavors in order of how you want peers to think of you as an academician. A solid grasp of research methods is a must. But beyond that, do you want to be thought of as, for example, an "expert statistician with an interest in policing" or an "expert policing scholar with a solid grasp of statistics"? It's difficult to be both equally well. So, thinking about what you want to be and how you want to be perceived by others can help to propel your career along that course without being slowed down by ambiguity. It helps to allocate your time proportionately. Using your Ph.D. for rigorous research and thoughtful teaching is an ongoing endeavor—the "inbox" is rarely empty. Just be sure to add a few non academic-related things to your to-do list so that the processes of work and life are both fun and motivating.
Your dissertation does not have to be your life’s work. But, for better or worse, it communicates a lot about who you are as a scholar and job applicant. It is often assumed by faculty search committees that your choice of dissertation topic was a conscious one that justifiably deserved your primary attention instead of other personal or professional interests. When embarking on a dissertation, select a topic that arguably fits into your broader research interests and that is attuned to your career goals. These are likely to be lines of inquiry as you interview for jobs, so prepare for insightful answers early.
Read this book before starting your dissertation: Reynolds, P. D. (2006). A Primer in Theory Construction. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Allyn & Bacon. Contrary to the sound of the title, it's a pretty easy read.
One thing about CVs is that they always highlight the best end product but don't provide context of the (likely) many stressors and failures it took to get there. I entered the Rutgers SCJ masters program during my senior year as a student at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ). I can honestly say that sitting in classes with PhD and other older master's students was intimidating at times because it always seemed like they were somehow reading faster, writing better, and completing assignments faster than I was. In hindsight, I really think that everyone was full of anxiety and that we doubted our own abilities when we compared ourselves to others--that probably made us work even harder to "catch up". What was more likely true was that my perception of everyone else was also probably their perception of me. The lesson I took away from that with regard to school is to only compare my current knowledge and abilities to my recent and distant past and always (and only) aim to feel a little smarter today than I did yesterday.
While a PhD student, I made up a word to describe how I felt. The word is "anticipanxious". It's a combination of "anticipation" and "anxious" and I defined it as "excitement in the face of uncertainty." I didn't quite know where I would end up or exactly what I was going to do with my degree and professional experiences that I had acquired over the years, but I was optimistic that they would lead me to good things and that I was (at the very least) heading in the right direction. There's no need to force yourself to know exactly what you want to do with your degree or where to focus your studies. It comes naturally with time. Hopefully, though, you can find comfort in your "anticipanxiousness."
My 2012 (Faculty) Commencement Address to School of CJ graduates