From the Archives: Starting Graduate School

Becoming a Historian provides the necessary practical information about the profession, revealing some of the ‘unwritten’ rules and containing invaluable advice on the specifics of graduate school, the job search, and various professional dilemmasThe summer season is half over and it’s time to start preparing for the fall semester. For many, that will mean starting the first year of graduate study in history. The transition from undergraduate to graduate work can be difficult – for me, graduate courses felt like walking into the middle of an ongoing conversation and struggling to get caught up. On the AHA web site, we have a couple resources that rising graduate students may be interested in as they start their journey. Consider it a summer reading list.

For starters, see Mary Ann Fitzwilson’s “With Their Eyes Wide Open: Guides to Graduate School and Beyond,” from the December 1999 issue of Perspectives. In this article, Fitzwilson surveys some of the graduate school advice literature and makes reading suggestions based on the stages of the graduate school process – selecting and enrolling in an MA program, transitioning to PhD graduate work, finishing the dissertation, and finding a job as a newly-minted PhD. She says, “honest information about these topics can mean the difference between careful decisionmaking today and regret in the future.” Though the article is nearly a decade old, all of the books Fitzwilson reviews are still available on Amazon.

New graduate students should review the resources the AHA has courtesy of the Committee for Graduate students. Specifically, students should check out the “Graduate School from Start to Finish” web page. Here the AHA has posted a long walkthrough of the application process and articles (from Perspectives on History and elsewhere) on researching, applying for funding, teaching, getting published, studying for comps, networking, and getting started on the dissertation. Readers will also find the AHA’s reports on the status of the masters degree from this page. I quite recommend this article on coursework (PDF) from the Committee for Graduate Students for those starting this fall.

Graduate students may also want to read the long-time favorite from the AHA, Melanie S. Gustafson’s Becoming a Historian: A Survival Manual . This popular guide “provides the necessary practical information about the profession, revealing some of the ‘unwritten’ rules and containing invaluable advice on the specifics of graduate school, the job search, and various professional dilemmas.”

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  1. Michael P. Procter, Sr.

    I have to agree with you Larry. Incidentally, I would like to see the entire report you reference (without paying for it, of course!).

    I’m working on a graduate degree in American History, but it’s more of a hobby now and as preparation for an adjunct position when I retire. Though I have always had a fondness for the study of history, I got an MBA first so that I could actually earn a living.

    I will say that I believe there will be a higher demand for history teachers at the high school level in the near future. I don’t have any hard data to support that assertion – it’s more of a feeling based upon what some teachers I know have told me. So maybe these new PhDs can teach high school for a while? I had an excellent teacher my senior year of high school who had a PhD. He is one of the reasons why I gained a love for history in the first place.

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