Keep it real: The book that put me on pause about going to grad school

Book: Getting What You Came For: The Smart Student’s Guide to Earning a Master’s or PhD [Revised Edition] by: Robert L Peters, PhD. Published 1997. I noted the year the book was published because some of the information may be slightly outdated, such as applications to grad school costing $25 (LOL), but the value of the information remains the same.


(NOTE: This post is NOT sponsored)

One day, during the latter half of my sophomore year in undergrad, I was browsing in the university bookstore for no reason at all and came across this book. (Insert picture) I just started thinking about going for a PhD. It was during the latter half of my sophomore year. I knew nothing really about the process so for $16, this 400-page book was priceless.

From the blurb: Getting What You Came For has all the advice a student will need not only to survive but to thrive in graduate school, including instruction on applying to school and for financial aid; how to excel on qualifying exams; how to manage academic politics – including hostile professors; and how to write and defend a top-notch thesis. Most important, it shows you how to land a job when you graduate.

The book introduced me to the concepts and acronyms of academia that I had no previous knowledge of, like “ABD”. ABD = All But Dissertation. It indicates that you’ve satisfied all requirements needed to get the PhD EXCEPT the completion and defense of your dissertation project. If you ever hear someone say they’ve been ABD forever and a day, buy them a drink, I can guarantee they need it.

I also learned about the scarier facts of the process, like time to completion. There’s a nifty (but potentially outdated) chart on median time to PhD completion after receiving a BA broken down by discipline. In the same chapter, Peters states that half of PhD students drop out from their programs (again, the numbers might be different now). I was scared, but I was glad I knew what I was getting into, and the fear was exhilarating.

A Few Chapter titles:

Chapter 2: What is Graduate School like?

Chapter 4: Should You Work First?

Chapter 8: Improving Your Credentials for Admission

Chapter 13: Playing Politics: Building a Reputation

Chapter 21: Dealing with Stress and Depression

Appendix A: Buying Your Computer and Software


Best Advice from the book:

  • “Because your doctoral adviser will have such a tremendous influence on whether you get your degree and a good job, you should identify and contact potential advisers before you apply to graduate school, and then weigh the presence of a good adviser heavily with the other selection criteria (page 28)


  • You need your adviser behind you 100 percent if you want to be sure that your full committee will approve your thesis. You need him or her to prod tardy committee members into action, mediate disputes, and make sure that everyone treats you fairly. If your chairperson is unwilling to play a strong role, you are likely to have problems (page 162)


  • Avoid writing like an academic, especially in the critical first draft. This will be hard to do, because you will have read so many turgid, poorly written papers in your field. And in many ways, it is easier to write boldly, using jargon and stilted language, than to write clearly in simple English, partly because to write clearly you have to truly understand what you say. Nonetheless, if you can learn to write simply, it will be easier to see where you have redundancies, where your ideas contradict each other, or where you just plain don’t make sense (page 209)


I will also say that there is a cringe-worthy section in the back of the book where he attempts to advise women and minorities in their pursuits of graduate degrees. While, he does reflect the real considerations of some departments, and the archaic views of academia, they are ultimately problematic. For example, he almost advises against a woman going into Women’s Studies for fear of perception and limiting options. But for the umpteenth time, this book’s first edition was published in the early 90s.

But what I can tell you is that I reread this book at least 5 times. Thinking about re-reading it now…


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