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This Category:   PostgraduateForum.com > PhD Advice / Support


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What would you do with an extra year before grad school?


User: OatmealDurkheim - 12 August 2017 12:11

I plan to enter graduate school (MA+PhD) in September 2018, which means I have something of a ‘gap year’ ahead of me. I want to use this unstructured time, this opportunity to develop and prepare on my own terms, the best way I can.

If you were in my position, how would you spend these spare 12 months before grad school officially begins? How would you prepare for what’s ahead, what would you focus on?

It goes without saying that I have already given these questions a lot of careful consideration, but I’m very curious to learn how others would approach this topic; especially, current PhD candidates, postdocs, and lecturers/professors. Knowing what you now know, if you could go back, how would you spend a spare year like that?

Some background:
- My field is social/cultural anthropology.
- My ultimate goal (grad school and beyond) is to prepare a CV and a research portfolio, which will aid me in launching an academic career in Europe.
- I have a BA in anthropology and an unrelated MA,
- I currently freelance (unrelated field); I have plenty of spare time, and can arrange my schedule in whatever way I see fit.
- I live in a mid-size European city (not a capital); can’t move anywhere this year, but can likely do some limited traveling.
- There’s a small anthropology department here, but I’m not affiliated with it, and never was. My degree is from the US.
- I can speak the local language fairly well.
- The grad school (next year) will be in a different county, and learning the new language will be one of my objectives this year. The language of instruction will be English, however.

Note: Not sure if I made this clear, but I’m not looking for answers such as “travel for fun,” or “get a new hobby.” All of these are fine, but I want to use these 12 months to prepare for the demands of grad school and the grueling academic job hunt ahead.

User: pm133 - 12 August 2017 13:13

Quote From OatmealDurkheim:
I plan to enter graduate school (MA+PhD) in September 2018, which means I have something of a ‘gap year’ ahead of me. I want to use this unstructured time, this opportunity to develop and prepare on my own terms, the best way I can.

If you were in my position, how would you spend these spare 12 months before grad school officially begins? How would you prepare for what’s ahead, what would you focus on?

It goes without saying that I have already given these questions a lot of careful consideration, but I’m very curious to learn how others would approach this topic; especially, current PhD candidates, postdocs, and lecturers/professors. Knowing what you now know, if you could go back, how would you spend a spare year like that?

Some background:
- My field is social/cultural anthropology.
- My ultimate goal (grad school and beyond) is to prepare a CV and a research portfolio, which will aid me in launching an academic career in Europe.
- I have a BA in anthropology and an unrelated MA,
- I currently freelance (unrelated field); I have plenty of spare time, and can arrange my schedule in whatever way I see fit.
- I live in a mid-size European city (not a capital); can’t move anywhere this year, but can likely do some limited traveling.
- There’s a small anthropology department here, but I’m not affiliated with it, and never was. My degree is from the US.
- I can speak the local language fairly well.
- The grad school (next year) will be in a different county, and learning the new language will be one of my objectives this year. The language of instruction will be English, however.

Note: Not sure if I made this clear, but I’m not looking for answers such as “travel for fun,” or “get a new hobby.” All of these are fine, but I want to use these 12 months to prepare for the demands of grad school and the grueling academic job hunt ahead.

If you absolutely want an academic career I would spend time finding out about funding routes, the applications processes for fellowships etc and building a database of who is important in your field. I would do literature reviews on your area of interest and request to go on any appropriate training courses or conferences. Start getting your literature database in order - how are you going to record what you have read, takes notes etc in a searchable format for easy reach later in the PhD? I would use the space and time to devise my own research questions and projects to solve. Start reading books as well. Your research should essentially start today. No need to wait for the funding to kick in. I would even be tempted to ask to start today and maybe work a few days a week etc. Pretty sure that space-permitting you would be allowed to get going. Why waste a year?

User: OatmealDurkheim - 12 August 2017 15:49

Quote From pm133:
Your research should essentially start today. No need to wait for the funding to kick in. I would even be tempted to ask to start today and maybe work a few days a week etc. Pretty sure that space-permitting you would be allowed to get going. Why waste a year?

Great suggestions, thanks! I'm not sure I got that last part, tho. Given that I didn't get into a graduate program yet (MA-then-PhD) and I'm not currently located in the target city/country, how could I get started in any semi-official capacity? I was mostly just thinking to work independently, maybe reach out to a few potential advisors for feedback (but that's it).

User: newlease36 - 12 August 2017 21:20

I'm not in your field, so it 's hard to say. there are skills specific to each field, some you can brush up on at home ( ie stats or qualitative methodologies), some you need a lab and /or supervisor... so for that reason its hard to say exactly what you should be doing.

developing writing skills and improving your writing style are germane to everyone writing a thesis. writing regularly and reading other good writers are the best ways of improving in this area. As others have said, read some foundational literature and be very familiar with your area, theories and methodologies.

I would definitely do above, but i would if I were in your position.I would go travelling somewhere nice and relaxing for at least 2 months before you start. I know you said you didn't want to hear this. but as someone in their final year, I can't tell you how tired I feel at times, and how completely sick of my field and area I feel at times.

Start refreshed... 4/5 years is a long stretch and it will can be hard to maintain enthusiasm at times.

Another thing , if you have the means, would be be save some money, as funding is only barely enough, you will appreciate being able to treat your self to nice weekend away or a facial or whatever. I know it would probably be hard to take to take 2 months off and also save, but if you could, that's what I would do. maybe go stay with friends and family and do it cheaply or something.

I think a year is enough time to do all of the above.

Another thing I would do, if I could back in time, is simple things ... like having a good sleep routine and good exercise routine established..... little things like sleep/ being used to being in a routine/ not being too broke/ having a writing routine/ having exercise routine......these little things make doing a PhD so much easier or harder

User: helebon - 12 August 2017 22:09

Brush up on statistics, research methods, pubic speaking skills, get some volundary work experience in the field you are interested in, even a few hours a month. Do some relevant free MOOC course's.

User: pm133 - 14 August 2017 12:10

Quote From OatmealDurkheim:
Quote From pm133:
Your research should essentially start today. No need to wait for the funding to kick in. I would even be tempted to ask to start today and maybe work a few days a week etc. Pretty sure that space-permitting you would be allowed to get going. Why waste a year?

Great suggestions, thanks! I'm not sure I got that last part, tho. Given that I didn't get into a graduate program yet (MA-then-PhD) and I'm not currently located in the target city/country, how could I get started in any semi-official capacity? I was mostly just thinking to work independently, maybe reach out to a few potential advisors for feedback (but that's it).

Ah OK, in that case ignore my last point until you find yourself on a program. At that point you can fly with the final suggestion if it sounds like something that will work out for you. I think the rest of the suggestions might be helpful though - it's certainly what I would do.

User: Tudor_Queen - 14 August 2017 17:39

I would apply for funding (or a program or whatever it is called in your neck of the woods), and then once secured I would chill. I think that would be the more productive thing you could do - as it would be great preparation for the grueling 3 years ahead.

User: Pjlu - 14 August 2017 23:14

I'd work and save money, read widely in my field (as once on the PhD your reading becomes highly selective and for some time it narrows to fit your specific topic), and enjoy weekends or down time while you can. Not that you can't enjoy some time away from your thesis when in the thick of it-you can-but it is always present in your mind once you've started.

Some terrific ideas from other posters on this thread as well, best wishes.




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