Graduate Study in the USA

Surviving and Succeeding

by Christopher McMaster (Volume editor) Caterina Murphy (Volume editor)
©2016 Textbook XVI, 212 Pages


The premise of this book is simple: if the chapter writers could go back in time and talk with themselves when they began their studies, what advice would they give? Isn’t hindsight a bonus? Each chapter offers this hindsight. The chapters are not personal stories, but useful lessons learned through experience. These lessons are offered to aspiring and current graduate students to help their studies be successful. Chapters contain contributions from a range of academics and academic-practitioners, from those getting established in their careers to those that are more novice and emergent. Contributors include scholars from many universities throughout the United States, and they cover essential aspects of graduate study, such as writing and publishing, relationships with supervisors, utilizing rejection and critique, and becoming a researcher. Contributors write of studying for higher degrees and coping with family, illness, disability, and distance. Culture is bridged between Hispanic scholars and their colleagues in mainstream academia, and international students offer advice to those wanting to study at an American university. This book provides indispensable advice that every graduate student can utilize and follows on from the initial, successful publication of Postgraduate Study in Aotearoa New Zealand: Surviving and Succeeding (2014). The US edition is part of an international ‘survive and succeed’ series also being produced in Australia, the UK, and South Africa.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Foreword: Surviving the Rat Race and Becoming Citizen Professionals
  • Preface and Acknowledgments
  • Part One: Basic Mechanics of Graduate Study
  • Chapter One: Making the Most of the Conference Experience
  • Chapter Two: Give Yourself a Chance: Apply for a Scholarship
  • Chapter Three: Strength in Numbers: Starting and Managing a Dissertation Support Group
  • Chapter Four: How to Turn a Good Relationship with Your Supervisor into a Great One
  • Part Two: The Flourishing Academic
  • Chapter Five: Scholarly Publication: A Multilingual Perspective
  • Chapter Six: Utopian Alienation: Becoming an Academic Writer in the USA
  • Chapter Seven: Thinking Bigger: Editing a Book 101
  • Chapter Eight: Paying It Forward: Engaging the Next Generation of Professional Students
  • Part Three: Understanding and Navigating Difference
  • Chapter Nine: We’re Not in the Barrio Anymore: Negotiating Chicana/o Guilt in the Ivory Tower
  • Chapter Ten: Navigating Academia’s Invisible Margins: Different (dis)Abilities in Graduate Studies
  • Chapter Eleven: A Working-Class Chicana Navigating a PhD Program While Feeling Like an Impostor
  • Chapter Twelve: Dis / Advantage: Finding the Middle Between High-Achieving and Hell
  • Chapter Thirteen: Navigating Traditional Graduate Programs as a Non-Traditional Student
  • Part Four: Maintaining Wellness: Looking After You
  • Chapter Fourteen: The Student’s Practical Guide to Not Losing Your Soul
  • Chapter Fifteen: Hooker Boots and Edgar Allan Poe: Finding Inspiration in Grad School
  • Chapter Sixteen: Seeing the Stars
  • Chapter Seventeen: You Can Actually Enjoy Your Life While in Graduate School. How? Don’t Procrastinate
  • Part Five: Studying Overseas: Student Perspectives
  • Chapter Eighteen: 17 Hours Behind: Studying at a Distance
  • Chapter Nineteen: Navigating Academic Culture Shock: Advice for International Students
  • Chapter Twenty: Southern Exposure: Learning Through Experiences Overseas
  • Contributors


As the subtitle (Surviving and Succeeding) suggests, Graduate Study in the USA is a survival kit for troubled times.

The collection could hardly come at a better time. Against a backdrop of mounting college debt and uncertain job prospects for many college graduates, a chorus of observers has described what Lindsey Cook (2014) in US News & World Report called the “frenzy” associated with college. “It’s not a pretty picture in the ecology overall” said Mitchell Stevens (Cook, 2014), who recently published Creating a Class: College Admissions and the Education of Elites.

It’s a hyper competitiveness for a small number of schools and a mal-distribution of seats in the more open access. There are 5,000 colleges and universities in the United States; there are plenty of seats in the system overall. There are just a limited number of seats at the top. (Cook, 2014)

Such pressures lead to growing anxiety and depression. According to UCLA’s American Freshman Survey, which surveys more than 150,000 first-year freshmen each year, students’ emotional health dropped to an all-time low in 2014 (Bidwell, 2015). Graduate students also show the strains of today’s hypercompetitive achievement culture. Writing in Science, Carrie Arnold (2014) analyzed recent studies and found that almost 60% of grad students reported feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, hopeless, sad, or depressed nearly all the time. One in 10 said they had thought about suicide in the past year. Tammy Wyatt and Sara Oswalt analyzed ← ix | x →responses from graduate students surveyed by the American College Health Association and found that 78.5% said they felt overwhelmed in the past year and 54.5% said they had felt stress ranging from “more than average” to “tremendous” (Arnold, 2014).

Individual stories convey the subtle pressures in graduate education to conform and compete. Jamie Haft (2015), writing in Democracy’s Education, a collection of strategies and stories to revitalize the public purposes of higher education, quoted one fellow student in the Tisch School of Arts at New York University who told her, “I put this pressure on myself when I’m at school to reject my community and home.” Another said, “Everyone thinks identity is an individual thing, and if you’re not blazing your own path, tearing down traditions and creating something new, then it’s not worthwhile” (p. 143). In a similar vein, Cecilia Orphan (2015), a graduate student in education at the University of Pennsylvania, reported from conversations with her colleagues in grad school across the country that “doctoral students feel that they must adjust or sacrifice their own interests and goals (often the very interests and questions that led them to graduate school) to fit the expectations and interests of their advisors” (p. 149).

Graduate Study in the USA, full of tips and tools drawn from real-world graduate student experiences and expressed in many voices, addresses these pressures, tensions, and stresses. A sample of the titles suggests the range: “Making the Most of the Conference Experience,” “How to Turn a Good Relationship with Your Supervisor into a Great One,” “We’re Not in the Barrio Anymore: Negotiating Chicana/o Guilt in the Ivory Tower,” “Navigating Academia’s Invisible Margins: Different (dis)Abilities in Graduate Studies,” and “Navigating Academic Culture Shock: Advice for International Students” as some examples.

The book is, also, not simply about survival.

In the practices taught by community organizing, a foundational concept is the need to hold in balance “the world as it is” and “the world as it should be,” the world as one would like it to be. The world as it is begins with a realistic assessment of different interests, viewpoints, norms, values, and power relationships. Those interested in making change often live in the world as it “should be,” as they want it to be. Yet without realism, effective action to make change is very unlikely. This can be called “citizen politics,” beyond the politics of ideology owned by detached politicians. Citizen politics is owned by citizens who develop practical skills of working on problems in their everyday lives and environments and who develop in the process the capacity to make larger changes.

A great strength of Graduate Study in the USA is the real-world, practical, clear-eyed quality of virtually all the chapters. The contributors don’t whine, moan, or complain. With vivid stories and clear expository writing they advance ideas and strategies for what has worked for them and what they believe might work for others.

← x | xi →The aim is not simply survival but also success and well-being, the theme of Part 4 (“Maintaining Wellness: Looking After You”). Nicholas Werse and B. J. Parker’s chapter is titled, “The Student’s Practical Guide to Not Losing Your Soul.” Tabatha Hoffmeyer writes about “Finding Inspiration in Grad School.” Rebecca Zimmer’s chapter is “Seeing the Stars.”

In Part 2, “The Flourishing Academic,” Christopher McMaster, one of the editors, talks about the wise advice he once received from a younger colleague to “think bigger.” This book is one result of doing exactly that.

This is not simply a book about accepting the world as it is. Both the survival strategies and the hopes for flourishing challenge the individualist bent of today’s high-stakes graduate education with more community-oriented values and cooperative practices. Debra Trusty’s chapter calls for a move beyond the go-it-alone tendency of graduate norms. She gives a step-by-step blueprint for “Starting and Managing a Dissertation Support Group.” Raisa Alvarado Uchima and Jaime Guzmán stress the importance of maintaining contact with home cultural communities. Danielle Shepherd argues for “Engaging the Next Generation of Professional Students.” And the whole collection in its design and authorship disrupts singular notions of “who” graduate students are supposed to be, or “how” they are supposed to know and act.

Overall these students point beyond what Parker Palmer (1993) called the “objectivist” approach to knowledge, which separates the knower from the object to be known. This separation, wrote Palmer,

holds us at arm’s length as detached analysts, commentators, evaluators of each other and the world. Like theater-goers, we are free to watch, applaud, hiss and boo, but we do not understand ourselves as an integral part of the action. (p. 23)

As Palmer (1993) has discovered and communicated through decades of work in higher education, objectivist separation, another name for a culture of detachment, works enormous anguish for many scholars.

I saw this firsthand in 1997 when the Kellogg Foundation asked the Center for Democracy and Citizenship (which I had initiated at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs a decade before), to assess whether the public service mission of the university could be revived. We knew from Cornell professor Scott Peters’s research that the university had once had a rich history of reciprocal involvement, public work with the state through faculty and student research and engagement as part of its “land grant mission.”

When chair of the Political Science Department Edwin Fogelman and I interviewed dozens of senior faculty, many at the UMN for decades, we heard again and again how much such connectedness had weakened. We often heard, as well, feelings of anguish about the process voiced by faculty who had never communicated their views to other colleagues. Studies such as American Academic Culture in ← xi | xii →Transformation, edited by Thomas Bender and Karl Schorske (1998), help explain some of what’s been going on. Bender and Schorske showed how academic incentive structures weaken the “compact” between higher education and society.1

Changing ideas of research, especially in the sciences, have also had an impact, feeding into what can be called a technocratic paradigm of one-way dispensing of knowledge by outside experts. Scientists—and, more broadly, scientifically trained disciplinary professionals of all kinds—have come to view civic life and other citizens from the outside. “The scientists who powerfully shaped the national discourse on science in the middle years of the twentieth century drew a sharp line between science and society,” wrote Harvard historian Andrew Jewett (2011) in his recent study, Science, Democracy, and the American University. “They portrayed science as utterly deaf to human concerns.” Jewett argued that this view reversed a once robust movement of “scientific democrats” who saw science not as “value free” but rather as practices and values such as cooperative inquiry and testing of ideas in real life, which all citizens of a democratic society needed to learn (p. 310).

The prevailing culture of detachment results in the individualist, hypercompetitive, meritocratic values that create stress among bright and talented graduate students. It has to change for the sake of students, higher education, and the society. Moreover, there is strong evidence that graduate students and young faculty want the culture of detachment to change. As Timothy Eatman (2015) has found in a study of more than 500 young faculty and graduate students, for young scholars “the arc of academic career bends toward publicly engaged scholarship.” In his essay in the Democracy’s Education collection, Eatman quoted a collective letter to the editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education, responding to “Syracuse’s Slide,” a front-page Chronicle article that noted a drop in US News & World Report rankings. The article had voiced the views of a small group of disgruntled faculty that Syracuse University was becoming too committed to community engagement and inclusive admission. Nancy Cantor, the chancellor, sought to revitalize the “democracy’s college” tradition of public universities, land grant colleges, HBCUs and City College of New York. City College, which admitted all high school students in New York desiring to attend and gave a free education, was dedicated to a concept of cooperative excellence—that a mix of students and faculty from diverse backgrounds, interacting in a highly stimulating environment of high public expectation and purpose, could achieve greatness that a focus on winnowing out the individual stars could never achieve. The students’ letter, in the vein of this democracy tradition, read

We write to share our stories of engaged research, teaching, learning, and civic life as citizens of Syracuse, N.Y., and students of the university. Far from experiencing or perceiving a decrease in the rigor of our educational experience, we acknowledge what a privilege ← xii | xiii →it is to grow in our disciplines through sharing and co-creating knowledge with diverse and valuable communities… [we want] to speak back and express our belief that engaged scholarship powerfully adds to our academic experience, combats the out-of-date “Ivory Tower” metaphor, and rigorously contributes to our academic community. (Eatman, 2015, pp. 132–133)

This letter summarizes the widespread sentiments of a fledgling movement of graduate students and others in higher education who aspire to be “citizen professionals,” contributing to the democratic purposes of higher education. Citizen professionals and citizen scholars, far more than narrow disciplinary experts in conversation only with others in their disciplines, are professionals who see themselves as “part of” the life of communities and society, not “instructors of” or even “partners with.”


XVI, 212
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (March)
writing publishing University studies illness family Graduate studies
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. XVI, 212 pp.

Biographical notes

Christopher McMaster (Volume editor) Caterina Murphy (Volume editor)

Christopher McMaster (PhD, University of Canterbury) has taught for over 15 years as a regular and special educator in the United Kingdom, United States, Nicaragua, and New Zealand. He is currently Assistant Professor of Education at Augsburg College, Minneapolis. He co-edited and contributed to Postgraduate Study in Aotearoa New Zealand: Surviving and Succeeding (2014) and is currently lead editor for the Survive and Succeed series in the UK, US, Australia, and South Africa. He has recently published his first solo authored book through Peter Lang, Educating All: Developing Inclusive School Cultures From Within (2015). Caterina Murphy (PhD, Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi) is an experienced book developer, presenter, and academic writer and has partnered with Chris McMaster across the global Surviving and Succeeding series. She has worked in the education sector for 29 years, and held senior roles in tertiary education since 1999. Her professional and research interests include early years education, teaching practice, mentoring, qualitative research, gifted education, anthropology, and oral history methodology. She actively mentors adolescents, undergraduates, and postgraduates in Aotearoa New Zealand and freelances her academic leadership services through AcademicExpressNZ.


Title: Graduate Study in the USA
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
book preview page numper 36
book preview page numper 37
book preview page numper 38
book preview page numper 39
book preview page numper 40
214 pages