Four General Tips

Deciding what to use

When picking through the library, or the local B&N Clearance table,
keep these points in mind for finding the gold among the pyrite.

1. Who is giving the advice?

2. Is the focus on process?

3. Can you stay awake when you read it?

4. Don’t dismiss self-help books

1. Who is giving the advice?

When you choose a book about how to write, or how to prosper in
academia, it helps to begin by asking “Who is the author?”

All other things being equal, the book will be most
helpful if written by someone in your field, or a related field.
Optimal advice to science doctoral students or faculty varies considerably
from optimal advice for those in the humanities. Many authors of
these manuals purport to reach a general audience, but their advice
is more specialized than they imagine.

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2. Is the focus
on process?

My personal bias is a strong preference for books that focus on
process, and the psychological aspects of pursuing doctoral studies,
as opposed to books that focus on research methodology or the conventions
of dissertation formats.

Most faculty I work with have a good idea of what they must produce
to get tenure. Most students I work with know the form and content
requirements of dissertations in their particular department. However,
faculty have great difficulty finding mentors who can clue them
into the political nuances of the tenure quest. Graduate students
are rarely taught how to negotiate the social, cultural and developmental
paths of the particular doctoral program.

Books that give tips and examples of how to handle the personal
and interpersonal demands of academia can be quite useful.

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3. Can you stay awake
when you read it?

Some authors have such a pedantic, scholarly voice that I find
them unreadable. My penchant is for writers who can shift to a
more conversational tone in their writing, and I give brownie points
galore to authors who can introduce humor into their musings.

As an academic, you already have to read oodles of dry, scholarly,
jargon-filled, challenging, and incomprehensible material. Give
yourself a break .

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4. Don’t dismiss
self-help books

Just because a book is for a general audience, doesn’t mean that
it is worthless for those readers, like you, who are graced with
superior intelligence and exacting critical standards. There is
a good reason why some self-help books are popular bestsellers.
They are helpful.

In the reference lists provided, I list many popular self-help
books, and books about how to write by novelists. These sources
often provide a motivational boost, some good ideas, and an easy
read. The behavioral shifts that you make after reading these books
may be short-lived – but positive changes are still positive changes,
however fleeting.

(By the way, if you like self-help books then you’ll probably
love coaching.)

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