These quotes are some of the responses made on the Survey of Doctoral Education and Career Preparation.  The quotes are sorted by discipline.  You can see the response from other disciplines.  These quotes supplement an article of advice for selecting a doctoral program.  Students responded to the question:  "Knowing everything that you know now, what advice would you give others entering or in the early years of graduate school? "

The quotes are sorted into six categories.  Generally, there are a half dozen comments per category, the alternating colors are different student's comments.  These categories were applied by us, as we read through the thousands of comments.  They are the most common categories of advice pertaining to the selection of a doctoral program.  The frequency with which various kinds of advice emerged varies by discipline.  You can see the relative distribution here.

Art History


Know yourself and know what doctoral study entails

25.2% of the art history students surveyed offered advice about this topic.


It is a long, discouraging but sometimes rewarding path with no guaranteed job prospects at the end of it.  Consider it carefully.


Before committing to a field of study, make sure it is the right field; by pursuing "career" test; extra-curricular courses at a local university; even working a year or two in corporate America.  What this does is give you time to make sure you have chosen a field that suits you well -- so that once you are in it, focus and sacrifice, discipline come very easily.  The more you know about yourself (your interests, aptitude and capabilities), the better your studies and work with your advisor will go; and the better you will be able to withstand the negative psychological effects the Ph.D. process can have (i.e., stress, anxiety, doubt).  The process is as much a psychological process as an academic one.


Be prepared.  When people tell you itís a big jump from undergrad to grad, believe them.  Make sure you are willing to make the sacrifices and put in the time.  Be sure you like the department, and not just the prestige of the university.  Interact as much as possible with other students--the communal misery makes it easier to bear.


Know yourself.  Be able to work independently and sometimes in isolation.  Be clear about funding and prepared to take up slack. 


Think carefully about the reasons why he or she wants to enter the field.  One needs to have a better reason than not wanting to enter the real world because it is a costly and time-consuming venture.  Along these lines, I would suggest working in the field either in an internship or paid work to see the good, the bad and the ugly of a field before investing the time and money.

Graduate school can be wearing on one's ego, which has both good and bad effects.  You may not always be treated with the respect that you think you deserve by faculty.  The hard work and long hours are not always appreciated.   


Think long and hard about 1) what you want out of your degree, and the program, 2) how you will be spending your work days, with whom, under what conditions, etc. 3) how long the degree takes, and why people choose to speed up or slow down, 4) life-style sacrifices must be considered, which takes me back to point 1).


Evaluate their motivational levels.  I have found graduate school to be a very solitary experience regarding large research projects.  It is definitely not for somebody who has a hard time motivating themselves or who requires praise and appreciation.  The new student should also realize that there is not a lot of sustenance.  By this I mean that there are very few rewards for the hard work.  Graduate students definitely do not earn a lot of money and rarely receive encouragement.


Unless you are very dedicated to the field and can think of nothing else you would like to do, don't go to graduate school in the humanities.   It is a long road with little to encourage you and you can get frustrated and disillusioned  during the process.  Of course, good things come from it, but there are other ways to learn the analytical, research and writing skills that this degree teaches. 

There seems to be a disconnect between the process of getting the degree and getting a job afterward.  It takes on a life of its climbing Mt. Everest or running a marathon.


Investigate the program thoroughly

18.5% of the art history students surveyed offered advice about this topic.


Very carefully examine the program you are considering entering.  Talk to students in the program, meet faculty, examine faculties, etc.

Be sure that you will be entering a community of scholars -- with plenty of other student and faculty contacts -- so that you can still make it work if it doesn't work out with your advisor or if he/she leaves. 

A good working relationship with an advisor is key -- research well the person with whom you want to work. 

Don't go to a program where students compete with each other for funding on a year-to-year basis.

Expectations are very arbitrary.  You must interview past students of your program/advisor before getting into a program.  You should also get a clear idea of what preliminary exams entail. 

In my field financial aid is very scarce.  My departmentís statements about this were very misleading.  This has caused a major problem during my program.  I may not finish my dissertation, even though my research is virtually complete, because I have to work a full time job to contribute my share of support for my family.

Learn who will advise you before entering the program.  In my discipline, art history, only one person will specialize in the student's field of interest, and that person will be the advisor.


Understand the job market

16.3% of the art history students surveyed offered advice about this topic.


Think twice about the decision and be aware 1) of the abysmal job situation in certain disciplines and 2) of the realities of an academic life, e.g., low pay for long hours., egocentric colleagues, and struggles for tenure.


If they plan to enter the humanities, I would advise them not to go for a doctorate unless they are accepted by a prestigious program--one of the top in their chosen field.  Otherwise, they will finish their education severely in debt and underemployed.  Do not believe anyone who tells you that the job market will improve in five years.  It won't.


All art history graduate students planning to work in academia or the museum field: be mindful of the job market before taking on student loans.  The market is at the point of negative return.  In all sectors of the art world beginning pay for those with a MA or Ph.D. will not be adequate to make payments on a loan in excess of $20,000.  With this in mind, I would suggest that prospective grad students apply for appropriate assistantships and scholarships and also work while enrolled.  I would also stress the importance of internships.


Find out more about current and departed graduate students--those who finished and those who did not. 

Find out what careers are available other than teaching--and if they are supported and encouraged.


Realize how lousy the job market is, and only go to one of the top programs if possible. 

Prepare for several career options. 

Get as much experience as possible.


Understand and get funding

40.0% of the art history students surveyed offered advice about this topic.


Investigate the funding situation: what is the limit (number of semesters) that you can be eligible for funding?  Is there funding available to carry you through crucial years, i.e. start of program through first couple of semesters as a dissertator?  Is the possible funding offered by the university lessened by tuition costs?  In other words, would you still have to take out loans in order to pay your rent?

Consider exactly what career options are available when you finish the Ph.D. -- is the job market/potential salary poor?  Will your investment pay off?


Check to see if the department you are entering provides regular funding.  If not, select another school or program.   


Be prepared to go into debt!  Funding in our area is limited, and assistantships do not pay nearly as much as they do in other fields--so look for some outside income.


Make sure that you are clear on funding support--get everything in writing; watch out for hidden clauses that force you to teach--or, worse, that will not allow you to teach when youíre ready to do so.

Make a calendar projecting your course of study over several years; investigate outside funding opportunities early; try to do work outside academia but which relates to your professional interests during the summers (i.e., museum or industry internships); move as quickly as you can through the program.


Select your advisor carefully

24.4% of the art history students surveyed offered advice about this topic.


Have as much contact with your future advisor as possible.  Talk to his/her current students.  Ask them how easy he/she is to get along with.  Is he/she fair?  Supportive?  Keep in mind that your rapport with your advisor will be as important a factor in your academic career as your course of study/ research interests.


Select a person with whom you want to work and be sure that person has time for you, interest in your ideas and respect for you.  Also be sure that person is in a position of power -- a full professor -- who can argue on your behalf for positions within the department and carries weight as a fellowship referee. 

Be good to yourself and understand that some academics have fragile egos that may cause them to be a bit more brutal with students than they ought to be. 


I don't think I understood just how much depends upon a successful matching of student with advisor.  I strongly advise students applying to grad schools (and making decisions about where to go) to absolutely familiarize themselves with the work of the various potential advisors, and then, if possible, to meet these people before a final decision.

Go to a university which absolutely wants you and work with an advisor who is devoted to you, your work, and your career.  Do not attend a program unless you have an advisor or another faculty member who will support you in faculty meetings and post-grad career.


Meet with your potential advisor before you commit to a program.  Pick an advisor who is a senior or up-and-coming scholar, a big name in the field who has connections and high expectations. 

Visit the campus you will attend and talk to students.


Choose your advisor carefully.  Consider personality as well as area of specialization.  Talk to senior grad students to assess an advisor's past performance.


Take time off between undergraduate and PhD studies

14.1% of the art history students surveyed offered advice about this topic.


Take some time off before going to school, and to work in an area related to their studies.  That way they would be much more sure of what they want to do once they get into grad school and go through the program with a clear sense of direction.

I took time off before returning to school, so that I was more motivated to obtain my Ph.D.  While this is not an option for everyone, it certainly helped me.


Quotes from  other disciplines.   | Article of advice for selecting a doctoral program | Distribution of quotes in all fields. | Survey of Doctoral Education and Career Preparation.