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.



Know yourself and know what doctoral study entails

13.8% of the math students surveyed offered advice about this topic.

Be prepared.  When people tell you it's 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.


Find out if this is what you really want to do; if you're unsure, at least don't forget to continue to explore other directions, which is not encouraged behavior for grad students.  Talk with someone who has the job you want, and be open about what you imagine their job to be like, and see if they agree/disagree with you about that.  Keep in mind that the main reward for an academic job is that you are able to do research.  If you don't love this research, will you love the job?


Really seriously think about continuing your study.  How much do you like your field, and enjoy your work, what are you interested in.  What would be worst possibility when you enter the graduate school?  If you are uncertain about what you want to do, and in particular, if you've just graduated from the college, it would be good to take a job or travel and think about that.  Being in school for a long time without break might not be such a good idea.


Be sure you really love the subject, because otherwise you should probably not be in grad school.  Remember that it's never too late to change your mind about what to do with your life!


Investigate the program thoroughly

14.5% of the math students surveyed offered advice about this topic.


Carefully look into the university and the program; compare different ones. Select a university where:

·       Grad students are friendly and seem to collaborate.

·       Faculty are friendly and are available for you to ask questions.

·       The guidelines are clearly defined.

Try not to select an advisor based on reputation alone.  Make sure you can work with them.

Choose an area of study that is flexible and will give you a diverse range of options in the future.


Try to make frequent contact with senior graduate students. 

Familiarize yourself with the variety of research topics available in your department. 

And most importantly, choose your advisor carefully!


Ask a lot of questions before you commit to a program.  Know how much teaching you will be expected to do and how thick the red tape is.  For example, in my program, if you want money in the summer, you teach.  But in order to teach, you must be registered for 5 hours of coursework.  Find out how many years you will be taking coursework before you even start work on your dissertation.


Understand the job market

8.3% of the math students surveyed offered advice about this topic.


If you don't want to be a professor, then your training in grad school is at cross purposes to your goals.  You've come this far, so you clearly enjoy classes and your field to a pretty large extent.  However, it's worth your while to think about where you want to be, what you want to do.  It is possible to finish the degree because you're excited about the research only to end up in a job you may only find tolerable.    


Explore alternate careers for people with a Ph.D. in your field.  Take some courses outside of your department to develop those skills.


 would advise incoming graduate student to select an area of study very carefully and to be aware of the career opportunities (or lack of them) at the end of their degree.


Understand and get funding

6.9% of the math students surveyed offered advice about this topic.


Make sure that you can live on the financial support package that you're offered. 


Consider other funding opportunities; a teaching assistantship is a lot of work.  There exist other options that give more time for your own research and that can possibly better prepare you for future work.


Be prepared to earn little money as a TA or  RA for an uncertain future.


Select your advisor carefully

21.4% of the math students surveyed offered advice about this topic.


Get an advisor first (regardless of “policy”).  Go to a school that has the advisor you want, nothing else really matters.


It is more important to select an advisor whose personality will work well with yours at research than to select one whose research you're interested in.


Find out which field you would like to do research in and then find a good thesis advisor by asking other students or other faculty (maybe outside of the desired field) who really has the student's best interest at heart.


If you are Black, make sure you choose an advisor that can see your intelligence.


Have mentors who do not serve as research advisors.


The single most important factor in a successful graduate career is a productive relationship with ones advisor.  This should be achieved by finding out about professor’s research interests before entering graduate school, and during the first two years the student should interview with multiple faculty members to get an idea of options.


The most famous and established faculty member is not necessarily the best advisor.  Talking to other students is crucial.


Take time off between undergraduate and PhD studies

4.8% of the math students surveyed offered advice about this topic.


Take time off away from academics before beginning grad school.  Explore other career options; don't let the grad education system channel you into the expected.


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.