Friday, May 26, 2006

The Graduate Student and The Endnote

Sometimes students ask me what graduate school is like, or -- and I consider
this the more interesting question -- what graduate students are like.

No doubt there are some minor differences of degree, such as graduate
students being older, or such as graduate students being more motivated (e.g. by
money or by natural talent).

But the real difference, if one is looking for some criterion for detection
of them by their study habits is this: Graduate students will read the
endnotes of a book.

Everyone knows it's a pain to flip back and forth to read some long,
clarifying endnote. But this is often where the most interesting
information concerning an author's thining occurs. Also, the endnotes are
the real raw materials of further research on a very specific topic or on a
countermove against something an author has claimed. Graduate students know
this, of course, since by the time they're in graduate school, it's an
any-shelter-in-the-storm approach to research.

Suppose, then, that an undergraduate student, wanting to think s/he is the
"real deal" begins to seriously exercise the endnote shuffle. Does this
mean they are ready for graduate school?

In many cases, correlation is not causation. This is a tricky issue. For example, skirt lengths and stock prices are highly correlated (as stock prices go up, skirt lengths get shorter), but it's plain silliness to think that skirt lengths magically control the fluxuation of the stockmarket! But if somebody really does ponder a writer's endnotes, and if somebody really does look for research connections to a literature topic by means of the author's grouping of endnotes, then the very act of doing these activities would bring about the graduate school study advantage. Granted, at first, it would be merely correlation. But when the pattern of thought establishes itself, the technique causes the very mindset desired.

The US Dept. of Labor has much to offer concerning the life of becoming a college professor, and I'd recommend it to anyone considering a career trajectory in postsecondary education. Furthermore, I should also note the National Science Foundation has an excellent collection of statistics and overviews of what graduates can expect in terms of salary, employability, etc. in the science fields.


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