It’s not about the courses.

There are a lot of reasons that PhD programs start with two years of coursework but it’s not about the courses.

One of the biggest mistakes that new PhD students make, that I 1000% made, is thinking that PhD coursework is like the types of coursework we’ve done previously in either our undergraduate or MA courses.

In reality, PhD coursework is completely different and the skills that served you well in your previous career as a student will hinder you as a PhD student.

The reason for this is because the point of the entire PhD process is to turn you into a producer of knowledge. Because the PhD process in the United States is built on a Medieval apprenticeship model you are not just learning to be a producer of knowledge in general but you are representing your graduate institution, your program, and your faculty as well.

That is to say, you aren’t just learning to be a producer of knowledge but,specifically, a producer of knowledge steeped in the tradition of your place and professors.

For instance, in my own discipline of American Studies, PhD programs fall into two broad categories. The first takes a historical bent and the second a cultural studies approach. There can be a great deal of overlap between these two approaches but that’s the broad breakdown. My own PhD program of American Studies at Purdue University is widely known to be focused on the cultural studies approach to American Studies scholarship.

Thus, when I tell someone in American Studies that I got my PhD from Purdue they have a sense of how I approach my work.

That’s what the PhD process is designed to do–turn you into a specific type of producer or knowledge.

That’s what PhD coursework is about.

In contrast to the coursework you’ve done at other stages of your career where the goal of the course was for you to learn a set amount of material the goal of PhD coursework is to start your journey as a producer of knowledge.

As such, the goal of the course is less about memorizing content or reading a book cover to cover and more about developing the skills you will need to write your dissertation and represent your field, and your institution, well.

Things that served you well in previous coursework where your goal was to learn content may actually hinder your PhD coursework.

Basic things like how to read, how to take notes, how to structure your assignments, and how to allocate time to your classes ALL change when it comes to PhD coursework.

I learned this through painful experience. I did almost everything wrong during my PhD coursework and the few things I did right I mostly did by accident.

I don’t want you to go through that.

That’s why I’m debuting a new group class for people who are in the coursework phase of their PhDs.

This course will detail how and why PhD coursework is different from your previous coursework. I will cover what you should do and what you shouldn’t. Most importantly, I will always tell you why.

I’ll tell you why the things that seem like good ideas aren’t and why the things that seem like a waste of time might be the best use of your day.

Topics covered in this course will be:

  • What the real goal of PhD coursework is
  • How to approach your PhD coursework from course selection to getting that A
  • How to make your coursework work for you (even if you don’t know yet what your dissertation will be about)
  • How to read for PhD coursework (Yes, really. I wish I had known this SO much earlier).
  • How to take notes for your coursework
  • How to balance teaching and coursework
  • How to use your coursework to prepare for your prelims/fields
  • How to use your coursework to build your scholarly reputation

I’m open to including other topics of interest to participants.

The weekly time commitment will be around 90 minutes with about 30 minutes of recommending reading and a one hour weekly group meeting.

The course will run for 5 weeks starting June 8th.

Participation in the inaugural course will be free since you are my guinea pigs 😉

If you’re interested then fill out the contact form! Admission will close once we have ten participants.


Marushka · May 25, 2020 at 2:34 pm

It’s a major mental switch to go from simply filing away information to using those sources as tools to create new knowledge. I really appreciate how you frame grad school/the PhD process, and the class sounds like a fantastic opportunity! Good luck with it – it’s a needed area of work in US academia.

Jaime Hough · May 27, 2020 at 11:27 am

Thanks so much! It is a huge switch and took me a long time to learn. I want to help others avoid the mistakes I made 🙂

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