Updates from the World of a PhD Student: Finishing Up the Second Year

Hey everyone! I’ve been absent from posting as regularly as I used to, but I wanted to poke my head in and tell you all about how my PhD program is going. Hopefully it will be helpful for those of you considering a PhD yourselves!

I’ve posted a bit about my thought going into the PhD program on HLS (here and here), and at the end of last year I posted some of the things I learned from my PhD (and from the experience of moving to a new town) here. Another year has passed, and I’m currently in the midst of my last semester of coursework. It feels really strange to think that I’ll never be a student in a classroom setting again (save for the occasional seminar), but that I’ll still be a student doing my own independent work under the guidance of faculty. It’s a great transitionary period prior to going out into the workforce, though, and I’m really excited to have more time to devote to my independent projects (namely, my dissertation!)

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the timeline of a PhD program, it has a few more steps than a Master’s program does. Most people finish in 4-5 years, but some people take more or less time depending on their research topic, how much they work outside of school, etc. Students in our program typically come in with an MLS. The first thing we do is take our coursework, which is usually about two years. Then we prepare for and take prelims (comprehensive exam). For my program, the prelims include written statements you prepare, from which your committee pulls your questions. Then, you write your responses over the course of one week. After you pass prelims, you advance to candidacy, and start working on your prospectus (the first 2-3 chapters of the dissertation in most cases). You defend your prospectus, then write the rest of your dissertation, defend the dissertation, and do any revisions your committee asks for. If it all goes according to plan, you should end up with a PhD at the end of it!

In the past year, I have grown a *ton* as a scholar, above and beyond what I thought was possible for such a short period of time. I know I’m (just a bit!) biased about how awesome my program is, but I feel like in this environment I am learning and growing constantly. In the past year, for example, I’ve gone from having a research agenda and some projects to being able to more clearly define and articulate those on the fly, and to feel more confident when I talk about my work and my findings.
Our faculty are very engaged with the students, and we’re bringing in a lot of great speakers, so I’m able to learn from and talk to people with a variety of backgrounds. I’ve also taken courses that expose me to different theories and research methods, gone to conferences, worked on research collaborations, and chatted informally about my work with faculty and other students. All of this means that I’m incredibly fortunate because I’m being exposed to new ideas and cutting edge research, constantly being challenged, and getting the input of people I respect and admire. Even on weeks when I’m super busy or feel overwhelmed, I feel so incredibly fortunate, and I definitely feel like I made the right choice for my career.

This year I’ve also learned more about the kind of instructor I want to be. We have faculty who engage in a variety of teaching styles at our school, and I’ve gotten to work with folks who simultaneously are approachable, challenge students, encourage critical thinking, and create very useful assignments. I’ve been lucky to have them as mentors, because I have a variety of examples I can pull from when I’m leading my own class in the future, and I also have someone supportive there to give me feedback when I lead all or part of a session for a class I am a Teaching Assistant for. The feedback I’ve heard from students has been positive, so that makes me feel good too!

The last big thing to happen this year is networking. For example, I went to ALISE this year (and won an award!) It was great fun, and I got to meet a lot of the people whose work I admire. I felt way more confident approaching people and talking about my work than I have in the past (I still get kind of nervous some times, but I think we all do). It sounds really silly, but one of my greatest realizations was that the big name folks in the field are still human, and are generally approachable and interested in learning about other people’s work (I know, it’s super obvious, but I can be a bit shy so this was really helpful for me).

So, any questions about the PhD?

2 replies

    • I do! I’m still a little ways off from starting it, but I’m planning on researching the Harlem Public Library and a librarian who worked there in the 1930s who did really innovative things with making it a community space. My research involves going through archival records and building a story about her work out of what I find, which makes it hard to say anything too specific right now, but I’m really looking forward to it and to seeing what her work can teach us about helping our patrons today!


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