Guest Post by Kweku Ananse: How To Become an Employable PhD Graduate

Last week, Kwaku Ananse wrote a guest post about problematic supervisors. A main problem,he concluded is  misguided advice suggesting you focus only on your dissertation:

In our times, employers want graduates with experience, widely interpreted either as teaching, research experience as evident in a publication, or both.

This reality brings me to the issue of taking initiative outside the normal routines of the graduate program.

1.One is to visit the personal websites of other graduate students in other universities who are in the same discipline as you are.Know what these students are doing in terms of the conferences they attend, the types of publications they have (and the journals they have published in etc). Being on top of these things should alert you to what your competitors are up to.

2. Another thing outside the graduate comfort zone is to test your ideas by sending cold emails to perhaps established leading scholars in the field to give you feedback regarding your use of their analytical ideas (Here, I have to say I am hesitant with important but emerging scholars). You are not always guaranteed a response but you might be surprised how some of these scholars are interested to help young intellectuals with feedback and suggestions of recent literature. These people can be your pool of what Kajsa refers to as “informal supervisors” (see her post ‘Informal Supervisors: Surviving Ph.D‘) who can be both local (in other departments in your school as well as in your program) and as well as international.

3. One important thing to note in a graduate school is not to see yourself as incapable of publishing in leading journals in your field.

  • Read such journals and note what the leading debates are.
  • Examine such debates side by side your current research.
  • When you see a contribution that perhaps a facet of your research can make to such debates, ‘be bold’ (as they say in GH-politics) and write an article and send it out.

Several things can happen with such an approach: the paper might be rejected (and good reviewers will give you details as why the paper was rejected); paper accepted (but with some revision,either substantial or minor). Whatever the case, the plus side of taking such an initiative is that you have begun a process that is going to be part of your academic life.

This guest post is written by fellow graduate student Kwaku Ananse, one of my readers.


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Guest Post by Kweku Ananse: Why Your PhD Supervisor is Not Reading Your Work

I am happy to introduce my first guest writer on this blog. This guest post is written by fellow graduate student Kwaku Ananse, one of my readers:

Just like most things in life, conventional wisdom posits that graduate school life is a linear process: you apply to the program of choice, you get accepted, you take and complete core and pertinent elective class classes, pass all those classes mostly with As (and Bs), and then you focus on completing your proposed thesis or dissertation. Even within the process of completing the thesis/dissertation, the accepted thinking posits that those committee members you select are the ones that eventually lead you to the finish line.

However, within my experience, being a ‘traditional graduate student’ who wants take the routine routes to complete a program should reassess such taken-for-taken ideas. One should realize that your supervisor most likely will not be the ‘ideal’ supervisor to deliver on the assumed responsibilities that he/she is supposed to provide.

There are many problems relating to why responsibilities are not fulfilled:

  1. Lack of time to read your work (but makes you to believe that all is well);
  2. Unwillingness/inability to provide you regular important feedback;
  3. Too many other ‘senior’ graduate students he/she might be attending to etc;
  4. The person reads,but doesn’t challenge you in your thinking/writing etc.
  5. Also committee members, understandably, will not like to step on a colleague’s toes (your supervisor’s) by seeming to provide research guidance that contradicts one’s supervisor’s (perhaps outmoded) suggestions.

Another reason to always be wary of the traditional route comes in the guise of ‘just complete your course work and dissertation advice’. Such advice doesn’t take cognizance of recent trends. Nowadays, having a transcript, a diploma/certificate and a dissertation under your armpit doesn’t cut it (unless of course, you already have a job security in a university/college).

In our times, employers want graduates with experience, widely interpreted either as teaching, research experience as evident in a publication, or both.

So, what should we do? Look out for Kwaku  Ananse’s next blogpost.


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Informal Supervisors : Surviving a PhD

I cannot stress enough that you need more people than the one(s) on your panel if to succeed with your  PhD – well this is what I think, anyways, halfway into the project. Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting up with three of my informal supervisors.

Ironically, the meeting I had scheduled with my official supervisor was cancelled as I missed our deadline last week. These are the three types of supervisors I have managed to get for myself totally outside the structures of  the university.

1. The Mentor

Here is a person who knows university politics, who remembers what it was like being in your too large PhD shoes and always shows support interspersed with some practical advice.

Will ask you: How are you?

2. The Senior Researcher

The Senior researcher has seen it all before and will suggest you look at the bigger picture, read the classics and start planning for the next step of your career.

Will ask you: What are your main variables?

3. The Visionary

The visionary points you to interdisciplinary related readings that you didn’t know existed, briefs you about the newest methods on the block with a YouTube video and asks some uncomfortable questions about your work.

Will ask you: Have you read Spivak?

Ideally, I think the culture of the academy starts and begins with sharing information, roadmaps and ideas, however I am still amazed at the generosity at which my informal supervisors have approached and challenged my work. If you read this, thank you!



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