• 25Aug

    Karen Miller Russell posted recently about advice to PR doctoral students. There is a lot of good advice in the post and comments, but as someone who is newly done with the process, it got me thinking what sort of suggestions I would give.

    For the most part, what comes to mind is advice applicable to doctoral students in general: time management is key, do your best to network in and out of your department, choose your advisor (and your committee) carefully. The usual, which the above post and its commenters have already mentioned. (Although the advice to limit TV time goes against my own experience: having something going on the TV or computer was crucial to keeping me in my chair during the many, many long hours of data entry and analysis. Writing, however, is another story altogether.)

    I agree that it is a nice goal to use all of your papers to develop ideas for your dissertation, and hopefully turn at least some of them into publications. In my case, the process was not quite so linear: I wanted to take advantage of graduate school to explore lots of different potential directions, rather than pursue a straight path. Now, if I’d had a clear dissertation idea from the start that had stood up to a few years of probing from different directions, I would probably have been quite happy to go along with it. But that rarely happens, for me: I need to walk down numerous roads, discarding most of what I find but storing useful bits from each, before I can figure out exactly where I want to go. This has been a recurring pattern, so I’m at peace with it, although I’ll confess a touch of envy for those who manage to be single-minded in their scholarship.

    On the other hand, I like to think that taking a broader, more winding approach has its own advantages. I have learned about a number of subjects I will probably never have the opportunity or inclination to explore again (although, never say never…), but that doesn’t mean that researching and writing about them was useless. It’s all been a part of clarifying my thoughts and refining my identity as a scholar, which is hardly a waste of time. Plus, I like to think that much of what I’ve discarded may come in handy in the future, working with students with interests different from my own.

    Maybe this idea that every bit of information and knowledge might come in handy, whatever the source, can be blamed on having seen Working Girl too many times at an impressionable age…

    All of the above applies to doctoral study in any field, really, although I suppose some might allow more flexibility than others. In terms of advice specific to PR students, I think going to conferences is probably the best way to remain aware of what is going on in the discipline, and if you’re lucky, making other people aware of you. In hindsight, I wish I’d become more involved in the nuts and bolts of my conference divisions while still in grad school, but I do think that presenting at a few sessions of NCA and ICA was a start in this direction. (I presented at a few other conferences as well, but none had public relations divisions. My work tends to cross a lot of disciplinary boundaries, though.)

    It’s important not to find a personal balance: I’ve seen people focus so intently on writing papers for and attending conferences that they neglect their dissertation research. That’s obviously a bad idea.

    I suspect I will have more, and different advice, as time goes on and I gain some distance from my own doctoral studies. Right now, though, with my PhD still hot off the griddle, this is what comes to mind.