Sunday, January 5, 2014

Furstenberg's, Behind the Academic Curtain (my review)

Behind the Academic Curtain: How to Find Success and Happiness with a PhD (Chicago Guides to Academic Life) (Paperback) by Frank Furstenberg

Furstenberg provides wise and sensible advice, drawing from a lifetime career at U of Penn in sociology, for all scholars in all fields, from applying to graduate school, to PhD, to a first job, to retirement. I found his thoughts on the last phase of a career, the "endgame," and retirement to be thoughtful and quite prudent. Throughout, his suggestions and guidance are right on. I suspect that those in laboratory sciences or mathematics or theoretical science fields are in a slightly different position, at least as graduate students. There are a number of guidebooks for budding natural scientists that may be good supplements.

If you listen to his advice, you will be better off. If you are studying higher education, again and again he points to lacunae in the research literature, and that may well suggest vital research topics.

I am a professor and I recently published a book with some of the goals of "Behind the Academic Curtain" (mine is "The Scholar's Survival Manual," Indiana U Press). So I bought the book and read it with my own work in mind as well as all the other books I have seen that advise scholars. My book is a complement to his, meant more as monitory guidance, for when you hear Furstenberg's advice and then do not really listen. I spend more time on pathologies and misdirections. In general, what is most tragic about scholarly life (and this is of course much more general) is that most people know more or less what they ought do but believe they might do something else and succeed--and so they get hit by the proverbial truck. On the other hand, Furstenberg's and my book, both give away the secret handshakes and tacit premises of the scholarly life.

It's wonderful to see the different tone of each book. But in practical terms they say the same thing. However, in practical terms what is crucial is which book will penetrate your defenses so you learn what they are trying to teach you.

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