Crystal Lee (she/她)

Guides to academia

I love other academics writing about their process, as it has helped me a great deal in working through these issues too. From writing papers to just thinking about how to manage your life, these folks have worked through a lot of problems with much better solutions (or at least approaches)! Some of the pieces are a bit older but I feel like they have a great deal of longevity. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

N.B. This is a pretty incomplete list of stuff I like but I thought I'd throw together something more quickly and update as I go along.

On reading, writing, and speaking

Computer science writing

On research process

Finding your interests / general productivity

Archival work

Mental health

(Forgive me, these are a bit vintage but I found them really helpful when I was first grappling with my own mental health issues.)

  • Tony Tang, "Four pillars of a PhD" (2006), "Banality of PhD work" (2007)
  • Kay Redfield Jamison, An Unquiet Mind (1995, classic book from a researcher who works on and has bipolar disorder)
  • Emily Martin, Bipolar Expeditions (2007, similar to Unquiet Mind but from an anthropologist)
  • Ellen Forney, Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me (2012, a beautiful graphic memoir)
  • McKay, Wood, and Brantley, The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook (2019)

Quantitative work

On grant writing, reviewing, jobs

Re: job and other advice: I know this is an incredibly controversial opinion for some, and I do not offer it without caveats, but I really benefited from reading Karen Kelsky's blog and her book, The Professor is In. The fact that she is an ethnographer writing explicitly about how academia functions was incredibly useful base knowledge for me. Her anthropological sensibility when it comes to breaking down how a job even gets posted (for example) is something no one ever really told me, and she does this for a number of different things, too (e.g., how to write a CV, mental health resources in academia, how to go to a conference). I know that for some folks, her tough-love approach is shame-y or borders on condescending (hardly what you want from grad school support!), and the contents of the book suggest that there is somehow a way to individually game an incredibly unequal and fundamentally broken system. There are other critiques that her advice is straight up wrong, particularly since she often gives advice that is all or nothing: "always" do X, or "never, under any circumstances," should you do Y. However, I think she does a good job of qualifying her advice to say that (1) the system is still fundamentally broken, and that individuals cannot change that, but (2) that there are some small, measurable steps that humanities PhDs can take to make their time in graduate school a little more bearable. I think you can hold these conflicts simultaneously and decide whether or not her approach is helpful for you.

My two cents? Read the free blog posts when you're confused about something (how do I put together a panel for a conference?) and use it as a starting point. Maybe borrow the book from the library, and remember that no one can be the authoritative source of advice for anything, much less something like academia.

  1. She has so many good articles about the general vibe of being in academia. She is a computer scientist and writes about the field pretty specifically, but I think her mindset is also helpful for humanists and social scientists, too. 

  2. Ditto -- Shannon's blog is truly a treasure trove of endless riches.