Looking back over my grad student career, the times that I’ve learned the most have generally aligned with the times that I’ve had to work the hardest (or as I am wont to say, times that I thought I might die). Nearly all of the classes I’ve taken for the PhD have been reading-heavy (some more than others, but seriously, don’t get me started on people who complain about the work required. It’s a PhD, duh), but I can think of just a handful of classes that required a ton of reading AND a ton of writing. The most common writing assignment involved summarizing and responding–that is, recapping in a page or two what a text said and then commenting on or drawing conclusions (dialoguing, contextualizing, deconstructing, or even problematizing) from the text.
In addition to this type of writing, a couple of classes required academic book reviews. This was an incredibly challenging but useful endeavor–especially doing it every other week for the better part of a semester. This is a typical sort of writing that occurs in academia, and I suppose it could easily be a beginner scholar’s first chance at publication (well, maybe encyclopedia entries, too).
I can’t overestimate the importance of these sorts of writing assignments in my academic training. Writing lit reviews and dealing with a gross number of texts during comps–inevitable parts of this journey–would be SO much more difficult without all of that practice of basically academic hard work.*
As much as I hate to admit it, I can say to sleep-deprived, stressed out, reading, writing me of the past: appreciate that time, because it’s serving prospectus/dissertation writing me of the present fairly well (even if I still don’t know what I’m doing, I can certainly summarize a text).
*In the first post I titled “Talkin’ ’bout practice,”I linked to the wikipedia entry on Allen Iverson, also referred to as The Answer. If you don’t know the reference, you should watch this (you really ought to know this pop culture reference, I mean, seriously, Senior Pastor referenced it one week during a sermon!):