I stayed up from 1 am to 3 am reading Math grad blogs (they’re okay)

The AMS keeps a list of some grad students who blog about life in grad school. By no stretch is this list comprehensive of all the grad student blogs out there, but it’s a nice list.

http://blogs.ams.org/mathgradblog/about/

If I may, I’d like to share with you my thoughts on it.

TL;DR: These student blogs do a good job of explaining the general culture and advice of math grad school but if you’re a grad student you will hear most of this information passively just by talking to people around your department. I wouldn’t go out of my way to read these blogs. *throws shade* (Sorry!)


Here’s more details on what I saw.

I read almost half of all the student blogs starting from the bottom of the drop down list and working my way up. More precisely, I mean I looked at each student listed and skimmed over every post he or she made, occasionally opening up and skimming articles which I thought looked novel.

Here’s my breakdown of the blog posts:

  • Most students blog about the same things
    • Teaching advice
    • Job application /Job interview advice
    • Advice when feeling stressed about the challenges of grad school
    • A cool math thing they like
    • etc.
    • Side remark: to illustrate the redundancy, Tom Gannon wrote a post on the “impostor syndrome” this year, but I believe the editor in chief, Sarah Salmon, also wrote a post on the same topic a few years earlier. (both posts are nice though)
  • Occasionally you’ll come across blog topics which are on a seldom discussed theme e.g.
    • Vishal discusses how to identify symptoms of depression
    • Melanie links to NSF data on the length of a typical PhD program
    • DJ Bruce, who I believe came out as trans this year, writes about the importance of sexuality and gender in math
      • Brian Katz also writes about the importance of gender and sexuality in teaching
    • Side remark: I don’t believe that the discussions are fleshed out enough to leave the reader with any kind of new understanding about life

Here’s my takeaway:

In my, perhaps naive, opinion, I believe that a lot of this advice is the kind of stuff that you will passively hear from talking to other students in your graduate department. I also think that there is an enormous amount of advice being given.

For example, everyone has their own philosophy on the job interview process. Most of the advice you’ll see is roughly the same with maybe an epsilon of difference (haha) here and there. E.g. Everyone will say you should apply early. Some people say you should make follow up calls and e-mails to the schools you really want to be hired at. Others will say you should pack a snack for the time between your job talk and your job interview.

I ask myself, “do all these minor tips thrown around really matter?”. And I don’t think so. I think in the long run, you’re not going to look back 10 years from now and say, “Oh boy, it sure was a good idea I packed that PB&J for my job interview. That really changed the course of my life”.

I think that in the long term the work you do over the span of years is the bigger factor to your success. In analogy, some professional athletes have pregame rituals. And sure, maybe these pregame rituals lead to winning a clutch game here or there, but I don’t think championship leagues are won because of pregame rituals.

Maybe you disagree with me though? That’s cool too. After all, like writers of the grad blogs, we’re all just a bunch of millenials trying to figure out life as we go.

Side note: I had another analogy for my dislike of teaching advice. I was going to relate it to how there is a lot of parenting self help books out there. But even though everyone has different parenting styles, for the most part, a lot of kids turn out okay anyways. So you really don’t need to sweat the details in parenting or in teaching. I think.

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