Most helpful critical review
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Where is the advice??
on November 7, 2011
Let me start with a little back story of why I bought this book: I am currently in my 3rd year of a PhD program, and the "3rd year slump" has hit me hard. My research is frustrating. I feel alienated from my peers and my advisor/committee. After reading the reviews for this book I thought this might offer some help. I was hoping for advice on how to deal with so many of the frustrations and let downs of getting a PhD. Something inspirational, possibly even uplifting.
Nope. That is not this book.
To be frank, I spent more than half of the book rolling my eyes at various passive-aggressive quips at the author's advisor and fellow students. By the end, this felt more like a book on how to blame other people when your PhD takes much longer than you expected. Which is a pity, because I think this story had good teaching potential. I can't even begin to imagine how frustrating and disheartening it would be to work on my PhD for seven years! The author could have turned that experience into something positive, by giving concrete examples of how he dealt with problems, instead of just complaining about them and then advising to avoiding them in the first place. For example, the author complains multiple times about the frustrations of Human Subjects Committees. We get it. Bureaucracy is tedious and takes a long time. But if you do human research it is something you just have to deal with. How about some tips on speeding up the process (eg submitting a modification of a pre-existing protocol instead of a whole new protocol)? Or advising good time management: while you are waiting for IRB approval, could you be doing some in vitro work instead? Or getting an in-depth knowledge of the literature? Or working as a TA to pay off some student loans? Nope. You will find little of that here. However, you will walk away with the impression that IRB's are brutally slow and are probably plotting against you.
Even more concerning, some of the advice in this book is not only bad, but could actually get you in trouble! The author suggests that you try to "recycle" your writing, claiming that you cannot plagiarize yourself - not true! He also talks often of how he made money on the side by writing for a commercial magazine, but he never cautions that if you are funded 100% by NIH, NSF, etc that you are not supposed to have an outside job. Here's my hint to surviving grad school: if you want to go into academics, don't piss off your main funding agency by publishing plagiarized magazine articles.
By far the most helpful parts of this book were the tips on working with your advisor, like only giving them a chapter at a time to read, or highlighting the relevant changes. I also found the chapter on writing your dissertation helpful, especially the tips on how to write a little every day. Although the list of phrases you should use was particularly horrifying - just because everyone else in science overuses passive voice doesn't mean you should too! Nevertheless, I did find this chapter helpful, and it earns the book 2 stars.
All in all, I suggest passing on this one.