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5 (More) Books All Grad Students Should Read
January 16, 2014 - 11:12pm

photo of piles of booksKaitlin Gallagher is a PhD Candidate specializing in Biomechanics at the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Waterloo in Canada, and a permanent author for GradHacker. You can follow her on twitter at @KtlnG.

Over a year ago I wrote a GradHacker piece about books all grad students should read.  This year I’m back with some new recommendations:

What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast by Laura Vanderkam. This is one of many short books on success and time management that Vanderkam has written. This particular book goes over how to makeover your mornings so that you can take advantage of this time to incorporate things into your day that you love outside of work/school. Many graduate students think they don’t have time to do other things, but as Vanderkam preaches, you always have more time than you think. (Note: I’ve been a nighthawk most of my life. If I can learn to like getting up at 6 a.m., anyone can).

Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries by Peter Sims. This book is an essential read for researchers because it changes the way that failure is viewed. I became aware of this book during a keynote address at a conference last year. A “little bet,” synonymous with a “small victory,” is when people use experimental, innovative, trial-and-error approaches to gain new knowledge about what they should be doing. Little bets typically result in a lot of failure, but since these steps are very small, a person hasn’t put “all their eggs in one basket.” In the end, you have more information than you did before, and you can make a new “little bet” about where to go next. When you use “little bets” to gain new information instead of one big bet based on what you assume will happen, you can “fail forward” with your research to create better, more guided experiments in the future.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Lamott’s work has been cited in many of the books on this and my previous list (and not just the writing books). Her advice on writing, and the often-quoted concept of a “shitty first draft”, is helpful to any graduate student struggling to write. She also has chapters on perfectionism, writer’s block, and writing groups, making this a simple and helpful read for grad students.

Writing Science: How to Write Papers That Get Cited and Proposals That Get Funded by Joshua Schimel. I am a sucker for academic writing advice, and this book provides some of the best. Dr. Schimel provides advice on how to structure the story of  your experiment, how to write effectively for different audiences/purposes (e.g. manuscript versus grants), all the way down to how to write paragraphs and choose words. He also provides many exercises for students to work through, making this a great book for structuring a science writing class. I’m convinced that the most recent paper I submitted came back accepted with very minor revisions not just because the topic of the manuscript was very current and experiment well executed, but also because I communicated it so clearly using Dr. Schimel’s techniques.

Currently Reading: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. If there was one concept I wish I was aware of when I started grad school, it would be the concept of a fixed versus growth mindset. No matter how positive you may be, there will be a few times during your degree when you have no idea how you are going to fix a major problem with your research. A person’s mindset about these problems will influence how he or she works to solve them. Dr. Dweck’s work has also been sourced in many books on other topics and is fundamental for the success of grad students. The topic of fixed vs. growth mindsets will be the topic of my February GradHacker post (stay tuned!).

And for those of you who want some leisure recommendations, two great books I recently read were London is the Best City in America by Laura Dave and The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. Dave is an author that I have loved to read this past year, and this particular book revolves around the theme of “letting go.” If you can handle some stereotypes about academics, Simsion’s book is a great read about a professor who pursues a project to find a perfect wife. Hilarity ensues.

Read a great book recently? Leave your recommendations along with a short description of why you liked the book in the comments below!

[Image by Flickr user cogdogblog used under creative commons licensing.]

 

 

 

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