What I Wish I’d Known in Graduate School: Joseph Turner

joe turnerBy Joseph Turner
Assistant Professor, University of Louisville

The most important thing I learned as a graduate student was the importance of publishing. Other things are also important: teaching and admin work are components of a well-rounded professional. However, placing essays—and the quality of those essays and the journals in which you place them—will in many ways dictate your career opportunities.

One of my advisors told me that grad students should carve out “large vistas of time” for writing, and he was right. It takes dedicated and uninterrupted time to delve deeply enough into an issue to write on it. That can be two hours a day or four, two hours of reading and three of writing, or whatever configuration allows you to produce. But one of the biggest goals you should have early in your graduate career is to figure out the conditions that allow you to be productive. Once you figure out those conditions, control your schedule for them. Make a schedule that fosters productivity and that protects your writing time.

Small things matter. Schedule matters. Once you take one day off of writing, it becomes easier to take two days off. Figure out when your ideal writing time is and stick to it. If you’re a morning person, do your best to avoid teaching, working out, or whatever, in the mornings. Set aside time when you’re at your peak. The most successful people I know in academia follow writing schedules. (As a graduate student, I found a book called The Clockwork Muse to be a helpful guide to scheduling.)

It’s also important to think deeply about where you place your essays. Where you place articles signals what part of the field you belong to—what conversations you’re interested in, whom you’re interacting with, and who you want to read your work. Start following the important journals in your field; read entire issues of journals and analyze the articles rhetorically. See and take notes on how these essays take stances toward other scholarly conversations, on what counts as evidence, and on how they make claims. Figure out which conversations are important to that journal’s readers and editors. Then it’ll be easier to see how your work fits there.

Start at the top. Select the best journal in your field and aim for it. In the worst case scenario, they don’t take it. But even so, you’ll likely get reader reports and/or suggestions from the editor. You get a round of feedback that can guide your revisions when you send it to the next journal. And best case scenario? You get to see your work in pristine print in a journal you admire—and you get to have colleagues in the field, people you respect, read it and respond to it. You get to create knowledge.

My research interests are in the classical and medieval classroom traditions that influenced medieval poetics. I’m currently working on two projects. One considers medieval theories of spatial metaphor from Saint Augustine to Geoffrey of Vinsauf, and the other examines how pre-modern grammar curricula marked out gendered behaviors. That second project will form the basis of a graduate seminar in Spring 2017 called “Rhetoric and Gender in the Pre-Modern Classroom.” This course will survey the role of emotion and gender in the pre-modern classroom, dedicating special attention to the function of identification, empathy, and memory.

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