Be curious. Read widely. Enroll in a class that is outside of your specialization. Generate questions. Host salons and curiosity symposiums. Keep a running list of things you’d like to know.
Foster non-academic areas of your life and find a community that extends beyond classmates and faculty. This was especially important for me in the face of the brutal academic job market because it helped me remember that my life is a lot bigger than a job. Remember your worth doesn’t come from your degree.
Take advantage of opportunities for cross-disciplinary conversations. My PhD work in English was deeply enriched by my graduate certificate work in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, which helped me better understand the ways pedagogy and social justice can intertwine. Go to talks put on by the Commonwealth Center for the Humanities and Society, the Anne Braden Institute, etc. Expose yourself to other people thinking out loud.
On a practical level, use a different color pen each time you reread a book. Inside the cover, note which pen corresponds to which date. This will help you keep track of how your questions, interests, and critiques change and develop over the years.
Invest in giant Post-its, cover your office walls, and chart connections between ideas. This visual aid has been enormously useful for me.
Dr. Kristi Maxwell is an Assistant Professor of English.