And no, I’m not referring to the movie (or even to Hugh Jackman’s fantastic non-interpretation of the movie). I’m referring to graduate students.
I’m pretty sure that all graduate students, no matter what their discipline, could be considered professional readers. It doesn’t matter if the other part of your grad. school life is taken up by labs, by problem sets, by research, by writing, by traveling, or by anything else. Most of us are probably reading more than we ever thought it was possible to read in a week. I think I calculated that I was reading about 1,000 pages a week last semester…and that was just in assigned texts. What about all those Chronicle articles?
Speaking of Chronicle articles (see how I got that in there, guys?), this one I stumbled upon last week is about exactly that: graduate students and reading. Even since I started undergrad., I’ve heard a lot of advice about how to read effectively as a student. The advice I’ve gotten most often has been some version of this: “It’s impossible to read everything…you have to skim. You have to learn how to cut corners.” This is the same advice that is given in part of the Chronicle article: "...learning to read properly becomes one of the most important hurdles faced by students in postgraduate education—as does, ironically, learning to not read, or to choose to read certain texts incompletely or not at all.” I know this is probably true but, for someone like me, it’s also terrifying. “What do you mean ‘don’t read everything!?’” That’s my panicky internal reaction. Of course, I’ve had to skim a few articles here and there like anyone else. But the idea of making that a consistent method of getting through my work, or of consciously deciding to do this, still scares me. Yes, even now as a 2nd year MA student.
And I know I’m on the wrong side here. I’ve known it since undergrad., when friends worried that my old “read everything” habits would die hard once I got to grad. school. I’ve noticed that people who manage to skim at least some things get much more information than I do. They get to read (on some level, at least) extra or suggested articles, and not just the required texts. They often get through research faster. They’re less stressed out. But I can’t get over this psychological hurdle. Luckily, thanks to the Chronicle article and some people I know personally, I know I’m not alone. But it’s definitely still a struggle to convince myself that it’s going to be okay if, for example, I don’t read every single text on the comps. list.
The more unexpected part of the Chronicle article is actually the discussion of teaching how to read. The authors make a good point when they say that “After the elementary years, schools pay little attention to the mechanisms of reading. We read as if all texts, even the most complex, were Dick and Jane.” And, of course, the texts we’re reading are not like these first grade readers at all (despite the authors’ amusing comparison of Foucault and Goodnight Moon). The expectations are also quite different. Until high school or perhaps even beyond, “reading is regurgitation. In graduate school, reading and the ability to discuss and interpret that reading are simultaneously a means by which a student asserts an academic identity and the basis on which a student can produce new knowledge.” If students don’t learn how to read effectively, and by that I mean both analytically and in a time-efficient manner, this new mode of reading is never fully experienced.
Essentially, it seems the articles authors’ are encouraging us to accept that we can’t read everything, and focus on reading on a deeper level instead. We have to become real grad. students, not ideal ones. “Skills are always approximate, but an identity is forever,” they say. But if I want to try to read everything on that deeper level, does that make me a bad grad. student? Does it mean my identity is simply that of an idealist?