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Book Review: Navigating Graduate School and Beyond

August 2, 2012 Filed under Blog, Featured, Potpourri, Resources 

I just finished reading a great new book on career guidance for graduate students by Prof. Sundar Christopher: Navigating Graduate School and Beyond: A Career Guide for Graduate Students and a Must Read for Every Advisor. Written by the Chair of the Department of Atmospheric Science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, this book carves out quite a big territory in only 150 pages and for a reasonable price ($20 AGU-member price).

I’ve never met the author, but the book is pretty much as I envision sitting down with him for a chat over a coffee or a beer. It is a showcase for the author’s sense of humor, whether it be self-deprecating or a real groaner. He covers the following topics: casting a vision for your career, how to select an advisor, developing your skillset, organizing your life and work, writing, proposal-writing, communicating, picking collaborators, and picking jobs.

One thing I like about the book is that the author is not afraid to challenge the status quo. He advises students to write their dissertations with papers in mind, so that the process of going from a 200-page monograph to published paper(s) is more efficient. He recommends writing a grant proposal as a graduate student so see how it is done and hone your skills. In fact, simply teaching the course upon which this book was based challenged the status quo in the author’s department. (I know of at least one other atmospheric science program that has a long history of teaching a professional development class…paging Prof. Fred Carr at the University of Oklahoma.)

Moreover, the author says things that simply make good sense, but few have written down before. I highly recommend this well-written and thought-provoking book for both students and their faculty advisors.

The book is comparable to Peter Feibelman’s A PhD Is Not Enough: A Guide To Survival In Science. This is another excellent book that is well worth the dirt-cheap prices I am seeing online.

order at


3 Responses to “Book Review: Navigating Graduate School and Beyond”
  1. Matthew Bunkers says:

    I remember Sundar from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology during his early career in the early 1990s. He impressed me with his intelligence, and he really connected with the students. I’m not surprised to see you gave him a favorable review. Thanks for letting me know about the book; I’ll make sure the SDSMT Department of Atmospheric Sciences knows about this.

  2. Paul Quelet says:

    I was recently asked to read this by my graduate school adviser to prepare for the upcoming graduate school Ph.D. experience.

    First of all, I generally like the book. I think it would be helpful for most any graduate student to read, especially in the sciences. It is not too biased toward Atmospheric Science or Meteorology (like myself), but that is the most relevant group for all parts of the book.

    Secondly, I liked the advice it gives. The author takes the tone of a mentor, an adviser, a wise counselor, and a father to young scientists. There are excellent chapters and sections on “Managing Your Adviser”, developing skills, along with organizing your time and priorities. These are helpful as a grid to think through things. The author clearly has experience with fielding such questions and confesses to having taught a professional development course on such material. Very good text to read, reread, and come back to in order to keep a student centered.

    Now begins my criticism. The author tries to broaden the book, rightfully so, into matters of oral presentations, technical writing, finding a job, etc. Most of the time he states things like “there are many books on this topic” or “there is no way to give all-encompassing advice”. I agree that there are, but where this book defers to other resources, it lacks detail or even a reference list regarding what kind of references to turn to. The authors seems to keep the same tone of fatherly advice to students into the sections that are more technical.

    There are many suggestions for journal entries, discussion questions, etc. These are good for the adviser and student to discuss, or a study group, or in a class format.

    I think this is a good read for graduate students–the earlier in their science career, the better. For advisers, I speculate to say that it is helpful to understand the student better, but you should be familiar with most of the concepts.

    While I like the book, I almost look forward to later editions that are more thorough.


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