What to Read When You Finish Grad School

We’re at the end of the school year, and that means, for some of you, the end of graduate school. After a long time wrapped in the cozy constraints of academia, a number of you are about to emerge from your grad-school chrysalis as brilliant goddamn butterflies with PhDs or MFAs or MSs or MPAs or MEngs or EdDs or some other amazing credential that means you get to append letters to the end of your name like colorful, fragile wings.

Over on the Book Riot Insiders Forum, Book Riot fan and computational biologist Ola requested suggestions for what to read when you finish grad school. Here’s what I came up with:

1. H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald

Hear me out: this devastating grief memoir that’s also a history of falconry and a biography of T.H. White is, against all logic, just the thing to read after grad school. I first read it not long after finishing my PhD, and beyond the utter genius of the book, I found in it some ways of thinking about what I had gained and what I had left behind as I finished a dissertation and left behind dreams of the professoriate that had gone stale and yet still stuck in my throat. H is for Hawk is all about losing yourself in something, about diving headlong and reckless into an idea, a task, a whole world. It’s about what happens when something ends and you have to find some other way to be. And it’s about pulling together threads of yourself with threads of the world around you, weaving together something new in the process.

2. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

The Fire Next Time makes a powerful argument about race in the United States and is, in itself, an argument for the value and power of thinking, speaking, and writing. If you’re feeling discouraged about what thinking can do, or about what language can manage in a broken world—a feeling that isn’t uncommon among many recent grad school graduates, overwhelmed as they often are—The Fire Next Time is a bracing and potentially inspiring read. Most of us can’t be Baldwin, but we can all certainly shape the world with our ideas and our words.

3. Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

You probably entered grad school with a particular future in mind, but that future isn’t going to make itself. You’re going to have to build it. (Or, if turns out that that future isn’t what you want anymore, you’re going to have to build something new.) Designing Your Life is just the book to help you do that. Written by design faculty from Stanford, based on a set of courses they offer there, the book is a hands-on guide to figuring out what you want and how to get it. I’m a particular fan of the idea, woven throughout the book, that there isn’t just one perfect future you but rather multiple possible yous, many of which could be totally fucking fantastic. If you’re feeling a bit unmoored or uncertain post-grad school, this is the book for you.

4. Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg

While I certainly hope you made time during graduate school to have a life, you may find yourself with a little more room in your schedule for things other than reading books, analyzing data, and staring at blank Word documents. And if romance is on your agenda, Modern Love could help while making you laugh hard enough to forget all about writer’s block or your advisor’s angry scowl. And, given that Klinenberg has a PhD, you can imagine cowriting a book with your favorite comedian sometime soon.

5. The Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

The latter part of a graduate program is often when you fold most intensely in on yourself. Whether you’re in an overwhelming crush of classes at the tail end of your Master’s program or practically disappearing into your dissertation, it’s usually a time when you end up saying “no” a lot. No, you can’t get lunch with that old friend. No, you won’t take on that side project. Well, after all that no, why not try saying “yes”? In Year of Yes, Shonda Rhimes undertakes an experiment: what happens if, for a full year, you always say yes? That kind of radical openness, that commitment to giving it a go, is just what you need after finishing grad school. (Though, really, you should take a little bit of time to just stare off into space and relax.)

6. Whatever the Hell You Want

Because no one can tell you what to read anymore so nyah nyah nyah.

There's only one way to respond to "two free audiobooks." It's "sign me up!"
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