Information compiled by the GradSchools.com team - last updated October 2010
The work you do in graduate school is about as focused and intense as any you are likely to engage in throughout your life. Indeed, the very nature of graduate study is such that you must delve into the deepest recesses of your chosen area of specialty in order to ensure your complete grasp and eventual expertise. As a result, many graduate students occasionally loose sight of the larger world, and interests they once had fall by the wayside as they are forced to spend ever larger chunks of time dealing with the work for their studies.
Which is exactly why summer is the perfect time to re-establish your relationship with other parts of the intellectual and pop-cultural world. Indeed, by enjoying some relaxation time over the summer, when the pressure from classes is likely to be at its lowest, you will both re-energize yourself and become a better student for having done so. For at the end of the day, those with well-rounded educations - even if some of that education is self-taught - are likely to be better practitioners in their own field. Grad students in theoretical physics, for example, will become better scientists if they understand philosophy, just as French literature students will be able to better understand the nature of character motivation and development if they have at least a small background in sociology.
The question, then, is this: How are you supposed to educate yourself after having spent all that time focused on work in your particular field? The answer is simple, and a lot more pleasant than you might have imagined: Relax. That's right: Watch movies that you've never seen before, read books that you just never got around to, page through the newspaper every morning. The results may shock you: You'll not only give your brain a chance to recover from the rigors of schoolwork, but you will also begin to round out your education. And in that sense, you will become an all-around more complete intellectual being - exactly what you would hope to accomplish during your grad-school years anyway.
The immortal words of Homer Simpson
Of the many nuggets of wisdom Homer J. Simpson has given to the world, few are more clearly expressed than his statement on his views of reading: "Reading? Reading's for fools!" Ah, Homer, that prince of pithy epithets. How well off we'd all be if we just followed his lead.
Well, maybe not.
The truth is that reading is probably the best way to broaden your intellectual horizons, especially if, over the summer, the books you pick up are completely different from what you generally read during the school year. Of course, Homer would argue that reading about the trials and tribulations of Anna Karenina, for example, or Jane Eyre, or even Robert Langdon, can do nothing to make you a better doctor or lawyer or physicist. But the truth is that these books will enrich your life in ways you may never have thought possible, and even if they don't make you better in your specific field per se, they will nonetheless make you a more well-rounded individual. And the result is that you will be a better practitioner of whatever profession you're pursuing.
There are literally millions of books out there, waiting for you to read them. And whether they are non-fiction or novels, so-called classics or popular fiction, the fact remains that you will not only benefit enormously from reading them, but you will also find yourself ready for the school-year to begin in the fall. You will also be in the possession of a clearer mind, and will be better prepared for the rigors of schoolwork than you otherwise would have been. The following, then, are links to two excellent lists of books worth reading. Not all of them will appeal to you, but they are excellent guides to help you along your way.
- The Modern Library's list of the 100 best novels in English
- The Modern Library's list of the 100 best non-fiction works in English
It's a big world...
and there's a lot to learn about it. Too much, in fact, for the evening news to cover in half an hour. Which is exactly why you should read the newspaper every day while you're not bogged down with class work. Or most days, Or once a week. Whatever paper it is, however many days a week you can spare, familiarize yourself with the minutiae of the world and the ways in which it works these days. There is more of interest, and more of importance, than you could possibly imagine. And by immersing yourself in this, by working to better understand the ways in which the world functions, you will become not only a more well-informed person, but a more interesting one, as well.
Indeed, even if you're not a student in a graduate program in, say, political science or history, you will find much of interest and relevance in the daily newspapers and weekly newsmagazines. Literature students will understand better what it means to be a human in another part of the world, and will therefore gain a better understanding of the motivations and emotions that affect us all. Science students will understand better the effects of everything they study on a much more human level than their work likely affords them. No matter what it is, no matter what sources you get your news from, try steeping yourself in the events of the world for a week - you'll be amazed at how much more connected you feel both to the world and to the lives of people halfway around the globe.
While there are thousands of sources from which to get your news, the following are some of the most highly regarded and influential. This list includes publications that espouse a number of political and cultural views. And to get the most out of reading about the news, try to vary your sources - liberal, conservative, American, British: The wider the variety of sources you read, the more well-rounded your views will be, and the more completely you will be able to form your own, unbiased opinions.
- The New York Times
- The Wall Street Journal
- The New Yorker
- The Nation
- The Atlantic
- The Economist
- The Guardian (British Newspaper)
- The Times of London (British Newspaper)
- Foreign Affairs
Movies are the great democratizing force in contemporary pop-culture. In other words, whereas many books for some reason maintain their reputation as elitist or somehow too difficult, film, no matter how avant-garde, seems somehow open and accessible to everyone. And while this formulation may be inaccurate, the fact remains that catching up on all those classic movies you never had the chance to see can only make you a, say it with me now, better, more well-rounded person.
This, of course, doesn't mean watching your way through the Jerry Bruckheimer oeuvre. It means watching those films that have affected the world, and it means trying your best to understand the movies that have impacted lives on a large scale. For example, while Pearl Harbor may have been entertaining, and while Ben Affleck may have looked oh-so-dreamy in his undershirt running around in backlit slow-motion, it's not necessarily a movie that will make a lasting impression on you, unless you happen to be a 13-year-old girl. Rather, you should watch Tora Tora Tora, or Bridge On The River Quai, or some other such movie of that same caliber.
The best movies can be every bit as affecting, and emotionally and intellectually rewarding, as the finest books. It's up to you, however, to find them. To make your task easier, however, the following link should help:
In the end, the important thing is that you take full advantage of your summer months to not just relax and shut off your brain, but rather to broaden your horizons...and maybe even make yourself into a more interesting and well-rounded person in the process.
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