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At present, I write here infrequently. You can find my current, regular blogging over at The Deliberate Owl.

graduates at an outside commencement throwing their hats in the air, with pine trees in the background

Considering applying to graduate school? Or enrolled already, but second guessing your decision?

I was talking with another mom at the park last week. Her husband had a PhD, but wasn't using it much in his career. He hadn't gone into academia, or even into research. That's frequently the case for PhDs. Sure, having the credential could be helpful in landing gigs. But … "Is going to grad school worth it?" she asked me.

No, graduate school is not always worth it. The key is deciding whether it is worth it for you, right now. Many factors go into your decision: personal, practical, financial.

Can you afford grad school?

Graduate school is a notoriously expensive investment. The expected payoff is that you will earn a higher income and attain a more desirable career as a result. But is this actually true?

It depends entirely on your field and your personal career goals.

Many students end up in debt. You're more likely to pay for your degree and take on debt if you are pursuing a degree in the social sciences or humanities, or for a professional degree such as an MD or JD. In STEM fields, and some social sciences, you are more likely to find funding, such as a scholarship or fellowship, for your studies—but it's not guaranteed!

Consider your finances carefully before jumping into grad school.

Does a graduate degree help you?

Going to grad school can help you achieve your career goals… but it can also hurt. Many PhDs don't become professors or go into research—like my friend's husband. That means they've trained for a job they don't have. What do they do instead? All kinds of things. But when you choose a career path that doesn't require a graduate degree, the people who started that path before you—without attending grad school—may be seen as more qualified and may be hired or promoted over you.

Think carefully about your potential career paths up front. Revisit your plans regularly and consider your options.

(Read: [How I Built a Career from Strengths and Interests—and How Your Kids Can, Too](

Do your career goals require a graduate degree?

If your career goals require a graduate degree, then you should carefully evaluate whether a graduate degree is the only possible path to that career.

Professional degrees can often be required for a particular career path—such as a JD for lawyers.

If you're in the humanities, and some social sciences, grad school is less likely to be worth it. You're more likely to end up in debt, because there's as not much funding available for advanced humanities degrees, at either the Master's or PhD level. An advanced humanities degree is not required for many careers. If you want to be a professor, sure; but there are few tenure-track positions available, and the adjunct life is only appealing in certain cases.

In STEM fields, and some social sciences, grad school can be a useful stepping stone to a wider variety of careers—professorships, government research, and industry research. Many higher up positions in research-heavy fields require a Master's or PhD. Some, however, may just as easily accept an equivalent number of years of experience. Do your career goals require a graduate degree?

Do your personal goals allow for a graduate degree?

Even if your career requires a graduate degree, your broader life goals may not. Grad school takes a long time. Master's programs are generally one or two years. A PhD can take up to a decade, depending on the program and your field. A decade is a long time.

What else are you putting on hold while you're in school? What are your other personal goals for your life? Do you want to live in a particular place? Do you want a family? You may already have roots in a particular place, or a family, or a spouse's career to consider. These factors impact your decision to attend grad school—or not. What do you have to give up? What else could you be doing?

(Read: [Why I Went To Graduate School](

Does going to grad school help you?

Ask yourself these questions:

    What do I value? How do I live out my values? What career do I want? Why? What are the different ways I could pursue this career? Is graduate school absolutely necessary, or can I learn what is needed in another way? Are there similar careers equally appealing that require less schooling? What are my financial goals? Does graduate school help me reach them? Can I afford more school? Is it worth it? Can I trade time and money for the future payout of a more desirable career? What's the opportunity cost? What could I be doing instead? What am I giving up to attend graduate school? Think about where you want to be in five years, or ten years. If you were at the end of your life looking back, what would you wish you had done more of—or less of? Who would you wish you had spent more time with?

Make sure your plans line up with your priorities. Don't go to grad school by default. Only go if it's the best option for you and helps you learn and achieve what you want to learn and achieve.

Like this post? You'll find even more detailed advice about managing grad school and life in my new book, Grad School Life: Surviving and Thriving Beyond Coursework and Research. Order it today!


book Grad School Life: Surviving and Thriving Beyond Coursework and Research by Jacqueline M. Kory-Westlund standing upright on a bookshelf with a stack of more copies behind. It shows a piles of papers behind the title, with a small potted plant on top of one stack, and the bottom half of the page covered in blue as if underwater

Today is the day!

My book, Grad School Life: Surviving and Thriving Beyond Coursework and Research has been published!

You can now buy a copy at your favorite book retailer:

Or, you can ask your local library to purchase a copy!

book Grad School Life: Surviving and Thriving Beyond Coursework and Research by Jacqueline M. Kory-Westlund. It shows a piles of papers behind the title, with a small potted plant on top of one stack, and the bottom half of the page covered in blue as if underwater

It's real! I wrote a book.

I got my copies about a week ago. When I returned home from the park that day with my kids, I found a book-shaped package on my doorstep. The return address said Columbia University Press. I tore open the cardboard as soon as we got inside. My book! An actual, physical thing!

Given how lengthy the publication process has been, going from idea to physical product, it's a little hard to believe. Yet here we are!

Grad School Life description

Grad school isn’t easy. It’s even less easy when you’re also managing a second job, a family, or depression—or when you are a first-generation student, or if you come from an underrepresented group or a lower socioeconomic-status background. Grad students are overworked, overstressed, and over it.

Most grad school advice books focus on the professional side: finding funding, managing research and teaching, and applying for academic jobs. But students today face a difficult job market. Only a handful will obtain coveted tenure-track professorships, so they need alternative career prep. Plus, grad school is only one part of your life. And with an average age of 33 years, today’s students are juggling far more than school.

That’s where this book comes in. It will help you keep up a personal life, make the most of your time, and prepare for your career—whether in academia or beyond. This pragmatic book explains how to persevere through the grad school long haul, covering challenges both on and off campus. It shares candid, specific advice on personal finances, mental health, setting your own learning and career goals, maintaining friendships and relationships, and more.

Peppy, sensible, and smart, Grad School Life points out the pitfalls of academia and helps you build the life you want. With fresh insights, concrete suggestions and exercises, and helpful lists of resources, this book gives grad students a new roadmap for not only surviving but thriving—both in school and in the real world.


"The book provides an insightful view of the PhD journey, focusing on how to adapt to a range of challenges in grad school, and how to protect your sense of self and wellbeing throughout the process. "—Zoë J. Ayres, author of Managing Your Mental Health During Your PhD: A Survival Guide
Grad School Life is a valuable addition to a growing literature on how graduate students can succeed inside and outside the academy. This book is well-informed and offers some good advice on subjects ranging from your adviser to your budget. —Leonard Cassuto, Fordham University, coauthor of The New PhD and author of The Graduate School Mess
"Grad School Life contains a plethora of information and advice about finding a balance between one’s personal life and graduate school. Kory-Westlund brings a genuine, pleasant, humorous, and reassuring voice to this comprehensive work." —David D. Perlmutter, professor of journalism and creative media industries, Texas Tech University
"This is one of those books I wish I had when I was a student, which is the second nicest thing I can say about it. The nicest thing I can say from my perspective as a recent director of graduate studies in a PhD program is that Grad School Life offers real-world, accurate, and unvarnished advice that is essential to any student entering the sciences. A truly tremendous contribution." —James C. Zimring, Thomas W. Tillack Professor of Experimental Pathology, University of Virginia School of Medicine


book cover for Grad School Life: Surviving and Thriving Beyond Coursework and Research by Jacqueline M. Kory-Westlund. It shows a piles of papers behind the title, with a small potted plant on top of one stack, and the bottom half of the page covered in blue as if underwater

Get ready, because this update is a big one!

First, I have a BOOK COVER! See above!

And a PUBLICATION DATE: April 2, 2024!

The book is now listed online on the Columbia University Press website! Preorders are available there, and with other book retailers! If you order through CUP, you can use the discount code CUP20 at checkout to receive 20% off.

What is the rest of the book production process like?

In my last update, I explained the production process. Since then, the production editor has taken the copyedited pages to format the whole book and create page proofs.

Right now, I'm in the midst of checking the page proofs. It's pretty cool to have a complete PDF of my book in hand! My job is to read through everything as carefully as I can to catch any final typos and factual errors—the little stuff that can be fixed at this stage.

I'm also creating the index. University presses frequently ask authors to create the index (you can hire it out if you want, on your own dime). It's time consuming, but I can squeeze it in more easily than I can spare the cost of a professional indexer. I'm doing the first pass while proofreading—picking keywords, adding some page numbers. Then I'll do a second pass to catch any mentions of words that I missed the first time through.

My proof corrections and index draft are due Dec 1. Then, there's the next round of proofs for the index and front matter. We should have a bound book sometime in January, with the publication—as mentioned—February 27!

What else is left?

Marketing and book promotion. I filled out CUP's marketing questionnaire a few months ago, so I presume at some point I'll hear from their marketing people. But, without waiting for them, I have some social media work to do—posts to plan and queue up. I have updates to my personal/author website to finish, and blog posts to write. And, of course, book promotion doesn't end at publication!

It's so cool to have the final product in sight.

* This post first appeared on The Deliberate Owl.


the little blue engine that could pulling the train of toys over the mountain

My book has been copyedited!

That means my book is chugging along like the little engine that could: I think I can I think I can, and if we keep chugging, we will slowly, slowly climb over the mountain to publication.

What happens in editing and production?

This stage means that the manuscript is relatively final—I turned it in, it went through peer review, my editor gave comments, I revised, my editor commented, I revised more. Now, most of the work is in the hands of my publisher, Columbia University Press (CUP). I give some input, but they're the ones hard at work right now.

At this stage, we have settled on a title: Grad School Life: Surviving and Thriving Beyond Coursework and Research

The manuscript went to the copyeditor. I got the copyeditor's edits, comments, and questions back last week. I have a couple weeks to read and respond. I also need to supply the final back material soon (e.g., the acknowledgements).

There's no book cover yet, but it's coming. I filled out a design questionnaire to give preliminary input. I'm excited to see what the designer comes up with!

After copyediting, the production editor gets the manuscript ready for composition and typesetting. The goal is to have page proofs by mid-October. Then there's indexing.

After that, it's a marketing game! I've returned CUP's questionnaires about marketing plans and cover copy. We'll talk at some point about the details, I suspect in October or later.

And then… I'm not sure what the schedule is! I expect it'll depend on exactly how quickly we get through it all, and on the timeline of other books in CUP's pipeline.

* This post first appeared on The Deliberate Owl.


a book with its pages fanned out in the air reting atop three other thick volumes that are also open

The most important update: I'm finished with revisions and we're moving into production!

As part of that, I'm delighted to announce that the working title I've used so far is not the final title! I was positive that my editor and the marketing team at Columbia University Press (CUP) could come up with something better than I could when writing my book proposal—and I was right.

New working title, to be finalized in the next few weeks:

Grad School Life: A Guide to Surviving and Thriving Beyond Coursework and Research.

What was the review and revision process like?

The review process had three stages. First, as an academic press, CUP requires peer review of all books it publishes. My editor handled finding reviewers and sending the manuscript out for peer review. We got two peer reviewers. It took a while, since academics are busy people. My job was to read the reviews, write a letter explaining how I'd address their concerns, and then actually address their concerns in my manuscript.

Both reviews were incredibly positive. One reviewer's primary concern was that the book is long and academics are probably too busy to read an entire book. Okay, yeah, true. Maybe if they read my chapters on time management and productivity first..? I suggested some changes to organization, a more detailed table of contents, etc to help busy students find the information they're looking for.

The other reviewer just wanted some commentary on the generational shift in how current students and their mentors approach salary, the demands of graduate education, and work-life balance … namely: some professors think students are entitled and obnoxious; some students think they're underpaid, overworked, and exploited. It's an interesting (and divisive) issue and deserves some commentary, so I agreed to add some.

With the peer reviewers and my response letter in hand, my editor then met with the faculty board at CUP to get approval for moving the manuscript into production. They approved it, but were worried that the book might be more relevant for STEM students than humanities/social sciences students. Namely: STEM students have more job opportunities and face less precarity. My editor and I agreed that it'd help to reframe portions of the introduction and add explicit commentary on the environment of grad school (which was covered in more detail later in the book).

My editor made a few other suggestions to help make the book cross-disciplinary. Life at the MIT Media Lab is different from life as a humanities Master's student! I found her perspective very useful for improving the book. She suggested anecdotes to add and aspects of life as a humanities student to discuss that I may not have known about otherwise.

(Read: Why write a book? How do you meet deadlines? And other answers)

Revisions and alpha readers

Besides the feedback from CUP, I shared various chapters with colleagues at the Ronin Institute. Several women offered feedback, which I greatly appreciated. I completely restructured the introduction based on their comments and it is far better for it!

(Read: How to Level Up at Anything: Using Science to Approach Mastery)

I spent a couple weeks making all the revisions and going back and forth with my editor. Then we decided it was time for the next step.

Moving into production

Production of a book involves a lot of people and a lot of steps. I have a plateful of tasks—e.g., give my opinion about cover design. CUP asked me to share cover designs I liked, aesthetic preferences, ideas or themes to highlight, related books. I'm glad to have a team working on this with me!

I have a questionnaire to fill out for CUP about marketing, and another to provide summaries and info for the book jacket copy. I need to format the manuscript with Word (I write all my drafts in Google Docs for ease of access on my phone and sharing with others for feedback). I need to finish writing the back material, namely stuff like the acknowledgements. At some point there's an index to create.

While the manuscript is "done", it's not done. But we're getting there, and it feels like we're making progress. Publication is inching closer.

(Read: The Incremental Method to Achieving Long-term Goals and Getting Things Done)

While you're waiting for the book…

Earlier this year, I was on a panel at the Ronin Institute about how to write and publish a book. It was well-attended, fun, and informative. Here's my summary. All of us on the panel also wrote up a general summary of the questions and answers, which you can read here.

* This post first appeared on The Deliberate Owl.