57 Ways to Screw Up in Grad School 

Perverse Professional Lessons for Graduate Students 

By Kevin D. Haggerty and Aaron Doyle

University of Chicago Press, 2015

57 Ways to Screw Up in Grad School can be described as a cautionary tale of graduate school’s common pitfalls, especially those whose effects can reverberate for years. While it is easy to sabotage one’s own prospects in graduate school, the authors warn, the resulting damage can be incredibly difficult to repair.

Though the 57 screw-ups surveyed here can be avoided through careful consideration of the momentous choices one is expected make in graduate school, many graduate students continue to make these choices casually, thus repeating the same mistakes of their predecessors. The impetus behind this book, then, is to help graduate students avoid needless damage by providing them with a comprehensive guidebook that covers the personal, academic, and professional pitfalls of graduate school.

Despite the seriousness of the subject matter and the gravity of the potential mistakes, this “portrait of grad school” is written in a highly engaging style. The authors present the screw-ups as supposed recommendations to those who insist on ruining their experience in graduate school and on crushing the dreams that brought them there. They assure the reader “that following our 57-step program will result in a dreadful grad school experience.” This facetious framing device made it possible for the authors to write a serious yet readable, and often humorous, book.

If you happen to be drawn to the dreadful experience the book promises, here is a taste of the missteps you might consider making: ignore the market, stay at the same university, follow the money blindly, choose the coolest supervisor, concentrate only on your thesis, organize everything only in your head, socialize only with your clique, never compromise, and consider a non-academic career as a form of failure.

The 57 steps are of course too numerous to list here. However, one could mention the thread running through many of them: when stepping into a graduate program, you are essentially stepping into a professional space. Like all professional spaces, graduate school functions according to a complex array of unwritten rules. Thorough knowledge and serious consideration of these rules (which are by no means secret) can save you both the dread while in graduate school and the potential damage to your career in the years to come.

In a way, failing to learn these rules means failing to learn the institutional history of the professional context where you will spend some of the most productive years of your life. And we all know what happens to those who do not learn from history.