47 days. That’s how many days I’ve been in grad school. 75. That’s about how many chapters and articles I’ve read. 3. That’s the number of things I’ve done that I would consider fun. (These days what I consider fun includes: sleeping in on the weekends, hanging out with a friend and her toddlers, going for a walk, and not reading. I’m very much becoming an old (illiterate) lady.)
I’ve always considered myself someone who enjoys reading and who is good at it too. Looking at words that other people have put on paper and making sense of them have always been things I win at. That was then. The problems I have with reading in grad school, aside from the quantity of readings and breadth of topics, is the very field-specific vocabulary and concepts. Yes, I know what “discursive” means and I know what “practice” means, but what do you mean by putting them together? And what about the other words that are not found in the old Merriam-Webster: Vygotskian, Englishization. I’ve also discovered new words I didn’t even know existed, perhaps because all these years I’ve been reading the wrong kinds of books and/or talking to the wrong kinds of people: hegemony, epistemology, etc.
Add to that the fact that I spent the last 2 years reading an average of 1 book a month ranging from Norwegian Wood to Heroics for Beginners. Not exactly research based writing with the annoying APA formatting.
Well, it has been more than one month and I’ve had to develop some strategies to be an efficient reader. Here are some of the things I do that have helped me:
1. Read the title and abstract (if provided) and skim through the text to get a sense of what I’m about to read.
2. Write in the margins, underline words/concepts/whatever I don’t understand or need more background on.
3. Who is the author? After reading enough articles some names will keep popping up in the citations and references and (I hope) at some point I’ll be able to tell what a specific author will talk about.
4. Think about step one in terms of the class and the topics that are being covered that week so I can better contextualize the article.
5. If my professor has given guiding/discussion questions, reading them before reading the article. This helps me pick up on certain things the first time around instead of having to skim through the article a second time.
6. Discuss with classmates – they might have a different take on the article than I do or understand something I didn’t and vice versa.
7. Take notes. Because that is how I roll. I need to paraphrase/summarize what I’m reading and so I take notes in the margins and on separate sheets of paper.
8. Pace myself. I check out the syllabus and make a list of the articles/chapters I’ll have to read for the week for each class so I can divvy them up. It makes it easier to understand the articles if I only read 2 a day instead of 5 all at once for the next day.
9. Know thyself. I can’t read electronic versions of academic writing (I need to make notes in the margins). If I read a pdf version of an article my brain will retain nothing and my eyes will twitch for weeks. And my soul will be sad.
10. Because I refuse to end on an odd number.
I’m looking forward to next semester because I’m assuming that by then I’ll be a lot more familiar with the concepts of my field and will have developed even more grad school reading skills. Also, I’m hoping I’ll have a life by then.