Case Study: To The Letter

James M. Tolliver, Céleste M. Grimard


As he is about to retire, professor Ian Finagle reviews some letters that his dissertation advisor, Maggie, sent him over the years. As a PhD student, Ian is especially anxious about ‘having it made’ so that he can let his guard down and enjoy life. Essentially, he wants to know what it takes to be successful as an academic, especially since it seems to be a moving target. Once a milestone is reached, another one appears in the distance. In her letters, Maggie tells Ian to be his own judge of when he has ‘arrived.’ She offers advice concerning the dissertation process, how research is done, tenure, and the definition of career success. Our case study encourages Ph.D. students to evaluate this advice based on their current experience, career objectives, and the values that they have been taught in their Ph.D. program. They are also challenged to evaluate their implicit beliefs and values concerning the dissertation process, research, definitions of career success, and the rewards available to academics


Career Success; Values; Research Process; Socialization

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