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I plan to enter graduate school (MA+PhD) in September 2018, which means I have something of a ‘gap year situation’ ahead of me [not in a strict sense, as I’ve been working for a number of years now]. I want to use this unstructured time ahead the best way I can.

If you were in my position, how would you spend these spare 12 months before grad school officially begins and the clock starts ticking? How would you prepare for what’s ahead, what would you focus on?

It goes without saying that I have already given these questions a lot of careful consideration, but I’m very curious to learn how others would approach this topic; especially, current PhD candidates, postdocs, and lecturers/professors. Knowing what you now know, if you could go back, how would you spend a spare year like that?

Some background:

  • My field is social/cultural anthropology.
  • My ultimate goal (grad school and beyond) is to prepare a CV and a research portfolio, which will aid me in launching an academic career in Europe.
  • I have a BA in anthropology and an unrelated MA,
  • I currently freelance (unrelated field); I have plenty of spare time, and can arrange my schedule in whatever way I see fit.
  • I live in a mid-size European city (not a capital); can’t move anywhere this year, but can likely do some limited traveling.
  • There’s a small anthropology department here, but I’m not affiliated with it, and never was. My degree is from the US.
  • I can speak the local language fairly well.
  • The grad school (next year) will be in a different county, and learning the new language will be one of my key objectives this year. The language of instruction will be English, however.

Note: Not sure if I made this clear, but I’m not looking for suggestions such as “travel for fun,” or “get a new hobby.” I want to use these 12 months in the most productive way possible.

In response to feedback from comments: I would like the advice focused on: setting myself up to do outstanding work in grad school and beyond (postdocs, etc). I am not concerned with the "getting into grad school" part here.

  • To ensure you get the most helpful advice, you might want to specify if you want to prepare to get into competitive programs, or if you mainly want to prepare so you can do a good job in your program itself. – BrianH Aug 12 '17 at 18:16
  • @BrianHall - thanks for the feedback. I would like the advice focused on: setting myself up to do outstanding work in grad school and beyond (postdocs, etc). I am not concerned with getting into grad school. Thank you again for pointing this out! – Oatmeal Durkheim Aug 12 '17 at 20:51
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  1. Your PhD courses usually dwell on foundational articles. Buy/borrow a "reader book" that has all (or many) of these articles in one place.
  2. Get a part-time job in a field associated with one of the subject groups that you would study/focus on. If you are interested in the geography of farmers, see if you can work as one. Keep it part-time.
  3. Get in touch with the local anthro- group.
  4. More meta: by whichever means, find out where the field is and where it is going. This may highlight some new skills that you need to work on minimally. For instance, social science now has a robust quantitative component. Anyone who ignores that is playing with fire.
  5. Don't add more shit to this list.
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    In support of items 1 and 4, if there is even a small anthropology department, the local college library probably has at least basic anthropology material. See if you can get access to at least go to the library and read, if not borrow books. – Patricia Shanahan Aug 12 '17 at 18:16
  • Right. And leaving books in the library may be more convenient than borrowing them. For this "short" period, you don't want to get bogged down with a lot of books at home (unless for a special reason). – user296844 Aug 16 '17 at 20:07

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