Psychology 101½: The unspoken rules for success in academia

This book examines methods of overcoming obstacles in obtaining academic success

Author: Robert J. Sternberg (2004, APA)
Reviewed by Jeffrey D. Shahidullah, EdS, NCSP, Michigan State University

Many graduate students, whether inspired by an undergraduate professor, called by a pursuit of knowledge, or intrigued by the freedom and flexibility that the job offers, pursue a career in academia. They oftentimes have a general sense of the obstacles in getting there (e.g., acceptance into a doctoral program, completing the thesis, dissertation, and internship, etc.). While passing these obstacles are certainly pre-requisites, they do not alone assure attainment of an academic position. In Psychology 101½: The Unspoken Rules for Success in Academia, Robert J. Sternberg, a renowned intelligence researcher, offers insights into what he calls “tacit knowledge” for success in academia. This tacit knowledge, usually acquired though personal revelation after setbacks, defeats, and many years of experience in the field is presented to graduate students and young professionals in the form of 101 (and ½) rules for success.

With 101½ rules, it should come as no surprise that many present as trite and clichéd (e.g., “Be true to yourself; Be respectful and pleasant towards others; Don’t try to please everyone”). However, while still fairly obvious on the surface, these rules cannot be reiterated enough as they truly are of such import that one’s career will be dictated on these non-academic activities just as much as one’s academic contributions. While teaching, conducting research, publishing articles, and writing grants are vital for progress in an academic career, navigating professional and personal relationships, being trustworthy, ethical, and easy to work with are just as important.

The books’ greatest strength is its straightforward advice supplemented by personal examples. Accumulated throughout his rather extensive and illustrious career from interactions with students and colleges, the examples provided portray situations and scenarios in which all students and young professionals are likely to find themselves in. Sternberg offers commentary on some of the moral and ethical dilemmas which the field presents. The rules are invaluable to students and young professionals as they continually emphasize how small the world of academia can be and how oftentimes our reputations may precede us. Also, many of the rules remind graduate students, in particular, that their careers do not start upon the attainment of a faculty position, but rather from the time they first step foot on campus for graduate school, if not before. Sternberg’s’ Psychology 101 ½ should be a part of every graduate students required reading and a constant reminder that while scholarly contributions to the field may open doors, living with integrity, honesty, and pride in both personal and professional life will keep them open.

About the Author

Jeffrey D. Shahidullah, EdS, NCSP is a school psychology doctoral student at Michigan State University, East ansing, MI.