What to do with my grad school notes and readings after grad school?
January 19, 2015 2:18 PM   Subscribe

New grad student here, back from 10 years in the private sector to get my masters (and if I'm lucky, a doctorate) in counseling/psychology. My question in brief: Should I hold onto my class notes and readings? Did yours come in handy after you left yon ivory tower?

I seem to be the anomaly in that I take lots of notes in class (everyone else seems to prefer printing out the PowerPoint and and reading along with very minimal annotation). I use them to study for exams and build out frameworks for major presentations and papers. I don't stress much for the major projects, while the rest of my cohort has palpitations.

There are some books I will hold onto because they're reference books, but what I am really wondering is: Should I hold onto my notes and small articles after I finish a class? Do people refer back to smaller articles or class notes once they've left school?

I just have this nightmare where I'm faced with a case where I read about it *somewhere*--and that article is then hidden behind a $5,000 paywall in the "internet of research that you will pay to access, dammit."
posted by aaxelrod to Education (21 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Articles and class notes may be very useful when preparing for either qualifying exams (if you do a PhD) or your licensing exam. After that, probably not. Of course, I'm the sort who doesn't don't keep any books I've already read unless I think I might want to loan them to someone in the future, so YMMV.
posted by DrGail at 2:31 PM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Nope. I had a lovely bonfire and I never pined for the fuel that roasted those marshmallows.

Once you're practicing, you'll start to have other insights and thoughts, and your notes will seem naive and shallow.

But I'm no pack rat and I'm an excellent researcher.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:40 PM on January 19, 2015

If you're concerned about it, you can always buy or borrow a sheet-feed scanner, and designate the last day of each month, or semester, as scanning day. Come up with a naming convention for your notes, save them in folders, and smartly back them up using Carbonite or the like. You may not ever use the paper again, but at least the notes will be safe and sound. For me personally, it helped me be okay with throwing away the paper, knowing that I had everything digitally.
posted by juniperesque at 2:47 PM on January 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

I revisited some articles and notes (only 3-4 years after graduation, so they weren't totally outdated yet) when preparing for job interviews a while back. It was useful to review some terms and concepts that I had previously known well during my student years, but didn't encounter on an everyday basis in my job at the time. Having those old notes helped me sound somewhat legitimate as a professional in my field.
posted by magdalemon at 2:48 PM on January 19, 2015

I scanned all of mine to pdf and recycled the hard copies. I still haven't needed the actual course content, but the syllabi came is handy when I was prepping for teaching.
posted by umwhat at 2:48 PM on January 19, 2015

Nthing scan it all. I really enjoy my Scansnap for this purpose, and I take the extra time to let it convert the PDFs into searchable text, which is great for finding things later. It doesn't take long to archive everything digitally, and then it's there if you need it.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 3:05 PM on January 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

If you find yourself teaching, these old notes and readings can be INVALUABLE to help prep courses. I use them on the regular and only regret the ones I didn't keep.
posted by Ms. Toad at 3:05 PM on January 19, 2015 [9 favorites]

I kept mine because I'm sentimental and also it felt weird throwing away a bunch of info about my life after 2 years in a history program. I've referenced it a fair bit in my career teaching, but my friends who didn't go into teaching have referenced their stuff much less. Syllabi have been very useful, followed by my notes about books/articles I've read.

Scan it all, and then throw away the hardcopies. We use Doxie as a scanner, which was super easy.
posted by lilac girl at 3:10 PM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I never looked at any of my notes but I did scan and create an index of all the articles. They have come in handy a few times since I graduated, I imagine I'd use them even more if I'd stayed in academia.
posted by Fuego at 3:12 PM on January 19, 2015

I kept mine around for about 3 years but never referred to them, and eventually threw them away.
posted by joan_holloway at 3:33 PM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Depending on your licensing (if you're getting licensed), if you ever move out of state and want to get licensed in a new state you may need to prove what courses you took and what was covered. I therefore have held on to all my syllabi and any articles distributed and stuck them all in a big binder. I tossed my own notes for all but the very few classes for which they seemed most practically relevant to my ongoing work.
posted by jaguar at 3:45 PM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I kept notes for stats classes and hard copies of articles I used for my dissertation.
posted by bizzyb at 4:24 PM on January 19, 2015

I regret not having all my syllabi, but that's about it. Three years and three moves and basically none of my marked up readings survived. There are slight moments of pain trying to re-find a paper I want, but it's usually manageable. Even when I had physical access, the prospect of paging through only semi-sorted boxes of papers was not that appealing and I'd usually just try to re-find online anyway.
posted by heresiarch at 4:38 PM on January 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

If there's a qual, hold on to those notes. I also found the materials from old classes useful for teaching, including articles (because sometimes the information in the syllabus wasn't enough to grab a good teaching example from the literature).
My notes I dumped, for everything but statistics classes.
I even got rid of the information from my master's and doctoral theses eventually. (After more than 5 years, and of course the datasets live on in their home institutions.)
posted by gingerest at 4:56 PM on January 19, 2015

Best answer: I've kept mine (electronically) for about ten years, and have probably been back to maybe 1% of them, and only on one or two occasions. Actually, never the notes, but only the articles. The problem is, once you no longer recall taking the notes, you won't trust your own memory or past you's ability to have properly understood the material. So I'd always go back to published sources rather than my own previous interpretations of said sources.

As for the articles, 99% of the time it has been easier to just google what I want to reread, and it will turn up somewhere: a preprint version on the author's homepage, a version on the university's repository, or it will be in a journal my university subscribes to. But I'm still at a university. If you won't be, one day, then it is true that you might not have access to the journals anymore. But if you are going to do a MA and a doctorate, you being out of the system is at least seven or eight years away, and maybe we will have solved the whole academic publishing nightmare by then.

Also, mostly when I want to reread something I looked at in my MA or PhD, I don't recall enough detail to be able to find it in my own files. For example, I don't remember the author's name or the article's title, only its topic. And then Google is going to be able to find it way quicker than I can manually.
posted by lollusc at 5:19 PM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

PS: A very useful secret, unless you are primarily reading material by dead people, is that academics really really want you to read and cite their stuff. So you will almost never be completely unable to access a paper. Rather, you might have a delay of a week while you write to the author, beg for a copy, and they will email it to you. I have never ever had this fail, even with very famous people in the field.

So if you do save all your notes and articles, you aren't preparing for a day when something is paywalled, but rather for a day when something is paywalled AND the author is dead or unresponsive to email. It's up to you to judge how unlikely that really is.
posted by lollusc at 5:22 PM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, hold on to them digitally. Scan everything and archive them. I'm now a long way into my field and kicking myself for the notes and cites I didn't save early on. Save all your articles as PDFs (the stuff you read for your degree is most likely the foundational stuff you are going to want to cite as background on many future papers and conference presentations). Scan and save your notes.
posted by Miko at 6:29 PM on January 19, 2015

As a professor, my old class notes have been invaluable in inspiring exam and homework questions...
posted by mr_roboto at 6:52 PM on January 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I went though and discarded many of the notes I took, saving what I thought might be useful in the future based on (a) what I was planning to do professionally at the end of grad school (i.e. teaching) and (b) what I wanted to keep in terms of general intellectual merit and interest. This process included tearing out a handful of pages from a given notebook and discarding the rest. If I were truly motivated, I'd scan it all and put it in a database, but haven't yet.

I got rid of almost all the hard copy articles and other readings after adding anything interesting to a bibliography assuming I'd be able to get copies of anything I really needed through inter-library loan (which can take a while for a non-academic public library but they should be able to get most items published in academic journals).
posted by audi alteram partem at 6:07 AM on January 20, 2015

Electronic storage is basically free for this kind of material.

I keep every book or article I get in electronic form, and I attempt to keep all my notes, too, although I am a little lax about scanning them in. There is basically no downside, so even if the benefits are tiny it seems worthwhile.

If you are going to do a lot of professional (or academic) writing, you may in fact get a lot of use out of this material. It's less likely to help in day-to-day practice, but again: why not keep it if it costs you nothing?

I still have most of my law school notes and have referred to them a few times over the years (rarely relevant to practice).
posted by grobstein at 8:34 AM on January 20, 2015

Here's what I would do - scan everything into Evernote, throw out the papers, and forget about it. Then it's always there if you ever want to look at it.
posted by kdern at 2:02 PM on January 20, 2015

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