Letter to New Students

Dear New Students,

If you are going to make the most of your lightning-fast Master’s year at the University of Chicago, you’ll need to learn how to mobilize the impressive array of academic resources available to you: faculty, courses, libraries, online journals, academic workshops, cultural events, and so on. Arguably, the single most important of those resources will be your “preceptor.”

The preceptors are a select group of Ph.D. students assigned to serve as sources of guidance and support to Master’s students throughout the year. We, the preceptors, are the resources best equipped to help you make the most—quickly, sensitively, and effectively—of all the other resources. Because preceptors have already accumulated a wealth of knowledge about everything from the quirks of individual professors to contemporary standards in academic writing, we will serve as your primary sounding boards when it comes to the likes of selecting courses, developing thesis topics, and finding faculty thesis advisors. More generally, your preceptor can help you plot an itinerary for the coming year, strategize your way through any obstacles you may encounter, and experience the overarching ambitiousness of your M.A. year as both manageable and fulfilling—perhaps even thrilling.

Conversely, the most important thing that you can do to help your preceptor is to keep him or her apprised about what is going on with you. If at some point in the year you should find yourself having difficulty—whether intellectually, psychologically, or otherwise—talk to your preceptor. Preceptors will never be disappointed or judgmental about that. Most of us will have found ourselves in similar positions throughout our own graduate careers. But our experience also tells us that, under the quarter system, small problems can escalate into large ones fairly quickly. If you keep your preceptor in the loop about what’s going on with you, he or she will likely be able to help—or will direct you to someone who can.

Last but not least, keep in mind that the preceptors will prove only as useful to you as your willingness to use us. Following psychoanalytic theorist D.W. Winnicott, I like to think of the “preceptor” as a kind of all-purpose academic “use-object.” Indeed, the take-home point that I’ve tried to make in each of the foregoing paragraphs is that our utility depends on your uptake. We’re here for you. Don’t neglect to use us!

Your Preceptor,
Adam Jernigan

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