It was overwhelming at first for me, too. I would spend the entire day trying to slog through the readings for just one class, at first. You get better at it. Partly, it just comes easier as you learn the lingo, and partly you get smarter about what to read vs. skim.
My first year, an older student who was getting a joint PhD in my program and history recommended to us that we read the first chapter and last chapter of any scholarly book, and just skim what came between (unless something was especially compelling). However, this advice doesn’t work as reliably for articles, in my experience. You can skim them too but in a different way.
Not that you asked, but let me throw a suggestion out there–consider making an index of what you read. Nothing elaborate, but something like an index card (listen to me being analog, here…you could do this on your laptop or whatever) for every book you read. It doesn’t have to be profoundly detailed, but just a good summary. This could be invaluable down the road. Someone suggested I do this and I ignored it, to my later regret.
Better yet, get some bib program like Endnote and add the thing to the library and stick a synopsis/ notes in the abstract field. And the abstract from whatever the hip database is for your field. And some keywords. Might make life easier when you start to research a thesis topic.
Another engineering grad student checking in. Yeah, it’s just the humanities. When I was taking classes, I’d probably read under 100 pages a week, but then again, homework assignments (“problem sets”) would require 20+ pages of math/equations/technical writing, so I guess it all balances out. Nowadays, I read about 5 - 10 journal articles per week, at about 10-20 pages each.
And yes, get EndNote! When I think about all the time I wasted before I found the miracle that is EndNote, it makes me sad.
Being a literature major, our reading load was pretty intense. For each class we’d have a novel and several critical articles to read per week. Not sure how many pages it added up to, but our school was supposed to be notorious for its workload. It was enough to keep us all on our toes, at any rate.
I remember that in the first semester the reading for one class alone formed a stack about 3 meters high, and I actually read it.
I turned in a 207 page essay in response. I’ll give that teacher full credit, the comments on every page made it obfvious he’s read the entire thing and was reflecting on my ideas. But that was the exception.
I remember that by the end of my third year I had made enough generalizations about the perspectives of the various authors likely to be assigned that I could categorize them after a short sample of their material and pull from my butt a pretty good invented reconstructon of what they’d probably asserted and the kinds of studies they’d pulled together in support of it. And I had gotten to the point I didn’t want to read anything by anyone unless the author was going to read what I wrote in reciprocity. I had damned little interest in being “fully familiar with the contemporary journal articles in the peer-reviewed periodicals within my field”. Bunch of inbred narrowly-focused navel-gazing paper-pushing academic rats with tenure dreams and never-ending thirst for grant money.
Communicating ideas for their own sake was one thing; communicating ideas about someone else’s ideas in a perpetually self-referential exercise in piggybacking off the Q Factor of the currently trendy journal lit, hoping to be cited as a consequence of having written about what everyone else wants to write about, etc…? Let’s just say I didn’t enjoy grad school anywhere near as much as I enjoyed my years as an undergrad.
Endnote is full of good. I’m lucky in that I got a copy when I was in my second-to-last year of undergrad. I don’t actually do keywords/abstracts/notes for every book I read, but whenever I do take notes (usually for papers), they go in there.
I’d wager that many of the people who enroll in graduate school also read for pleasure (or used to, before enrolling) in pageweights that are just as boast-worthy. However, I suspect many of them would assert that the material one reads for grad school is different in its demands on one’s faculties. It’s not necessarily the same kind of fun pleasure that allows one to merrily tear through the pages, like one might a profoundly good novel or an interesting piece of nonficiton.
I love reading, but I’ve never found a detailed description of Heirarchical Linear Modeling or a debate about the merits of using Social Capital as a conceptual framework for dropout anywhere near as fun or engaging as something I selected for myself.
There are people in grad school who love that stuff just as much as they love “lighter” reading, but in my experience they are a minority. If they are the only people who truly should be in grad school, I bet we’d quickly have a shortage of PhDs.
I’m “fortunate” in that my program has a balance of problem-set classes and reading classes. Taking a balance of these each semester is key to my sanity. My M.S. is in Technical Communication (from an English dept.) so the problem sets were kind of a new deal for me. I had to get a grasp on the fact that they will take entire days, sometimes longer. My husband, with his Ph.D. in Engineering, is astounded by the number of books I purchase each semester, and I don’t think he even realizes the articles I print out. His program was all problem sets, all the time.
When I started law school I’d been two years out of academia, so my study habits had atrophied quite a bit, but it wasn’t long before I got in the swing of things. I’d guesstimate I read/skimmed a couple of hundred pages a day, on average. The reading itself wasn’t ever really the problem - assimilating it and recalling it later was. Oddly enough and despite all the small print, that was the only period of my life (until recently) where my vision actually improved! But my interest in recreational reading definitely dropped off. By the end of each day I just wanted to watch a little TV, mebbe paw my then-girlfriend and go to sleep.
Well, my master’s is in English, so you can imagine how much reading I’m having to do. My first semester required the reading of no less than six novels, approximately 100 pages of poetry (including Tennyson’s “In Memoriam”) and a dozen longish essays. That was Victorian Lit. Last semester was worse; eight novels, including both of James Joyce’s monstrosities and Thomas Pynchon’s “Mason and Dixon”; six plays, 150 pages of poetry, a dozen short stories and damn near everything Jonathan Swift ever wrote. This semester: Renaissance! Shakespeare!
And that’s just the reading. Each class requires a weekly essay, a mid-term paper and a final paper of 22-25 pages.