MIT Press is producing a 2nd edition of William Thomson's A Guide for the Young Economist: Writing and Speaking Effectively about Economics. I know this because I was asked to be a reader for MIT on the new material, which is advice on "Being a Graduate Student in Economics."
Among the important pieces of advice for graduate students Thomson provides let me list them:
1. Understand the difference between undergraduate studies and graduate studies. Undergraduate studies is about the absorbing knowledge, graduate studies is about preparing to, and the act of, creating knowledge.
2. Don't be a stranger. Work with classmates, attend seminars, take advantage of the opportunities to meet with visitors, and above all else make sure the professors know you, your interests and the quality of your work. Hiding out in the library studying (or in your apartment), while necessary at times, should not be your main daily routine. Work in study groups, attend lectures in classes that are not necessarily in the classes you are taking for credit, and seek help from, and provide help to, your classmates when troubles with course and exam material arise.
3. When you teach, teach well, but don't teach too much. Research will determine your future, not teaching. Even if you want a teaching job, you have to impress with your research. But obviously when you teach, do as good a job teaching as you are capable of.
4. Co-author with fellow students and faculty, but not for your job-market paper. Co-authorship is a norm today in our profession, but avoid co-authoring your job market paper if you can. Hiring committees will not know how to access the contribution.
5. Read with research in mind. Don't just aimlessly read, read with a purpose and that purpose for a would-be PhD is to contribute to the stock of knowledge in the discipline of economics. Always have projects going.
6. Develop a very thick skin and really good set of ears. Do not hide your work from your peers or your professors, but also don't insist that your work is brilliant and in no need of revision. Circulate your work, present your work, and learn from the feedback. But don't circulate too early. You should not circulate your work unless your main advisor tells you that your paper is worth getting feedback from others. And when you do circulate originally, do so sequentially. First to a few who are very likely to give feedback, and then depending on the reaction to others, etc. Revise to meet objections, do not get angry at objections. Remember that the perception of the quality of your work reflects not only on you, but also your advisor so consult with your advisor frequently.
7. Don't sit on papers. In other words, don't have 10 working papers, let alone 20. Get them out the door to journals. But only if they are ready. Revise until ready, but then submit. And remember that thick skin when reading referee reports.
8. Think about the job market. Don't just throw applications out there, but think through the process. You should have "reach schools", "target schools" and "safety schools" on your list. You should be ruthlessly realistic in your assessment of your skills and possibilities. A general rule of thumb that I tell students (Thomson doesn't mention this) is that you should not expect to be able to land a job at a school that would not hire your advisor. So again the choice of advisor is critical, so invest some time in knowing about your advisors career and perception that others outside of your university have of that advisor. Simple signals to read are placement of publications, recent departmental research seminars he/she has given, and placement of previous students. More complicated signals to get might include recent offers that he/she has fielded from other departments, or recent visiting posts they have held. But neither simple or complicated signals are really that hard to read, you just have to look with your own eyes.
9. Mock Interviews. Try to get your faculty advisor to set up a mock interview. Also give trial runs of your job talk.
10. Defend, vacation, get to work. After your defense, stay around a few weeks to make sure everything is good to go with final version, take some time to relax and then get to your new job 2 weeks before school starts and get settled in and ready to go. Your first job is a critical step in your journey, but in most cases it should not be the end of your journey (my addition). And remember, while teaching is local, research is global --- so if you want to climb, keep in your eye on that prize and focus your energies on research.
Anyway, all aspiring economists should purchase Thomson's book. The advice on how to write a paper and present that paper is probably the best out there. Though I think Deirdre McCloskey's various writings on this might be more inspirational for the out-of-sync. Perhaps some synthesis between the two is in order. And this advice to graduate students on being a successful graduate student (that I haven't done full justice to) is really quite solid and again should be read by everyone entering into the field (though the 2nd edition is not out yet and will not be for a bit).
Good luck to those you starting the PhD adventure this fall.