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My Advice for Incoming Grad Students

After completing my first year of graduate school, I jotted down a list of things I had learned and wished I knew before starting my program. While each graduate student’s experience can be astronomically different from the next’s (depending on one’s school, program, and their tendencies as a student) there are a few pieces of advice that I think are somewhat universal when it comes to surviving graduate school, and more importantly, retaining your happiness and wellbeing in the process.

1. Having great time management skills is necessary for getting through your program…

Time management isn’t just a good school skill, it’s a necessary life skill. In order to make it through your masters program you must understand your priorities for every day, week, month, semester, and year. How each individual deals best with organizing their time varies person to person, but for a good starting point check out About Education’s list of general tips for time management in graduate school.

2. Practicing self-care is crucial…

A few months ago I posted about practicing self-care, which I think is important no matter what stage of your life you are in. But in graduate school especially, your health and wellbeing can easily be neglected. Take care of yourself, or your work will suffer and so will you.

3. You may be in school, but you still have to have fun…

When school really gets going, it may be difficult to find time to relax and let loose, but it’s important for your mental health and happiness. I consider having fun to be an essential aspect of self-care; if I’m not enjoying myself, then it’s time to re-adjust. It’s also helpful to remember that you are not what you study.

4. Always be overly organized and prepared…

A few logistical tips: (1) Be sure to keep your computer extremely organized! You should have folders for folders, and more folders for those folders (though you better know what’s in each of them). Also empty your downloads periodically and make sure to keep your desktop somewhat clear. Cluttered desktops are the worst. (2) Buy quality school supplies. I recommend getting a few fancy pens because you’ve earned it! (3) You’ll need highlighters and bookmarks, because no matter what program you’re in, you’ll likely be reading a lot. I especially like these Post-it Flags for marking important pages (and if I remember correctly, they’re made in the USA).

5. Keeping up with your work may be a struggle, but it’s a requirement…

You cannot (I repeat, cannot) fall behind in graduate school. If you do, you risk not being able to catch up; and if you don’t catch up, you won’t finish your program. Staying on top of your class work not only requires good time management skills, but it’s also imperative that your physical and mental health is well maintained in order to remain focused.

5. No matter what, just keep doing you. Always do your best and don’t worry about if your peers are doing “better”…

Stay true to yourself. There may be times when you’ll question your opinions or process based on what others are doing. At the end of the day, the only way to lead a fulfilling life is to stay true to yourself.

6. Imposter Syndrome is real, and you are not a fraud…

During my first semester of graduate school I took a required professionalization course where the professor lectured about conference papers and academic careers. In the first couple of weeks he brought up Imposter Syndrome, which I had not heard of until that day.

Imposter Syndrome refers to a condition in which a high achieving person is unable to recognize their accomplishments and instead considers themselves to be an imposter or fraud. Imposter Syndrome is especially common for women to experience, and graduate school is certainly the type of environment that’s conducive to self-esteem damaging syndrome.

If you ever feel that you don’t deserve to be in graduate school or aren’t as smart as your peers (I’ve been there) just remind yourself that you were accepted into your program for a reason and that you’ve earned your spot. You’re not a fraud.

7. Stay focused on your goals, both short-term and long-term…

Don’t forget that there’s life after graduate school. While you’re working on your program, you should be thinking beyond the next couple of years. If you don’t want to go on to get your PhD, what do you want to do? And what can you do while you’re still in school to help you head in the right direction?

8. Be thankful for your education…

When I started to feel overwhelmed by school this past year, I just reminded myself how lucky I am, not only to have access to an education, but to be able to attend graduate school. Being able to continue my education is something that I am extremely grateful for. That being said, if you start graduate school and realize that it’s not right for you, there’s no shame in ending your time at your program.

So if you’re heading to graduate school this fall or continuing your program, stay focused on learning, and be sure to maintain your health and happiness in the process. Best of luck! And if you have any grad school tips, please be sure to share them in the comment section below. 🙂 

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