Emails to New Grad Students

Here it is July 22, 2013!  Unless the structure of time and/or the academic calendar has changed, that means that many thousands of people are about to embark on the wondrous adventure of graduate school in a mere month or so.  I have been on a grad school journey that has involved 2 masters degrees, an almost complete PhD (I’m getting close!) and spanned 3 states and 8 years.  A little while ago a friend of mine who was about to start a masters degree emailed me (and her other grad school experienced buddies) to ask for general grad school advice.  Here is what I wrote:

1.  Give yourself limited amounts of time to work on each project/assignment.  If you give yourself all day, you will take all day and also be unfocused and spend time looking at the internet, and even though you half-worked all day, you will not have had any fun and feel exhausted.  Fun keeps a person sane!

2.  Speaking of fun, I recommend scheduling it.  This will motivate you to work when you are supposed to.

3.  Especially if you are going to school for a terminal degree, do not stress out about grades.  Grades are an imperfect way to measure your knowledge, effort, and skills.  Just do your best, try to learn, and don’t get obsessed with perfection.

4.  In the words of your elementary school teacher “keep your eyes on your own test”.  I mean that both literally (For the love of all things rational do not cheat.  Just don’t.) and figuratively.  Meaning, don’t get drawn into other people’s stress.  Don’t worry about what other people are doing, just work on yourself.  If someone keeps talking about how they spent all night on the assignment that you took 2 hours to do, take that as an opportunity to feel good about your time management.  Don’t start to wonder if you spent too little time on the assignment.  Don’t start comparing work styles with other people who are going to extremes.  Don’t get into some kind of imaginary competition with your classmates.  Don’t keep score. Just do what YOU need to do, and other people will do what they need to do.  Learn from your classmates, but don’t take on their stress.

5. Ask for help early and often.  If you have shame about not knowing or understanding something, that shame will keep you from learning.  Go to office hours even if you don’t have questions.  Office hours are a great opportunity to learn from other’s questions.

6.  Start a study group with non-competitive and pleasant people.  Explain things to each other.  Have fun!

7.  It can be intimidating to go to grad school where you are going to be surrounded by people who may seem to be more accomplished than you, know more than you, have more meaningful life experiences than you, and also somehow have better social lives than you.  When you start to have thoughts that you don’t belong, or you are not good enough, *shut those thoughts down*.  Seriously, that is not a road you need to travel.  You got admitted, and as long as you stay engaged, work hard, ask for help early, and stay focused on improving your skills and learning you should be fine.

If you have more suggestions, or disagree with mine, please feel free to comment below.

Happy schooling!

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