I was discussing my experience with a colleague recently about being a grad student and how I cried. I then told her about a recent meeting with a grad student bursting into tears during her monthly mentoring meeting with me. I joked that in grades 6-12, my former students would cry once in a while (which is fine btw), but a grad student bursting into tears was a new phenomenon for me (this was also fine, keep reading, i’m not making fun or her or any grad student).
Not too long ago, I was a grad student and in case you were wondering YES I CRIED. I cried to my mom when I was so unhappy. I cried to her on the phone in the stairwell of my office building because I was frustrated. I cried to my ‘work husband,’ another grad student when I was losing my shit. I cried with my advisor when I was beyond frustrated about a situation that had turned from bad to worse by lies. In fact, I can clock my meltdowns on the calendar since they usually fell at the beginning/middle of each semester when I felt like I was getting buried. Grad school is an experience that can only be described by fellow graduate students and the range of emotions will often leave you exhausted and yes, even crying.
So, here we go grad students. If you’re reading this, you should know that I completed my graduate program a year ago and got hired (it’s possible and good luck!). This being said, I learned some hard lessons in grad school and would like to share them with you here so you may or may not do some of these things. I wish you the best in your graduate program and continue to feel humbled by the experience and am using many of the valuable skills I learned in my graduate program.
It’s simple. We want you to learn, to work, & learn how to do research. You don’t feel like it? Have a chip on your shoulder? Think you can slink through? We’re not dumb. We will figure it out. We know the language you speak because we also speak it fluently. Stop. Get to work. Get off your ass and get to work.
There is no road map to graduate school so quit trying to download it on your smart phone. Quit trying to control and micro-manage all of it because as soon as you think you have a hand on it, life will toss you something super fun (insert sarcasm).
Grad school is an experience. Experience it. Go to the socials, meet other students in your classes, get involved in something besides school, research, and going home to your couch. Scrape your ass off the chair and go out. You don’t have to party like an undergrad to form relationships with people. Find a core group and go out with them. Make it a standing invitation. Sometimes you want like minded people around you who understand what you’re talking about when you’re at your best and worst.
Get communicating. NOW. With who? Everyone. Set weekly check in’s with your advisor if you can. Make a list of questions. Get a mentor. You’ll need someone on your side who will lead you and guide you along your way. Break it down with your spouse, significant other, kids, and family. Odds are, these folks won’t understand why in the world you’re in grad school so you better rally your troops so they respect your decision, even if they don’t understand it. Communicate with the other grad students around you. Coursework, job prospects, life, hobbies, weird ingrown toenails, whatever it is, it’s ok. I can’t stress how important it is to communicate. As you get deeper and deeper into your program you will continue to withdraw due to work and research so start reaching out early.
Plug your sense of humor in and turn it on HIGH!!! Being so tired you’re giggling like a four year old, being so frustrated that you begin to laugh uncontrollably, or just being giddy on too much bad coffee while you race to find free food are all good reasons to laugh. So, get ready. Perhaps you need to check out phd comics or the grad school tumblr if you need help finding your chuckle because there will be days when absolutely nothing else is funny, including you.
Grad school is your job, not your life. Did you hear me? It’s your job. It will lead you to your next job so make sure you do a good job but remember it’s not forever.
Grad school is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Get some good shoes, a good laptop, a thick skin, and prepare to gain 10 lbs. from all of the sitting.
Grad school can be isolating and very lonely. I cannot stress how terribly isolating the experience can be because you’re often the only one working on your research. Go get those experiences and reach out so you don’t suffer from grad school loneliness.
Grad school guilt. Turn off grad school sometimes. You will need time off. The blessing and the curse of grad school is that it’s always there. With more mobile options available, that nagging feeling that you should always be working will eat away at you and the ‘grad school guilt’ as I like to call it, will make you feel like you should be working 24/7. In truth, you shouldn’t have to work all of the time. If you are, you’re not being efficient. Pick a start time and an end time and base those on your circadian clock. Make a point to do things you enjoy; working out, playing music, movies, outdoor activities, reading other things, whatever it is, pencil in the time to do it. Make time for regular tasks too like paying bills, it’s amazing how pleasurable grocery shopping can be when you’re not racing through the store like a maniac. Taking delight in some regular activities will grow on you. I promise.
There you have it. It may seem like a lot or a little. No matter where you fall in the spectrum, take it from a first year faculty. As I get ready to celebrate my first year on faculty, it’s passing quickly and the lessons I learned in grad school I still reflect on. Your program and experience will be unique so don’t spend time comparing you vs. whoever. Just go in and kick some ass.