Since many of you are in the swing of a new semester, I wanted to offer some tips and advice for navigating graduate school. I have cobbled some of these together from other sources (located below) and some of them come from my own experiences in graduate school.
Read smart and do not necessarily read everything word for word.
You will read more articles and texts than you ever thought possible. Learn to take notes or annotate the text as you read and scan when you are pressed for time. It is also important to learn to use abstracts to determine if an article is a good fit for your research. If the abstract doesn’t seem to fit, then don’t read it. It will save you a lot of time and effort. This is especially applicable for students from other nations where the education system expects students to read the entire text book.
Do not spread yourself too thin.
You will have plenty of opportunities to attend seminars and conferences, collaborate on papers, join committees, etc. It is tempting to try a little of everything, but you will soon burn out if you overextend yourself. Also, be careful of any honors societies that ask you to pay a large sum for joining. No one pays attention to them anyway.
Talk with other graduate students who are further along than you are.
There are many unwritten rules of graduate school and violating them can cause you more trouble than you want. In my first year, a colleague and I started a research study with a faculty member who was not either of our advisors. Luckily, my advisor / chair was impressed with our initiative, but my friend’s advisor was not as understanding. Other graduate students can help you figure things out that are not in the official documents of your program.
Listen to your chair when forming your committee.
I cannot stress this enough. You may have a person that you want on your committee, but your chair expresses some reservations about that person. Most will be professional about it, not specifically stating the reasons for their apprehension, but rest assured it can get unpleasant for you if you do not heed her or his reticence. I had to change my committee four times due to faculty leaving the university. I always listened to my chair about the members of the committee, but due to the need to change so many times, we ended up with a less than optimal situation. Due to disagreements among my committee my life seemed a living hell for a few weeks. In fact, one member disliked my revisions, but hadn’t actually read the revised manuscript. However, my experience paled in comparison to some of the things that my colleagues endured. Some did not listen to their chair and it turned ugly rather quickly.
Expect the worst and prepare for dark days.
Graduate school is difficult. You will suffer from impostor syndrome, depression, anxiety, sleepless nights, and feeling insanely isolated. You may have people try to sabotage or take advantage of you. You will miss out of family gatherings and events and friends from your life before graduate school will be upset that you cannot hang out with them. There will be times when you realize you are making less per hour than working in fast food. Don’t get me wrong, there are many great things as well. However, if you expect bad things to happen then when they do, you are better equipped to handle it.
Take advantage of free stuff and have fun when you can.
College and university campuses often offer free food and prizes for students. Take advantage of these as often as you can. Graduate students do not make much and the university squeezes as much work out of you as they can. Giveaways and food can help you even things out (not really, but at least you won’t have to eat another cursed bowl of Ramen). Also, you will have many people tell you to take time for yourself to preserve your sanity, which is good advice. However, in the next breath they will tell you how you need to publish 6 times before graduation and need to write a 20-page book review with at least 20 references before Monday. You are going to be busy, extremely busy, but when a window opens to go for a hike, see a movie, etc. take it. But do not feel bad if you seem to be working non-stop. It is the nature of the beast.
Good luck and Godspeed with the new semester.
I recently completed my PhD in Education (Curriculum and Instruction) at the University of Wyoming. I have published multiple articles in peer reviewed journals and have a book chapter coming early next year. I aim to explore issues of privilege and equity of education, especially as they pertain to STEM education.