Women in Academia: Getting Geared Up for Grad School

So guess what! If you decided to start on the bizarre journey that is graduate school, you’re about to face the full reality of that decision. Are you ready? Have you girded your loins and put on your thinking helmet? Here are some tips to help get you prepared for the incredibly slowly unfolding adventure of a lifetime.

First, read your emails. There will be notifications about internal and external funding opportunities, teaching assistantships, and sometimes even people giving away free stuff. The emails also hold things like seminar announcements, workshop announcements, and really excellent groups you can get involved in. I know that there will be a lot of email. I know that reading all of that is tedious on top of your regular workload of reading everything ever written on your subject topic, and I know that list-serv emails are traditionally best skimmed or ignored entirely. But trust me on this one.

Second, say yes to a lot of things but know your limits, kind of like drinking. A glass of wine or a beer might make a dinner a little nicer, but if you drink too many you end up weeping in a pool of your own sick. Saying yes to too many things in graduate school will end with the exact same result. At the same time, not saying yes to enough stuff can leave you feeling driftless, frustrated, and miserable. Graduate school involves a lot of work with little immediate evidence of progress. Getting involved in outreach, in your department, or well something else that sparks your interest can sometimes add structure and a feeling of accomplishment on those days when research isn’t quite coming together.

Third, you can never have too many pens or notebooks. OK, maybe you can, if you decided to like haul around tons on tons on tons of composition notebooks. I mean, that’d be beyond horrible on your back. Oh and I guess that’s tip three-point-five: be careful not to haul around too much stuff; it can really hurt your back and no one needs that on top of deadlines and worries about funding. Anyway, back to point three. You will lose them at the worst possible time. It is inevitable. On the bright side, thanks to saying “yes!” to things, I somehow managed over the years to get more than enough random university pens to offset the losses.

Fourth, maintain and build your support network. It’s easy to get isolated in graduate school and that just makes everything so much worse. You are not alone, at least not metaphorically. It takes a village to get a Masters or a PhD. Help each other out with homework (when it’s, you know, not against university academic policy) and studying for exams. Graduate school can tear down confidence in unique and excitingly novel ways. Build each other up. And always, always say yes to coffee.

5 thoughts on “Women in Academia: Getting Geared Up for Grad School”

  1. Totally agree with ReginaChristina.  Go for a walk, make dinner with the music on, catch up on the Daily Show on Hulu.  TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF!!!

    Other things I learned in GradSchool:

    1) The moment you get a sore throat, go out for margaritas.  The lime, salt, and alcohol will kill everything.  Bloody mary’s are similar.

    2) Shop around for med services BEFORE you need them.  Even with ‘insurance’ that came with my Assistantship, it was SO much cheaper to go to the women’s clinic for yearly appointments than to use the student health center.

    3) GO TO THE HOW TO USE THE LIBRARY SEMINAR.  Really. It’s more than just computerized card catalogs.  I discovered that my library would actually DELIVER the books I needed to my department’s office or to the office my assistantship was in.  It saved SO much time. Also, GRAD STUDENT ONLY COMPUTER ROOMS FTW!!!

    4) I’ll echo your #4.  Even better, start a routine… all 1st years in my department had a 3 hour class every tues+thurs.  Afterwards we would go out for margaritas and discuss the lesson and our lives.

    5) If it doesn’t feel like the program is right for you after the first year or two, and you can’t guarantee that you’ll be out in the next year, don’t hesitate to bring it up with your adviser.  Zie probably has similar feelings.  I chose my grad school because my fiance at the time didn’t like my other acceptances.  After I broke off the engagement he got to go back to his old life and I floundered in a department I never should have been in for the next 5 before I got the guts to just tell them all to fuck it.  My adviser was wondering why it took me so long.  That was the BEST decision of my life.  A bad fit is not a failure.

    Don’t do grad school in a vacuum.  Take care of yourself. Best of luck!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. One other piece of advice: Take some time off every day and do something that relaxes you and you enjoy. I know that for some people that is a privilege they say they cannot afford because they are working and going to grad school, but everyone has fifteen minutes to just breathe. You need it. Nothing is more important than your health and well-being because without that, you can do nothing

    Know that you cannot read everything, you cannot do everything nor does anyone actually expect you to do that unless you have no social life and no job.

    Learn how to skim books to get the gist of it, but try and write a precis or a few notes on everything that you read. This is can be a valuable record for papers in that class as well as for your major paper

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