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.