Since graduate school application deadlines are coming closer and closer, and since the prospect of starting graduate school can be daunting, especially for students who have taken time off between college and grad school, today let’s talk about getting back to school.
Graduate school and “real world” employment are very different beasts. I sort of hate using the term “real world” for all of the jobs that fall outside of academia, but it is recognizable enough short-hand that I’ll put the problematic aspects on the back-burner (you know, like creating a gulf between academia and everyone else that doesn’t do anyone any good). Both graduate school and “real world” employment have unique challenges, but there are definitely lessons learned in “real world” employment that will translate very favorably to academia. On the other hand, there are some new challenges that come with graduate school.
First, in graduate school, it’s really hard to stop thinking about work. Get used to the idea that what you’re studying might take over your life. There are definitely ways to create time away from work, but it’s a lot harder to draw the line than with many other jobs. However, that ambiguity in where works end can sometimes lead to positives. Yes, there is a good chance that your advisor will call you at 10 p.m. to check in, but see that as an opportunity to sleep in a little later the next day. One thing that graduate school allows you in exchange for taking over your life is a relatively flexible schedule. Take advantage of it!
Second, treat graduate school like a job. Put in your hours every day. Create goals for yourself, both long and short term goals. Create daily plans. Rely on a calendar to schedule and co-ordinate meetings. Look for opportunities to network with other graduate students, other departments, and other schools. Furthermore, graduate school is a great place to develop career skills in addition to the ones created by taking classes and engaging in original scholarship. Take advantage of those and see this as a way to tailor your resume for the career you want. Sure, getting too involved with those extracurriculars can distract from your classes, but having a productive graduate school experience requires at least some involvement in such extracurricular workshops, activities, and career training.
How about you? Do you have any advice for people who are entering academia after some time away? What worked for you?