Your Grad School Survival Guide, 2016 Edition
Students beginning (or continuing) graduate school in 2016 may feel overwhelmed about the academic challenges they may face in the new year. Grad school is quite different from undergrad school, but with the right priorities and enough self-care, it doesn’t have to feel impossible.
Here is your 2016 grad school survival guide.
1. Don’t take yourself so seriously that you refuse to make any mistakes.
You’re going to make mistakes. Many of them. You can’t expect to be a real person if you do not mess up sometimes. Going into graduate school with this understanding is crucial to navigating difficult situations without getting bogged down. Have a sense of humor when disaster strikes, and remember that one minor slip-up in grad school won’t cost you your career.
As we jump into 2016, create small notes with reminders/quotes that will help you stay on track with your goals as a grad student, such as reminders to treat yourself well, listen to music that gives you energy, and to learn from mistakes.
2. Give yourself little slivers of time to take breaks.
There is no feasible way to survive graduate school if you don’t let yourself take any breaks. You simply can’t stay sane if you’re working nonstop. I know you may feel pressured to accomplish as much as possible in the shortest amount of time (it’s great to be that motivated) but you absolutely must understand that self-care is vital during grad school.
You will lose the ability to come up with creative ideas if you don’t let yourself off the hook for a little while each day/week. Many students come up with their most brilliant ideas when they’re off the clock. Don’t burn out in the new year; neglecting to take care of themselves is one of the worst mistakes grad students can make.
3. Connect with other grad students.
Good news: you are not the only grad student out there! If you find yourself struggling with any aspect of grad student life, by no means should you hesitate to talk to other students in your position. Forming friendships/relationships with other grad students will strengthen your support network and provide perspective.
Many universities hold certain activities, mixers, and socializing events exclusively for grad students, so make it your 2016 New Year’s Resolution to get out there and mingle with grad students just like yourself.
4. Soak up what you can from your adviser.
It’s up to you how much or how little you utilize time with your adviser. You should communicate with them regularly about the work you are doing, and ask them as many questions as you need to.
Make sure that by the end of each meeting with your adviser, you are both on the same page about what each of you should have completed before your next meeting, which readings you need to do, and the logistics of your next meeting (writing a short email summary of the last meeting you had and emailing it to your adviser is a smart way to keep track of meeting “minutes”).
Grad school success involves a lot of independent work, and your adviser is there to guide you through this work, so the easiest way to survive grad school in the new year has to do with really utilizing the knowledge and input that your adviser can provide.
5. Become efficient readers.
You’ll have to read a lot in grad school. Unproductive (or passive) reading can be one of the largest time-sucks for students.
By this point in your academic career, you should ideally know how you operate as a student; this is critical to becoming an active reader. For instance, if you know you function most optimally at a certain time of day, take that into account when scheduling your day and don’t slot reading time for yourself at an hour that historically hasn’t worked for you.
You should be as engaged with your reading material as possible, annotating texts and not highlighting every paragraph on the page. Reading without interacting with the text will not help you remember the material you read. (As a side tip, watch out for cute cats that may obstruct your reading materials).
Grad students are already pressed for time given the research they may be conducting, so you simply can’t afford not to develop helpful reading habits!
6. Be a TA (Teaching Assistant) — and learn from it.
Many graduate students work as TAs for a professor in their field, and run their own discussion sections supplementary from a professor’s lecture. If you become a TA, don’t throw away the opportunity to gain feedback on your teaching style. You’ll likely hold more than one section of about 30 students, and hold your own office hours. Undergraduate students will look up to you as someone further along in their field, and may rely on you for explanations of class material.
You should experiment with methods of running class sections, and be receptive to feedback. After all, your students will evaluate you at the end of the quarter or semester, and these evaluations will become more and more valuable to you the more TA positions you hold (especially if you aspire to become an instructor/professor). Student feedback is golden — listen to it, and treat your students with kindness.
After finishing your Bachelor’s degrees, you may feel so exhausted from school that you can’t even imagine going to graduate school. Once you know the ins and outs, however, you’ll find that grad school is an amazing opportunity to further yourself in your selected field and to produce some real research with your name on it. Take this survival guide as your academic secret weapon to conquering 2016.
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