Friday, August 7, 2015

Grad School Beginnings


It's that time again. Time for school to start back up after a long summer break. The new first years started yesterday. Which means I started my first day of grad school two years ago! So crazy. There are many things I wish I knew before starting this crazy journey. So if you're a new grad student (or will be one day) and you've happened upon this blog, today is the day for you! (Or if you're never going to be a grad student, thanks for stopping by!)

Here's a few things I wish I knew before grad school:
1. Being alone sucks. But it gets better. // I had never lived alone until I moved to Ohio (except one summer in college but I had an abundance of friends in the same city with me). Boy was I not prepared for that. I'd classify myself as an extroverted introvert (this article explains me perfectly) so I figured living alone would be wonderful! Nope. I was wrong. The first month was the hardest. I was overwhelmed because I was in a new city and state, I didn't know anyone, and my apartment didn't feel like home. I was a mess. But thankfully I stuck it out. Now I can't see myself having roommates ever again (unless I get married). 
Take Away: As much as being alone may suck at first, remember that it will get better. Write that down. It will get better. Stick it on your mirror, in your planner, put it as your phone lock screen. Anything to do that will remind you that it will get better!

2. Don't be shy. // Chances are most people in your incoming class are alone as well. Make friends! These are the people you'll take classes with, exams with, study with, and graduate with. They will be your support system. Everything you're going through, they're going through it right beside you. But don't stop with people in your year. Make friends with older students. These people will become your mentors. Yes you'll have an advisor. But the people in my lab know more about my life and research and everything going on than my boss. Don't get me wrong - he's a wonderful boss, but he's also not interacting with me every day like my labmates. Older grad students have been through what you're going through so they'll have wise words that are great to let sink in. 
Take Away: The people you're in grad school with will likely become your closest friends (you know because you'll live at school). They're the people who truly understand the stress you're under and will be there to eat ice cream and drink wine with. But older grad students can help you see the light at the end of the tunnel!

3. Your performance in school does not define you. // If you've only skimmed this post until now, please pay attention!! As a student, you're judged based on your performance in class...to a point. Yes you need to do well in classes and on your cumulative (or qualifying) exams. That's super important. But if you're not the smartest person, don't stress about it! I am the first to tell you that I'm a B-student. I haven't gotten straight A's since high school. It took me a while to be okay with that, but I'm so glad I finally accepted it. I have to study harder than some people for my cumulative exams, but that's okay! I know (and my boss knows) that my strength lies with my hands. I'm great at taking apart an instrument and putting it back together. I can troubleshoot instruments and make them work again. Lab work is the work I'm good at. So what if I'm a B-student? My job will require me to be able to do lab work more than it will require me to get A's in classes.
Take Away: Do your best in class (don't slack off!), but remember that when you get a job you'll be expected to have the lab abilities necessary to perform work, not take tests. Don't beat yourself up if you fail a cumulative exam. You got into this program. There are people who believe you can do it.

Grad school can be a scary thing. But something to remember is that any professor you've had went through grad school themselves. You aren't the first to go through this. And you won't be the last. Remember that the suckiness of moving alone to some place new is that it won't suck forever. You can always call on your friends or family when things get rough too! But if you put yourself out there and meet new people, hopefully you'll start to feel at home!

Quick shoutout:

These two hold a very special place in my heart. They were my first friends in Ohio. We don't always see eye-to-eye, but I wouldn't have been able to survive two years in grad school without them. I can't stress the importance of friends in grad school! I'm so blessed to have two great ones!

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