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Advice for New Grad Students


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My department just sent out this Chronicle article aimed at new grad (especially Ph.D.) students, and though I'm sure a lot of you have heard a lot of this before, I thought I'd pass it along. I especially liked all the tweets offering advice (as much as I hate Twitter).

http://chronicle.com/blogPost/An-Open-Letter-to-New-Graduate/26326/

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That advice had the nicest tone I've come across for pieces like this. I'm wigging out about starting school again, especially after not doing ANYTHING but sitting around my apartment for months, so it's good to have some nice grounded stuff that acknowledges the anxiety that will come and then pass in time.

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The parts about making friends (colleagues) and leaning on them for support is quite important. I have a couple of close friends that I started with, and we've gotten each other through numerous times when we wanted to quit.

Also, the often repeated advice about taking time off, and keeping up your life outside grad school. Your work is important, but if it's all you do you rarely have the necessary perspective to really focus on it and do well.

Work hard while you're at work, and then enjoy your time off is great advice. You'll be at this for a long time, if you push too hard and burn out it won't help anyone.

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That advice had the nicest tone I've come across for pieces like this. I'm wigging out about starting school again, especially after not doing ANYTHING but sitting around my apartment for months, so it's good to have some nice grounded stuff that acknowledges the anxiety that will come and then pass in time.

The tone was what struck me about it, too - so friendly, especially for The Chronicle!

And I hear you - I'm so ready for things to get moving, if only to squelch the anxiety of anticipation. Though I'm sure after it starts I'll long for the days when all I had to do with my days was to sit in a coffee shop or front porch, read, and work out.

Glad you all liked it!

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I wish I could treat grad school like work and set a 9-5 schedule. I just completed my first lab rotation and everyone in the lab was in lab at least 10 hours a day, 6 days a week. Bracing myself!

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  • 10 months later...
  • 2 weeks later...

Like I'd pass up the chance to comment on this topic. :)

I agree - it's overall good for newbs, though I wouldn't say grad school is similar to a job. It's more like an ass-backwards unpaid internship. And not allowing grad school to consume your whole life is really funny - I'm sure if you give up meals and bathroom time and sleeping, then you can make time to do other things. But if you want to eat, pee, and sleep, then that'll be your only free time while in grad school, sadly. I love that they suggest forming a band as a hobby - really? Ph.D. and master's students have that much time? In what universe, I wonder? That's the part I have the biggest issue with. As long as you're a student, grad school IS your life. Period. Even at meal times at my school, all people talk about is their classes and homework. People don't even talk about their hobbies or lives or jobs - they are just consumed 24/7 with school, so I don't want to hear anyone telling me that I'm making this up. I've seen this with my own eyes and heard it with my own ears.

Other than that, I'd say it's decent advice, and written in an understandable and relaxed tone. As if to imply, "Relax, this isn't that bad." And that may hold true for many students, so if they can reach out and alleviate the fears of most of their target audience, then I'd say they've succeeded in their purpose. I would have liked to see them offer advice on how to keep your job once you begin grad school, or how to find jobs once you graduate since you probably won't find something in your field right away and need to sling nachos at 7-11 for a while. I'm not being negative when I say that (or anything else I've said) - I think it's a very realistic concern grad students should keep in mind. They got most of their points correct, so I give the article a B+. Fix the nonsense about free time and jobs and they can have their A.

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Like I'd pass up the chance to comment on this topic. :)

I agree - it's overall good for newbs, though I wouldn't say grad school is similar to a job. It's more like an ass-backwards unpaid internship. And not allowing grad school to consume your whole life is really funny - I'm sure if you give up meals and bathroom time and sleeping, then you can make time to do other things. But if you want to eat, pee, and sleep, then that'll be your only free time while in grad school, sadly. I love that they suggest forming a band as a hobby - really? Ph.D. and master's students have that much time? In what universe, I wonder? That's the part I have the biggest issue with. As long as you're a student, grad school IS your life. Period. Even at meal times at my school, all people talk about is their classes and homework. People don't even talk about their hobbies or lives or jobs - they are just consumed 24/7 with school, so I don't want to hear anyone telling me that I'm making this up. I've seen this with my own eyes and heard it with my own ears.

I'll be quick because I'm just back from playing basketball with friends and I'm on my way out for an evening of fun and drinks: grad school does not have to consume your life. Please stop generalizing from your experience to the grad school experience as a whole. Of course it sucks for you, because you never wanted to be there in the first place. But not everyone's experience is like that.

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Like I'd pass up the chance to comment on this topic. :)

I agree - it's overall good for newbs, though I wouldn't say grad school is similar to a job. It's more like an ass-backwards unpaid internship. And not allowing grad school to consume your whole life is really funny - I'm sure if you give up meals and bathroom time and sleeping, then you can make time to do other things. But if you want to eat, pee, and sleep, then that'll be your only free time while in grad school, sadly. I love that they suggest forming a band as a hobby - really? Ph.D. and master's students have that much time? In what universe, I wonder? That's the part I have the biggest issue with. As long as you're a student, grad school IS your life. Period. Even at meal times at my school, all people talk about is their classes and homework. People don't even talk about their hobbies or lives or jobs - they are just consumed 24/7 with school, so I don't want to hear anyone telling me that I'm making this up. I've seen this with my own eyes and heard it with my own ears.

Other than that, I'd say it's decent advice, and written in an understandable and relaxed tone. As if to imply, "Relax, this isn't that bad." And that may hold true for many students, so if they can reach out and alleviate the fears of most of their target audience, then I'd say they've succeeded in their purpose. I would have liked to see them offer advice on how to keep your job once you begin grad school, or how to find jobs once you graduate since you probably won't find something in your field right away and need to sling nachos at 7-11 for a while. I'm not being negative when I say that (or anything else I've said) - I think it's a very realistic concern grad students should keep in mind. They got most of their points correct, so I give the article a B+. Fix the nonsense about free time and jobs and they can have their A.

Noone has ever doubted your sincerity in expressing your experiences as you've had them. People object to your generalizations. No, grad school is not "your life.period." Or, at least, it doesn't have to be. Maybe it's your particular program which expects way too much work, and if so, that's unfortunate. But when I did my MA, I had plenty of free time. I didn't really get into any particular hobbies, but not for lack of time. I knew fellow grad students who were in bands, played sports, did recreational activities, etc.

And this is more a comment about your recent posts: please, please stop playing the persecution or whatever it is card. To my knowledge, everyone here has been very supportive and patient about your situation. We tried to help you out in your original thread the best we could. The reason why people get annoyed at your posts is because of that knowledge, and how every attitude you express seems to be a direct result of the terrible situation you're in. Honestly, I might suggest you just create a new username if you don't want people bringing up your circumstances every time you post, but you'd have to refrain from your telltale negativity and deep disillusionment. It's fine to be realistic; we don't want all pie in the sky fluff here. But there's a difference between realism and complete and utter pessimism, especially when the latter isn't very well founded in general.

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Like I'd pass up the chance to comment on this topic. :)

I agree - it's overall good for newbs, though I wouldn't say grad school is similar to a job. It's more like an ass-backwards unpaid internship. And not allowing grad school to consume your whole life is really funny - I'm sure if you give up meals and bathroom time and sleeping, then you can make time to do other things. But if you want to eat, pee, and sleep, then that'll be your only free time while in grad school, sadly. I love that they suggest forming a band as a hobby - really? Ph.D. and master's students have that much time? In what universe, I wonder? That's the part I have the biggest issue with. As long as you're a student, grad school IS your life. Period. Even at meal times at my school, all people talk about is their classes and homework. People don't even talk about their hobbies or lives or jobs - they are just consumed 24/7 with school, so I don't want to hear anyone telling me that I'm making this up. I've seen this with my own eyes and heard it with my own ears.

Other than that, I'd say it's decent advice, and written in an understandable and relaxed tone. As if to imply, "Relax, this isn't that bad." And that may hold true for many students, so if they can reach out and alleviate the fears of most of their target audience, then I'd say they've succeeded in their purpose. I would have liked to see them offer advice on how to keep your job once you begin grad school, or how to find jobs once you graduate since you probably won't find something in your field right away and need to sling nachos at 7-11 for a while. I'm not being negative when I say that (or anything else I've said) - I think it's a very realistic concern grad students should keep in mind. They got most of their points correct, so I give the article a B+. Fix the nonsense about free time and jobs and they can have their A.

I know that I shouldn't even try to argue with you Just Me, but I know of two doctoral students who are in a band as a hobby. Being able to do your graduate work and balance a hobby is due to good time management skills. If you don't have time do do basic things like eat, sleep, and use the bathroom, then your priorities are clearly out of order...perhaps its all the time you take to dwell on how miserable your life is. if you actually took the time to seek help and get your life straightened out, I am sure you would have an easier time with balance.

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You know, I'm going to jump in here real quick. In spite of some of the negativity I've expressed, I honestly love school. I'm just frustrated with I think I've had to give up for it, and then hearing my adviser trying to plan for me to go to another school hundreds of miles away to get my PhD when I want to stop at a masters is what pisses me off. I feel that if I didn't have to freak out about it all the time, grad school would be heaven for me.

And no Just Me, even though I'm struggling, I'm definitely not having the Erick Carriera experience you seem to be having. I'll probably go out for drinks tonight, and I still have fun. I just miss my girl, my church, and my friends, and they mean more to me than being at the forefront of my field.

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I'm sure if you give up meals and bathroom time and sleeping, then you can make time to do other things. But if you want to eat, pee, and sleep, then that'll be your only free time while in grad school, sadly.

So, if you don't have time to eat, pee, or sleep, how do you have so much time to post on TGC? ;)

You know, I'm going to jump in here real quick. In spite of some of the negativity I've expressed, I honestly love school. I'm just frustrated with I think I've had to give up for it, and then hearing my adviser trying to plan for me to go to another school hundreds of miles away to get my PhD when I want to stop at a masters is what pisses me off. I feel that if I didn't have to freak out about it all the time, grad school would be heaven for me.

And no Just Me, even though I'm struggling, I'm definitely not having the Erick Carriera experience you seem to be having. I'll probably go out for drinks tonight, and I still have fun. I just miss my girl, my church, and my friends, and they mean more to me than being at the forefront of my field.

So I don't know the full extent of your situation, but I saw the other thread you started and I just had a thought--are there programs available for you back home, among your family, friends, girl, church, etc.? Because if it's not school itself, but rather a pesky advisor and a very lonely environment that are your problems, maybe you could have your cake and eat it too by switching to a program closer to everyone you love?

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Thankfully I am not in grad school all year round. If the people who ran the program I'm in weren't complete idiots and maybe spaced the classes and such out more so normal people could complete them. Maybe have a semester be an actual semester long, or rather than have class for three days every four months for four damn years, get all the crap done and over with in a year or year and a half. When I'm not officially in class, I do have more time. But sometimes the homework they load us up with makes it very hard for me to do anything, like travel or look for work. So yes, it is very overwhelming and I think the program needs to be run like a normal master's program. I can barely get the assignments done and I don't even have a job - but then again, people who do work usually turn in a bunch of half-assed assignments and maybe one really nice one. Maybe if I quit trying and just do something without effort, it won't be as difficult.

It's too bad I am blamed for playing a "persecution card" simply for telling the truth. Some experiences are specific to my program alone, but some I think could be universal to all grad students. Perhaps from now on I should simply lie to make everyone else happy. I've been doing that my entire life, so why stop here? Grad school is a completely uplifting experience that is worth every penny and it will make you grow exponentially as a professional and as a human being. Even if you major in something you have zero interest in, even if you can't afford to be there, even if you don't want to be there...doesn't matter because grad school is nothing but sunshine, rainbows and happiness and time spent there will guarantee you a spectacular job that you love that also happens to pay very well. Please go to grad school, even if you're a complete drooling moron. And once you graduate, go get another master's degree or two - maybe a Ph.D. They're like Pokemon - you gotta catch 'em all. Have I mentioned how wonderful a life choice grad school is? The End. :P

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I think it's been made pretty clear that your experiences aren't universal to all grad students. We don't think you should attend grad school if you have zero interest, can't afford it or if you don't want to be there. I don't think anyone would recommend you do that. In fact, when we asked for our advice earlier about attending grad school, we recommended to you not to do that. Hate to say I told you so.

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Thankfully I am not in grad school all year round. If the people who ran the program I'm in weren't complete idiots and maybe spaced the classes and such out more so normal people could complete them. Maybe have a semester be an actual semester long, or rather than have class for three days every four months for four damn years, get all the crap done and over with in a year or year and a half. When I'm not officially in class, I do have more time. But sometimes the homework they load us up with makes it very hard for me to do anything, like travel or look for work. So yes, it is very overwhelming and I think the program needs to be run like a normal master's program. I can barely get the assignments done and I don't even have a job - but then again, people who do work usually turn in a bunch of half-assed assignments and maybe one really nice one. Maybe if I quit trying and just do something without effort, it won't be as difficult.

It's too bad I am blamed for playing a "persecution card" simply for telling the truth. Some experiences are specific to my program alone, but some I think could be universal to all grad students. Perhaps from now on I should simply lie to make everyone else happy. I've been doing that my entire life, so why stop here? Grad school is a completely uplifting experience that is worth every penny and it will make you grow exponentially as a professional and as a human being. Even if you major in something you have zero interest in, even if you can't afford to be there, even if you don't want to be there...doesn't matter because grad school is nothing but sunshine, rainbows and happiness and time spent there will guarantee you a spectacular job that you love that also happens to pay very well. Please go to grad school, even if you're a complete drooling moron. And once you graduate, go get another master's degree or two - maybe a Ph.D. They're like Pokemon - you gotta catch 'em all. Have I mentioned how wonderful a life choice grad school is? The End. :P

Ok, so I haven't been around as long or as thoroughly as many of the regulars, so I don't really know your deal. I guess I'm wondering why you didn't choose a "regular" masters program if you dislike the idea of the one you're in, why you're in art if you have "zero interest in it" (or were you talking about someone else there?), why you didn't leave your program the moment you had to start sacrificing your own well-being, and why you think everyone here demands sunshines and rainbows out of you. there have been a great number of problems and issues that we've all addressed or asked our peers to address, so we're not denying that such issues exist; we're just all more about trying to make them better proactively rather than dwelling on them.

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I agree - it's overall good for newbs, though I wouldn't say grad school is similar to a job. It's more like an ass-backwards unpaid internship. And not allowing grad school to consume your whole life is really funny - I'm sure if you give up meals and bathroom time and sleeping, then you can make time to do other things. But if you want to eat, pee, and sleep, then that'll be your only free time while in grad school, sadly. I love that they suggest forming a band as a hobby - really? Ph.D. and master's students have that much time? In what universe, I wonder? That's the part I have the biggest issue with. As long as you're a student, grad school IS your life. Period. Even at meal times at my school, all people talk about is their classes and homework. People don't even talk about their hobbies or lives or jobs - they are just consumed 24/7 with school, so I don't want to hear anyone telling me that I'm making this up. I've seen this with my own eyes and heard it with my own ears.

The idea is not that grad school can never ever become your life. The idea is that you should not let it to. And you CAN prevent that from happening. It's totally whithin your powers. If somebody has no life beyond grad school, it's not because that is inevitable but because this person does not manage his/her time right. That's what the advice in the article is about. That what makes it so wise and so great.

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I'll be quick because I'm just back from playing basketball with friends and I'm on my way out for an evening of fun and drinks: grad school does not have to consume your life. Please stop generalizing from your experience to the grad school experience as a whole. Of course it sucks for you, because you never wanted to be there in the first place. But not everyone's experience is like that.

I could not say better!

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Honestly, the best I ever did as a grad student was when I was the busiest. And by busiest, I mean fostering two dogs that had never lived indoors before, writing a MA thesis, working a part-time job off campus, and visiting PhD programs that had accepted me. Treating graduate school like a job, wherein I work pretty diligently for 7-8 hours, in my case 9-12 and 2-6ish, has also served me well. It forces me to avoid surfing the web and focus and then, once that's done, I have time to watch TV or a movie, read a book, cook dinner, and do the activities I enjoy.

Graduate school, just like work, is all about balance. It can consume your life if you let it. But don't let it.

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