Jump to content

If you can give a starting Grad one piece of advice...


Recommended Posts

...what would that advice be?

(This is my first post on these forums, and I'm starting in the Spring as a graduate Computer Science student, so I'd like to keep the responses carte blanche as a way of saying hello. I look forward to reading your comments! Please don't feel restricted in what you wish to say. The more harsh, truthful, or real it is, the better I'll be off in the end.)

Link to post
Share on other sites

They picked you, so feel free to feel as proud and/or humble as you need at any given moment. At the very least, knowing that you were picked out of the crowd should help keep your head in a positive place when stress or self-doubt starts to hit.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Relax. A PhD is a marathon, not a sprint. Work hard, but don't neglect the rest of your life- keep up your health, keep outside activities, and stay as well rested as possible.

If you're too tired or too stressed your work will show it. If you have no outside activities or interests, you lose the ability to get an "outside" view on your work, to be able to come back to it fresh each day/week/month.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Learn to prioritize. There are going to be many demands on your time and you'll have to figure out how to divide it in a sensible way.

Decide which of the tasks you have to do are important (your research, your LIFE), which you can just do a mediocre job on and get away with it (classwork, etc), and which ones you just have to say NO to.

BTW, saying 'no' is another important skill to learn..

Link to post
Share on other sites

Another first year grad here...I'd add that you should trust yourself and know when you need to make a change (say by dropping a course, otherwise changing your courseplan for the year, or hiring a tutor sooner rather than later for a subject that is required but you aren't familiar with).

Link to post
Share on other sites

Learn to prioritize. There are going to be many demands on your time and you'll have to figure out how to divide it in a sensible way.

Decide which of the tasks you have to do are important (your research, your LIFE), which you can just do a mediocre job on and get away with it (classwork, etc), and which ones you just have to say NO to.

Oh yeah, definitely this. I am constantly amazed at how many MS and PhD students in my current department have absolutely no clue of how to triage. Were their undergrad programs really that un-challenging? I wouldn't have made it through undergrad without developing serious triage skills.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Make friends in your program. They're the only ones who will truly understand when you're having a rough time, and the ones that will be able to help you best when you're struggling. I couldn't have gotten through my first quarter without them.

I agree with this, and also try to create a cooperative culture in your cohort. Most of the other members of my cohort are aware of each others projects, and we regularly send each other things we find that may apply to other peoples research. Their is no reason to view them as a group of competitors. You are all there for good reason, and can learn a great deal from each other. Create relationships across fields. I learn a great deal from how Latin Americanists approach their topics and I like to think vice versa. In my first year, this has been the best and most helpful aspect of my program. We even have a shared blog.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 4 weeks later...

We even have a shared blog.

As a second year, I started a wiki for everyone in our Master's program (1st and 2nd years) that has answers to basic questions that I asked when I first started: Where's paper for the printer? TA tips, good restaurants in the area, how to use our stupid computer system for grading, etc. I wish I had started it in my first year. I actually learned a lot from other people that posted. And I like to think I helped some first years not feel like idiots when trying to print or find basic supplies. Our department does a crappy job of explaining this stuff, so the wiki has been helpful.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Grad school is not an "end all, be all". If you find you're not a great fit with your advisor, or you have some difficulty with a grad class, or TAing is eating your life, you have options. You're not going to get booted because everything didn't fall perfectly into place. Even the smartest people in your program feel overworked and second-guess themselves. You can talk things out with your adviser and colleagues to get an idea what your options are; sometimes you'll find better alternatives, other times it's better to just grin and bear it. So remain calm, work through your research and responsibilities as best as you can, and don't think you're trapped. Remember that while your thesis and your work is important, don't let it completely take over your life. There's more to life than grad school, and you just need to keep things in perspective.

Link to post
Share on other sites

So remain calm, work through your research and responsibilities as best as you can, and don't think you're trapped.

This, and the other advice in abacus123's post, is excellent. I'll add, don't be trapped. Always have a Plan B. Not just one that you could survive on, but one that you'd be happy to do as a career. If you don't feel like you have to be in grad school to have a good life, you'll enjoy being there more. People who don't think they have any alternative are people who are vulnerable to being abused and/or exploited by their advisors or other faculty. They're also people liable to become extremely stressed by any setback.

Link to post
Share on other sites

The posts are fabulous! I'm not sure how things work in Computer Sciences, if you have funding, ect but I would like to add to the list of great advice the following--- no matter how friendly everyone in your department/cohort is.... just because you are 'in' does not always mean the competition is over and there are always 'unfriendly' folks (brought out even more in this economic climate of funding cuts! So- I would suggest new grad students slowly get to know your colleagues and be professional at all times from the moment you step on campus. Friendships take time- to quotePessi a line from the 'Godfather'- " Never let them know what your thinking"!! Sounds pessimistic I know- and I'm an optimist!! But I think its important to remember that people gossip ect- I've heard grad students/faculty taking betting pools on who would be leaving, thrown out ect! Just a reminder to look at this process without rose tinted glasses!!! Do your best work- be professional- make professional connections!! Ie your wild days with colleagues are sadly over!

Link to post
Share on other sites

The posts are fabulous! I'm not sure how things work in Computer Sciences, if you have funding, ect but I would like to add to the list of great advice the following--- no matter how friendly everyone in your department/cohort is.... just because you are 'in' does not always mean the competition is over and there are always 'unfriendly' folks (brought out even more in this economic climate of funding cuts! So- I would suggest new grad students slowly get to know your colleagues and be professional at all times from the moment you step on campus. Friendships take time- to quotePessi a line from the 'Godfather'- " Never let them know what your thinking"!! Sounds pessimistic I know- and I'm an optimist!! But I think its important to remember that people gossip ect- I've heard grad students/faculty taking betting pools on who would be leaving, thrown out ect! Just a reminder to look at this process without rose tinted glasses!!! Do your best work- be professional- make professional connections!! Ie your wild days with colleagues are sadly over!

It's interesting, the programs I know are so not like this. There's almost no intra-departmental competition, and most of us were the "we had no wild days as undergrads" types... But we go out drinking with our bosses/colleagues/visiting lecturers more now than we have at any prior time.

There's always gossip and intrapersonal tensions, but not competition... Our program, and even the other programs at our school are in the "we're all in it together, lean on each other to get through it" grouping... I don't know how you'd make it through grad school without a close network of peers for support. Who better understands the frustrations you're experiencing than those going through it with you?

Link to post
Share on other sites

It's interesting, the programs I know are so not like this. There's almost no intra-departmental competition, and most of us were the "we had no wild days as undergrads" types... But we go out drinking with our bosses/colleagues/visiting lecturers more now than we have at any prior time.

There's always gossip and intrapersonal tensions, but not competition... Our program, and even the other programs at our school are in the "we're all in it together, lean on each other to get through it" grouping... I don't know how you'd make it through grad school without a close network of peers for support. Who better understands the frustrations you're experiencing than those going through it with you?

My department used to be competitive in that way and isn't any more. To me, a supportive, non-competitive atmosphere is one of the most important considerations in the choice of graduate school -- along with the choice of advisors. If you don't enjoy being around your peers, you will suffer in a program, even if the academic support there is excellent. The lack of a social life will make it hard to do well in such a program.

To anyone who is still in the process of applying -- the social atmosphere is crucial to a balanced life in grad school, but can be hard to investigate. My program, for example, has an undeserved reputation for being competitive, when it is not that at all, at least in recent years. Once you are admitted to a program, everyone will be much more forthcoming. Talk to as many students as possible, particularly students who are currently in their first or second year, and ask them about social life in the department. It's no less important than knowing how demanding your potential advisor is, how many classes you will have to take or how much rent in the area costs.

Link to post
Share on other sites

This is also one of the reasons that we take prospective grad students out at night... They go to dinner with a prof, then a group of grad students picks them up to show them around the town, take t hem drinking, etc...

It's a nice, loose opportunity to see what the social scene is like, and what your new prospective peers are like on a social level.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I was not prepared for the rigorous nature of grad school, but I'm about to defend in a few weeks. So, I've made it at least this far. Grad school is without a doubt tiring. There will be times when you doubt your decision to go and times when you feel like you've made the right decision. Also, I felt really dumb sometimes. That's normal. Think of it as a hazing process....a competitive process as well. Prioritize your coursework and paper writing and you should make all your deadlines. Another thing, I'm not sure about your program, but when it comes time for your advisor to review your thesis/dissertation, don't assume they will read it quickly. Sometimes they do, but other times it takes them months. Grad school requires dedication and putting off other plans in order to keep up. I know, this might seem like a harsh response but this is what I had to sacrifice in order to keep up. I was also a TA that ran and graded three sections for two semesters, while taking the required full time load to keep my funding. I wish you luck and hope everything works out well or you.

Link to post
Share on other sites

This is also one of the reasons that we take prospective grad students out at night... They go to dinner with a prof, then a group of grad students picks them up to show them around the town, take t hem drinking, etc...

It's a nice, loose opportunity to see what the social scene is like, and what your new prospective peers are like on a social level.

"Prospective"? Or do you guys take out Newbies? I would like to know cuz I'll be attending this Fall

Link to post
Share on other sites

Both, as much as we can.

The department gives us money to take out the prospectives when they come through on visits, but we're a really social department... And school overall. I'm a rep for the Graduate Student Studies Association, and I know a lot of the departments are pretty big on making the new guys feel welcome.

There's also a pretty strong mindset of picking one or two newbies that you click with at least somewhat, and keeping tabs on them throughout the year- reminding them of deadlines, letting them know about opportunities, etc.

Edited by Eigen
Link to post
Share on other sites

The first rule of grad school, nobody cares about you finishing like you do. Don't trust your professor to necessarily have your best interests in mind when it comes to you finishing your program. Also, make sure they don't lose your stuff, and that you follow up on anything important you ask anyone to do. Their priorities are not always the same as yours and a lot of the stuff they "suggest" you do are just suggestions and not required. Make sure though, if you are unclear if something is a suggestion or a requirement that you clarify.

Also, your major professor and committee will make or break your program, choose carefully, it's probably the most important decision you make in grad school.

Link to post
Share on other sites

People mentioned social life and outside of grad school life. I'll be a little more specific and it's probably what you guys meant anyway. Make sure you have a hobby! It can be anything you want. Maybe you're into running or video games or you like working on cars/bikes or you like bike riding, but figure out at least one. The point is that if you're always focused on school and research, you're going to have a harder time not burning out. If you're really social, that's a hobby too, but don't talk about school, for at least one day :)

The bigger point I'm trying to get at is that as grad school goes on, one has to find ways to stay motivated. No one knows the answer to your problem (otherwise it wouldn't be research) and most other people don't care about the question anyway, so it's easy to get down. If you've got your hobby, it can clear the mind from any thoughts and help one remember why you're interested in this stuff to begin with! After that, motivation comes easy :)

Hobbies are also great ways to make friends and will keep one from feeling lonely in a new place! That probably belongs in the other thread about social life, but just throwing it out there.

Link to post
Share on other sites

If you are a procrastinator, break the habit ASAP. You will be so grateful later in the semester/research process/etc. for every little bit of work that you did ahead of time.

Also, take criticism into consideration but not to heart.

Link to post
Share on other sites

People mentioned social life and outside of grad school life. I'll be a little more specific and it's probably what you guys meant anyway. Make sure you have a hobby! It can be anything you want. Maybe you're into running or video games or you like working on cars/bikes or you like bike riding, but figure out at least one. The point is that if you're always focused on school and research, you're going to have a harder time not burning out. If you're really social, that's a hobby too, but don't talk about school, for at least one day :)

The bigger point I'm trying to get at is that as grad school goes on, one has to find ways to stay motivated. No one knows the answer to your problem (otherwise it wouldn't be research) and most other people don't care about the question anyway, so it's easy to get down. If you've got your hobby, it can clear the mind from any thoughts and help one remember why you're interested in this stuff to begin with! After that, motivation comes easy :)

Hobbies are also great ways to make friends and will keep one from feeling lonely in a new place! That probably belongs in the other thread about social life, but just throwing it out there.

Another grad student and I play tennis every week. I also have a movie watching buddy, amongst some going out friends. Having a good social life is essential. Agreed to everyone who everyone who has said this.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 4 months later...

- memorize your graduate handbook. it will have all the timelines you need to meet, the courses you need to take, the requirements you need to fulfill. your advisor, believe it or not, will not actually know this stuff. s/he will know that there are certain things you need to do to meet your requirements, but s/he won't actually know what those things are. it's up to you to be on top of it. sometimes, the director of grad studies won't even know what it is you need to do. frustrating, but as long as you have the department handbook to back you up, you'll be okay.

- learn to value yourself for something other than being smart. everyone in your program is smart. everyone is used to getting the top grades in their class. you will no longer be the best and the brightest. you will also frequently be told that your work isn't good. the grades themselves don't matter anymore, it's the comments in the margins that let you know your work was inadequate. you will have weeks or months of self-doubting, you will read your advisor's every twitch and tick as evidence of his/her contempt for your mediocrity.

like yourself because you're funny, because you're creative, because you can run a marathon, because you can fix things with your hands, because you actually had the "wild years" (or "tumultuous years") that your colleagues heard so much about when they were in the library/lab. but do NOT like yourself only for your intelligence, because within a year, you won't feel smart anymore. i've given this pep talk to colleagues of mine that were having panic attacks when they thought they wouldn't get research funding or that their advisor hated their work, and it rarely sinks in for most of them, because they've always been "the smart one" and can't yet see themselves as anything else. it's time to let that go. even the students with 4.0 GPAs, who breeze through their thesis/comps/overview, who hold big-time national fellowships have days/weeks/months of feeling stupid.

- know the department politics. if there's a universally-hated faculty member, you should know that before you start bringing that person onto various committees. if that universally-hated faculty member is your advisor, you need to know that too, because it will be up to you to cultivate strong relationships with other faculty. they'll need to like you because they don't like your prof.

- don't date within your department. seriously. it's too incestuous and breeds competition within a relationship or between couples. grad school isn't on the buddy-system. you don't need to pair up with someone the first month you get here.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.