Jump to content

How much is expected of me in 1st year?


Recommended Posts

So I've had an alright time during my first semester so far in an engineering PhD. I've been able to get training on almost all of the pieces of equipment that will be immediately useful to me as I get more into my research, and I've done some cursory literature searches to help with grant proposals to get some more money into our group, put together a demo for our outreach day, and I've helped a partnering research group with some technician-level assistance (furnace annealing samples many times). I've gotten by fine in my classes and expect to end up with A's.

Even with all that, though, I feel like there is something expected of me that I can't quite put my fingers on. I wake up in the morning wondering if I should be in the office even though I don't really have any reason to be - as if there's work I could be doing that I just don't know about yet. I wonder what my group members/adviser think of me when I'm not in the office early in the morning and don't come in until after my first class at 11 (or god forbid on days when I don't have classes at all and nothing to do, so I don't come in). I have become extremely self-conscious about whether what I'm doing is enough and whether I'm on the right track.

I suppose my question is two-fold:

1. Has anybody else gone through this? How did you deal with it? Would it be wise to simply go into the office at a set time every day (say 9 or 10)?

2. How did your experience as a first-semester/first-year graduate student compare with this? Were you able to get moving on a specific research topic this early?

Thanks in advance!

Edited by caedar
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Earning a PhD is about becoming an expert in your field and conducting interesting, valuable research. As a first year graduate student, my guess is that you don't know everything there is to know about the things you are interested in, I certainly don't as a second year. Get your current research project done faster if it is mainly based on your speed (I know collaborative projects or projects that require certain resources can be out of your control for speed of progress). You can also be using the extra time to get in on additional research projects beyond your main focus and/or reading up on the literature in your area. What do you want to do with your degree? What kind of job do you want? What skills or knowledge will help you obtain that position? If you start now you can have 4 or 5 years worth of experience in a specialized skill that will make you stand out from other applicants. I want to go into academia, so my extra time after my main responsibilities is used to read deeper into my main areas of interest and to work on research projects beyond the basic first year project - Master's project - dissertation project sequence. As I design future research, a better grounding in the literature will allow me to identify unique and interesting problems that haven't been addressed as well as utilize techniques from diverse sources. Getting A's isn't the main focus of what school is about at the graduate level - its about developing yourself into the kind of expert you want to be. If there is a class that is a requirement that isn't really relevant to your goals, its ok and possibly even better to get a B if that means you spent more time on things that matter for your development (even if these are things that aren't required like working on spare projects). You need to identify what kind of expert that is then motivate yourself to work towards that goal, even if sleeping in is much more tempting some days (and believe me, it is for me many days).

It took me a while to figure this out, I think most people have to work through the switch from undergrad where it is all about grades and requirements to graduate school where its about research and self-directed work.

Edited by LJK
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've been in my office/lab for about 8 hours a day + some on weekends since a few weeks before the semester started my first year.

The first few months were reading papers for hours and hours to familiarize myself with the subareas I would be working in, and then I was able to get started on some small fragments of research that I could later stitch together into a larger project.

If you don't have a project yet, then you should be spending the time that you will eventually spend on the project on developing that project, keeping up with literature, etc. My first year wasn't quite as busy, but even after the first few months I probably spent close to 2 or 3 hours a day just keeping up with current literature.

Get into a consistent schedule, and as you develop your project it will be more work and less lit review filling your time.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Most of my time in my first year filled with weekly homework assignments and readings for my classes. My program is very course-heavy so it's designed to be that way. We have an "independent study" class (=weekly meetings with 1 or more professors) in our second semester--which is designed to actively make us take the time to start developing our own research projects, because otherwise it's very easy to get bogged down with homework.

So I first started thinking about a research project in my second semester; it took about half the semester just to zero in on a good research question and I was confused about the data and analysis I should have well into my 3rd semester. I started doing some other projects of my own in the summer between my first and second year which I am continuing and expanding now. Even though I have more classes this year than last, I spend most of my time on my projects and less of it on my coursework. I have to say, it took me more-or-less all of the first year to get into the groove, but by now I have some very encouraging results that are turning into abstracts for 6 upcoming conferences -- so I don't think you have anything to worry about just yet.

What is weird to me is that you have so much free time. I never had free time since starting my program, I always had assignments and/or my own work to do. If you have the time, is there a way for you to join an existing project? Maybe even just as an observer, to learn how to gather data or discuss it, design and run experiments, write up results for lab presentations or for submissions, or whatever else is useful in your field. You can learn a lot from just watching others.

Edited by fuzzylogician
Link to comment
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

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. See our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use