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If I knew then what I know now (Officially Grads version)


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Sorry FingersCrossedX for copying your title!

I really like FingersCrossedX thread on the "Applications" sub-forum, where he/she asked about dos and donts in preparing one's applications. I'd like to ask current graduate students if you have advice on first-year graduate students, such that we can avoid to make the same mistakes.

I have read the following document and found it to be useful:

http://www.cs.unc.edu/~azuma/azuma_guides.html

It's written for CS grad students. I am not in CS, but I think it's useful

I also tried to search for similar threads in this forum. I cant find it. Sorry if this question has been asked/posted before.

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My advice to first year Graduate Students: Change your mind and turn around. Don't go to grad school!

1. I wish I would have fully grasped how busy I would become. It is so much more work than undergrad. 2. In that vein, I wish I would have done more prep work, gotten more freezer meals cooked an

1. I wish I had known the first few months were going to be so expensive-- finishing up with moving costs, establishing the new place, the new computer, textbooks and school supplies, some new clothes

1. I wish I had known the first few months were going to be so expensive-- finishing up with moving costs, establishing the new place, the new computer, textbooks and school supplies, some new clothes, socializing with the cohort (bar costs!) and Christmas/holiday travel and gifts. Starting a budget earlier would have eased some of that post-Christmas money panic where I wasn't sure if my remaining income/stipend would yield enough savings for summer. Adding excess money worries to the already stressful life changes was unfortunate, so I recommend being honest with yourself, your income, and your expenses as they might play out over a long period of time (and not just month to month).

2. Time budgeting can be just as important as money budgeting. I was great about reading for the first four or five weeks, and then I slipped into the (very common) habit of only doing about half of the reading for any given class. It hasn't hurt my grades, but my choice to socialize or just take a lot of relaxation time at home has probably eroded some of the educational benefits of discussion and reading outside of my research for seminar papers.

3. Speaking of seminar papers and term projects: Start earlier than you ever have before. If you ever procrastinated on your big assignments in the past, this new time at school is the opportunity to break the habit and start treating these assignments like what they are: part of your job, and a stepping stone to your career. Waiting until the last week to research, or the last day to write, is something I see a lot of grad students still doing. Sure, plenty of them are doing okay in terms of grades, but they aren't doing their best work and-- let's face it-- we're getting too old for those late-night shenanigans.

4. Everyone knows you will be busy, so they might not say anything, but try not to lose contact with your friends and family from home. There will be plenty of new friends to be had, and starting fresh relationships can be liberating, but they likely won't be able to replace the deeper roots you've established elsewhere. Don't forget to call or write or facebook with the people who know you best.

I made some Grad School Resolutions last summer (the thread is still kicking around somewhere) about saying yes to invitations and being more positive, and I think that I held to them and they yielded some nice results. There are definitely some other things I might add later, but these are the first that come to mind.

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1. I wish I would have fully grasped how busy I would become. It is so much more work than undergrad.

2. In that vein, I wish I would have done more prep work, gotten more freezer meals cooked and frozen before school started.

3. I got excellent advice from a friend: Set a time limit and don't go over it. Let's say it is 40 hours or 50 hours or whatever. When you reach it, STOP! Even if you haven't finished the reading. There are times when you have no choice and will have to break it, but try your best to stick to it.

4. Find a place you love and when it gets too much, go there and stay there until you have gained perspective. It could be the ocean, the forest, or our back yard.

5. EXERCISE! I have stayed sane by walking to school most days and taking walks with my husband at night. It gives us a chance to reconnect and let's me look away from the screen.

6. Learn to focus and cut out distractions. I installed Rescue Robot and it lets me know how long I have spent on each site and how productive I am. It is a free app and you can put it on multiple computers. I find it wonderful because so much of my time is spent on the computer or at home reading, so it is very easy to get sucked down rabbit holes. I have canceled my social media accounts as well, to cut down on mindless surfing.

7. Try to move to your new place early if you can. Having a couple weeks to settle, unpack, and get your bearings before you are hit with school is wonderful.

8. You will no longer be the smartest person in your class. Get over it. Also, don't be intimidated by other students. Remember they have had different training and preparation. One of the hardest things as a first year was to be thrown in a class with students who already have their master's and are studying for their qualifying exams. The only way I survived was that one of my classmates pointed it out to me and said to keep reminding myself of it.

9. One of my biggest breakthroughs this year has been learning to take criticism without automatically assuming it means I am stupid. Important lesson!

10. Have fun and remember you are in an incredibly privileged position. I think 5% of Americans have an advanced degree.

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The one thing I've found very true for myself is that no matter how busy you are in the first year, it is by far the year with the most free time -- you're not fully involved in research yet, not thinking of prelims/quals, proposal, making the next paper deadline. Make the first out of the first year in terms of exploring the town/city/surroundings and meeting people! It's a lot harder to make time for that later.

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Sorry FingersCrossedX for copying your title!

I really like FingersCrossedX thread on the "Applications" sub-forum, where he/she asked about dos and donts in preparing one's applications. I'd like to ask current graduate students if you have advice on first-year graduate students, such that we can avoid to make the same mistakes.

I have read the following document and found it to be useful:

http://www.cs.unc.ed...uma_guides.html

It's written for CS grad students. I am not in CS, but I think it's useful

I also tried to search for similar threads in this forum. I cant find it. Sorry if this question has been asked/posted before.

Oh no apology necessary. I think this is a great idea.

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The one thing I've found very true for myself is that no matter how busy you are in the first year, it is by far the year with the most free time -- you're not fully involved in research yet, not thinking of prelims/quals, proposal, making the next paper deadline. Make the first out of the first year in terms of exploring the town/city/surroundings and meeting people! It's a lot harder to make time for that later.

I think that might be program specific. Everyone I have talked to in my program says the first year is by far the worst. The course load is high, we need to form our committee and get a research proposal together, and a lot of the cohort has had to teach 101, which means learning how to teach, getting a syllabus worked out, and the extra hours. After the first year, people have much more self directed time.

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I think that might be program specific. Everyone I have talked to in my program says the first year is by far the worst. The course load is high, we need to form our committee and get a research proposal together, and a lot of the cohort has had to teach 101, which means learning how to teach, getting a syllabus worked out, and the extra hours. After the first year, people have much more self directed time.

Fair enough. I guess I should qualify I was speaking about an MS/PhD program and the first 2 years are coursework. The proposal is due after 3.5 years.

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Definately discipline specific. In chem, our first year is the busiest too... You have to combine research, coursework and teaching. The second year, you're usually dine witn most classes, and are mostly settled in to your lab/research.

I would add that you should do your best to reach out to other students.. Get to know your cohort. If you can bond witn them, they'll be the best support system available to you for the rest of your PhD. Reach out to older students as well... Don't be afraid to ask for help with coursework or research. It's worse to not ask and miss out on a good source of information tha. To look stupid because you didn't know something.

Also realize that everyone in your cohort will have differernt strengths, since you're all coming from different backgrounds. Use that to your advantage! Swap help in one class for help in another.

Keep in mind that grad school is as much about endurance as anything else. Pace yourself! Take time off, take time to go out and make friends/make time for friends. Don't work every evening and every weekend, you'll burn out fast. Grad school is where you start to develop habits that will last for the rest of your academic career... It's closer to life as a professor than undergrad by far, and you need to start looking for a balance that you will maintain for the rest of your life (assuming you want to stay in academics).

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In my program everybody says the first year is the worst in terms of work load but I don't think they're right. It's definitely different than the other years - much more structure, more assignments and readings and less (read: ' almost no') time for research. That all can be very stressful. In subsequent years we're free to build our schedule and do research at our leisure, but I don't think I'm working any less than in I did in my first year. If anything, I'm working more. But the nature of the work is different and the ability to control my time makes it more bearable.

The one important thing to learn in graduate school is time management. With it, it's also important to learn to say 'no'. There are just too many demands on my time and some things I just can't do, or can't do within the original time frame. I've learned to prioritize - some things I decide I won't even try to get done, others I decide to only invest X amount of time in - even if it means the final product is less than perfect (that's especially true for assorted class assignments). I try not to over-invest in my TAship so I keep careful track of how long I spend on my work and try not to overdo it, although sometimes that's difficult. The one thing to remember is that you'll have time for what you decide is important. If you make time for a social life, for breaks, for exercise - then you'll have time for those things. If all you do is work - you'll get tired and depressed and won't be able to keep it up. It's important to actively take time off, have hobbies, do other things. It's all a matter or deciding what's important.

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I really have to agree with the competition advice concerning your cohort. As a direct from undergrad, my first year was fairly difficult because I placed a bunch of added stress on my self when I thought about students who had masters or life experience. The former I even took to calling "false first years." A lot of grad school in the first year is learning how to play the game which experienced grad students will simply be better at. This does not reflect poorly on your aptitude if you are playing catch up in this arena...3 years on there is rarely substantial differences between undergrad admits and others.

Taking criticism also resonated with me. It is hard. For many people, grades have been a source of self validation. In grad school, they suddenly become fairly meaningless in a lot of programs. At the same time, the actual critical reflection of your work goes substantially up. I still have to remind my self not be defensive during q/a during a presentation. My advice here is probably of a narrow focus, but I think if you are an externally motivated individual (ie gauge your self worth by the views of others) grad school will be an important place do develop more of an internal focus and it will also be a place of a lot of hard knocks...but they might be good for the soul.

Department politics: I'm still bad at this. My first year I didn't think there was a lot of distention in the department. My second year: I see it everywhere. Be very mindful when Professors ask you about their peers as it is hard to be certain of their motives especially if you do not fully grasp your department's politics.

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One last thing...

Research Seminars and Meeting Visitors: My first year none of my cohort regularly attended our department's research seminar in which we invited high profile visitors to present their work. Big mistake. Yes first year is busy (I called it "First Year Grad Hell"), but this is an invaluable forum to network with the academic community you will be joining. If possible, read the paper thoroughly and have trenchant comment. If the department offers an option for informal grad meetings with the visitor, take it up even if the person is only within your broad subfield. You never know who will have an interesting insight on your project. The other advantages of these meetings is that different programs focus on different things in critiquing research and this is a good place to suss out what students at different schools are being told. This can be invaluable knowledge about the field come job talk time. Do be aware that these meetings can be incredibly awkward: it's not your fault. Academics are weird people and sometimes the conversation doesn't go well. I was really stressed about this and worried I had made a terrible impression on a very prominent member of my field. One of my advisers emailed me a few weeks later to tell me that he had actually brought up my research and was rather impressed. So awkward town does not mean that the meeting is a bust.

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I concur with a lot of the advice that has been given, so I won't repeat it. Something that hasn't been directly discussed is learning the difference between undergrad and grad school. It is monumental. I didn't go through the whole application process to get into my master's program so you all are probably further ahead than I was straight out of undergrad. I had a vague understanding that graduate school was about research but I didn't really truly get it until I was in my current program for 3/4s of a year. I have been told many times: if there comes a time when you have to choose between anything and research, choose research. While there are of course non-academic exceptions such as family, friends, etc., the main idea here is that graduate school is 98% about research and becoming a competent researcher. If you have a class assignment, a somewhat flexible TA responsibility, a guest lecture, whatever, to do but you really need that time to do something critical to your research, do the research. If making steady progress on your research means doing B work in your courses, do B work. This does not usually jive with the way you are supposed to approach school as an undergrad and it takes time to really figure that out - I heard it many times before I really 'got it.'

Also, read. Read, Read, Read. You are embarking on a career where you trade in ideas and you need to know what ideas are out there. Find ways to connect your seemingly unrelated coursework to your research interests. Choose paper topics that help with understanding your own research better. In researching profs to apply to, you probably already started to build a web of how researchers are networked together - who worked with whom, which researchers collaborate, what the 'camps' are relative to your interests. Keep building that understanding. Know who is at which school. Occasionally take the time to go look at the latest research coming out of labs of researchers you think are cool. Or you think are kind of crazy. Get a feel for the sub-field politics as you are getting a feel for the department politics as IRdreams suggests. Research is about facts and ideas but as with all human pursuits it is heavily influenced by the human relationships of the people doing the research. You quickly want to learn to index ideas to people citation style.

Finally, try to make friends with other graduate students who aren't in your department. Your department peers can be great as colleagues and friends. You will definitely want to pursue that angle, but non-department grad friends can give you something different. They know what grad school is like, they have that understanding, but they are outside your department's politics. You can speak freely with them about the people in your department because they don't have any vested interest in whatever is going on. It can be a huge relief :)

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A lot of good stuff has already been said, so here's my take.

The first year will, almost always, suck. So, find a way to make it suck less. Figure out which work *has* to be done and which work doesn't, then work accordingly. Make friends with your cohort, or at least some of them, so you have someone to talk to during breaks in class. Remember that you don't have to be best buddies with any of them. In fact, it's probably better if you aren't. Either find a new hobby or stick with an existing one. Write it into your schedule so that it happens. I recommend something that incorporates exercise but YMMV. Use the hobby and any other activities you have to start meeting other people, especially if you move to a new city for grad school.

Regarding money: Figure out ASAP whether or not you get paychecks in the summer. If you won't, start planning *now* for how to pay your summer living expenses. If you don't think you'll have enough, plan to take out a small subsidized loan in the spring semester (summer loans require summer enrollment, which could be extra money if your tuition waiver is like mine and doesn't cover summers), put it in a savings account, and don't touch it until late May. If you're having trouble juggling the start-up costs of grad school, take out a subsidized student loan for a few thousand dollars. Your payment after graduation will be under $50/month and you won't be stressed and/or paying criminally high interest rates to a credit card company.

Find a good and capable advisor. Note: this may not be the person you thought you'd work with. Interview potential advisors before deciding, if possible. Before forming a committee, ask other grad students about whether or not those faculty get along. Then, run every single name by your advisor before approaching that person. You do NOT want a committee that has their own issues that they bring into the room when discussing your stuff.

And, given the time and financial constraints, learn to cook either now or once school starts. I could barely cook when I started grad school but I've gotten better. Seek out food blogs and cookbooks that offer simple recipes. Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything is a great resource (though admittedly, years later I'm still unwilling to make some of the stuff in there due to complexity). If you don't already have one, get a slow cooker so that you can toss food into it in the morning and come home to a warm dinner. On days when you're biking/walking home in the dark, cold rain, it will seriously make you not want to give up.

Last but not least, don't date in the department. Just don't do it. It always seems like a good idea at first but, it can get ugly. So just stay away and, if you're having trouble, remember that you'll have to see that person daily for 4+ years after you break up, see them dating other people, hear about their drunken shenanigans and hookups, etc.

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1) definitely budget well for first few months. moving, getting an apartment, buying textbooks, and waiting until the end of the month for your first paycheck sucks. hard.

2) you will have less time than you think. even though you've been warned that it's a lot of work, it's still more work than you think it is. get used to 60+ hours of work a week.

3) you'll have to schedule your fun time. i hate planning my fun, but without doing that, it turns out i never have time for fun. at a certain point, you need to accept that you're not going to finish X tonight and just go grab a beer.

4) get 8 hours of sleep. every night. just do it. you can't do everything, and if you try to, you'll get sluggish and won't do anything well. sleep.

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4) get 8 hours of sleep. every night. just do it. you can't do everything, and if you try to, you'll get sluggish and won't do anything well. sleep.

Alternatively, get used to living on about 4 hours of night and lots of coffee!

Seriously, making sure you get sleep is really important. It's still not something I'm consistently able to do. There have been some interesting polls of graduate students vs. incidence of insomnia, and the data seems anecdotally solid. I don't recommend the 4 hours+ coffee approach, although it's mostly what I've been doing the past few weeks.

Edited by Eigen
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I'm still a first-year, but finishing up. Here's some thoughts as the end of the semester approaches:

1. Be professionally assertive. I am a shy person, sometimes I am afraid to speak up for things I want or say no to unreasonable requests. All first-years want to leave good impressions on their peers and professors, but remember -- you have your priorities to take care of, for example, classes. Professors know classes are important, but some will push you to do more nonetheless. Be assertive, so people can't take advantage of you. Grad school is very demanding for sure, but you have the responsibility to take care of yourself.

2. Learn the politics quick. Crucial for survival, especially first-years who are the weakest because they are new to the game.

3. Know that undergraduate research is very different from graduate research: research was all fun and games when you were an undergrad, but once you put the grad student hat on, it's all serious business and your PI will demand a lot out of you. Be ready for the intensity! Think as much as you can, be as creative as you can, and be as productive as you can. The competition is fierce.

4. Exercise and find a hobby that you enjoy outside of work. Being in grad school puts you in that thinking mode constantly, but it can't be all work and no play. As professors will tell you, you need to eat, sleep, breathe grad school and it's all for your sake, but what they are not telling you is you need something to balance that workload (they might not want to hear about it either :P). Taking your mind off work once in a while will help prevent burnouts.

5. Sleep and eat well. Never never compromise sleep and meals.

That's all I can think of for now, and I hope this helps any incoming grad students. It's a new chapter of your life, make the best out of it and you will be just fine!

Edited by Tall Chai Latte
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...it's also important to learn to say 'no'. There are just too many demands on my time and some things I just can't do, or can't do within the original time frame. I've learned to prioritize - some things I decide I won't even try to get done, others I decide to only invest X amount of time in - even if it means the final product is less than perfect (that's especially true for assorted class assignments).

This is such an important skill. In fact, I don't want to even call it a "skill" but, say, a "virtue," in the Aristotelian sense. It's easy to say a tentative "yes" to all things worthwhile you would like to do, but it takes tremendous strength of character to say "no" to some of these.

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Just read the Carreira letter, I was running for the door after reading it. I have to have people talk me out of dropping out of Grad School because I feared the rest of my life would be spent trapped in a lab 24/7. I still freak out about it on a daily basis.

...I don't wanna ...I don't wanna ...I don't wanna

Definitely stopping at my Masters degree.

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My department has not been as politicky as some, but here's some general advice for the first year (and beyond, really):

Try not to say bad things about people. Anyone. Even if it seems like the person you're talking to won't care or won't know the person under discussion It's much better to avoid those tricky, facepalming faux pas moments than attempt to fix them once the words have escaped your mouth. Also, people may love gossip but they don't always feel the greatest when they realize that you might be spilling dirt on them at some point.

Listen more than you speak.

Without going so far as complete suck-uppage, try to find something admirable in everyone, or at least something on which they deserve a compliment on any given day. Fostering an atmosphere of respect and courtesy, even if it's just a bubble in your immediate area, will win you more friends than enemies. Even in a toxic department, you need to keep your doors open for allies or at least neutral parties.

Ask around, feel it out, but find out the power structure of deans and heads and whatever other administrative/advisory people are in charge of things in your department. Know who is responsible for helping you with your problems, and who is going to really help or sympathize with them-- those are not always the same people, but I certainly hope that you luck out and the system is both functional and accessible to you in times of need and frustration.

Respect the people with more experience than you, but don't kowtow to them. They may have been there for longer than you, but everyone is both good and bad something. You're a new colleague, nothing more or less.

Don't apologize for everything, or people will start wondering what you're doing wrong.

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All of this advice is spectacular. Thanks to all who posted so far.

Can some of you please elaborate on navigating department politics. What to look for, who to ask, what absolutely not to do, horror stories, whatever :)

Department politics (or politics in academia in general) kinda comes through quiet observation.... It's different everywhere, you kinda have to test the water yourself within the department. One important thing to remember is that you need to be humble, keep your ears open, and talk less. Students talk amongst each other about things, you will definitely learn a thing or two....

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So I brought up department politics originally partially because I have been recently embroiled in a bit of quagmire. My general advice on this topic reflects what has been said earlier: listen more than you speak. The hard part of this advice though is that professors are also keenly trying to scope out their peers. Thus they may ask you point blank questions about so-and-so and some experience they know you are having. I'm a heart on my sleeve person and have a problem lying/being diplomatic if asked a point blank question about say the professor I am TAing for who is all sorts of awful because he should have retired 10years ago. I still do not have a good solution for how to get out of these situations where someone is specifically pumping you for gossip. In my case, it is also hard because it is primarily my research adviser who does this and politely shutting down the conversation can create other issues. I think the best tactic is to give evasive answers from day 1 so that you will not be viewed as a go to source of information by professors on their colleagues.

My horror story: Said elderly gentlemen had the bad habit of saying incredibly sexists and racist remarks during his undergrad lecture. One of the other TAs mentioned this to a younger faculty member who then called me into his/her office and asked me to be involved in a complaint about this colleague to the department chair. While I think the comments created a hostile environment, I definitely did not want to be involved in potentially forcibly retiring a very prominent academic within my field. As you can imagine, it created a sticky situation that I would not have even had to think about if I had just suffered the TA experience in silence.

Edited by IRdreams
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