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M.S. Worries After Unsupportive Undergrad Experience


bosanbo

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I'm an "alternative" student, or whatever it is called these days. I graduated high school in 2000, but did not start my B.A. until 2004. I worked and served a year in AmeriCorps in between.

 

I worked full-time while attending community college, then transferred to a state university. Throughout the entire six years it took to get my B.A. (see: working full time), I felt singularly unsupported. Advisers didn't advise, guidance counselors didn't guide, despite my frequent requests. I mainly got pre-printed checklists that I then ticked off by myself, hoping I was meeting all requirements. As a student with no family support, I also didn't really understand financial aid my first few years. I paid a lot of money out of pocket that I didn't have to. The school I graduated from had a bit of a reputation for making students feel this way, but I attended it because it was where I lived, and not out of choice. Basically, I fumbled around. I graduated in 2010 and took two years to figure out my next step, which turned out to be graduate school.

 

I don't know if my experience is common or not. But now I fear my lack of guidance is working against me, or that it's just making me paranoid. I've chosen to attend a M.S. program at Cornell and... well, I feel like I'm supposed to know everything already. Everything about funding, grants, and how to "be" a graduate student, that is. I don't want to contact my POI too much, because I feel like I'm being a pest. I'd rather she not see me as an insecure person before I even arrive, if that makes sense.

 

I'm really, really happy to have gotten in to Cornell, since the program is exactly what I'm after. I'm also very proud, coming from a poorer family and having no family support, to finally have a choice in my education, instead of just going to the school that is in my town, etc. 

 

Some of this is just venting, but also... I'd really like to hear if other people have been through this. How did you learn to navigate course requirements and optional classes, grants and funding, etc.? How did you learn to not look like a completely nervous person who was just so overwhelmingly happy to be there, and starting looking like... a grad student?

 

Sorry for my neurosis! Like I said, this is the first time I've had an actual choice about my path.

 

Whew. OK. I think that's it. 

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You're not alone! My dept is similar, especially for the PhD students. In terms of navigating course requirements, etc, I did three things. First, I did as much research as I could on the websites for both my dept and the faculty of grad studies. There may be some useful documents hidden away somewhere. Second, I set up a meeting with my program coordinator and brought a list of questions with me. He/she is in charge of the program and should either know the information you seek or how to find it. Third, I talked to upper year students. I went to as many dept events as possible and joined the dept student executive, so I could easily chat with students who've already been in my shoes. Hope this helps!

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Thank you! For the advice, of course, and also for uttering the phrase "you're not alone." No matter how much we know it, it's nice to hear it, isn't it? 

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YOU ARE NOT ALONE!!!!!  I don't know how to be a grad student either.  The school I accepted at is not as helpful as the other school I applied to.  Some schools and programs have awesome websites that walk you through everything, others...not so much.  So, once I made the decision I contacted my PI by email.  I let him know that I had returned my official acceptance letter and that I was needing some transitional assistance.  He provided me with the emails of 3 current grad students and all of them have been helpful with anything I've sent them.  In addition, one of the students friended me on the FB grad student page for the department I am joining.  I could see that they are a very active group, socially, academically, and in the community.  Lastly, I've applied for a summer job, both on campus (in the PI's lab) and a few other jobs in town.  I'm considering making my move the middle of June so that I can start work July1.  This will give me some time to figure out how to use the shuttles, where things are in town (groceries, post office, bank...)  before classes start in August.  I'm still not quite clear about my academic plan or my research, but my PI said he would be around most of the summer and invited me to set up an appointment to talk.

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Don't be afraid to use school-wide resources, too.  I get not wanting to bug your adviser, but I'm sure there's a financial assistance office of some sort you could meet up with (or call/email).  I made an appointment at my career center to get some tips on an internship.  These may be geared toward undergrads (because there are more of them) but they can still help, and there is a bit more anonymity, so you can express concerns/insecurities without jeopardizing departmental relations.

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Also, there's a lot of general information online, with websites like here, the Chronicle of Higher Ed, Inside Higher Ed, ProfHacker, etc. as well as a number of great academic blogs. 

 

Don't be afraid to look at other universities info for grad students to help get a feel of the options that are out there, things that are typical/atypical, etc. 

 

My undergrad school was very supportive, but not necessarily helpful at figuring out direction, or explaining grad school, so I know how overwhelming it can feel. 

 

I did a ton of reading from every possible source, and then asked a lot of questions. 

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What the others said. Once you arrive, seek advice from the more advanced students. In particular, find out from them who the person is in your department who is in charge of the graduate program and actually knows all the requirements. It could be the DGS, someone in headquarters, the dept head or one or more of the professors. It may *not* be your advisor - professors are often not up to date on requirements and relying solely on their advice could mean you miss something important. If there is a grad handbook that lists requirements or if there is a portion of the department website devoted to it - read it thoroughly and remember to revisit it once in a while; it's easy to forget all the information that they tell you at the beginning of first-year.

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Thank you all VERY much! I've located the person "in charge" of the graduate program, and all of you who said it were right: not my PI. I've also found the FB page for my department; maybe FB will actually prove of some use to me, finally. Really appreciating all the advice, thanks again.

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