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Eigen and Fuzzy, what would you recommend for someone transitioning from being a bit of a perfectionist regarding coursework and grades in undergrad? I know it's not going to be sustainable to dedicate as much time to coursework as I did then, and my advisor has warned me to ease up a little in terms of coursework so that I don't miss out on important networking opportunities and such by never leaving the library. But sending out something that I'm not 100% proud of can produce anxiety. And imposter syndrome certainly doesn't help. I'm pretty sure that this is something I'm going to have to be very conscious of and work with. Any advice regarding this?

 

I had to learn to make this transition too. I think small steps are important. For me, I started by setting pretty generous time limits on how much time I can spend on each problem or homework set. I budget my time so that I first aim to finish everything and then go back to perfect little things if there's time. I find that it became easier to not hand in 100% effort work when you first hand in 95% effort and realise that nothing bad happened! Then go on from there until you get to a level that is a good balance for you.

 

Other things that helped me was working on problem sets with your friends/classmates. I feel a lot better making a simplification and/or only solving the problem to order of magnitude if I knew everyone else does too. This became a lot easier in my second year--when I have to use a number such as the density of a specific type of rock in my computation, I just said well, it's probably 3g/cm^3, within 10% because most rock is like that. I think some of the newer students were spending the extra time to look up this specific compound of rock and found that it was 2.8 instead of 3.0. However, our grades are the same and the amount of learning we got out of the homework was the same. There's nothing to be gained from digging through a textbook for 20 minutes to find a specific number that does not change the main result of the question.

 

So, another thing that helps me is for me to look at homework and courses as not a form of evaluation but instead, as a means to an end (increased knowledge on course material). I think if you think back to your undergrad courses, you might find that the courses where you learned the most doesn't really necessarily correlate with your highest grades (at least it's true for me). Getting an A+ in a course does not always mean you got what you wanted out of the course! So, like my example above, I consider my time to be a valuable resource and I would consider being more careful with how I use it, so I learn what I actually want to learn instead of just spending time doing busy-work.

 

Having older students and other profs mentor me in how to use my time wisely helped me get over my perfectionism in my homework. For us, our grad courses have graduate student TAs so that really helps. In general, we understand the courses in our department are really a means to an end, so we don't get super nitpicky with our grading. Now that I am a TA, I completely understand when my students choose to not hand in a problem set or just completely skip some questions or parts of a question. Obviously, I still do not award points for incomplete work, but I don't give them a hard time for blowing off my assignments since I know they made the conscious choice to spend their time elsewhere. When they ask, I try to let them know which parts of the questions are most useful for learning (and I weight these parts more) so busy students know where to focus their time!

 

Related to all of the above, I think the most important thing in making the transition from undergrad to grad student is to transition your priority from courses to research (at least for research oriented programs) and basically making the transition from "going to school" to "going to work". If it helps, very few people will ever look at your graduate transcripts. Almost no academic jobs will require you to submit your grad school grades! In the beginning of grad school, you might apply to a few academic based scholarships/fellowships that need grades (but most of your grades will be from undergrad anyways), but then as you progress further, your applications will mostly be judged on your research, not your grades!

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Plus it is not like you are not going to have plenty of time to enjoy your pets, hobbies ,relationships,  once you are done so why not them put them aside temporarily so you can be the most productive in your studies and research.

 

Sure. I'll put my marriage on hold (so long husband, go find a gf for the next 7 years while I finish my PhD), give my pets away, etc., just so I can focus on research. That doesn't seem like a recipe for disaster.  :rolleyes:

 

I am a pretty successful student, I think, and I work maybe 6-8 hours a day (I'm in the humanities, so no lab work, but I do have to work on independent research and I also have teaching duties). That leaves 8 hours of sleep, and the rest of the time to the other so-called distractions. You see, I found that after working more than 6 hours, I was no longer productive. I'd sit in front of the computer staring into space, or rereading paragraphs from a book over and over unable to concentrate.

 

If I didn't have a partner* at home willing to look at my drafts or bounce ideas with (not to mention the emotional support, the cooking when I'm not in the mood to, etc.), a cat to snuggle up to me when I'm having writer's block, or a dog to force me to go outside a couple of times a day so I can go and process ideas during a walk, I would not be successful. Productivity isn't about spending every waking hour "at work," but about making your working hours count.

 

* this could also be a friend/roommate. It just so happens to be my partner.

 

Going out to beer with friends isn't just a "social" activity. We talk about our research... we bounce ideas back and forth. It releases tension but it also allows us to "work" by developing our thoughts. I find inspiration in those moments.

 

The people I know who struggle the most are those who don't have any of those things and who focus exclusively on "work." They live by themselves because roommates are too distracting. They don't have pets. They don't go to anything "social." There's no balance. Their work suffers... they don't really exchange ideas with anyone else, and what they produce reflects that.

Edited by CageFree

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Going out to beer with friends isn't just a "social" activity. We talk about our research... we bounce ideas back and forth. It releases tension but it also allows us to "work" by developing our thoughts. I find inspiration in those moments.

 

The people I know who struggle the most are those who don't have any of those things and who focus exclusively on "work." They live by themselves because roommates are too distracting. They don't have pets. They don't go to anything "social." There's no balance. Their work suffers... they don't really exchange ideas with anyone else, and what they produce reflects that.

 

This has been my experience as well. My department has an almost weekly happy hour frequented by grad students and faculty. Some people talk about random things (sports, news, etc.), others talk about teaching, others about research. I've found that in some of these small conversations I've gotten great ideas or insights into my research that I hadn't gotten otherwise. Sometimes just being asked to give the 30 second version of your research can force you into thinking about it in a different way or allow someone else to say something you hadn't thought of. Without those conversations, my work would definitely suffer.

 

And yea, I'm one of those people who can't work all the time. Back when I did my comprehensive exams (which were multiple questions over like 10 days), I remember people in my department (mostly those not yet at the exams stage) being surprised that I was still attending the class I was TAing (I was mostly grading but went to every single lecture), working out, and even watching an episode or two of a TV show online. But you know what? You can't work for 16 hours a day for the 10 days without a break. And really, since I was limited to like 25 pages double-spaced per answer, I would've ended up writing way more than I needed if I'd worked that long. Instead, I rode my bike to the gym, worked out with friends (including some who had PhDs and thus totally understood what comps were and why you might need a break), cooked myself real food, etc. It's about knowing what you need to work efficiently and be productive and taking the time to do whatever that is.

 

Back to the original question though:

- Be open and willing to learn.

- If you're in the humanities or social sciences, take the time to just browse the library shelves in your general field and in your intended research area to get an idea of what's been published and what research resources are available to you. (Even better, meet with a librarian early on to make sure you know what your school has and the support s/he can give you.)

- Skim through recent journal issues in your field to get a sense of what topics are current and which are becoming dated. Pay attention to book reviews if there are any and use those to help you find relevant books for your discipline and research area.

- Learn to use reference management software (EndNote, Zotero, Mendeley, etc.) and start keeping track of your references that way.

- Figure out an easy to use system for staying abreast of current/new research in both books and journals that may be of interest.

- Read your graduate handbook (and TA handbook if needed) so you know what is expected of you. Ask questions if expectations are unclear.

- Start figuring out what, if any, courses outside the department you might want to take, how often they're offered, how difficult they are, etc.

- If you're going to need research methods training, figure out how to get that ASAP. In the social sciences, this often means taking courses in qualitative methods, statistics, and/or GIS and seats in those classes can fill because they're attracting students from an array of disciplines. Getting your methods coursework done means you can start collecting data sooner.

- Get to know whomever helps oversee grant apps (NIH, NSF, SSRC, Fulbright, IAF, etc.) at your institution and ask them what you can do beginning now to prepare to apply in the future, when you should be applying, what you'll need to be competitive, etc. And, while you're there, get them to help you set up some alerts for grant announcements.

 

There's probably more you could do, especially related to conferences and networking, but I don't want to overload anyone with suggestions.

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To put it simply: You work hard and you play hard.

 

If you just work hard without the leisure, you will do worse.  Your emotions will be completely in the toilet, and you won't be living life in the present, which is an absolute necessity in grad school.  Even worse, your grades will suffer as you lose perspective.  I do far, far better in my studies when I take time off to socialize, relax, enjoy my surroundings, and meet other students.  The brain simply will not absorb what you learn as well if you're constantly stuffing more information into it.  You need to back away from studies periodically to allow the brain to absorb the knowledge into a compact form.  For instance, I was in the shower when I finally came to a realization about Lagrange multipliers.  I was walking to and from an appointment when the fundamental theorem of Linear Algebra, which I had used constantly, collapsed down into a small nugget of knowledge that made perfect sense to me.  I no longer had to memorize any equations for it.  These "ah ha!" moments happen away from my studies.

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^ Even more important is getting approx. 8 hours of sleep a night. It is very difficult to consolidate your memory without proper amounts of sleep.

Yes to sleep. I made it a rule to get a good night's sleep during undergrad and to always get a full night's before an exam. I don't believe in all-nighters, I think they do more harm than good.

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Guest criminologist

What I am arguining is not to study all day long, like do all nighters or something. I have never had to that or intend to. I am just saying that a PhD program will require a lot of motivation and effort, and I just don't feel that serious commitments should get in the way that includes non-necessities such as pets, relationships, hobbies, etc.  These things can end up taking up a lot of time and potentially get you off track. They aren't necessary at all for you to do well.

Edited by criminologist

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I would argue that emotional support and regular sex are definitely necessities, especially when launching yourself into a potentially demanding and stressful environment. I wouldn't underestimate the benefits of finding a romantic partner during grad school; yes, they require work, but their benefits can be numerous. 

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Just to add some factual basis:

https://www.ilr.cornell.edu/cheri/workingpapers/upload/cheri_wp94.pdf

Marriage and cohabitation is a benefit bit a deterrent to an academic career, for both sexes.

There are other studies that corroborate this.

I'll also argue that hobbues and non romantic relationships make you a better scholar than being a focused recluse.

Criminologist: you seem quite assured of your perspective, but have yet to really explain why. What are your experiences that lead you to believe this is the case? You haven't started your PhD yet, so how are you so sure of what it's like and what it takes to be successful in one?

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What I am arguining is not to study all day long, like do all nighters or something. I have never had to that or intend to. I am just saying that a PhD program will require a lot of motivation and effort, and I just don't feel that serious commitments should get in the way that includes non-necessities such as pets, relationships, hobbies, etc.  These things can end up taking up a lot of time and potentially get you off track. They aren't necessary at all for you to do well.

 

Others have made arguments on how other serious commitments can actually help you do well. But I also want to say that even if they are not necessary for you to do well, I don't think it's healthy for anyone to be so focussed on any one goal that they do not want to do anything else.

 

It's not realistic for an academic to avoid every "non-necessary commitment". All the successful ones I know have serious commitments that are not academic, because they are human. And as many many others said, grad school is not a slight bump in your life where everything will be super hard but, somehow, magically, everything will be great afterwards and you'll have time for everything else again. Grad school is just the beginning and an academic career will demand more and more time as you progress. 

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What I am arguining is not to study all day long, like do all nighters or something. I have never had to that or intend to. I am just saying that a PhD program will require a lot of motivation and effort, and I just don't feel that serious commitments should get in the way that includes non-necessities such as pets, relationships, hobbies, etc.  These things can end up taking up a lot of time and potentially get you off track. They aren't necessary at all for you to do well.

 

Criminologist: I just finished the first year of my PhD as a bit older student (finished a master's degree immediately prior after working in the nonprofit world for 15 years after my first master's). I can tell you that my marriage, my dogs, and my ongoing nonprofit volunteer work kept me sane during this year, and allowed me to finish the year with a 4.0 GPA, three conference papers presented, a book chapter, and a journal article in print. I was able to focus better because I had great support and because, when I needed to take a break, I had systems in place to do this. Like Eigen said above: marriage, hobbies, and non-romantic relationships all can make you a better scholar. 

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What I am arguining is not to study all day long, like do all nighters or something. I have never had to that or intend to. I am just saying that a PhD program will require a lot of motivation and effort, and I just don't feel that serious commitments should get in the way that includes non-necessities such as pets, relationships, hobbies, etc.  These things can end up taking up a lot of time and potentially get you off track. They aren't necessary at all for you to do well.

 

 

Excuse me, but who do you think you are to tell me that my husband, family, friends, pets... they are "non-necessities?" You may be able to live without those things, and that's totally fine, but you have absolutely no authority to tell anyone else that we "don't need them" and that they are potential hindrances. 

 

I particularly take issue with your insinuation that anyone who doesn't "give up everything" to devote themselves 200% to their studies is somehow less committed than you. 

 

I find your arrogant tone appalling, especially from someone who hasn't even STARTED grad school yet.

 

Good luck. With that attitude, you're going to need lots of it.

Edited by CageFree

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What I am arguining is not to study all day long, like do all nighters or something. I have never had to that or intend to. I am just saying that a PhD program will require a lot of motivation and effort, and I just don't feel that serious commitments should get in the way that includes non-necessities such as pets, relationships, hobbies, etc.  These things can end up taking up a lot of time and potentially get you off track. They aren't necessary at all for you to do well.

 

Actually, one of my most productive stints of writing in graduate school came just after taking two new foster dogs in, neither of which had lived in a home before. They didn't know how to climb stairs, had to be housetrained and cratetrained, etc. Having them on a housetraining schedule meant that I had clearly defined chunks of time in which to go to class, go to my part-time job, socialize with friends, and write because I was taking them out every four to five hours except between midnight and 7:30am to ensure they didn't have any accidents in the house. That meant that every four to five hours, I went on a 15-20 minute walk (longer walks once in the morning and evening). It meant that I had blocks of time during which I needed to be home and keeping an eye on them but also blocks of time where I had to be as productive as possible because of them. And these weren't even my permanent pets but they did me a world of good.

 

Like I said before, I'm not the kind of person that can do my research/teaching tasks for 15 hours a day. I need time to think about other things, to exercise, to watch mindless tv, to hang out and relax with friends, to cook dinner, etc. These, to me, are non-negotiable. You know why? Because in grad school you teach one class, maybe two, a semester. But, when you become tenure-track faculty that number is 2-5 per semester depending on the institution. You may not have a TA depending on the institution so time management will become even more pressing. The pressure to produce research (two pubs per year in my social science field if you're at a R1 and want to get tenure) or excel at teaching (if you're at a R2/R3/SLAC where teaching is priority and the provost and faculty pride themselves on teaching excellence) will require you to expend time on these tasks. You'll be advising students, whether undergrads or grads, something you never have to do as a grad student. So, if you can't figure out some sort of work/life balance (by which I mean, something that isn't all work all the time) now, you're going to get burned out very quickly assuming you become a faculty member after graduate school. Some of the most productive scholars I know have really interesting ways of relaxing, ranging from homebrewing to watching sports to playing guitar to being in a bowling league to martial arts training to online gaming with friends.

 

Criminologist, if you're serious about avoiding all "distractions" as you call them, I'd suggest you be proactive and make an appointment with a therapist/counselor to avert problems before they begin. Actually, that's reasonable advice for everyone and now I wish I'd put in my original post. A counselor/therapist can help you understand why it is that you want to focus so intensively on your work and make suggestions if that approach starts to fail you at some point in your studies (my experience is that it will). You (criminologist) will probably see these meetings as a "distraction" but I'd suggest it as an important way for you to be able to bounce your concerns (academic, research, personal, etc.) off of someone without having to engage in the social activities you seek to avoid. Seriously though, good luck. Grad school is tough, regardless of how smart, talented, and driven you are.

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^^Sounds like you are the one with the attitude, I already stated they were my opinions so its funny you are being so defensive, just because I said "you" doesn't mean I'm telling others what they don't need. I am not worried about what others do with their time that is their choice, I am not forcing my beliefs on anyone but I know there are others in grad school who have the same thinking as me. It is just my belief that people who are more willing to make sacrifices will ultimately be more successful, this doesn't just apply to grad school or a PhD program so why does it matter whether I am currently in school or not? You are just upset that others don't share your opinions. :wacko:

Edited by criminologist

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^^Sounds like you are the one with the attitude, I already stated they were my opinions so its funny you are being so defensive, just because I said "you" doesn't mean I'm telling others what they don't need. I am not worried about what others do with their time that is their choice, I am not forcing my beliefs on anyone but I know there are others in grad school who have the same thinking as me. It is just my belief that people who are more willing to make sacrifices will ultimately be more successful, this doesn't just apply to grad school or a PhD program so why does it matter whether I am currently in school or not? You are just upset that others don't share your opinions. :wacko:

 

No, I'm offended by comments like this one:

 

"who goes into a PhD program and does not expect that they will have to put many things they want on hold, my question is why bother doing it if you are not willing to give your full 100% effort and dedication"

 

This implies that people who have "other things" are not 100% committed to their programs and that's patently false. By your logic, I should have divorced my husband, euthanized my pets, and told my family not to call me for the next 7 years so that I could be a "fully committed" student. And no, clearly you aren't limiting yourself to what you believe is best for yourself, but judging others who do not share your "philosophy" as somehow less likely to be successful than you think you're going to be.

 

And btw, note that I'm not alone in saying that having these other things in my life is vital to my success. Other grad students have posted to say similar things... so really, no, I'm not upset that "others don't share my opinions," because clearly, most other grad students on this thread do.

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^^Sounds like you are the one with the attitude, I already stated they were my opinions so its funny you are being so defensive, just because I said "you" doesn't mean I'm telling others what they don't need. I am not worried about what others do with their time that is their choice, I am not forcing my beliefs on anyone but I know there are others in grad school who have the same thinking as me. It is just my belief that people who are more willing to make sacrifices will ultimately be more successful, this doesn't just apply to grad school or a PhD program so why does it matter whether I am currently in school or not? You are just upset that others don't share your opinions. :wacko:

 

As I said above, having your own opinion about what is important to you is fine and great because we're all individuals with different desires. 

 

But if you want to get off to a good start, I would ask you to reconsider what everyone else already said in this thread, particularly CageFree's last comment above. Then reflect on what you write and how you gave your opinion. To me, and to many others, you are not just stating your opinion, you are also casting a lot of judgement that you don't have a right to. This is why people are upset and I would strongly suggest that you reconsider how you state your opinions when you get to your new program, otherwise you will be alienating a bunch of people and I don't think that is a good start!

 

In my opinion, it's the impact of your words that matter, not the intent. So if you intended to pass no judgement at all, it would be a good idea to take this opportunity to reflect on the impact of your words and try to make your impact match your intent.

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Ok if people want to interpret it that way fine, maybe its hard too communicate online without sounding offensive but I guess some people are just too sensitive :unsure:. I am speaking from the perspective of a younger student that goes into a program practically straight from undergrad and who does not the number of attachments or commitments like students who have a family do. I am saying that if you do not have all those attachments already, I do not think they are necessary to develop all the sudden in grad school and you can put them on hold, I think students who do that will be more successful, productive, and finish quicker. 

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Criminologist, the top 3 students in my program (judged by grades, research, and fellowships) have the following going on:

1) 1 is engaged with multiple pets and lives an hour from campus

2) another is engaged, no pets

3) the third is married, 2 kids, and lives 30 mins from campus

In my program there is ZERO correlation between giving up distractions like relationships and success. Actually, the opposite seems true. Nearly all of the average students in my program are single, no pets, and live on or near campus. Your "theory" doesn't hold with my observations at all.

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Ok if people want to interpret it that way fine, maybe its hard too communicate online without sounding offensive but I guess some people are just too sensitive :unsure:. I am speaking from the perspective of a younger student that goes into a program practically straight from undergrad and who does not the number of attachments or commitments like students who have a family do. I am saying that if you do not have all those attachments already, I do not think they are necessary to develop all the sudden in grad school and you can put them on hold, I think students who do that will be more successful, productive, and finish quicker. 

 

The reason that it is relevant whether or not you're in grad school, and what experiences lead you to give this advice, is that this thread was specifically asking for current graduate students to give advice to new graduate students on how to be successful. 

 

You came into an advice thread as (a) not a current graduate student, and (B) giving advice that runs contrary to, well, everyone I've ever heard giving advice about graduate school. 

 

It may work for you, but since this is an advice thread, it's not exactly the best place to post your opinions about what will work best for you in grad school, especially when you don't have any experience actually trying your advice, just a feeling you think it will. 

 

Personally, I don't want new graduate students coming here, reading an advice thread, and thinking that having a life is a bad thing in grad school, will be detrimental to their studies, or make them a lesser student. It's not true, and in fact could put them at a disadvantage in all of the aforementioned areas. 

 

Also, you keep saying you're not generalizing, and then you make a general statement (i.e., you think students who put things on hold will be more successful, productive, and finish quicker) when I've already posted at least one study that shows that people in relationships are more successful, more productive, and finish quicker than those who are single. If you want to make a general argument, on an academically based board, at least be prepared to back it up with some form of evidence- empirical, anecdotal, or statistical, your choice. 

 

Simply stating an untested hypothesis over and over doesn't make it a good, or true.

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Ok if people want to interpret it that way fine, maybe its hard too communicate online without sounding offensive but I guess some people are just too sensitive :unsure:. I am speaking from the perspective of a younger student that goes into a program practically straight from undergrad and who does not the number of attachments or commitments like students who have a family do. I am saying that if you do not have all those attachments already, I do not think they are necessary to develop all the sudden in grad school and you can put them on hold, I think students who do that will be more successful, productive, and finish quicker. 

 

To add to bsharpe's examples, there was a student in my program that recently graduated and is considered to be one of the most successful graduates of our program for someone with academic goals. 

 

This person was:

 

1. married

2. had a child during their PhD

3. has a pet

4. played in a band (actually recording and selling CDs)

5. had a lot of hobbies such as building and flying model planes

 

The person achieved:

 

1. almost record graduation time (PhD in 3.5 years)

2. 8 publications (7 as first author) in the 3.5 years

3. multiple tenure track job offers *before* graduation 

 

Obviously, this person is an exceptional case, but I wanted to provide an example that "extra commitments" does not correlate with slower progress.

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Ok if people want to interpret it that way fine, maybe its hard too communicate online without sounding offensive but I guess some people are just too sensitive :unsure:

 

BS. You need to take responsibility for the statements you make instead of blaming others for not interpreting them the way you supposedly "intended them." Is this how you plan to carry out academic publishing? "No, I wasn't making an unsupported assertion, you just didn't interpret it the right way."  :rolleyes:

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I'm not attending yet, but my input is that if you dedicate 100% of your life to your graduate program, you're going to become severly depressed when you experience the least bit of failure. You won't have anything to fall back on, or things you enjoy that make you feel better. It's just going to be you and your failure.

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Avoid the practice of either not reading/listening to questions that are being asked and/or offering guidance or opinions that are beyond your expertise and experience.

 

Else, you may end up digging yourself ever deeper in a hole that never should have been excavated.

 

For example.

 

 

I am speaking from the perspective of a younger student that goes into a program practically straight from undergrad and who does not the number of attachments or commitments like students who have a family do. I am saying that if you do not have all those attachments already, I do not think they are necessary to develop all the sudden in grad school and you can put them on hold, I think students who do that will be more successful, productive, and finish quicker. 

 

Yet (emphasis added)

 

Hey everyone,

 

I will be starting my first year of graduate school this fall and I wanted to ask current graduate students in any graduate program/field for advice on making a successful transition from undergrad to graduate school.

 

 

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I have to say thank you to all the students who commented here, and the original OP for asking the question.  I am starting my first year of grad school myself.   I am an older woman, married, and my son is grown and on his own now, but I have to say I am blessed with the amount of support I have from my family going into this. 

I have already read the living syllabi for my classes, and I am mentally prepparing myself over the summer for the work I am about to engage in. 

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