Things That I Wish I Could Tell My Grad-School Self
I still remember my first official day as a grad student. It was one of the happiest days of my life. I was so excited to start this adventure. Through hard work inside and outside of the university and some serious life experience, this so-called working class, first-generation college graduate was officially accepted into an MA program at State U. Not too shabby. Things were looking up careerwise. I was approved by the profs in the department as being worthy enough to be accepted into their exclusive world. I was working on obtaining credentials that would help me have the career of my dreams.
It was a hot, bright morning in late August 2001, and I remember getting ready for my first seminar. I lived in the subtropical south, which presented a challenge with selecting appropriate clothing and keeping my frizzy hair in check. If only I had known then what I know now, I would have given myself some advice when I was pouring that to go cup of coffee.
- Keep it professional. – In grad school, it might be tempting to enjoy yourself a bit too much from time to time. Resist this, especially at events with faculty. Resist the urge to dress down. Be organized and reliable. Treat this adventure as a job. Underpromise and overdeliver.
- Keep costs down. – There are so many basic ways to keep costs down that many bloggers and YouTubers have made careers doling advice about it out. I have noticed that when I start to fall off a budget, it is usually because I am not prepared. I would run out of food or coffee when I was not feeling well, so I would order food in or pick something up on campus.
- Select thesis/dissertation topics that have direct relevance or applications to industry. – I met a person who did her MA thesis on the curatorial process and integration of collections management software at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. Guess where she ended up working when she graduated? By picking a topic like this, you make yourself doubly relevant. Picture where you would like to work after you graduate if tenure-track jobs weren’t an option. Think of a topic that works for that company. Set up an internship.
- Have a side hustle. – It will keep you sane. It will give you some extra cash. It will give your mind a break so you (think Sheldon Cooper working at the Cheesecake Factory ) can engage the superior colliculus of your brain. It will give you confidence that you can provide for yourself to an extent when things are bad. Some programs do not allow employment, but you can always make a little cash on your own in other ways.
- Collaborate. – If you find a Ph.D. with whom you can work on projects, you will be able to boost your CV with conference presentations and publications. A good mentor will do this naturally, but make sure that they are aware that you want to work with them. Don’t be shy.
- Learn the craft of writing a journal article early and think of class research papers as future journal articles. – You don’t have to publish them in grad school, but if you are on a tenure track, you could have a stash of pieces that you can easily rework into publications.
- Develop morning and night routines. – These habits will give your days structure. When you bookend your day with habits that take care of daily activities in a way that becomes second nature, it reduces decision fatigue and anxiety.
- There are no guarantees. – When I started grad school, the Twin Towers still stood, and the economy was slowing down after several years of substantial growth, so this was not exceptionally worrisome to me. In my wildest imagination, I could not have foreseen the events that were about to unfold and the chain reaction that would occur while I was working on my M.A. and subsequently, my Ph.D. Don’t beat yourself up when you fail. It is a waste of time. Do what you can to make yourself secure so you will come from a place of power to affect change in the world.
- You are going to make some of the best friends that you have ever had. – There is a good chance that you are going to form some life-long friendships in graduate school. You may even consider some of your cohorts as a part of your family. Others, you might not be as drawn to, but take the time to get to know them. You are building a mutually-beneficial social network. A dozen years from now, you might get an email with a job announcement written by the person you sat next to in class. Likewise, you might be the one doing the hiring and can make more certain recommendations. (You can also work together on #2 while in school).Higher Ed
- You are going to have some of the best times and experiences of your life. – Have a good camera. Document it. Journal. Blog. Share it. Enjoy it.
What advice would you give your grad-school self?