So I mentioned in the welcome post I thought I knew. Well, I had no idea.Honestly, I didn’t know everything. I hustled to learn the game. I asked a lot of questions, researched a lot and I payed attention. I also had a lot of grace over me that put me in the right places. So to help out others, I thought I would create this list.
Now, keep in mind these are things I wish I knew. There is soo much to know and this list is not an exhaustive compilation of everything there is to know. I am speaking from the perspective of an engineer. Every program/degree will not give the same experience. I like to think of grad school as this basic recipe. When you add the right ingredients ( or experiences) it can be just right. Too much or too little and you will have a struggle plate. If you have no idea what a struggle plate is google is your friend. Go forth and prosper. Now, let’s get into it!
1. You will be alone…a lot.
This is not to scare you but grad school by it’s very nature is a time to hone your craft. It is a time to gain more knowledge in a specific area. Your specific area will typically be different from others around you. This means a lot of your research will be spent finding out things on your own . There may be some overlap but not entire projects. I’ve spent countless hours looking at a computer screen with headphones and a large caffeine beverage. I have gone all day in an office full of people without speaking or having full conversations. I went to the gym alone, I lived alone, I went to the store alone… just alone. However, it helped me focus. I can be very sociable so I struggled at first but I developed the ability to sit down and get to it.
These aren’t ranked but if I had to this would be high on the list. I can sometimes get into modes of intense focus. I will become so involved in a project that I will wake up, go all day and go to sleep in go mode. Well I learned the hard way when I got sick during my masters. One thing about the body is if you don’t take care of yourself it will shut things down for you . My take on this now is that if I were to suddenly become unable to do the work, the world would continue. I have to make sure I’m good or my work would be crappy.
My methods of self-care
- The gym or some physical activity ( even when I don’t wanna go)
- At least one hands off work day
- No email when I first wake up
- Movies, movies, movies
- Night out with friends
- Cooking meals for myself
I do a lot to make sure I’m whole and remain that way. Make a list of your own and share in the comments.
3. Fill out every fellowship/grant
Fill out everything. If a fellowship or grant is sent to you APPLY. If a deadline is too close, apply next year if you can’t make it. Keep a running list of annual fellowships so if you miss a deadline you can apply the next year. Continually search for them as well. New things can pop up everyday. Look for popular and lesser knowns due to the playing fields. It can be harder to get the easiest ones to find because everybody and their cousin is applying. The lesser knowns may not have the large stipends but something is better than nothing. Also, depending on the stipulations, you may be able to stack. This means you can add them together. There are also some that don’t allow you to receive stipends outside of theirs. Make sure you read carefully. May the odds forever be in your favor.
4. You have to be vocal
When I was an undergrad there was more hand holding. The things I had to do were handed to me. Grad school will give you the basics. You have more course freedom and possibly research freedom. This means you need to know what you want and who you need to talk to to get it. People rarely come and ask you what you need. I had to get out of my shell to voice my needs and find ways to have them met so I could succeed. This meant if I needed a RAM increase for my computer, I had to price and select and order it. If I needed a resource to complete my tasks, I had to find one and state why it was necessary. If I thought my research needed to look in a different direction, I had to give the “what” and “why”. If anything, my hustle became sharper.
5. Everybody won’t get it
My family is not technical. My family also hasn’t experienced this with another family member. There were a lot of things I had to explain about my process to my family and friends. I had to cancel so many plans because I got on a hot streak or I had a deadline. Some understood and gave me space. Others became resentful or just stopped dealing with me all together. It will happen because that is life. People have seasons in your life and the ones that are around for the long-haul will understand. Which brings me to the next point…
6. Get a support structure
Remember that lonely thing I mentioned before. Well a support structure balances that out. These are people that support your needs and want you to succeed. They may not get everything that is happening in your world but they rock with you anyway. These are people that you can call on to rant, cry, celebrate..whatever. When you win, they win. When you lose, they are there to bake you a
red velvet cake . We are already our own worst critics and that intensifies in grad school. So when you hit those low points, critical people need not apply. Bye Felecia. Make sure you have group of people near and far that fit within your guidelines for support. I am thankful for those that listened, would take me out, wouldn’t get mad when it took days to text or call them back. Ya’ll are the real MVPs.
7. Publish…no, but really
Now this may be a no brainer but publishing establishes your footprint in the research community. It says “Hey world, I looked at this, found this, my peers said it mattered and here we are”. If you wish to continue in research or academia it will be a mainstay in your world. In research labs, it provides publicity for the lab and says this is what we do here. In academia, it does the same for the university and is also used to determine tenure. So grad school is a way for you to learn the ropes around publishing with help from your advisor before you are on your own. I am submitting my first manuscript this fall! Yay me!
8. Do a journal article dissertation
This ties in with number 7 above. There are two main types of dissertations: traditional and journal article. The traditional method involved writing out chapter (Introduction/Background, Purpose of Study, Literature Review, Methodology, Results, Conclusion). The journal article method sandwiches typically 3 journal articles between an introduction and conclusion. This forces you to have journal articles under you belt. The articles can be published or unpublished but it depends on department rules. I have seen a trend in departments moving toward making journal article dissertations mandatory but some still follow traditional methods. I am definitely impressed that I cranked out a rather long and intricate document. However, I would have rather had the journal articles though. Hindsight it 20/20 and this is my gift to you. If you can do it, DO IT!
9. It’s okay to be selfish
I am a loving caring person who does not like to disappoint. If someone needs my support I will be there. You need me to cook for an event, I got you. You need me to hold a sign and be your cheerleader, I am there
with an embarrassing tutu! However, we can’t be all things to all people all the time. It’s like wrapping a rubber band around a building. The circumstances for that to work would have to be extraordinary. You have to guard your time and insert self-care and your scholarly work in there. Sometimes there just isn’t any time for anyone else…and that’s okay. The right people will understand what that means. When I learned to say no, it was a glorious day.
10. It will be okay
The world will seemingly end a few times before the degree comes. Everything will go great an then the bottom falls out. Murphy’s law personified is pointing and laughing. You might wanna throw something
someone. Then you calm down and figure out an alternative. This cycle happened to me on several occasions. No people or objects were harmed in the pursuit of my degree; a least not to my knowledge.
I had to learn that it will be okay. It will work itself out for the great good. Grad school is full of teachable moments, as is life. You are there because you want something, you want to do something. It is not just a test of your intellect but your emotional capacity. Who are you? How well do you adapt? What do you do when things all apart? What are your core beliefs? Whatever answers you have to these questions when things are going well should be the things you remember when they aren’t. Just know it will be okay
Well I hope these things helped you. If you are in grad school, add to the list. Maybe we can create a huge list of things to help the future.