What Is Grad School Like? A First Year Grad Student’s Reality Check

I'm under there somewhere.

Hello readers! It’s been a few weeks since I last posted. I’m definitely glad to be back to share my latest experiences as a first year grad student. After 6 months in a doctoral program, my perspective on academia has changed quite a bit. It’s not that I have developed a more positive or negative view of academia; rather, I have been brought back to reality.

When I arrived at my new school, I was ecstatic about everything! My advisor was an academic rockstar, my professors were zen-masters, and sky was the limit for my future. Ladies and gentleman, the academic honeymoon phase has ended. Apparently I am not unique in this. The other first year students in my grad program have also experienced an academic reality check.

  • Professors are human! Although I still admire them for their expertise and incredible knowledge, I now view grad school professors as quirky “super-students” susceptible to making mistakes like anyone else.
  • It’s all about connections! “Who you know” is surprisingly important in academia. Not a day goes by that someone isn’t “name-dropping” who they get to work with. It’s crucial to start making connections with folks in your respective field ASAP. It’s important for getting publications, internships, practicum placements, post-docs, and eventually jobs. Oh yes, one day when my hair is gray and I’m a grandfather, I will finally enter the work force!
  • Narcissism is inevitable at the doctoral level! There is an overwhelming push to rise to the top and have the most stellar Curriculum Vitae possible. It’s an unfortunate reality but at this level of the game, everyone wants to be the best.
  • True freedom comes with the diploma! The first term that comes to mind when I think about a doctoral student is “indentured servant”. The first taste of freedom accompanies the dissertation process. Defending one’s dissertation is a doctoral student’s opportunity to leave the nest and study what he/she wants…as long as the faculty approves it. I can’t wait!

For those with similar or different observations about the world of academia, leave a comment below! I’d love to hear about your experiences.

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