Tips for Starting Graduate School

Are you starting graduate school this fall? Here are some tips and tricks to make the transition back into academia a little bit smoother.

Familiarize yourself with the material before you get there.  Are you starting a foreign language program? Rent some movies in the language and pick up a book or two to brush up on your language skills.  You don’t want to be re-teaching yourself Italian in the first month of your graduate program! The same idea applies for any other program.  If you’re starting an engineering program, make sure your math skills are up to par.  Starting a social sciences program? Make sure you’re familiar with the terminology.  Reviewing this basic material will help you get back into the mode of academic thinking and make you better prepared when you start classes.

Research your professors.  Succeeding in academia is all about forming the right relationships.  Read up on the professors in your department by checking out the department website and researching some of their work on Google scholar.  Not only will you impress professors, you will also have a better idea of who you may want to work with on your thesis or dissertation.  Knowing what different professors are interested in can also help you select classes.  Remember, you want to seek out people who share your research interests so you can eventually build productive working relationships!

Get involved! During the first few weeks of school, you will likely be inundated with flyers about new student organizations and other ways to get active in student life.  Research programs,  clubs, and student organizations before you start school so you already know which ones you may be interested in joining.  Then, instead of being overwhelmed by flyers during the first few weeks of school, seek out the leaders of these organizations and ask how you can help out.

Get your (documented) ducks in a row.  Make sure you have submitted all the necessary documentation before you start school.  Check with the school to make sure you have submitted the requisite medical documents, your financial aid forms are set, and you have signed any applicable student contracts or agreements.  This paperwork is the last thing you want to be worrying about during your first week of school! Do this sooner rather than later; in Texas, for instance, students who do not have the meningitis vaccine at least 10 days before registration will not be allowed to start classes.

If you’re moving to a new city, get there early.  You don’t want to be in the middle of unpacking when you start graduate school; you’ll be living out of boxes for the rest of your time in school! Plan to arrive a few weeks before school starts and familiarize yourself with the city, unpack, and take some time to chill before the chaos of graduate school begins.

Relax!  Graduate school is going to be a lot of work.  Got a book you’ve been dying to read? Read it now.  Have a TV show you’ve been wanting to watch marathon-style? There’s no time like the present.  Once school starts, you will be unbelievably busy preparing for classes, meeting new people, and getting to know the school, so don’t forget to take a much-needed chill pill and schedule some hearty doses of doing nothing all day. You’ve earned it.

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2 Responses to Tips for Starting Graduate School

  1. Phillip Hewitt says:

    Thanks for the tips. Just read up on one of my professors!

    It’s interesting how my approach and attitude toward school can change when I get busy. At first, I care about the information. I enjoy learning. I want to soak up everything and do well in all my activities and classes. Before long, however, I fall into a routine of identifying the most pressing obligations and meeting minimum requirements. It’s not miserable or anything, but I wish that my enthusiasm for learning would persist and ultimately overwhelm my tendencies to procrastinate and to merely “play the game.”

    Coffee, then.

    Yes.

    Well, thanks again!

    • admin says:

      @Phillip
      We feel your pain and you are not alone. To the extent you can balance your classes in terms of lectures/labs/reports that helps. Otherwise just try to put aside an hour a day or some time for yourself weekly to reflect on what you are doing, why, and what you have learned. That way at least you can enjoy some of the “present” in what you are trying to accomplish. Good luck!

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