Back to Graduate School Tips!

Back to Graduate School Tips!

October 16, 2019 8 By Stanley Isaacs


So a lot of you are headed back to
school…graduate school more specifically. [Children cheering] So about a year ago I made this video on
eight survival tips for making it through graduate school, and it’s by far
and away the thing that I’ve made that’s resonated most with people. So since it’s the start of a new school year, I wanted to do a follow up video with some graduate
school specific tips for starting the new year. This video comes to you in eight-ish
parts. 1) Plan. But also plan to give yourself some breaks. I suspect if you’re
in graduate school you’re probably a pretty good planner. You’ve maybe
color-coded your notebooks, and have your calendar all mapped out so that you know
exactly when you’re studying for what class, and that’s great but you should also
plan to give yourself some breaks, scheduled and unscheduled. Some of my
favorite memories from working in a research lab where those “Dear lord I
need coffee so bad anybody want to go on a coffee run with me?!” moments that you’d have in the middle of an afternoon data coding session. And if I hadn’t been
flexible and let those things happen I wouldn’t have those memories. 2) Read. You know that feeling the first day of class when you get the fresh crisp new
syllabus and you look through all the materials that you have to read in the
course of the semester and you start feeling like you’re hyperventilating? Yeah, that’s a thing that’s real.
And yes reading the material is important for the whole learning thing. I
get it. But the fact of the matter is you probably couldn’t actually physically
read all of the things on the syllabus especially if you’re taking multiple
classes. I tried one semester for about two weeks and it nearly killed me. And I
can say that I read probably about forty percent of the readings in their
entirety during my graduate school classes (…sorry professors.) But I survived graduate
school and have PhD to show for it. So reading is not everything. It’s
important, but it is not everything. Study groups can be really helpful here you
can split up the readings and everybody writes summaries about the readings that
they’re assigned and shares with the rest of the group. I found that kind of
thing really helpful. 3) Work. Some of you will have jobs outside of your graduate
school studies and others of you will have jobs inside your graduate school
studies. From what I understand both kinda sucks sometimes. I only worked in
research labs and teaching assistantships during my time in
graduate school, so all of my focus was on topics related to my field which was
great in the sense that I was always expanding my knowledge about things that
were relevant to my field of study, but also kind of sucked, because it meant I
was constantly living and breathing school all the time. On the other side,
you’re taking precious time away from your studies and focusing on something
that may or may not actually be relevant to your field of study. Finding volunteer
and internship opportunities can be really helpful here to get you exposure
to new things that are in your related field and sometimes you can even do
these things for course credit which is helpful. 4) Study. Build in some good study
habits early. Now chances are if you’re in graduate school you probably know how to
study pretty well, but if you’re less confident in this area explore finding some environments that
work for you. Maybe you like silence or maybe you like music. Personally, I used to write almost
exclusively in coffee shops in graduate school. I found the din of personal
conversation and coffee machines kind of oddly soothing but also really
motivating. Though, I will warn you if you write your thesis and coffee shop be
prepared to never ever ever ever ever want to set foot in that coffee shop
ever ever again because of all of the memories of slogging through the
horrible, horrible process. There are still places in this town that I cannot go
without shuddering. 5) Write. So much of your graduate school
experience is going to be about writing of some kind. So be prepared for the writing that you
thought was oh so fabulous to become oh so terrible when your professors or
your research advisor review it. You’re gonna get slammed with feedback. It’s
gonna feel like you don’t know anything. That’s okay and that’s normal. Cry a
little. Throw a fit in the comfort of your own home. Complain to your friends
and family. Then dust yourself off, pick yourself up, and keep going because the
only way that this gets better is if you buckle down, push through and learn how
to do it better. 6) Talk. Graduate school can feel really isolating. There are times
when you can’t really talk to your colleagues much because of that weird
comparison thing that comes into play, and then there are times when you can’t
really talk to your friends and family because you feel like there’s no way in
the world that they can possibly understand what you’re going through.
Those are completely legitimate feelings, but I encourage you to reach out anyway. Find those people in your life who even
if they don’t really get it will listen anyway. And talk to your colleagues who
have been through some of the struggles that you’re facing and get their ideas
for how to cope. They’re out there. Find them and talk to them. It’ll make it a lot easier. 7) Sleep. I
cannot stress this enough do not sacrifice your sleep and subsequently
your health for graduate school! It is not worth it! Sleep is what your
brain needs more than just about anything right now, especially when
you’re learning all this fancy new stuff. I found I could rarely sacrifice my
seven to eight hours a night during graduate school mostly because I turn
into a really psychotic zombie when I sleep less than that soooo… I’m glad thatI was pretty relentless in not letting that slide. I honestly think that sleep is one of
the biggest things that helped me get through graduate school. 8) Play. And play
often. Exercise, sing, do theater, go out dancing, whatever is your cup of tea. You’ve got to have those times to let
off steam and reconnect with who you are apart from just a graduate student. Find
friends who aren’t in graduate school. Join community groups, or choirs, or
bands or athletic teams, whatever. Find those people who you can connect with on
something that isn’t graduate school. This will help you maintain your
equilibrium and a perspective that graduate school too shall pass. Because
life continues with or without you noticing it, but it’s better to enjoy it
and not just suffer through it. And lastly, and I cannot stress this enough,
if you’re spending most of your time feeling unbalanced and unhappy, depressed
or anxious then that’s a sign that something’s not right. Talk to someone; a friend, a family member,
coach, a trained professional. And remember that yes graduate school really sucks
sometimes, and that dynamics are different in every lab or every program
and in every situation. And some of them were downright unhealthy. Know that
you’re not alone in feeling overwhelmed and stressed out in graduate school.
Everyone around you is too, even if they don’t seem to be. But if you feel unwell
mentally, emotionally and physically then it’s time to rethink some things. Because
no big fancy career is worth the cost of your health. Ever. You have to find the
balance and the path that works for you. Don’t compare yourself to other people. I
know it’s hard, but don’t do it. You are not them and they are not you. Stepping
away for a time, or leaving graduate school completely doesn’t make you wrong
or broken. In fact it makes you better for recognizing that your health and
well-being are paramount. You need to do this
journey on your terms. It’s not easy but it’s important. Okay,
mom lecture over! Now go and be unabashedly enthusiastic about all of
the nerdy stuff that you’re learning! Work hard, play harder, and love what you
do. You got this!