Grad school is a tapestry of unique students from equally unique areas of life. While you have your students who are fresh out of the undergrad mill, you also have a large amount of older students that have taken a break between degrees. Some students are recently single while others are happily married with children. The one thing that brings us all together is our desire for an advanced degree. While I sat waiting for my most recent grad school orientation to begin, a series of frequently asked questions flashed across the projection screen. For all of the newbies out there, I figured I’d answer some of the most relevant questions here.
How does a graduate student balance time between work, classwork and research?
Now is the time to utilize all of the information you surly retained from those time management workshops from freshman year. While some students may have the luxury of only having to worry about their classes, chances are you’ll probably be juggling school with a full time job (which is probably paying your tuition in the first place). In some cases, you may have a family to throw into the fray as well. The good news in all of this is that your job and your class times are already structured for you. Therefore, the smart grad student schedules a few hours a day specifically for studying and research. Make this time a part of your daily routine and it’ll soon become second nature.
How do graduate students meet people outside their discipline or the university?
During the orientation icebreaker, I met a handful of students outside of my major. While meeting peers in different disciplines is easy at big events such as this, its a little more difficult to do on your own for one main reason; most grad schools don’t have general education classes that all students must take. Rather, all of your classes are focused on your particular major and you usually tend to end your program with the same cohort of students you started with. If socializing with peers outside of your discipline is of importance to you, pay attention to your campus email as most schools do social events (picnics, holiday parties) geared and open to all grad students. Also, if your institution has a student government that grad students are permitted to join, then become active (if time permits) as this is another prime way to mix it up
Pro tip: Explore study environments outside of your apartment or house. Just because you are working on an advanced degree doesn’t mean you can’t mingle with the undergrads in the school library. All of my reading takes place there, while my writing happens at a local irish pub
I’m a regular Hemingway!
Some graduate students are overachievers. How do you deal with not being able to over achieve at everything all at once?
These were the same students in undergrad that just “got it”from day one; they’re frustrating. The main thing to remember is that grad school is not a competition and your degree is not based on how much better than someone else you did. If there are things that you are struggling with, remember that the academic resources that your school offers its undergrads are available to you as well. There is absolutely no shame in meeting a professor during office hours or seeking the help of a tutor. At first I balked at the thought of an undergraduate student helping me at the writing center. That is until I saw my grade on my very next paper elevate after said help.
Are you able to maintain a social life outside of grad school? Should you?
Not only are you able to maintain a social life, its absolutely necessary. If it were not for those nights of cheap beers, chicken fingers and fried mushrooms at the pub behind our school, it is questionable if my school chums and I would have been able to maintain our sanity while working towards our master degrees. Find a few classmates you click with as these students can serve as your study group, drinking buddies and support system when the road gets rough.
Pro Tip: While you may be making a ton of new connections with your intellectual peers, don’t neglect your non school friends. There will be times that you’ll want to talk about anything other than school and these these friends will be more than happy to take you mind off the 45 page qualitative research paper you have due in two weeks.