You finally made it through college, and now you are taking the next steps in your education; grad school. It is exciting. There is a lot to relish, but it is not all roses and it is starkly unlike your undergrad experience in many ways: more flexible course selection, greater financial responsibilities, bigger network but narrower field, more research, fewer parties. Your journey is your own, but it is good to start with some blinders. From the experiences of our teammates here at Petal, here are seven key points to help you survive (and thrive) in grad school.
Be an active listener - You are smart. In undergrad, you could get by with good notes, decent study habits, and the occasional memorization. You may not even have attended most of your classes, yet you still do well in exams. But now, your coursework and research projects are open-ended. Fully understanding the course material is essential to applying them in your research. Active listening can help you master concepts. The best test of comprehension is if you can confidently teach it to your peers.
Build Relationships - You are not alone on your research journey. One of the most valuable things in life is the relationships you build. According to the Education Data Initiative, only about 9% of Americans have advanced degrees. Among those, even fewer fall within your niche. Many of whom you meet and work with today will continue to cross paths with you as they build careers in the same domain. Developing meaningful relationships can pay off in big ways in the future. These people can include professors, post-docs, labmates, research experts (like librarians), mentors, counselors, and friends.
Stay focused - Your state of mind is everything when it comes to staying sane in grad school. You decided on this path because there is a field about which you are particularly passionate. Whether your domain falls under Biology or English, researching topics you genuinely love will make coursework more enjoyable. However, there will always be days that you feel burnt out. When it happens, you need to keep a strong mental discipline. Write down the reasons for choosing this path so you can reflect on them when things get rough.
Manage your time - Set boundaries. Managing your time wisely is important for all things in life, but it is especially crucial when navigating grad school. Juggling work and life responsibilities can be overwhelming without a strong sense of priorities, good habits, and mental discipline. Map out all your upcoming deadlines by using a planner and make sure you explicitly reserve time for social activities and sleep. Have responses prepared before heading into interactions with people who could challenge your boundaries.
Budget your money - At this point in your academic career, saving money is probably not a new concept to you. However, now is the time to master personal finances and create a budget. Start putting money towards a savings account. Pay your bills on time. Schedule payments for outstanding loans (fortunately many student loans do not start accruing interest until you are officially out of school). Accumulating as little interest as possible will help tremendously after graduation. Keep in mind that you likely qualify for tax breaks, grants, and scholarships when pursuing a Ph.D. Take advantage of these incentives! Being proactive about your finances will set you up for success in the future.
Nurture your mental health - Mental health is ever in the spotlight as we learn more about the deleterious effects of excessive stress. Discover ways to nourish your mind through meditation, nature walks, yoga retreats, and other activities. Explicitly set time for sleep. Do you need 8 hours to feel rejuvenated? Schedule it, and do not give in to temptations of binge watching TV shows; the shows will still be there but your health will not.
Work efficiently - Students have many resources that are frequently left unexplored. On-campus free resources include your course teaching assistants, university writing centers, career counselors, and librarian expert guides. There is also a world of productivity tools for students often offered at a discount or is free with proof of university affiliation. Petal is a great free resource available to students. It is a reference manager where you can organize reading, automate citations, and engage in discussions with peers all in one place. Free yourself from the tediousness of manual organization, try out Petal today!