As some of you may or may not know, I am currently attending graduate school. I have definitely had a love hate relationship with graduate school. I know a lot of graduate students can also attest to this love hate relationship. Today on the blog I am giving you 5 things I think you should know before you go to graduate school.
Attendance is everything
During your undergraduate career it's pretty easy to skip a class or two (maybe even four, honestly.) But in graduate school, missing one class can seriously be super detrimental. In graduate school teachers cover so much information in a very short amount of time. I couldn't imagine missing too many classes. It depends on the graduate school, but at my school we have night classes in graduate school. We only have one class a week, so missing one class is missing an entire week. In my graduate career thus far, I believe I have only missed one class. Skipping is just not a feasible option, and you should reserve any class skips for absolute emergencies in graduate school.
Be Present and Engaged
I think above all else, when you are in class, you need to be all the way there. It's easy to go to class and only be half there. When you are in graduate school you need to engaged with your classmates, your professors, and make sure you are actually contributing to the conversation. Most graduate school programs put a lot of emphasis on classroom participation, so you want to make sure you pick up those easy points by being engaged.
Reading is key
Last week I published a really awesome guide called Reading With Purpose: Article Skimming 101. This was definitely the post I wish I had when I first started graduate school. My first homework assignment in my Sociological Theory class was reading Mills' The Sociological Imagination. The first week was a wakeup call, and so was basically every week after that week. Reading was key to my success if I wanted to get through graduate school. Your professors weren't born yesterday, they know that this won't be easy, that you won't really be able to get that amount of reading done plus the work done in a week, and they know that their class isn't the only class you are taking. It's your job to get creative, skim the books and articles, and get the most out of each book that you can in the time given to complete your assignments. It won't be easy, but learning to accurately skim the text is so important.
If you can start working on your skimming and reading capacity today, you will go into graduate school with a lot of great knowledge. I read/skim around 150 pages a week. It's a lot of work, but with the help of skimming I am able to be mostly successful at it.
It won't be easy
I was always told that the transition from high school to college would be one of the most difficult things I would ever experience. Overall though, my transition from high school to college was quite breezy. My high school didn't prepare me the best, but with my brains and practice writing outside of school I was able to get acclimated to college life pretty easily--not to mention I chose a major that I absolutely loved.
The transition from college to graduate school on the other hand, was a hot mess. I was (and pretty much still am) consistently stressed out, consistently behind, and consistently trying to work my booty off to get it together. Going to graduate school won't be easy. That doesn't mean it won't be 100% worth it in the end. Even though I am always stressed, I love the environment of graduate school. It's so fun to be around academic minded people, have interesting conversations about topics like gangs and gun control, and just have a group of people who challenge me academically and challenge my ideas on a daily basis.
At the end of the day I think you really have to determine what level of stress you are comfortable with. Yes I am constantly stessed out during the year, but I think that for the most part I work well under stress. Sometimes I wish I could just stay under my blanket and not move from it, but at the end of the day I always get up and try again.
You get what you give
What I love about graduate school is that you get what you give. One of my favorite sayings that my sorority taught me in undergrad was that, "To receive much, you must give much," and I believe that saying still holds true in graduate school. My school is pretty awesome. I have opportunities to work with awesome professors, take great courses, and potentially work on interesting research projects; go to conferences; present research on campus; and more. You can do amazing things, all you have to do is reach out in graduate school. Classes are usually so small that reaching out to your professors and making an impression is easy. Just by showing interest in the research that your professors have going on, you can get involved in lots of fun activities.
Through really working hard as a graduate student I have had the opportunity to work closely with two awesome professors as a graduate assistant, and even attend class with one of my professors. This has given me a super unique perspective, and has definitely made me consider teaching as a viable option in the future.
Graduate School Requires A Lot Of Independent Work
Graduate school requires and allows for a lot of independent work. Your professors will definitely push you to new heights, but it's up to you to answer the challenge and perform the necessary work. You will have a ton of amazing opportunities in graduate school, but you have to actually answer those opportunities when they come knocking on your door. I really encourage you to say yes to anything and everything that is physically and emotionally possible for you during graduate school. It will be scary, but in the end saying yes will be well worth it. Graduate school requires you to go above and beyond, because honestly there isn't enough time in graduate school to do what you need to do. There aren't enough class hours, courses to take, etc to really get at the crux of what you want to key in on.
For example, I am really into race/ethnic relations and social movements. I can't really focus on these two elements as much as I want--so instead what I have to do is find ways to focus on that work in papers, outside research, with my thesis, etc so that I can focus on the parts of sociology I love, while taking the classes that are offered to me. This is honestly the best way to make sure that your graduate experience meets your expectations, because your professors can only teach so many courses.
Over the last few semesters me and graduate school have had our fights. Honestly, I was in a relationship with graduate school, and in my opinion graduate school was like the worst significant other ever! Graduate school was bossy, rude to my friends, and just an all around know it all in the worst way. Graduate school was obnoxious. But in the back of my mind I kinda liked graduate school. Being around graduate school made me smarter, sometimes graduate school brought me flowers and pizza for doing such a great job. Even though graduate school broke my heart and made me cry all night on several occasions, me and graduate school were able to work out our issues through hard work and dedication.
Graduate school is like the relationship that always needs a lot of work, but in a good way. I wouldn't want anyone to sail through graduate school honestly, because if you are sailing you aren't truly learning as much as you could be. Graduate school pushes me to do better, create better things, and at the end of the day when I get a good grade on a test or paper I feel damn good about myself. I feel on top of the world.
So yes, graduate school isn't easy, but I kinda like it that way.