Grad School Advice

Tufts University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences recently blogged some advice for first year graduate students. While I’ve blogged on this topic before (here and here), I wanted to add some thoughts. I’ll break it down by section.

Section 1: Get A Head Start (You’ll Thank Yourself Later)

I tend to procrastinate. Ok, I procrastinate all the time. And that’s at the heart of why I wanted to write this post. I’ve struggled keeping up with the numerable different schedules (daily, weekly, and monthly) I have created. Considering I make a new list or schedule pretty much once a week, the total number of lists and schedules over the last three years is quite high. It’s not for lack of trying that I get off schedule. I want to stay on track, but it is just not my style. I need more freedom (well that’s a positive spin on my procrastination at least). Regardless, I get my work done and do it well enough. So eventually I just embraced my work habits and my worries about following schedules (or staying ahead of schedule as Tufts’ post suggests) bother me less. My point is be yourself. If you are the kind of person who can/likes to/needs to work ahead regularly, do it. If you’re not that kind of person, give it a go (procrastination does suck when you have a pile of work at the end so certainly do not avoid work on purpose), but do not expect everyone is working a week ahead. At least in my experience, the vast majority of students aren’t ahead of the syllabus.

Section 4: Be a ‘Working Stiff’

Ok, I’m not preserving the original blog post’s order, but this advice seems to be the most antithetical to my experience. Again, maybe 9-5 works for you. Great. And if you have kids or other important time consuming obligations (I know kids aren’t just obligations, but roll with it), a more rigid schedule may be needed to keep your sanity. But, if you don’t need a 9-5 schedule, it might not be your best choice. Find out when you do your best work and do most of it then. If you’re a night owl (like me, despite my occasional efforts to become a morning bird), work with that fact rather than against it. The more important point in Tufts’ blog is to make sure work is not 24/7. A 9-12, 3-6, 9-11 schedule can be just as effective as 9-5. Follow your heart (or rather, your work patterns), but make sure you leave time for other, non-academic, things.

Section 2: Lay Down the Law…With Your Friends and Family

Speaking of things outside of academia, chances are that many of your friends and family are not in academia and may be unfamiliar with what academic life entails. Hopefully, you do not need to lay down the law though in some cases it may be necessary. Either way, I prefer more positively slanted advice, like making sure you maintain and develop your social networks outside of academia. Ok, that’s pretty stiff phrasing, but I’d rather say that you need to focus on work-life balance (and they need to balance) instead of worrying about laying down the law. Balance won’t be immediate, perfect, or easy, but maintaining work-life balance, especially when you have familial obligations (there’s that word again–“obligations”), is the most important task facing new (and old) students in graduate school.

Section 3: Think Outside the (Culinary) Box

Honestly, I can’t really nitpick this section. For the last year, I’ve ridden my bike almost everywhere and I am fine eating basically the same thing for every meal. That being said, I know that lifestyle is not the case for other people. There’s no reason to feel the need to buy a bike and Costco membership (though you may need to adjust to a lower income lifestyle depending on your background before graduate school).

All in all, Tufts’ blog congregated some nice bits of advice, but new students should take all advice (mine included) with a grain of salt. Make sure how you approach life in graduate school not only sets you up for success, but is a sustainable lifestyle that brings you joy.

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