Graduate Student Blog


Beginning Grad School: Thoughts on Starting Graduate School

August 28th, 2014 by


Kristina Brezicha, The Pennsylvania State University

While the irritatingly early reminders of back to school season were unnecessary, back to school season has final arrived. With the arrival of teems of undergraduates, the start of a new year has always seemed an opportunity to for a new beginning. Whether this is your first year or in my case, my fourth year; graduate school life requires a plan with the flexibility to readjust along the way. The following list of tips comes from a cadre of mentors, friends and fellow graduate students. If you have had some helpful tips or advice, please share it at the bottom of this blog.

Know thyself. This old adage holds true even in graduate school. Knowing who you are will help you understand your values, motivations and work habits. Knowing all of these is essential to your success in graduate school. This knowledge will help you keep yourself motivated during the many often seemingly endless days of work with little to no external feedback or reward. Unlike teaching in which you can often assess your work based on the outcomes of your students, graduate school involves working on projects whose rewards often comes later. Thus understanding yourself and why you are in graduate school will help keep you motivated through the long haul. It will also help you find and keep a balance between your work and life.

Plan carefully. Graduate school flies by and it is important to set goals and plan accordingly. If you are seeking to enter the professoriate, you need to plan on publishing. However, if you plan on becoming a practitioner or entering another education-related career, think about the skills that would make you capable of doing your dream job. By knowing yourself and the values that drove you to graduate school in the first place, they will determine how you spend your precious time and energy as you cannot necessarily do everything you would like to do.

Collaborate often. These collaborations have been at the heart of my graduate school experience and have enriched my time here immensely. First, by working with others, you benefit from their experiences, knowledge and expertise. This will help expand your horizon and understandings quickly. Secondly, you develop the relationships that will form the supports you need as you move forward in an increasingly isolated project ultimately culminating in the dissertation. Third, your collaborators will become an important network as you move into your professional career. Lastly, many times you also become friends with your collaborators and they too will help support you as you move through your graduate career.

Socialize more. Throughout my graduate school career there have been points where social events have been cut out to meet some looming deadline. This happens sometimes. But, I have found it to be crucial to continue to maintain your friendship both old and new. This like everything else takes time and it is easy to lose track of friendships as you are overwhelmed by the multiple competing demands of grad school. Your friendships though will ease those stresses and help you laugh off the occasional ridiculousness of life as a graduate student. This not optional and while we all know that our socializing styles differ widely, it’s important to find and maintain a group of friends who knows and gets you. Make sure to balance your work with your life.

Say no. I know given everything just said this seems to contradict the previous four suggestions. However, time is limited and sometimes we have to say no. One wonder of graduate school is the many opportunities it presents. While they all sound wonderful, knowing yourself and your priorities will help you choose which opportunities you should take and which you should let go. By saying no, you give yourself the opportunity to spend your time in ways that matter the most to you. This includes time for yourself, your family and your friends thus hopefully achieving the balance that allows you to flourish in graduate school.

Best wishes for the new year.