Surviving Grad School 101

Surviving Grad School 101

By: Sugandha Agarwal
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After four gruelling years of attending lectures, turning in assignments and writing endless exams, in the final semester of my undergraduate degree, I vowed to myself – Never. Again. I worked hard to graduate with a decent GPA and dreamt of greener pastures – a nice, comfortable job, a cozy bank balance and no more late-nights spent finishing essays. Three months later, I had the job I wanted, I was sleeping well and I didn’t have to worry about paying bills.

However, a year into an actual adult job, I was itching to go back to school. Incredulous at my own fickle-mindedness, I tried to reason with myself: this is all I had wanted, and school involves commitment and hard work. Nevertheless, I missed going to lectures and reading theories by scholars whose names I couldn’t pronounce, and sitting in the library at 12 am, trying to finish my readings on time to actually start writing my paper. What started out as reminiscing soon turned into a comprehensive process of sending out applications and waiting to hear back. But before I even knew it, I was in and my tryst with academia began. Again.

Almost a year into my graduate degree now, I can definitely say that I do not regret my decision to go back to school. End of semester deadlines are hard, and I have been to more ‘Happy Hour Nights’ than I care to admit, but in the end it’s all worth the tears and sweat.  Here are my two cents on how to get through grad school the best you can:

1. Get out of bed

Grad school, as I have discovered, involves a lot of self-initiative and you will often be required to work on your own without being accountable to anyone. As liberating as it may sound, for people like me who lack self-discipline (and are working on it!!!), it means setting your own goals and creating your own motivation to achieve those goals. For this reason, I make it a point to get out of bed every day, get dressed and head down to a coffee shop or the library to get work done. It helps me maintain a routine and keeps me from staying in bed, binge-watching stuff on Netflix.

2. Go out and meet your friends!

As I was told during my department orientation, grad school can be isolating – we don’t see our peers in lectures every day and hence, it’s hard to form and maintain healthy relationships and friendships. This makes it all the more important to let our hair down every once in a while, and go out for a shopping trip or just for dinner and drinks with friends. 

3. Group-study sessions

Even though I prefer working alone most of the time, it’s nice to have a friend sit next to me sometimes as I freak out about the latest thing that needs to be done ASAP. Not only that, it’s also immensely productive as we end up getting loads done, take ice-cream breaks, help each other through assignments/presentations and catch up with each others’ lives! It’s a win-win!

4. Managing your time

Setting a schedule and sticking to it is something I still struggle with but I think I am getting better with practice. Nevertheless, setting deadlines for yourself and making lists is always a good idea to improve efficiency and making the most of your time.

5. Academia may not be for everyone – and that’s okay

Grad school requires a significant amount of reading and writing, not to mention the teaching and presenting at conferences from time to time – and may not be everyone’s cup of tea. It is far from a fast-paced corporate office for example and if that is something you’re looking for, then steering clear of research and teaching may be a good idea.

From taking exciting classes to attending conferences in exotic locations, my first few months in graduate school have managed to keep me on my toes. I am excited to see what my second (and hopefully final) year holds!

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Posted on July 18, 2018