How to Survive Your First Year of Graduate School
The first thing any new graduate student should do is buy a calendar and write down all your classes and other obligations for the first two or three weeks of the school year. Sure it seems elementary, but with all of the excitement of starting school, (yes, graduate students get excited about starting school), it’s easy to forget where you’re supposed to be at any given time. Remember, most graduate students have more on their plates than just classes: working as a graduate teaching or research assistants, committees, meetings with professors and other students, trying to find time to do your research; all of these things can get pretty hectic and it’s easy to lose track of time. It’s best to write everything down, and take the calendar with you everywhere you go. It won’t do you much good if you leave it at home.
Second, get organized! Purchase a notebook for each class you take. Or, if you’re the type that likes binders, get one that has enough room for all of your classes and make sure you use dividers to separate your classes. Make sure you have supplies to get you through the first few weeks: pencils, pens, paper for note taking, and all the books you need for class. Graduate students are expected to be prepared for class every class meeting. Professors don’t look kindly upon students who don’t have books, who lose their presentations, or who haven’t read the material. It is imperative that you are prepared for each class, and the best way to do that is to be organized. Know what you have to do and when it needs to be done. Otherwise, you’ll burn out quickly.
Next, find a quiet spot at home to work on your studies. If you’re living at home, it should be pretty simple to arrange a small space for yourself that is reserved for studying and working on school projects. It may be more difficult if you’re living with a roommate, but it is imperative that you create a quiet place for yourself to work. Graduate students do a lot of reading, and I mean a lot of reading. It’s hard to concentrate when there’s a television blasting or people are traipsing in and out of the living area. If you can’t find a quiet space at home, apply for a carrel (a small room at the library for reading) and use that space for quiet reading and studying. Most libraries make carrels available to graduate students by the semester or quarter.
Finally, make some time for fun. Graduate students at some schools are notorious for partying, and to tell you the truth, I don’t know where they find the time. But apparently they do, and you should find a little time for fun as well. However, be cautioned, pulling all nighters may not be a good idea if you’re serious about your grades. Most students can’t party all the time and get good grades too; and remember, in graduate school, there is no such thing as a “C.”
Graduate school is an exciting yet stressful time in the life of a student, but it can also be extremely rewarding. If you keep up with your obligations, stay organized, study hard, and make a little time for fun, you’re sure to be successful and achieve all of your academic and career goals.
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