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Got into grad school, now what?

eurekagoldeurekagold Posts: 10Registered User New Member
edited March 2012 in Graduate School
I got into my #1 choice for grad school, so I am elated. However, I'm also terrified. I'm going into entomology (study of insects and other arthropods), and I have relatively little true research experience.

I have full funding with a reasonable stipend, so I'm not worried about being able to afford living. I'm worried about teaching, figuring out independent research, and other grad school adjustments.

The program is a masters then PhD, so it is a 5-6 year expected timeline. I'm much more worried about the adjustment period than he length of the program. I'm bulldog stubborn when it comes to school, and I've already had to deal with a multitude of issues just to get my B.S. (Husband was in the military, working full time while attending classes, non traditional schooling, etc.)

Any advice for a newly admitted graduate student?
Post edited by eurekagold on

Replies to: Got into grad school, now what?

  • RacinReaverRacinReaver Posts: 6,598Registered User Senior Member
    It's a marathon, not a sprint.

    Also, be sure your husband and other people of significance in your life understand that being a grad student is a full time job. You have hours you need to keep, deadlines you need to meet, and supervisors you need to satisfy.
  • eurekagoldeurekagold Posts: 10Registered User New Member
    I'm definitely aware of that, as is he (he is just finishing his masters degree). I'm worried about the adjustment, mostly. I currently work full time as well as attending school, so I'm no stranger to very long hours.
  • juilletjuillet Posts: 5,893Super Moderator Senior Member
    What do you mean you are worried about the adjustment?

    Everything has an adjustment - a new job, a new degree, a new location, everything. How easy or difficult the adjustment is has in part to do with the program, but in larger part how adaptable you are and your previous preparation for the degree.

    Find out how early you will be expected to TA, and if possible, find out what your TA assignment is well before you arrive on campus. My department does TA assignments for continuing students in April and assigns new PhD students shortly thereafter, when they accept the program, so new PhD students in my department would find out their placement over the summer. That way you can do some brushing up if you need to over the summer and feel better prepared. Hopefully your program won't require you to TA until your second year (mine doesn't until your second semester of your first year).

    As for independent research, that comes with time. Your research will likely not be very independent in your first 2-3 years. You will work on what your advisor works on, but you will plan your own analyses and little offshoot projects of that. As time wears on, you will do more and more of your own planning of projects, and tandem planning with your advisor. The two of you may write a grant together, or you may decide to do independent analyses of data he already has to write a paper. Maybe you will collect supplemental data to do a comparative study or extend what he's doing, or run a new experiment with the stuff he already has. The classes and the long years are designed to make you feel able to design and carry out your own project. I'm nearing the end of my 4th year and I feel confident that I could design and execute my own project, including writing a grant to win the money to do it. I didn't feel that way when I first entered graduate school, so I know I learned it here.

    I will say, though, that at least in the sciences "independent" research in the grad school years is less independent than most people think it is going in. The reason is time and money. For example, if I wanted to do I could do my own data collection project for my dissertation. My advisor would probably support me, too. But I'd have to first get the money for the equipment and participant incentives, which would take at least a year, and then I'd have to collect the data myself, which would probably take another year for even a small sample of about 100 people. Then a year for analysis and writing, if I was lucky. Sure, I could do that, if I were interested in adding 3 more years to the 4 I've already been here, but I am much more interested in graduating in 5-6 years so I'm doing new analyses on data I collected as part of a large project my entire research team is doing. Because I joined the lab at JUST the right moment, I had a lot of say in the design of the study and what measures went in, so I was able to get measures I was interested in and me and another grad student even added an interview component that we were interested in.

    Just take it slowly, and keep your ears and eyes open. Listen and learn from everything, including the negative incidents that make you roll your eyes.

    Also carve out some time for yourself. Take a day off a week - in the beginning, this may only be a half day, but as you finish up coursework you will be able to schedule in more me time. You need to recharge your batteries to really do good work.

    I think the marathon, not a sprint, advice is the best advice. I often hear new PhD students, or people considering a PhD, wondering how long this will take and how quickly they can finish. I was like that, too. Don't. Take your time. This is a process that just takes some time to finish, so really hunker down and dig in. 5 years really isn't that long, honestly, to build the best possible case for a job in the future - and my first four have flown by, I can't believe that I'll be beginning my dissertation this summer.
  • eurekagoldeurekagold Posts: 10Registered User New Member
    JUILLET: Thank you very much. The independent research is what scares me the most. I'm worried that I'm not prepared enough with whatever skills I'll need, for example. The classes and basic knowledge based learning I know I can manage, but the hands on research scares me. I'm excited about it, don't get me wrong, but I'm worried about messing everything up.
  • eurekagoldeurekagold Posts: 10Registered User New Member
    I suppose a little clarification would help. I'm worried mostly about technique, as far as research goes. I'm worried that lab components of classes and the semester of
  • eurekagoldeurekagold Posts: 10Registered User New Member
    I suppose a little clarification would help. I'm worried mostly about technique, as far as research goes. I'm worried that lab components of classes and the semester and a half or so of research was not enough to give me the skills I need to thrive in a lab in which the advisor may or may not take a hands off approach.

    Hopefully that helps in addressing my concerns.
  • RacinReaverRacinReaver Posts: 6,598Registered User Senior Member
    Odds are you won't be alone in that lab, though. There should be other grad students around, and they'll be able to help teach you some of the skills you need in order to get by. I know in my lab we usually do some sort of apprenticeship where a senior grad student comes up with a project, the two of you work together on it, and then you use it as your candidacy/quals project.

    Besides, if you already knew all the stuff you needed to get through grad school, what would be the point in doing it?
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