Tips for Transition from Undergraduate Straight to Graduate School


<p>I could really use some advice from current graduate students about the academic transition from undergrad to graduate school. I worked hard in undergrad and did really well, but after receiving hundreds of pages of reading from my professor in preparation for just the first class, I feel overwhelmed, to say the least; I am not sure at this point how I can remember the key points in all of these articles for the class discussion. Any advice for digesting the much larger amount of readings for graduate coursework? Any other tips about graduate school academics? Thank you in advance for your time.</p>

<p>I went straight from undergrad to grad, too, and I just finished my PhD earlier this month.</p>

<p>-You’re not expected to read every word of every paper. Professors deliberately assign more than you can actually read in a week’s time. Instead, focus on reading a selection of the works more thoroughly and actively skim the rest. “Active skimming” means that you read, like, the first sentence of every paragraph and skim just for the key points. Get the general gist of the article. If you’re in the sciences/social sciences, what are the key findings and the overall methods? If you’re in the humanities or reading a theoretical paper, what is the major thrust and what are the author’s main arguments?</p>

<p>Let’s say that I had 5 20-30 page papers to read for one class; I might pick 2 of the more interesting ones to read in depth and read those first, then read the other three very quickly, just for main points.</p>

<p>-Take notes. You can either do these as you are writing, or you can do it afterwards. I took very short notes while I was reading and took more extensive ones afterwards. While reading, I wrote down strokes of pure genius and nagging questions I had; afterwards, I wrote down summative statements and my own musings about where this work fit into the larger conversation and/or my work. Basically, you can write down ahead of time what you want to say in class the next meeting. I used post-it notes to write myself longer notes that didn’t fit into the margins. Once I got an iPad, I used the GoodReader app and its annotation features to write notes in the margins.</p>

<p>Take fewer/less detailed notes for the ones you choose to skim.</p>

<p>-Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides. In the beginning, everyone in class will seem more intelligent and more prepared than you are. This is most likely an illusion - they feel just as nervous as you do and are scrambling to get the reading done the same way you are. In fact, they may think that you are more put together than they are, and feel nervous as a result. Unless someone tells you otherwise, assume that you are doing fine and keep it moving. Don’t obsess over the small stuff.</p>

<p>-If you’re a grad student I’m assuming that you were at or near the top of your class in undergrad; that probably meant that you could, potentially, wait until the last minute to do assignments or even pull an all-nighter. (I did.) Don’t try that in grad school…you really need to start earlier than you did for undergrad papers. Not only are the papers generally longer, but they’re also more integrative and difficult to right. Thus you need to really give yourself enough time to finish them well. You also may need to use different techniques - I never outlined papers before grad school but now I swear by them.</p>

<p>Juillet, thank you for a super informative response! Like you said, I was near the top in undergrad, and I did wait until the last minute to do assignments more than I’d like to admit. I’ll definitely take serious to start earlier very seriously. And the reading tips are super reassuring; it’s nice to know that we don’t have tackle all the reading assignments in a very detailed manner. I am a note taker normally so it seems like it’s definitely something to carry over in grad school. Thanks again, and I’d appreciate any further tips from other users, as well!</p>

<p>I agree w/ J’s post word for word. It was also helpful for me to form study groups/clubs for as many classes as possible. 4 or 5 students who would share notes (or take turns taking notes) and we’d meet together over drinks/snacks to study and to share stories. Made my program a lot easier and more fun.</p>

<p>^Oh yeah, study groups are great! I never did them in undergrad, but they were very useful in grad school - especially for qualifying exams.</p>