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How to Survive Graduate School


by Rachel Gwin

With a lot of hard work, pep talks and maybe a small miracle, I recently completed a Masters of Science in Mathematics. With the new school year about to begin and in response to this tumblr, I thought I would share my tips for surviving graduate school. Here’s what I’ve learned and what every new graduate student should know:

  • Welcome to the big leagues. You may have been at the top of your class as an undergrad, but you’re about to spend every day of the next 2 to 5 years with some really intelligent people, usually more intelligent than you. Accept this. This is okay. Strive to do your best, but don’t waste your time trying to out-study, outscore, and out-smart the people around you. It will only make your life more miserable. 
  • Your life is going to be miserable. No matter the subject, graduate school is tough. Most people take classes and have teaching or grading duties to try to balance. Learn how to blow off some steam. Find a group of fellow grads that you can complain and relax with. You may find it helpful to make up some rules for yourself like: “No talking about grad school at the bar.” or “Go to yoga once a week without fail.” or “I deserve an hour of tv without thinking about my to do list.” Learning how to cope with the stress of grad school is half the battle so make sure to do something to take care of yourself and your sanity.
  • Give yourself a mantra. Something to say to yourself that can calm you down, get you back on track, and keep you going. Write this on a Post-It and hide it in your desk drawer so you can see it when you need it. Say it to yourself before a big test, presentation, or defense. My mantra is “Do your best. Forget the rest.” Find what works for you and say it 5 times whenever you feel hopeless or defeated. 
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Find another graduate student that you feel comfortable working with on homework. Ask lots of questions and be persistent if you don’t understand something. Work with each other, not against each other. There’s bound to be a student or two who has an “every graduate student for himself” attitude, but don’t let them get to you. The academic world is a collaborative one, and you shouldn’t be ashamed to reach out for assistance.
  • It’s okay to not know the answer to every question. You were smart enough to get into graduate school and that says a lot about your intelligence. But, it’s not the end of the world if you leave a homework problem blank. Sometimes it does more harm than good to beat yourself up about a problem that you can’t figure out. Also, realize that you may reach your limit during graduate school. Graduate school is difficult and some people are more skilled than others in your subject. Not everyone can be Albert Einstein, after all. 

Finally, my biggest piece of advice about surviving graduate school would be:

  • Believe in yourself! Take things one day at a time and before you know it, you’ll have one semester and then a whole year complete. We’re all a little crazy since we signed up for more years of homework and tests, but if you make it through… nothing compares to the feeling of presenting your final paper. What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger! AND smarter!

(Source: gwinbythebeach)

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How to Graduate from College in Four Years

by Jennifer Joslin

  1. It’s academic. You could go to college anywhere – focus on why you chose your school.  Take classes from award-winning faculty members; search out the things your institution specializes in – every institution does something that makes them the best in the nation or the world; declare a major because you love the subject and not for any other reason (if you are interested in what you are doing, you will pay attention — to everything).
  2. Take advantage of every resource you can. Visit your instructors during their office hours; get to know one faculty member or administrator every year; see an advisor every term; apply for financial aid yearly (hey, circumstances change); learn to read your degree audit; use the Career Center – exploring what’s next can motivate you today; use your online Student Handbook and the Catalog to understand university issues and rules.
  3. It takes a village… Enlist your friends in your success; tell your family exactly how to help and support you; remind yourself frequently that college leads to better jobs later (don’t let the job you need to stay in college become the reason you don’t finish college); tell everyone your goals and plans (resources lead to other resources).
  4. Graduation matters — sweat the details. Register for classes during priority registration; read everything your school sends you (especially during your senior year); track every grade in every class – you can’t get help (#6) if you don’t know you need help.
  5. Get involved. Students who are engaged do better.  Join or start a club; study abroad; become a peer mentor, tutor, or peer advisor (teaching others helps you too); go to a talk or conference outside of class; participate in service learning through the campus leadership center; work with others to change a university policy for the better.
  6. Get help. If you are struggling and you know it (see #4), see an advisor and be honest about what is happening; don’t be sick by yourself—tell everyone you feel lousy (your friends, your RA, your parents, Student Health, your instructors); use your lecture notes, textbooks, and instructor office hours to follow-up about concepts that don’t make sense; ask questions in your discussion or lab section (see #2); all students struggle in some way – practice bouncing back (resiliency = success).
  7. If you are a senior, don’t change your major without seeing an advisor. Many majors teach you to think, read and write critically. These skills can be adapted to many fields and you may not need to change your major at the last moment.  If you think you need a specific major for credentialing purposes, see an advisor before scuttling three years worth of work.

Jennifer Joslin is the director of the Office of Academic Advising at the University of Oregon, and the president of the National ACademic ADvising Association (NACADA): The Global Community for Academic Advising, 2011-2012

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