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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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