This is it, folks – the last Friday of my first semester as a graduate student. I’ve gotta say – I’m busier today than I have been pretty much all semester. This semester has been like an uneven shelf – everything just kind of slides down to the bottom. Right now I’m juggling end-of-the-semester madness with papers, projects, and exams, while organizing an amazing internship for next semester, a potential part-time job, and working on a strategy to land an awesome internship for the summer.
Stuff. is. crazy.
I’ve done a lot of thinking, however, about how nervous I was to start graduate school and I’ve come up with five things I wish I would have known earlier, maybe even in my undergraduate years at DePauw.
- First of all, ask for help. This is quite possibly the hardest lesson for me to learn. I hate asking for help, and I know that there are a lot of others out there who feel the same way. I think it’s got something to do with the intrepid American spirit and the desire to be self-sufficient. Or maybe it’s just because it’s embarrassing to admit that you don’t know something. There have been so many instances this semester when I’ve sat myself down for a good talking and made myself acknowledge that I needed help. And, I’ve got to say, that once I opened up and admitted that to myself, the opportunities and amazing connections just started pouring in. I pushed myself to meet with the Career Development Office, even though I was scared, and got some incredible advice on my resume and a new perspective on the job hunt. I signed up to meet with a faculty adviser and gained incredible insight on my how my academics can better relate to my career path. There’s so much more, but I think you get the point. Ask for help, and you will get it.
- Skim the readings, don’t read them all closely. Graduate school is not like my undergraduate. At all. Yes, it’s school, but it’s also life. There is literally not enough time in the day for me to read 200+ pages for every single class, every single week. Especially when I’m trying to keep my apartment clean and maintain my sanity. The solution – skimming. In high school, my Honors English class wanted to make shirts that said “Skim Team” because we were all so adept at skimming the readings, figuring out the key points, but not reading the entire article. This is an invaluable skill. Now, when I’m doing my readings, I’ll read until I hit the crux of the argument and then stop, because that’s all I need. That’s something they don’t necessarily tell you when you start.
- Get to know at least one professor. I’m still working on this one. I haven’t quite nailed down my target, because all of the professors I work with are so talented. I also haven’t made much of an effort yet to speak up in class. (I’m shy at first – weird, right?) This is a lesson I’m learning that I’m going to definitely put into practice next semester. Go to Office Hours. Email professors with questions. Speak up in class. The people teaching me are incredible – one of them basically invented the Internet, and another one did some incredible work at Yale and the NARA. You can do it!
- Be nice to TAs – they’re students too. It’s not that I necessarily had to learn this particular lesson, but it’s important none the less. Until coming to graduate school I had never had a TA for any of my classes, the curse of a small, private university. But for two of my classes this semester, I’ve been instructed by two PhD candidates and it’s been a pretty awesome experience. These students know what we’re going through and want to help us along the way. But – they’re students too, and sometimes when my TA cancels a discussion session at the last minute and I get frustrated, I have to remember that they’re dealing with crazy deadlines too.
- Don’t be afraid to fail. This is more of a life lesson, but sometimes I need reminded. This lesson is part of the reason I started this blog in the first place – I wanted to try it, and I wasn’t afraid of it not necessarily working out. We learn through mistakes, and if you never try and never fail, you’ll never learn how to be better.
So, think of me this weekend, as I try to finish up everything without going full-on crazy. And think of C, who has to deal with me.