What I wish I knew before my first semester of graduate school

100 days later and I officially have 1 semester of graduate school under my belt. That's right, one semester closer to my Master's degree and one semester closer to my Ph.D. Only nine more to go!

I expected this semester to be hard. In fact, I even prepared to set up a comfortable home environment, pre-planned trips home, and set up social supports in advance to help me get through. Still, nothing could have entirely prepared me for how completely challenging and isolating this past semester was. I don't want to be a complete negative nelly here, there were some great times! This semester I started research papers, presented at conferences, learned a TON, made new friends, explored a new city... the list goes on. And yet, it was also one of the most exhausting, isolating, and self-doubt filled 100 years of my life.

Prior to my first semester, I wish I would have known how important it is to respect your own time. My workload is so intense that I simply cannot say yes to everything or do everything I want to do. I've talked about calendar blocking on my blog before. (Check out that post here), but at the beginning of the semester, I struggled to respect that schedule. I treated it more of a list of things I needed to do than an actual guide of how much time I should be spending on each activity.

I also wish I would have realized how important finding your community is. I started the semester thinking that my program was the only place I could find friends to share my experiences with. However, with online schooling, it's been difficult for me to feel connected to my program and university as a whole. That's why I'm so thankful I found a home here on my blog and on my Instagram where I can connect with other students in higher education. I only wish I had done so sooner.

And speaking of my community, to give you the best advice possible I reached out to them and asked what THEY wished they had known before starting graduate school. Here's what they had to say:

Your relationship with your advisor is like a marriage - you should be sure that whoever you choose will give you the support and leadership style you need -- @the_sassyscientist
You are ultimately in charge of your own training. Get to know senior students in your department, ask lots of questions, seek out opportunities, tell your mentors what you need from them. -- @_phdandme
Start finding opportunities to publish and get funding as early as possible. In many fields, publishing papers and acquiring funding are keys to future job success, but they take a long time! The earlier you start, the better. -- @_phdandme
It’s a long road and you need to think of it as a job. Otherwise it will feel like everyone else is starting careers while you stand still for 4-6 years. -- @phdinclothes
Not losing contact with people outside your PhD takes work. But it’s important to have friends not in your program to remind you that you are more than just a student. -- @phdinclothes

Looks like we can all agree that it's important to manage your time and work hard towards publishing and funding in your first semester (treating it like a job), but that community and friends are essential to your overall mental health. For anyone starting graduate school, I suggest really building your time-management skills in advance and then not hesitating in finding friends and colleagues to support you!

Now that my first semester is over I'll be taking my winter break to relax, catch up on some research, and pre-plan my lesson plans for my next TA assignment. My second semester will be here before you know it!

Until next time...


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