Grad School Advice

Wendy Marie and Testudo at UMD

Earlier this year my grandma called me to wish me well as I begin my first year of grad school and to give me some advice. Now I will admit I braced myself a bit before she started with her words of wisdom simply because I had no clue what she might say, but as it turns out my grandma, ever the practical woman, had some fantastic instructions.

The advice began with a question, “Do you have an alarm clock?” Why yes I have an alarm clock. How else have I successfully gotten myself to work and other appointments on time in my adult life? But that’s not what I said. I simply said yes. To which she said good because I want to make sure you get to class on time. (See, practical concern.)

After successfully passing the alarm clock question, she continued with the following admonitions:

  • Stop to Eat.
  • Get Rest.
  • Don’t Over Do It.

Solid, foundational advice from someone who, after years of observation, knows my weaknesses. I easily fall victim to the do-it-all-who-needs-rest mentality, and there have been several days where I have been so busy attempting to do it all that I have forgotten to eat. Grandma, your advice has been duly noted.

For more graduate school specific advice, a paper that I’ve found useful is “So long, and thanks for the Ph.D.!” by Ronald T. Azuma. Bits and pieces of his advice have been echoed by every graduate student I’ve talked to. Not that you need or have time to read even more but I think it’s well worth taking a look at.

To all the first year graduate students, Congratulations!, and to you and the returning graduate students I wish you much success. Remember this:

“It’s easy to lose perspective while in graduate school. You are surrounded by so many other smart, hard working people that it is easy to feel inferior and lose self-esteem and confidence. But without an underlying confidence that you do have what it takes to complete a dissertation, it’s too easy to drop out when the going gets tough instead of sticking it through. I found it useful to keep in touch with the “real world,” to remind myself that the graduate student population is not representative of humanity in general and to keep my perspective. You got into graduate school because you have already shown to your professors that you have potential and skills that are not typical among most college students, let alone most people — don’t forget that.” Excerpt from “So long, and thanks for the Ph.D.!” by Ronald T. Azuma