By Jeffrey Katz
The graduate school experience is different for everyone. Different schools, different programs, different advisors, and different projects. However, for most, the goal of developing the skills required to conduct science independently is the same.
I recently completed my fourth year of graduate school at Duquesne University. I have learned numerous things along the way. Some related specifically to my dissertation project and program discipline, and others related to my involvement in extracurricular activities with AAPS. Someone recently asked me a rather thought-provoking question: “What advice would you give to a new graduate student given what you have learned throughout your experience in graduate school?”
Simply put, everyone would answer this question differently. That is expected, and how it should be. The following list of tips is by no means meant to serve as the “how to” for graduate school. This is simply my perspective on a few things (certainly not all-inclusive) I wish I would have known when starting graduate school, given what I know now.
- Stay Organized
The graduate school experience will require you to uphold many responsibilities. It’s never just classwork and dissertation research. You will be asked to serve as a teaching assistant, attend conferences, meet alumni, show up to meetings, etc. If you are not well-organized, it will be difficult to meet these obligations. A well-organized student will be much more likely to deliver projects on time.
- Get Involved
Academic and research-related requirements should hold the highest priority. However, numerous opportunities, outside the scope of coursework and lab experiments, are available for graduate students should you choose to pursue them. Both AAPS and each of its student chapters are constantly looking for motivated students to volunteer. Your ability to take the initiative to get involved is not overlooked by the people evaluating your work. The relationships you establish will go a long way in helping to define the path you take after graduate school.
- Communicate Effectively
Being able to tell people what you do and how you do it is of the utmost importance. You can be the smartest scientist there is, but if you are unable to adequately describe your work to an audience, there will be more questions than answers. Use your time in graduate school to work on and develop both written and oral communication skills. Take it seriously; it could be what sets you apart from other students with similar backgrounds and degrees.
- Maintain Work/Life Balance
No matter what school you attend, what department you are in, or what project you are working on, it is a necessity to maintain a healthy work/life balance. It is very easy to get overwhelmed by your coursework and dissertation research. Projects are large, involved, and require attention far beyond normal working hours. Still, don’t be afraid to take a break. Take time to clear your mind, exercise, and eat right. It may sound trivial, but the worst thing that can happen to you is that you get burnt out on work and lose interest.
- Don’t Give Up
Graduate school is a long, often grueling experience that will no doubt be filled with highs and lows. Keep in mind that you aren’t the first person to endure this process. It is no doubt a learning experience, and learning isn’t always easy. Stay focused, work hard, and give your best effort in every task you do, no matter how small. Maintain concentration on the end goal, and use every opportunity you can to continue your development into an independent scientist.