The Summer Before Graduate School

how to prepare for grad school


April 15th has passed, and you’ve made your decision. Breathe a sigh of relief, but don’t check out completely. It’s time to start thinking about how to prepare for grad school and all the changes ahead.
If you’re in the process of finishing your undergraduate degree then finals, graduation, and some well earned vacation time will keep you busy through June.  Once summer gets into full swing however, your mind will justifiably turn towards preparing yourself for the start of your graduate degree program. For those who have been out of school for awhile, you probably went from thinking about getting accepted to thinking about how to prepare. There are a lot of things to think about before starting a graduate degree: moving to a new city, preparing for research, picking classes, making new friends… it’s all very exciting.
So what tips can we offer to make the transition as smooth as possible? I’m glad you asked.

 

How to prepare for grad school?

 

Publications

Start reading publications now. If you don’t already have one, sign up for a reference manager (e.g. EndNote, Mendeley, etc). If you know who your advisor will be, add their recent publications and try to get through as much as you can (don’t worry if you don’t understand everything, you just want to get an overview). If you’re not sure who your advisor will be yet, add papers to your reference manager for your faculty members of interest. The sooner you know the details of research your PI or prospective PI is conducting, the sooner you’ll be able to integrate into the department. This may seem like something that can wait, but with classes starting first thing in the fall, you won’t regret getting these “base” papers out of the way early. Trying to get through relevant publications can also help you decide which classes to take, as they will elucidate holes in your knowledge early on. If you take one piece of advice on how to prepare for grad school, this should be it.

Moving

Plan to get settled 2 weeks before you need to start work and classes, if at all possible. Most students plan on moving-in only a few days before the first day of classes. This can cause a lot of needless stress your first semester. From the moment things swing into gear you’re going to be really busy. Finding the time to walk through your new city or even to explore the campus can  be difficult. This often adds to a sense of isolation for first year grad students. When you’re in a new city you aren’t comfortable in, and you only go to and from lectures, it can get pretty lonely. Even if you clique together with new students to explore the city early on, you don’t want to get lost trying to find a quick lunch option or go to bed hungry because you didn’t realize your grocery store closes at 10pm. It will pay dividends to be familiar with your new surroundings before the craziness of grad life begins. When it comes to deciding how to prepare for grad school, this is an often overlooked yet simple way to get a head start.

Research

An add-on item to the previous tip: if it’s possible (and it usually is if you know who your advisor will be), start your new position as early as possible. Is it May 7th and your grad classes don’t start until August 20th? Ask if you can start work in June (this applies more to social and physical science people than to humanities, but is good advice in any case). The students who tend to perform the best are often the ones who start as early as possible. The summer gives you time before all the new grads arrive to learn from postdocs and faculty. You can conduct research and learn new equipment or skills without the pressure of classes and social obligations pressing down on you. By the time classes start, you’ll already be totally comfortable in your research position and can balance coursework with ease. Don’t underestimate the value of being 2 months ahead. That summer roadtrip may sound like fun, but you’ll be regretting it come autumn. Most faculty will be willing to start your stipend early and will feel like they chose the right candidate.

 

Classes

It’s never too early to start prepping for your classes. Of course, you don’t want to bog yourself down with too much to do, and the above items are vastly more important than this. But if you find you have time, it’s a good idea to go through the class syllabi and see what you’ll be covering that year. Familiarize yourself with the testing set up and core curriculum. While it is probably overkill to start studying, it is a great idea to review core undergrad material (particularly if you’ve been out of school for a few years). Taking the time to refresh the basics will keep your nerves under control when you get there, ensure you don’t say/do anything embarrassing upon arrival, and make classes a lot easier.

 

Fellowships

Start looking at the next step. There is something to be said for enjoying the moment, but once the initial glee of acceptance wears off, it’s important to start looking at the next year. What conferences would be great to attend? Are there external fellowships you can apply to (even if you already having funding, this is important to do)? What about small research grants you can apply to independently? Are there places you can present your work? Essay or research competitions? All these options will add prestige to your resume, impress department faculty, and help you learn the in’s and out’s of academic life.

Socialize

Try to spend some social time with other incoming graduate students as well as current grad students. Whether they’re people you already know or new friends, you shouldn’t under estimate the value of talking to current graduate students. Their sage and often cynical world view will help prepare you mentally while providing detail that we can’t provide via a webpage. Plus the socialization should help take some of the stress off of doing (1)-(5).
Now that you know how to prepare for grad school and what you’re getting into, use these 2-4 months to your advantage. It will guarantee you an amazing first year and can set you on the right path for major graduate success.

 

 

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The Summer Before Graduate School

how to prepare for grad school April 11th, 2016


April 15th has passed, and you’ve made your decision. Breathe a sigh of relief, but don’t check out completely. It’s time to start thinking about how to prepare for grad school and all the changes ahead.
If you’re in the process of finishing your undergraduate degree then finals, graduation, and some well earned vacation time will keep you busy through June.  Once summer gets into full swing however, your mind will justifiably turn towards preparing yourself for the start of your graduate degree program. For those who have been out of school for awhile, you probably went from thinking about getting accepted to thinking about how to prepare. There are a lot of things to think about before starting a graduate degree: moving to a new city, preparing for research, picking classes, making new friends… it’s all very exciting.
So what tips can we offer to make the transition as smooth as possible? I’m glad you asked.

 

How to prepare for grad school?

 

Publications

Start reading publications now. If you don’t already have one, sign up for a reference manager (e.g. EndNote, Mendeley, etc). If you know who your advisor will be, add their recent publications and try to get through as much as you can (don’t worry if you don’t understand everything, you just want to get an overview). If you’re not sure who your advisor will be yet, add papers to your reference manager for your faculty members of interest. The sooner you know the details of research your PI or prospective PI is conducting, the sooner you’ll be able to integrate into the department. This may seem like something that can wait, but with classes starting first thing in the fall, you won’t regret getting these “base” papers out of the way early. Trying to get through relevant publications can also help you decide which classes to take, as they will elucidate holes in your knowledge early on. If you take one piece of advice on how to prepare for grad school, this should be it.

Moving

Plan to get settled 2 weeks before you need to start work and classes, if at all possible. Most students plan on moving-in only a few days before the first day of classes. This can cause a lot of needless stress your first semester. From the moment things swing into gear you’re going to be really busy. Finding the time to walk through your new city or even to explore the campus can  be difficult. This often adds to a sense of isolation for first year grad students. When you’re in a new city you aren’t comfortable in, and you only go to and from lectures, it can get pretty lonely. Even if you clique together with new students to explore the city early on, you don’t want to get lost trying to find a quick lunch option or go to bed hungry because you didn’t realize your grocery store closes at 10pm. It will pay dividends to be familiar with your new surroundings before the craziness of grad life begins. When it comes to deciding how to prepare for grad school, this is an often overlooked yet simple way to get a head start.

Research

An add-on item to the previous tip: if it’s possible (and it usually is if you know who your advisor will be), start your new position as early as possible. Is it May 7th and your grad classes don’t start until August 20th? Ask if you can start work in June (this applies more to social and physical science people than to humanities, but is good advice in any case). The students who tend to perform the best are often the ones who start as early as possible. The summer gives you time before all the new grads arrive to learn from postdocs and faculty. You can conduct research and learn new equipment or skills without the pressure of classes and social obligations pressing down on you. By the time classes start, you’ll already be totally comfortable in your research position and can balance coursework with ease. Don’t underestimate the value of being 2 months ahead. That summer roadtrip may sound like fun, but you’ll be regretting it come autumn. Most faculty will be willing to start your stipend early and will feel like they chose the right candidate.

 

Classes

It’s never too early to start prepping for your classes. Of course, you don’t want to bog yourself down with too much to do, and the above items are vastly more important than this. But if you find you have time, it’s a good idea to go through the class syllabi and see what you’ll be covering that year. Familiarize yourself with the testing set up and core curriculum. While it is probably overkill to start studying, it is a great idea to review core undergrad material (particularly if you’ve been out of school for a few years). Taking the time to refresh the basics will keep your nerves under control when you get there, ensure you don’t say/do anything embarrassing upon arrival, and make classes a lot easier.

 

Fellowships

Start looking at the next step. There is something to be said for enjoying the moment, but once the initial glee of acceptance wears off, it’s important to start looking at the next year. What conferences would be great to attend? Are there external fellowships you can apply to (even if you already having funding, this is important to do)? What about small research grants you can apply to independently? Are there places you can present your work? Essay or research competitions? All these options will add prestige to your resume, impress department faculty, and help you learn the in’s and out’s of academic life.

Socialize

Try to spend some social time with other incoming graduate students as well as current grad students. Whether they’re people you already know or new friends, you shouldn’t under estimate the value of talking to current graduate students. Their sage and often cynical world view will help prepare you mentally while providing detail that we can’t provide via a webpage. Plus the socialization should help take some of the stress off of doing (1)-(5).
Now that you know how to prepare for grad school and what you’re getting into, use these 2-4 months to your advantage. It will guarantee you an amazing first year and can set you on the right path for major graduate success.

 

 

By
@
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