Grad School Tips from the SEM Student Union Bloggers

Last month, I posted a “To-Do List” where I listed my personal thoughts on how one should mentally prepare for the decision to move forward with graduate school applications. I knew that I could create a much stronger post if I could gather feedback from my fellow SU blog contributors based on their lived experiences. So I did just that! I now present to you a comprehensive list of graduate school advice, not-so-secrets, and high-fives from Ana, Heather, Liza, and Alice!

1. Geography and financial support

Ana had a clear determination to focus on the logistics of attending graduate school and her quality of life. “It was very important to think: where did I want to live for the next 2 (M.A.) or 4 (M.A. + Ph.D.) years of my life?” From urban cultural hubs to small-town communities, it is significant to know where your program of interest is located and in what kind of social environment.

An issue that is just as important: will your funding package and personal budget be enough to cover the cost of living? Your fieldwork, conference travel, and ability to thrive will greatly depend on the financial support that is available to you. Ana recommends doing research on locations based on rent, transportation, food, and other costs, and then drafting a budget with the approximate amount of funding you will need.

2. We must reiterate: it’s OK to wait!

Between both her masters and doctorate degrees, Heather asked herself, “Am I ready to go back to school?” She waited until she could honestly answer “Yes,” because she knew she needed to prioritize her opportunities as they came along. Traveling, teaching, and tending to one’s family are all important considerations if you feel you need time to accomplish them before you complete your graduate education. “It certainly doesn’t have to be either/or; I got married while prepping for my comprehensive exams and have so many friends who have started raising families while in school. It’s difficult, but so is everything.” So well-articulated! Your prior life experiences will only enrich your graduate education.

If you choose to wait, Heather warns you to watch out for transitional periods. Similar to culture shock, Heather remembers, “I had been a teacher for three years, and then found myself back in the role of a student…I was a different kind of student and different things were expected of me.” Some transitions can be more dramatic than others, but nevertheless, it’s advantageous to prepare for this mindset.

3. Write, write, write, and maintain your networks

Students entering grad school come from all ages, all walks of life, and a great diversity of previous educational disciplines. Alice reflects on how she wished she had started getting into the habit of intensive writing sooner than she did. “Doesn’t necessarily have to be about music, doesn’t necessarily have to be academic, but getting in the habit of writing can be so tricky.” Write every single day! 

Alice expands upon my previous post about how we should never forget to support our friends. Friends provide intellectual support in addition to being our emotional teddy bears. “Revising and editing are key… For this, you need to pay it forward – make sure that you too are helping your friends with your skills.” Showing genuine appreciation goes a long way. Introduce yourself, grow your networks, and keep in good relations with your colleagues.

4. Read, read, read, and keep reading!

This is brilliant advice, and I cannot believe I did not mention it in my first post. Liza mentions, “I like what Alice said about getting in the habit of writing, and I think the same could be said for reading – we do SO MUCH academic reading in grad school.” Pre-grad school is the best time to read whatever compels you. Another great benefit for your personal statements especially, is your ability to write about what you’ve read and how it relates to your research interests. Read articles and books by your future professors (fingers-crossed!) and catch up on relevant foundational scholarly literature.

Graduate school will be challenging, which may be an understatement for some students. We hope these twin posts have been helpful! A huge thank you goes out to the SEM Student Union blog contributors for their fantastic input. My next step is to print these out on trading cards to scatter across college campuses and GRE testing sites (Just kidding.)

– Jennie


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