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Getting Ready for Graduate School (From the U-M Rackham Graduate School)

Students at Rackham Graduate School talked about the nature of graduate school.
As a graduate student you really are focused on your studies as a career, it’s not just something you’re doing to get a bachelor’s or to please your family. If you choose to do a graduate degree, you’re doing it because of something that means something to you. » I love that I can study exactly what I want to study and what I’m passionate about. And I don’t have to worry about other course requirements in fields that I’m not particularly interested in. And I really can just focus on what I’m interested in. » I went to a small, historically black liberal arts school, and it was all women.
So, if you just look at everything I just listed, compared to the University of Michigan, it’s almost a polar opposite. Once I got here, I just thought, wow, I have all this stuff at my fingertips that I didn’t have before. » As an undergraduate student transitioning into graduate school in the same institution, my initial expectations were that things would be pretty much the same. Although I was pleasantly surprised to find that graduate school really allowed me to get to know the department and the institution on a much more intimate level. » I think when we’re undergrads there’s a tendency to think of teachers as kind of passing on this information to you.
Whereas in graduate school, while they’re still teaching you, they are in some ways also prepping you to be ready to be a colleague of theirs. » Graduate school requires a little more balance in terms of the work you do, where as an undergrad, you may have studying and recreation. In graduate school, you’re going to have studying because you have classes that are requirements for you degree, but you’re also going to have requirements for your work, for your research. » With graduate school, typically the answers aren’t known, that’s your job, that’s why we do research.
You have to learn your material and become an expert of your field, but at the same time you should start thinking about how you can contribute to this field. » You are an independent learner completely, you still take classes for the first couple of years. But generally you’re researching, you’re investigating, you’re reading on your own, you’re really in charge of your education.
I wish I would have known how much my life was about to change. » I think that it would’ve been helpful to have a better, more accurate expectation of what the time commitment would be for graduate school. Grad school is kind of an all-encompassing, all-consuming thing, and it would’ve been better to have a better expectation of that. » Life in graduate school can be quite challenging, you get a lot of assignments, and you get to be up to date on all the assignments. You have courses, and at the same time you also have to carry on your research work.
There are so many amazing brilliant people here, I guess that seems pretty intuitive but I just didn’t realize I would be surrounded by so many people who are just incredibly bright. And incredibly knowledgeable in their fields, and that’s makes for a great atmosphere for collaboration. » You really have the capabilities to do whatever you want when you get here, the sky’s the limit. And especially if it’s in terms of research, you can go talk to any professors, any students, and get involved with any project that you find interesting. You’re not limited by what you’ve done before, by what your background is, and you’re undergraduate experience is.
One thing which I wish I knew about graduate school before coming to Michigan was how much space or how much room you get to do the things that you like doing. Traditionally, in an undergraduate program, you’re not used to having that sort of latitude in the things that you are interested in. So I wish I knew that I could plan these things on my own accord, of course with some input from my adviser and my peers. » Something that I wish I would’ve known, which was very important for me, is what classes to take in the fall.
And you have to get that information from your fellow grad students, because that’s going to make your first experience here very important.
Once piece of advice I would give to a prospective graduate student is to take advantage of all the opportunities you have here, whether academics, social, career. The university has so many resources and it’s unfortunate to miss out on them. » I would advise all prospective students to really do their homework. You’re not only looking at the doctoral programs or the graduate programs themselves, but you’re looking at the university as a whole, you’re looking at the town. Really make sure that the program feels like a good fit, the town feels like a good fit for you, because it makes a big difference in the long run.
If I could give one piece of advice to a prospective graduate student, I would tell them to research. Not just the faculty that are at the school or potential faculty that they could work with, but also research the community, research the graduate school, the resources. This is the place where you going to be living for the next five, six, seven, eight, who knows how many years of your life. So you want to make sure that you can form a community. » Reach out to potential advisers now, email them, read some of their papers and then get a discussion going. » You have to make sure that you know who you’re going to work with before you come.
And make sure that the person that you want to work with is the kind of person that you actually can work with. » Remind yourself that everyone is as nervous as you are even, if they might not look it on the outside. So to remember that everyone is feeling excited about being at graduate school, but is also nervous about this new part of their life. » We’re all here, we’re on different tracks, we all have different destinies and different things that we’re set out to do. And the quickest way to failure is to compare yourself to someone else, just make sure you’re doing your personal best and that’s really all that matters.
Research carefully, and have a good idea of what you want to study. You’ll be studying it for very long time, and so you want to make sure you enjoy it and you know the questions you want to ask, and you just have a thirst for knowledge. » It’s important to have that end goal in mind, what you want to do with your PhD. Why you’re getting a PhD, and that’s a personal thing to have, but it’s important to be able to answer that question for yourself.
Try and make the most of your time in Michigan, there are plenty of resources, a lot of really interesting and exciting intelligent people to communicate with to have good conversations with, and do something good for the society and for yourselves. » Be positive, stay open minded, and be enthusiastic learner. » Have fun and enjoy yourself and this is the only time in your life you really get to focus on what you’re really interested in, what you’re really passionate about. And I would say don’t waste too much time worrying about everything, you can really just enjoy what you’re doing, it’s a great experience.

In this video, students at Rackham Graduate School talked about the nature of graduate school. In the first 2 minutes and 18 seconds, listen for observations that answer this question: How does graduate school differ from undergrad?

Identify one observation in the video that you find valuable, and share that observation in the discussion. Before you post, see if you can find anyone else who has already nominated that observation, and make your post a reply to their comment with your perspective on why you also picked this point. That way, we’ll be talking with one another, instead of just posting a series of single comments.

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