Welcome new Gauchos!
You are joining a top-ranked university with over 3,000 graduate students who are conducting cutting-edge research locally and around the world.
As you enter the first year in your graduate school program, you may feel a bit overwhelmed, anxious, or nervous. There are many things to do (enroll in classes, get a parking permit and campus ID card, meet with faculty advisors, attend orientation) and questions that need to be answered (How do I find funding? Where is the library? How do I get to Trader Joe’s without a car?).
To help you prepare for your first year, I asked current graduate students to share the advice they wish they had when they entered their graduate program. Hopefully this advice-filled post, organized by movie titles, will get you started on the right foot:
Marathon Man (1976)
It typically takes one to two years to complete a Master's degree and four to six years to complete a doctoral degree. There are many requirements and milestones to complete throughout your program. So, plan for the long haul instead of trying to rush through graduate school without enjoying the experience (or getting any sleep). If you feel overwhelmed with all of your program requirements, it can be helpful to set up a two or four-year plan with small goals for completing each of the requirements.
“It's going to be overwhelming, so take it one day at a time. It's going to be hard, so try to get close with your cohort. Cry together, celebrate together, and party together on weekends. Get out from time to time. Work to establish balance in your life between work and playtime. Continue to learn more about yourself and watch in amazement how much you change in one year. Remember, it's a marathon, not a sprint. If grad school was easy, everyone would have a doctoral degree. Work hard and do well!" ~Chris Sanchez, Pharmacology & Toxicology (University of Arizona)
Your cohort and colleagues will have a range of experience. Some students enter graduate school with years of research or practical experience, while other students are brand new to the process. Don’t feel like you have to compete with everyone to standout. Employers aren’t looking for the individual that wrote the best dissertation or earned the highest GPA, they are looking for experts in their field.
“Try not to compare yourself to your classmates too much because sometimes it can lead to insecurity. Top performers from all fields and various universities are going to be in your program. You are no longer the best student in many cases and there will always be someone who knows more about a specific area than you. Instead, work on increasing your depth of knowledge in your specific niche. You are here to train to be an expert in that area so no one will know more about that area in your program than you (except for your advisor, of course... but that's a good thing)." ~Anonymous
Lean on Me (1989)
Graduate school is a place to meet a diverse array of individuals who can become mentors, collaboration partners, and even lifelong friends. Reach out and connect with people within and outside of your department to build relationships that will give you the support you need to succeed in grad school.
“If you are in a small department (Chicana/o Studies has only about 10 professors and 28 graduate students), take courses outside your department to meet students in other disciplines who have similar interests. This will help you find a social group outside of your immediate (and probably lifelong) colleagues.” ~Anonymous
“Make friends and work with others. It keeps you on task and enables you to compare information and ideas. It allows you to test out your understanding before interfacing with the instructor.” ~LeBaron Woodyard, Education
“Be available, to friendships, job opportunities, and ways to spend free time. You will need time to not work on schoolwork aside from sleep. You do need to sleep.” ~Anonymous
Band of Brothers (2001)
Finding mentors is essential to surviving graduate school. Mentors can be older students, staff, faculty, and anyone else who can provide guidance and support. Connecting with older students is a great way to learn the specifics about your program requirements (What do I have to do for the qualifying exams?) and to get advice for courses to take and faculty to learn from. Faculty can help you figure out which journals to submit your research to, how to fine-tune your research question, and how to conduct a research project.
Attend department and campuswide events to meet and connect with potential mentors. You can also attend office hours or set up meetings with faculty. Don’t forget about staff—your department, the Graduate Division, and all of the student affairs departments have wonderful staff who are here to help if you have any questions. The more involved you are on campus (i.e., committees, student organizations, on-campus jobs), the more chances you will have to get to know people, and the larger your network will be when you need to reach out for help.
Graduate school demands a lot of your time, but don’t forget to have fun, enjoy life, and do something good for yourself as often as possible. Sign up for a zumba class through Recreation, go for a run along the beach, kick back with friends, or explore the mountains through hiking and biking. Take care of your mental and physical well-being in order to be successful academically.
“Take care of yourself! Don't lock yourself up in your room doing nothing but reading and research. Build a community. Have a glass of wine. Go out dancing. Get a massage. Whatever makes you happy and keeps you healthy. Most of all, love your work, but know how to separate it from your personal life.” ~Adrianna, Chicana/o Studies
“Check out the gym! But I recommend going before 9am; the time when most of the undergrads start to arrive, that way you don't run into too many of your students.” ~Anonymous
Leader of the Pack (2012)
Meet with your advisor as often as you need, especially during your first year. Your advisor can recommend classes to take, help you stay on track to complete key milestones, and guide you through research projects. They know A LOT—so take advantage of what they know. Also, it is important to build a relationship with your advisor so when you need a letter of recommendation for a TA-ship, fellowship, scholarship, or job, your advisor will be able to write a personalized letter that highlights your qualifications.
“Take the time to meet and discuss things with your instructors, they are a wealth of information are interested in your success. Take advantage of it. That is about all I have to share and I wish you the best of luck and much success on your journey.” ~LeBaron Woodyard, Education
“I met with my potential advisor (at the time), along with his 2nd and 3rd year advisees before confirming my admission to the program. We discussed potential opportunities for funding and research, as well as other pertinent issues associated with pursuing an academic career. I had to make a critical decision about putting my teaching career on hold, so I wanted to make sure that attending UCSB was the right choice for me. When I started attending classes, I also asked to meet with my advisor several times each quarter to consult with him, and to make sure that I am making good progress in meeting my academic milestones.” ~Jomeline Balatayo, Education
“You are now a pest. If you want something, go after it. Speak often with colleagues and professors. You have to make it happen. People will help you but you have to get the ball rolling.” ~Anonymous
"Your advisor(s) want you to succeed. Utilize your advisor and or faculty within the department." ~Marian, Education
Good Advice (2001)
Last final bits of advice:
"Realize that the first year is for getting your bearings and you don't really know how it's supposed to work yet.” ~Anonymous
“The quarter system is blazing fast and you can fall behind quickly and catching up is very difficult. The best advice is don't fall behind in the first place.” ~LeBaron Woodyard, Education
"First and foremost,remember your belief in yourself, and your vision to pursue higher learning in your field of interest.Trust me, the world really needs your perspectives and insights. Graduate school is an opportunity to further cultivate your interests and ideas with others of like mind." ~Marian, Education
Also, if you haven’t already, subscribe to the UCSB GradPost to get daily updates about funding opportunities, events on campus, and tips and advice for excelling in graduate school.