In September, I began my first year in grad school. For me, the experience has been extra hectic having moved far away from my home, leaving my awesome job and friends. Then, just things that have gone sideways in order to make my life harder than it needs to be.
Before starting school, I was really nervous. I was worried I wasn’t smart enough, didn’t have the experience required, wasn’t passionate enough. I felt like a fraud and it was only a matter of time before someone would find out. However, things are much different that I expected them to be.
So, here we are… 5 things I learned in the first 3 months of grad school.
There is no reason to be scared
The selection process is rigourous and they only select the best into my program. I received my acceptance letter the first week of January, I’ve been told that means I was one of the top picks, since I wasn’t expecting it until May or so. I’m occupying a seat because I’m good at what I do and I’m passionate. I didn’t lie on my application even a little bit, so I should feel confident that I belong there.
The course work is not as difficult as you might expect. But, it could be because I am a different person that I was six years ago when I graduated with my last degree.
What you did before matters, but also doesn’t matter
I say this because you bring your experience and knowledge to the class and can draw upon it to apply theory, assist with learning, and figure out exactly what you want (or don’t want) to do after this degree.
I also say it doesn’t matter because (at least for me), you’re not doing that anymore. I was kind of a “big deal” in the grassroots affordable housing movement in Winnipeg. I was an expert on something and people knew that. People talked about me and came to me for comments. BUT… they don’t anymore. It has been an adjustment for me and definitely a blow to the ego. But, you have to move on and continue forging your career and name, it’s just how it is. And if you’re lucky, that work you did before will catapult you into awesome things :)
The importance of networking
If you’re like me, you don’t fit into the tiny box of what your school wants you to be. This is frustrating and discouraging at times. If your immediate circle of faculty members do not offer you what you need in order to grow and meet your goals… GO OUTSIDE! I’ve connected with a prof who aligns well with my values and goals. She has been wonderful in connecting me to people in the community who can work with me and teach me what I need to know. She has also offered some other potential opportunities that sound promising.
Networking makes for a unique and rich experience. It’s also good for your career. Learn how to do it, then do it. Be professional. Get business cards. Shake hands. Attend presentations. Send cold emails. Ask people for coffee.
Create an excellent work space
I do not have a good work space in my home. My house is very dark and my desk is too small for how I want to use it; up until recently I didn’t even have a proper chair. So, I was doing all my work in my oversized comfy chair with big, flat arms… actually quite handy for working on a laptop. But, not ideal.
I’ve taken to working in our faculty’s student lounge. It is open late and everyone leaves at 5pm. I have access to a fridge, microwave, kettle, sink, giant tables and comfy benches! I couldn’t ask for much more. I spend a lot of time there… I mean A LOT OF TIME.
You’re going to feel like crap, no matter what…
You’re going to have doubts. You’re going to fear failure. You’re going to be hard on yourself and compare your life to others.
If you moved, you’re going to regret it at times. If you have a relationship, you’re going to neglect it. If you have a cat, he will end up hating you periodically… but then forget about it because (let’s face it) he’s a cat. Your apartment is going to get gross… and I mean like really gross. You’ll lack sleep and be jittery from too much caffeine.
If you’re in my position, you’re going to be broke and fight off your depression everyday. You’re also feel incredibly socially awkward talking to your peers (how do I be human, I forget). School work distractions are quite helpful in glossing over these things.
It’s just a fact of grad school life…
You’ll also make some good friends you can commiserate with and give you advice. You’ll drink a lot of beer. You’ll also eat too many cookies because your classmates are nice people. You’ll get inspired. You’ll learn. You’ll try new things. You’ll have QUESTIONS and discuss the answers with brilliant people.
Best of all, if you’re like me, you’ll build on your skills and…
You’ll change the fucking world.