Advice for new graduate students

We’re starting classes at CSUN this week, which means that we have a new group of graduate students starting their careers. Last year, I put together this modest list of advice for new grad students, which is cobbled together from the advice of others, as well as my own experience. Also keep in mind that there are exceptions for almost every one of these:

1) Make this your job. Grad school isn’t “school”. Even if you’re taking some traditional classes, think of these as training sessions, where all of the material is crucial, rather than knowing enough to get a good grade. Be on campus every day; part of the job is just being present to absorb knowledge from others and to be a part of the environment. Remember that you love this. If you don’t, then you shouldn’t be in graduate school.

2) Become a specialist in your field, but also learn about other things. Help out your lab mates with their experiments. Help people in other labs. Especially as a young student, expose yourself to as much research as possible.

3) You’re capable to doing exponentially more than you think you are. Set high goals. If you do well, you should publish a paper out of your thesis. But if you aim to publish three, you’ll probably definitely get the first one finished, and might even find time for another one or two. Don’t say “I don’t have time for that”. You do.

4) Participate as much as possible. Go to reading groups. Go to lab meetings. Go to departmental receptions and seminars. Go to parties. Be the one who always shows up.

5) Have fun! Socialize with your peers. This is both academically important and important stress-relief. Science is social and lots of learning and doing happens during casual conversations with other people. Plus, it’s easier to work with people that you consider friends.

6) Go to scientific meetings. Learn what the “hot topics” are in your field. Ask where your own research fits in with that of others. Are you asking interesting and novel questions? These are also great for meeting people. This is hard for most of us introverted scientists, but this is a long-term investment that really pays off when you’re applying for post-docs, looking for jobs, or just looking for advice.

7) Start writing. Now. Just puts words on a paper. It’s ok for your first draft to be awful. It always is. Editing garbage is still easier than staring at a blank page. Don’t wait until all the data is in to start writing. Even if you ultimately trash an entire Introduction, you’ll still be better off having a rough draft.

8) Make an elevator speech. In part this is practical because you’re going to be asked hundreds of times about “what you do”. It’s important to have a concise and informative answer to that question. Also, your elevator speech defines who you are as a scientist. That’s important to tell others, but also important for yourself. What do I really do anyway? Allow that answer to continue to evolve over time.

9) Ask for help. Ask your advisor. Ask your friends. Ask your lab mates. Ask your committee. Ask the internet. In my experience, most people are really helpful if you just ask. Don’t let a struggle become overwhelming.

10) To repeat: Have fun. For most of you, graduate school will provide some of the best times of your life, so take full advantage and enjoy it while you can!


This entry was posted in Blog Posts, Featured.
Bookmark the permalink.
Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.
Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.