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I have learned so much this year, and not all of it pertained to chemistry as you might have expected. This post describes some things that I learned about graduate school, that I wish I would have known before coming in. Hopefully this can help someone else out on their journey.

1. It’s not always about what you know.

This is probably one of the most important things I could have picked up on in my program. Being book smart can only get you so far, no matter the field you are in. At some point, you have to rely on the connections made with others to help push you along. And I’m not just talking about professors and people super high up on the tenured totem pole. I’m talking about secretaries of offices, the barista at the Starbucks, the person that works in the mail room…. and of course professors and faculty too. But if you treat everyone with respect and the way that you want to be treated, those people will remember you for doing so. So now, when the line for the Starbucks is ridiculous, my favorite barista sometimes slides my drink to the front of the line. Or when I need papers copied or scanned into the computer in a hurry, the secretaries here love me and are willing to get it done for me. And of course, putting your best face forward with professors can help you to land that job when you’re done with school.
Now this doesn’t mean to go and kiss everyone’s butt, but just be conscious of the impression you leave on the people you come into contact with.

2. Graduate school courses are not hard.

Now let me give a quick disclaimer: Graduate school courses can be challenging if you have never seen the material before and/or choose to not study…but, they are usually not super difficult. The toughest part about graduate school has not been the classes, despite my struggle in the first semester. Out of all of the classes I have taken, the assignments have consisted of writing papers, presenting information from the textbook, reading journal articles, and taking exams (2 or 3 per class if any at all). The material is definitely more advanced than in undergrad, but the class sizes are significantly smaller, meaning you can ask all the questions you want or need to. I also find that there are more resources available to me now to help me understand the material. It also helps that I am now only learning about the stuff that interests me instead of taking all of the extra (unnecessary). The hardest part about graduate school is managing all of the things you are expected to do: Take classes, teach classes, do research, show up to seminars, grade papers, proctor exams, etc. Which brings me to the next point.

3. Time management is key!

I truly can NOT express this point enough. If you do not know how to manage your time, you will struggle through graduate school. My first semester, it was really difficult for me to learn how to balance the two courses I was taking, the two courses I was teaching, seminars, the mandatory tutoring I had to do, and of course research. Because of this, I found myself in trouble academically. Over the Christmas break, I reevaluated my life  and came up with a game-plan that would work for me. I knew I was not a night owl. So I woke up earlier to study (every single day), set aside time each week to grade papers, and even scheduled my research hours. Most importantly, I scheduled time for myself to do what made me happy.
If you can use any scheduling apps, that would be super helpful. I use the Google Calendar app on my computer that is synced to my phone and apple watch. Now I never miss an appointment and always know when I should be switching tasks or in my next location. This may seem a bit obsessive, but it made a world of difference this second semester.

4. Don’t compare your journey to others.

This is a short point, but one that can be helpful. Try not to get wrapped up in the progress that others are making. Everyone’s graduate school journey is different. It will only make things harder for yourself if you are constantly comparing yourself to others. Instead, focus on how you plan to meet the degree requirements and visualize what you want your journey to look like. Make an outline early on of the things you want/need to include in your thesis or dissertation and then make progress towards that. You guys know I am a goal oriented person, so anytime I can cross something else off of my to-do list, it is a good day for me. So keep your eye on yourself and the prize.

5. Take care of your mental health.

Mental health is one of the most important and sacred things we have. Once that is damaged, it is hard to recover. So maintaining a good work-life balance can help to prevent mental break-downs over the smallest things. If you like to workout, do that. If you have a hobby, do that. If you just want to lie on your couch and binge watch Stranger Things on Netflix, do that. Make time to relax and not think about academics for a little bit of time each week. And try not to stress about what could be done while doing it. I promise, it will be so worth it.
I like to do yoga, work-out, watch tv, read books (leisure books), and even just sit at the park. Those are all things I enjoy doing to help me unwind.


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