What to Expect Your First Year

So you made it to graduate school.  Congratulations!  Now the real fun begins.  But what exactly do you have to look forward to your first year?  It is hoped the following will provide you with some basic expectations.

Obviously, you should expect to work REALLY hard!  But it cannot be emphasized just how little sleep you will get, or how incredibly busy you will be.  You will have to make sacrifices!  Grad school will be frustrating, stressful, and overwhelming. However, going into it with this in mind will prepare you for the next one to five years of your life.  (There are also healthy ways of dealing with the stress of grad school which this section also addresses.)

One surprising thing about grad school is that you can expect to learn as much from your colleagues as from your professors.  Graduate classes offer a more intimate setting than undergraduate classes.  In your seminars and labs you will learn just by listening to what your peers have to say.  It is not uncommon for students to bond with members of their cohort as they will be spending an incredible amount of time with these people.  Enjoy your classmates while you can because classes will be over sooner than you think, and you will no longer be seeing these people on a regular basis.  Also, as you conduct your individual research, remember your colleagues as they can be amazing resources.

Another thing to expect your first year is criticism.  Graduate school is preparation for real life.  You will need to develop thick skin to deal with the critiques—often brutal—of both your work and your ideas.  Learn to take criticism in stride. Do not take it personally!  If someone takes the time to critique your work, it’s because they want to help.  When you treat your research like a job, it can lessen the sting.

Overall, graduate school is an opportunity to grow professionally, intellectually, and emotionally.  This is a time to make connections with fellow students and with professors.  These links will help you gain employment opportunities as well as lifelong friendships.  Your time in graduate school will be rewarding!


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