What I’ve learned about grad school after one month

One month into grad school, and I’ve upped my coffee budget allowance threefold, my old nocturnal habits have come back, and I can say with full confidence that I still don’t know what I’m doing. This first month of my Ph.D program has been an absolute whirlwind, and I’ve already learned so much both academically and personally. Here are just some of the things I’ve learned in the short time I’ve been here thus far:

  1. Free time is a rare and precious thing

Grad school life is busy. Like, ridiculously busy. If I’m not in class, then I’m in lab. If I’m not in class or lab, I’m at home preparing for class. In between readings, papers, research, teaching, fellowship apps, and whatever else comes up, there’s little time for anything else. So when I find those rare gems of free time, I try to take full advantage and use that time to take care of myself whether that be mentally, physically, emotionally, or spiritually. This isn’t always easy, but I’m slowly getting there.

2. Learning to be effectively efficient is a must

As stated in 1., time is of the essence in grad school. There never seems to be enough hours in the day to finish everything. Therefore, making the most of your time is crucial to remaining sane. There’s always this feeling that everything HAS to get done NOW. But clearly, that’s humanly impossible. In my one month of grad school, I’ve been learning to prioritize the important over the urgent. This is still a work in progress (as evidenced by the fact that I wrote this post instead of working on fellowship apps), but I think it’s the most important skill to learn in grad school and for life in general.

3. Friends are worth more now than ever

I remember on one particularly tiring day when I had slept just 3 hours the night before I decided to treat myself a little and go out for a beer with a friend. While there I ran into a couple other friends who noticed how visually tired and stressed I was. The simple act of noticing this and asking me how I was doing made me feel relieved. I realized that yes, grad school is hard, and those nights aren’t going to go away anytime soon, but the people who care about you will be there for you and are there to help you when you need it. Admittedly, I’ve neglected a lot of my friends because of the start of grad school, especially the ones that aren’t in school. But that’s something that I need to change. Grad school is important, but the relationships I form with others are even more important and will last long after my grad school career.

4. Grad school is hard, but it’s worth it

Maybe I’m naive in saying this because I’m only one month in, but I believe that this long, bumpy road is worth it. I am surrounded by highly intelligent and put-together fellow students who push me everyday to be my best and support me in getting through the struggles. I am mentored by some of the top scientists in human-computer interaction. I’ve met with the most incredible speakers and faculty. For example, just a couple weeks ago, I got the opportunity to have lunch with Jeff Hancock, the scientist behind the well-known Facebook study. How awesome is that?! The journey to earning that Ph.D is undoubtedly stressful and difficult, but I’m reminded everyday why I chose this path, and so far, it’s a good life.

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