Getting Started in Your Program

  • Take time before school starts to familiarize yourself with the campus, take a campus tour even. This will help you navigate the campus once you start.
  • Don’t skip out on the suggested campus orientation. These can help you learn about the various resources- e.g., library services, mental health counseling, health care, financial services, etc.

  • You can’t possibly read everything that is assigned, that is why you read strategically. Always read the introduction and conclusion chapters first, in their entirety. Then read the intro and conclusion paragraph of the body chapters and skim the rest. This will give you a really good sense of the book.
    • There are different ways to read and one of the things *everyone* in grad school has to learn is how to read strategically for the particular purpose of the moment. Know that you are not alone in struggling to complete readings, and ask sympathetic peers/professors for guidance about setting priorities
    • Re; keeping up with assigned reading, make 1-4 friends in every class. Agree at start of term to all take on sections of the assigned reading, do your part, summarize, break it down, share with your partner(s). Choose study buddies wisely so they don’t flake later. Also, it will help you really be sure you have mastered the material if you can explain it to others
    • This strategy may not be the best in fields where you need to learn to read and distill information quickly
  • Printing: find free printing! This helps you save money!!!
    • In some departments, grad students can print for free, others you can’t. If you have an office and printing, great, if you don’t find free printing because you don’t want the fees of printing to cut into your budget. Centers around the university sometimes offer free printing, find them. Your library may offer graduate students a certain number of free copies and/or printing as well; we had 75 free copies per term on our student ID cards, and a lot of people didn’t know that and never took advantage of it! Better to ask than not to know.
  • I cannot stress enough how hard the first year is. Every incoming grad student I have met struggles the first year. We go from being the smartest people in our classes to the totally clueless noob. This is normal. And mostly no one will be talking about it so it is normal to feel like you are the only one. As my adviser told us our first week in the program, "You've all proven that you're smart, or you wouldn't be here."

  • Take time to hang out in and around the department in the first semester as often as possible, particularly near lounges if they have any. Talk to /chat with as many other Ph.D. students and professors as you can. Get to know them as people. Learn what they're working on and what their issues are. Learn everyone's names - especially the staff! The staff are your lifeline to finding funding, submitting paperwork, and getting in to see an adviser when nobody else can find him/her. Ph.D. students further along in your program know many things, like which advisers are "safe" to work with, what tough questions they ask, and how to act at various events. Speaking of events, attend every single dissertation proposal and defense in your department that you can - go to these for the school if you have time. Sit quietly in the back and withhold all questions until after everyone is dismissed (unless you've been told the department has a different tradition; some require all the students to ask a question - in which case, make it an easy one). The last thing you want to do is unravel a thread of someone's dissertation defense that sets them back months! It's a presentation, not a seminar.