student life

Starting Grad School Off Right

What's your advice to the graduate students starting this year?

Starting grad school is exciting (and getting in is an adventure in and of itself), but starting – and in the midst of a pandemic – can be stressful. This year, I want to start my PhD off right. Based off of conversations with friends and mentors, here are some simple goals I’ve put together for the new semester.

1. Stay healthy.

Diet, sleep, exercise. Keeping the brain sharp – and the emotions resilient enough to handle the stresses of grad school – starts with this. Healthy habits go a long way, during a global pandemic or otherwise.

2. Catalog all my research.

I need to establish a system for tracking literature – papers I consult, and notes on them. Historically, this has turned into a mess of Google Docs. Moving forward, other strategies might be more organized.

3. Track my code.

The key here is: aim to be reproducible. Would a friend understand this? Will I understand it, in a few months?

4. Obsess over lab data records.

Track all experiments and their results. In addition to the traditional lab notebook, I think it would be convenient to have a place to store high level, reference information: outlines of the reason, methods, and results of all experiments.

5. Stay social.

Connect with new students at school, stay in touch with old friends. Quarantine has taught us much about virtual communication.

6. Network now.

Student travel grants are temporarily suspended for attending conferences but that will change when covid does. In the meantime, zoom meetings and email introductions will have to suffice.

7. Fail intelligently.

This is much easier to do with a supportive advisor and team. But regardless of external circumstances, I’ve got to commit to not being too hard on myself when the inevitable trivial mistakes (and major blunders) happen.

  • What are some ways you prepared for grad school?
  • Looking back, what do you wish you had done differently or done more of?

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