5 Lessons from 1st Semester of Grad School

Now that I am done with the first semester of Graduate School, I thought it would be a good idea to go over what I have learned so far. Chances are most of you will relate to most of these things and please do feel free to add more in the comments section.

Graduates1. You are not as smart as you think you are

This is the first thing that you learn in Grad School. We all assume that because we did great in undergraduate studies and did well on our GRE/GMAT to get here, that somehow it automatically means that we will completely rock grad school. Thing is what most of us forget is that, that whole effort was to get us this far, and from here on wards we start on a new journey which requires a whole new level of effort and commitment.

Think of it this way, it is like you get to a new city and you get out of the airport and to continue your journey on wards you need to go catch a train. You will go through cab rides, mass transit or whatever else is available to you to get to the train station. From the train station you will start a whole new journey. Undergraduate is the process of getting to the Train Station; Grad School is the process that eventually takes you to your final destination; two very separate types of journeys with different set of challenges.

baptism-of-fire2. Your first semester is going to be Baptism by Fire

Sounds like a cliché but it is totally not one. Your first semester is going to suck for a host of different reasons. Firstly the fact that you are still new and making friends is going to be a pain in the ass because you will be hesitant to ask for help and work with other people who could very well be super helpful to you. Thing is it is only by the end of the semester that you will realize this. Secondly, the course work is going to hit you harder than you think because while you have done readings before, you have never really done readings to come to class and explain what your opinions are on those readings and what logic your opinions are based on. Thirdly while you think you are a direct literary descendant of Shakespeare or Wordsworth, you my friend… are not. You will realize this after your mid terms when your epic essay turns out to be a solid B at best and you start doubting yourself. I could just go on but well you get the idea.

But here is the good bit, this is supposed to happen. We go to Grad School to become experts in a field and that cannot happen if we keep half assing things. To be an expert in a field requires a person to be consumed by that field and till that happens, Grad School would not have done its magic.

3. Things will get better

As much as you want to tell yourself that it is all downhill from here after the first semester, the fact is things get better. Things get a lot better and they will go up from here on out. First semester is sort of like the base line, you know where to go from here and if you stay on your path you can go higher. Secondly by now you know what your weaknesses are. Like for me, reading at stretch is a pain and I simply cannot do it. So I have figured out ways of going around that. First semester is kind of like hazing by your professors. Why are they hazing their students you may ask? Well you are in a doctoral program which means by the end of it you will end up being a Professor too. You are joining a fraternity, albeit a highly nerdy fraternity that exists around the world, so you must be kidding yourself if you expect no hazing.

4. You have friends now

Getting your ass kicked for about 4 months was fruitful in at least one way i.e. you have friends now. You have people who can totally relate to what you are going through, feel equally clueless and are the only people on this planet for the next many years who will know why you are pissed off/depressed just by looking at you (No asking required). Enjoy this fact! Be thankful you have people around you who are as crazy as you are and are willing to help you out when you are just having a bad time.

5. Learn to be positive and laugh things off

Being an optimist is going to be your greatest asset in Grad School. There are times when you think it is all pointless and you are walking down a tunnel with no light at the end. But thing is that is not how life is. You need to look at the bright side of things, yes you will get your ass kicked every now and then, yes it is going to totally suck and you will be depressed about it. But remember this; if you take things too seriously they will destroy you. Moderation is the key here. So while you read 2 books a week and write a paper on the weekend, also take the time to go have a drink or two and just hang out with your friends. And while some assignments might be awesome and others just so-so, the eventual aim is to build on all these experiences and become a well rounded person who is an expert at something. And that is not going to happen by stressing about every single that happens.

Honestly, I am glad that I chose to attend Grad School. It is nothing like you have ever done in life. It is a world of its own; a beautiful and kick ass world where live now! Wohooo!

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