Congratulations!!! You’re in Grad School…Now What?
Being a student means hard work at every level, and graduate school takes that up a notch..or three. How did you come to your grad school journey?? I remember not knowing that grad school was an option for me when I was studying for my bachelors. I was taking an Interpersonal Communication course and my professor had us complete an assignment that asked us to teach the class an interpersonal communication theory or concept. My presentation was on the effects of conflict between parents on their children . Before that moment, I knew I wanted to teach, but what I didn’t know was that it would be the beginning of my love for teaching college courses in the Communication field. Two of my professors at the time, the one who gave me the teaching assignment, Dr. Rosier, and my Public Relations professor, Dr. Woo, both encouraged me to apply for a graduate program and a teaching assistantship to cover the costs. A few months later (and a lot of uncertainty in between), I was teaching classes and studying for a masters in Communication in Advocacy.
Your story may be very different from mine or it could share similarities, but, trust me, I hear you asking, “I’m in Grad School… Now what am I supposed to do?!” I’m a first generation college student working everyday to figure out what makes the day a little easier to manage and a little more joyful! During my time in a masters program and as a second-year doctoral student, here are five things I want to share with you as you work to find your way:
1. There is no one way to do graduate school. It is easy to forget that everyone’s path looks different, especially when you and your colleagues or peers are all working to meet a similar goal, but the way each of you get there will be different. It’s okay not to have a traditional path or one that looks like somebody else’s.
2. Think about what you would like to gain from your program and how much you have the capacity to offer it. If you begin with a goal in mind (such as, “I’d like to learn more about how we use social media as a marketing tool and produce research or “I’m just here to get my degree and go!”) then you have something to keep yourself grounded on the journey. I have constantly had to remind myself what motivated my choices to pursue a graduate degree in the first place because there are some intense points in the journey.
3. Dedicate your time to meeting your priorities each day. It’s important to allow your priorities to shift, but remember that the way you use your time each day reflects your priorities. For example, one day my priorities might be to grade student work and read for one class period. Another day, my priority might be to do absolutely nothing and rest and recharge. Whatever you choose to do, try to be intentional. (For me, sometimes this is VERY hard and takes a constant reminder. Ima work on it, y'all!)
4. Think about how you might be able to use what you learn daily. I like to teach, so when I learn something new, I’m often asking my partner, Alex, if I can teach him about it. (I’m sure he knows the difference between dilation and effacement from teaching him what I’ve learned as a doula ;) If you do not feel comfortable teaching somebody else, try to write down what you remember or review your notes from your classes or readings. If that doesn’t work, try recording voice notes on your phone to talk through what you learned. Always think about how it can apply to your daily life.
5. As you learn what your classmates and professors study or teach, talk to them about what you are studying or would like to learn more about. This is a great way to start thinking about how you can collaborate with others. I didn’t love group work as an undergraduate student because it felt very risky for me (and my Capricorn moon needs a little too much predictability), but I am learning that finding one or two people that have similar research interests and that are open to collaboration and skill sharing, then working together can be powerful. For me this has led to many positive relationships, strong research teams and numerous conference panel presentations.
More than anything, I want you to know that YOU CAN DO THIS. It is not always easy, and it may not always be the most fun, but try to remember what brought you to this point. Reach out to other people in your program who you think will support your goals or might be pursuing a similar goal, especially if you are the first in your family to go to college. I believe in you!! Let me know how you came about your graduate school journey! What’s something you learned along the way?
Oh, one last tip:
Keep ALL your class syllabi. If you want to teach a course, this becomes a helpful resource for building your own reading lists or reference lists for your own papers. Also, those longgg reference lists at the end of the articles you read (yes, the ones we've been ignoring) can help you as you write your own papers and develop your research! Use it as a gift.
 Simon, V. A., & Furman, W. (2010). Interparental conflict and adolescents' romantic relationship conflict. Journal Of Research On Adolescence (Wiley-Blackwell), 20(1), 188-209. doi:10.1111/j.1532-7795.2009.00635.x