Survival Skills and Tips for Grad School
I realize it has been a while since I wrote on this blog, so I will try to be a bit more regular in my postings! Today, I wanted to write about getting prepared for graduate schools with 5 tips (of course there are so many more I could cover, but these 5 are extremely helpful!)
I had no guidance on how the academic world was to be. Skills such as being highly proactive, reading tons of papers ahead of time, learning how to do proper literature searches (did I mention reading articles *very quickly* and synthesizing information *very quickly* was a pre-requisite it seemed?!) all were tools in my toolbox that were completely missing. The first semester of graduate school in my master’s was incredibly intense, and imposter syndrome was at an all time high. I felt the sensation that I was drowning underwater. I was 22, naive, had never left Tulsa, OK, and didn’t know anyone in the city. I had just graduated from undergrad, and thought that I was totally ready for a graduate path. Little did I know these “soft skills” I mention down below were to be vitally important in my journey as a scientist. So, what are some tips that I would give to folks who are thinking of pursuing a graduate career, and eventually a PhD? Here are some 5 tips I wish I had known earlier in the game:
- Learn about literature search software (e.g. Mendeley, Zotero, etc). This will save you SO much time in grad school, and help organize the million PDFs you will inevitably have to read for your graduate school career, and thesis. Also, there are plugins installed in these software with Word, so that you don’t have to copy paste each bibliography reference to create a reference section. Word plugins with these software will import your PDFs, and autocreate a bibliography for you. I wish I had known this early on in my career!
- Network with as many people as you meet. Don’t limit yourself to “only” academics. You never know how that one random conversation at lunch with a PI can lead to a future collaboration, postdoc, or internship opportunity. You are young and starting out. Make the most of this by talking to as many people as you can! You may even find that your interests will change after conversations.
- Get to form some close friendships with other post-bacc / graduate students. They will help you with studying for classes, editing your thesis or papers, being there for you as a friend / buddy when you’re super stressed with all the adjustments of moving // transitioning through life into this next step. Also, don’t keep it within academia. Maintain your friendships outside of grad school, so that you know what it’s like to be a human outside of the scientist role. They’ll keep it real with you.
- Save money whenever you can. Pretty soon, you’ll be thinking of retirement funds and 401ks at some point in your life, and you don’t want to start with $0 at 35. You want to make sure whatever little amount of your stipend / job (if you worked prior to graduate school) can be saved into a retirement fund. And also, try to build up your savings before graduate school. That’s one of the main reasons I worked for 2 years to start building some of that up.
- Form a LinkedIn if you haven’t already, and a Science Twitter. Trust me, for the longest time, I didn’t understand why I would get on Twitter to do science. But that Twitter has not only saved me multiple times, but has allowed me to network broadly (meeting folks from around the world!) that are doing similar research to me. I’ve also networked with other graduate students, and found communities which have helped me immensely in managing the PhD application cycle, and generally handling the chaos of this year due to the pandemic. Never underestimate the power of social media. Also, make a cheap / free personal website. I’ve made one, and it has helped so much in getting my work out there. You can use Weebly, SquareSpace, Github, and so many other domains to help with this.
That’s it for now, but I hope this helps folks who are getting started! Cheers!