“What do I wish I knew then that I know now?”
This is a question I ask graduate students as they are finishing up and getting ready to graduate. They have great insight and wisdom to share. Here are a few pointers from several students with whom I spoke recently as well as other thoughts that I have shared with my students. The direct quotes are from the students with whom I spoke.
Before I begin, people always ask me so what is graduate education? I reply, think about your experience as an undergraduate or someone you know. Undergraduates are consumers of knowledge and graduate students are producers of knowledge. If you hold the thought that graduate students are producers of knowledge, then these remarks may make more sense for you.
“More is expected of you. More than what was expected of you as an undergraduate. I mean, much, much, more. It took me my first semester to figure that out.”
“It’s not like being an undergraduate. More is expected, and you can’t expect people to hold your hand.” “They will not feed you information like – telling you want’s going to be on the test. It’s no longer appropriate.” You are a professional now and the faculty expect you to behave and perform as a professional.
“It’s up to you to figure things out.” Take initiative, read and learn on your own. While it’s more demanding, there is life after graduate school so work effectively and efficiently now and get to your goal.
“It takes longer than you think. Things don’t always work out the way you think they will nor in the time frame you’re expecting them to.” “Not everything goes as expected.”
One student told me that as she entered the Master’s program, she thought she had all the time in the world to figure out her topic of research. She took her time the first semester or as she said, “I later realized that I needed to get going at the start of the program that first semester because I found myself behind at the beginning of the second semester. It goes by faster than you think.”
As I tell my students, your time here is limited. You are not here to earn tenure. Before you know it, we’ll be at fall break, then winter holiday, and when we return there are only weeks before spring break, then graduation. Each year seems to go by a little faster, which can be overwhelming when you have to meet deadlines.
Right now, you have the luxury to focus on one research topic or one project. Once you leave the university you may not have that luxury again as there will be many more demands on your time. Enjoy the process and the gift to focus on the one project now.
There is a need for patience and persistence.“I didn’t realize that I needed to be resilient.” “Things wouldn’t work out as I expected in my research. I learned that it was ok to fail. Through failure I learned to get up and try again and again.”
I always told my students we expect that things will not always work as we expect and if it weren’t for the failures we wouldn’t have the discoveries and innovation that we do today. The key is to “fail early” rather than later.
Take advantage of every opportunity. There is so much to be gained. Go to conferences, attend seminars, meet speakers. “I found the Grad School workshops on teaching and writing to be valuable not only while I was there, but also now that I am in industry. I use what I learned everyday with my team.”
In their own way they each told me, and I know as well, that graduate education is a transformative process. A transformation takes place from the time you enter until the time you leave. You sharpen your problem-solving skills. You develop and enhance your critical thinking skills that last a lifetime. You become a lifelong learner and create knowledge that we all benefit from in the process.
Remember that completing a graduate degree might appear to be a big job, but in fact “it consists of a million small chores” Haggerty & Doyle. Organize those million chores and ensure that you check them off on you way to that Big Goal – completing your degree!
Finally, never forget that you are giving yourself a gift – a gift of education that will last a lifetime and benefit your family, your community, and the world.