Dissertation Dispatch: The Grad School Survival Guide

Graduate school can be hard. And during difficult moments, advice from peers who have walked a similar path can make you feel less alone. That’s why the Graduate Professional Development team is putting together a “Survival Guide” of real advice, from real graduate students who have been in your shoes. And you, in turn, have wisdom to contribute that could benefit younger cohorts of graduate students. So contribute to the Grad School Survival Guide. Because there’s nothing quite like getting tips and tricks from people who have shared your lived experiences! To that point, try to see if you can tell which of the following two essays was written by AI and which was written by a real second year graduate student!

Option 1: As a PhD student at MIT, completing my first year of graduate school, I have learned a few invaluable tips and tricks to navigate this challenging journey. Firstly, it is crucial not to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to your peers. Each of us has a unique path and set of skills. Embrace your strengths and focus on your own progress rather than constantly measuring yourself against others. Remember, comparison can be the thief of joy.

Secondly, make use of office hours! Your professors and teaching assistants are there to support you and help clarify any doubts or confusion. Engaging in meaningful discussions during office hours can deepen your understanding of the subject matter and foster a positive relationship with your instructors. Additionally, seeking guidance and feedback from these experts can significantly enhance the quality of your work.

While embarking on this academic adventure, it’s important to acknowledge that you may experience feelings of loneliness and fear. Graduate school can be an isolating experience at times, but remember that you are not alone. Reach out to your fellow students, participate in departmental events, and join clubs or organizations related to your interests. Building a support network with like-minded individuals who understand your struggles can provide solace and motivation during challenging times.

Ah, taxes! They can be as complex as unraveling the mysteries of the genome. It’s wise to approach them with caution and start early. While the topic may not be the most exciting, tackling your tax responsibilities sooner rather than later can save you from unnecessary headaches. Seek advice from professionals, explore available resources, and be diligent in understanding the regulations and deductions that may apply to you. Remember, staying on top of your financial matters is essential for a stress-free academic journey.

Finally, don’t hesitate to seek wisdom from upper-year students. They have walked the path you’re treading and can offer invaluable insights and advice. Strike up conversations with them, attend departmental seminars and events, and actively engage in discussions. You’ll find that many students are more than willing to share their experiences and help you navigate the challenges of graduate school. By building a network of supportive individuals, you not only gain valuable advice but also form friendships that can last a lifetime.

In conclusion, surviving graduate school requires a combination of self-awareness, perseverance, and seeking support. Remember to focus on your own progress, utilize office hours, acknowledge and address your emotions, start early on daunting tasks like taxes (trust me on this), and tap into the wisdom of upper-year students. Armed with these insights, you can navigate the challenging but rewarding journey of graduate school with confidence and resilience. Good luck!

Option 2: As a non-traditional graduate student who took a detour into the corporate world as a consultant before returning to pursue my advanced studies, I bring a slightly different perspective to navigating the challenges of graduate school. One major difference I’ve noticed is that in grad school, the level of feedback and check-ins is often much lower compared to a typical job. You have longer timelines and more autonomy, which can be both liberating and daunting. The onus is on you to take ownership of your work, put in the effort, and hold yourself accountable for your own success.

While every grad school journey is unique, there are a few tried-and-true tips that can help you thrive in this demanding academic environment. Firstly, avoid the temptation of comparing yourself to others. Each student’s journey is different, and focusing on your own progress and accomplishments is crucial for maintaining a positive mindset. Remember that everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, and your value lies in your unique contributions.

Secondly, make the most of office hours. While the structure of graduate school may differ from a corporate job or from your experience in undergrad, the importance of seeking guidance and clarification remains. Take advantage of your professors’ and teaching assistants’ expertise. Attend office hours, ask thoughtful questions, and engage in meaningful discussions. Establishing strong relationships with your instructors can enhance your understanding of the subject matter and provide valuable networking opportunities.

During your graduate studies, it’s essential to acknowledge that feelings of loneliness and fear may arise. The demanding nature of the program combined with a potentially new environment can make you feel isolated at times. However, remember that you are not alone. Reach out to your peers, join departmental organizations or clubs, and participate in social events. Building a support network of fellow students who share your interests and understand the challenges you face can provide much-needed encouragement and camaraderie.

While the intricacies of taxes may not be the most thrilling topic, they are an essential aspect of adulthood, and it’s wise to start early in understanding and organizing your tax responsibilities. As a graduate student, you might be funded through a variety of mechanisms and it can be complicated to account for it all when reconciling your tax liability. Start early! It often seems like no one really knows if they’re doing it correctly, so don’t be afraid to seek advice from professionals, research applicable regulations, and maintain diligent records. By tackling your taxes proactively, you can avoid undue stress and potential penalties.

Lastly, one of the most valuable resources at your disposal is the wisdom and guidance of upper-year students. Seek opportunities to connect with and learn from those who have already traversed the path you’re on. Engage in conversations, attend departmental events, and actively seek their advice. Upper-year students can provide insights into the program, offer practical tips for success, and become part of your support network throughout your graduate journey.

In conclusion, surviving graduate school requires a combination of self-awareness, perseverance, and utilizing available resources. Embrace the autonomy and responsibility that come with this academic pursuit. Remember not to compare yourself to others, make use of office hours, acknowledge and address your emotions, start early on tax obligations, and seek advice from upper-year students. By incorporating these tips into your graduate school experience, you can navigate the challenges with confidence and pave the way for a rewarding academic journey. Good luck!

By Tara Thakurta
Tara Thakurta Graduate Community Fellow