The Hardest Parts About Going to Grad School

I promise you guys that I will have a happier post coming soon. Some of my posts have been a bit negative. I know this because I was called out for it lol. Today, we are going to continue on this course of negativity dealing with the hardest parts of grad school. I wrote about whether or not grad school was hard (link here). This one is going to be about the hardest parts that you may not really know about now, just starting off. Give it some time and you’ll relate more to this post lol.

This post is for grad students (sorry undergrads). Undergrad students may not feel this way because their set up is a bit different. In undergrad, you really focused on how to pass tests. It wasn’t until senior year that I really knew how to apply anything that I had learned for the past 5 years. Grad school is a bit different so the struggles may not be relatable for undergrad years. However, if you are an undergrad thinking about grad school, primarily a MS degree or a PhD, then this post is for you as well.

Hardest Parts about a Master’s Degree

Lists!!!! Lists!!!! LISTTTTTTSSSS! Oh man do I love them. Today, we are going to see many lists, because it’s easy to just see the struggles in that form than reading it in a paragraph! So, for now, I want to focus on the struggles that you will have in a master’s degree then I will go into PhD and then we can compare them both. How does that sound? I promise you that I will make an article on the best things about grad school. There are plenty of great things. Today will be the hardest parts of grad school. So, let’s discuss the hardest parts of a master’s degree right know.

1) There will be more writing than you have ever done in your life.

Writing is a huge an important step in becoming an academic. Grad school is all about honing your writing skills and being able to take very complex ideas and tone it down enough to where anyone can understand it. Writing is one of those skills that you will learn in a master’s that will benefit you for a lifetime.

2) You will feel extremely dumb

Remember in high school when you were one of the “smart kids”? Well, now you are with the smart kids from every other high school/college. You may come across an individual who is just out of this world intelligent. It will make you feel a bit dumb. Also, the work you will be doing is much more complex than in undergrad. In science, the stuff that I was dealing with in my master’s courses were things that people still didn’t have answers for. This may make you feel really dumb, when in fact, you are actually very bright. Trust me, everyone feels dumb in grad school.

3) Chegg and online resources won’t help you now

As I mentioned before, you will be dealing with concepts and ideas that people don’t have the answers to. The classes you take will not have the answers online. Chegg and other online homework helpers were great in undergrad but are useless in master’s coursework. This may make things way harder for you because you won’t know if you were right or wrong until you get your paper or homework back. Heck, sometimes the professor doesn’t even have the answer lol. I have had classes like this.

4) Your friends will change

I think one of the hardest parts of grad school and, well college, is the fact that your friends will come and go. I started my master’s knowing a ton of grad students and became very good friends with them. Since everyone is on their own timeline, you will often lose many friends to graduation or moving to do a doctorate elsewhere. This will bring some very lonely times and it can definitely be hard. Plus, finding time for friends can be difficult in a master’s program which might hurt any potential relationships with people.

5) Still broke

You might not be making any money at all in a master’s program. This means more loans and eating ramen 5 nights a week. A master’s does go by fairly quick so don’t worry. You will not be poor for the rest of your life lol. Unfortunately, you will be a bit broke during this phase but that can be a good thing. You will learn how to manage money better. See, I can write nice things.

6) You may have to actually do research as well

Some programs require you to do a ton of research as well. These usually pay you, from my experience. Research can make things so much difficult. Understanding what is going on and helping to develop solutions to problems is a bit of a headache. This is one of hardest parts of grad school, in my opinion.

7) The work demand is insane for classes

As I mentioned above, you will be writing and doing problems that are difficult and may not have solutions. This will make your classwork harder. The demand from your professors is insane and stressful at times. Towards the end of the semester, you may have three, 15 page essays to write, on top of exams and homework’s. The homework’s in most of my classes were much longer than the undergrads . You may also have research on top of the classwork, so you’ll be extra busy.

Hardest Parts about a PhD

So, in this section, I will talk about the things that are hardest during a PhD. Some may overlap with a Master’s degree and that’s fine. Getting a PhD means you are contributing to research in a very very very tiny way. You are contributing a very small amount of knowledge to the world, but that’s pretty darn cool. Of course, a PhD is not for everyone and will be one of the hardest things you do, depending on many factors of course. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, you will feel dumb doing a doctorate. It is a learning experience and technically an apprenticeship. It’s not like undergrad where you pass classes. No, you actually have to contribute to the world. Anyway, Here is a list of the hardest parts of a PhD, from my experience.

1) You have to contribute to science

I am currently trying to contribute a very small piece of information to the overall knowledge of my field and it is hard. Holy cow it is hard because you are the one solving a sometimes very difficult yet simplistic problem. One of the problems I am trying to figure out with my data is why my pH drops. You can just say that it’s from an acid being added to the water, but I am adding base to my lead pipes. It is a silly problem but an important one, especially in the field of water chemistry. Contributing some small form of knowledge is what a PhD is all about. This is also what makes it difficult.

2) You will lose many friends

As I mentioned above in the hard parts of a master’s, you will lose friends like crazy, or at least not see your friends for a very long time. Graduation will take many of them from you and so will not being able to see them because your focus is on research. My friends have decreased each year since undergrad, but that’s life. The friends that I do still have are amazing and in my life for a reason. Don’t go thinking that losing fiends is a bad thing. it can be quite good but it is a hard part about grad school. You will definitely learn to live by yourself and be anti social. But afterwards, you’ll make friends again. I promise that.

3) Long nights in the lab and not really getting the results you want

This is definitely a hard part about doing a PhD. You will read papers on your research that points to an outcome that you are hoping for. You probably won’t get those outcomes. Then, You try again. You still won’t get the outcome you want. You’ll continue until the next thing you know, it’s 2 am and you’re just now leaving the lab after a failed experiment. Even the ghost that haunts the lab wants you to leave. This happens to everyone, even tenured professors. This is also exciting because you are able to learn how not to fail. You are becoming a researcher during this practice! It just is very hard when you have to put a ton of hours into it.

4) Advisers demanding much more than you can handle

You a cheap labor. Admit it, you are cheap labor in the academic field. This means that your adviser will take full advantage of this and work you hard. They may even give you more work than you can handle. It’s hard. In fact, it’s so hard that it’s on this list lol. All you can really do is talk with your adviser and voice your concerns. You can probably handle the majority of the work. But sometimes, they want you to do even more. For example, the other PhD student that I share an office with has to write 2, yes 2, literature reviews!! My literature review took me 2 years to do and she has to write 2? This might be too much to handle. Luckily, she just started her doctorate so she has a long time to complete both lol.

5) You’re very poor

Yes, you will get paid, but not much. If you happen to do the math and determine the amount you get paid hourly over the hours of work, you’ll see that you are paid less than minimum wage. You’ll be poor and this is very, very hard to deal with in grad school. Many PhDs take 5 to 8 years to finish. Imagine living paycheck to paycheck for that amount of time. That can be very stressful.

6) Peer review

Most doctorate programs have you publishing at least one paper and going through the peer review process. Many institutions have you writing multiple papers and going through the peer review process to get published. It is hard.. The reviewers will pick out every flaw in your research and make you reevaluate your life. I went through it once and have to go through it again. The first time was rough, the second might be rougher, but I am desensitized to literally all criticism now. It is a hard process to get through but a really important one. This process prevents “bad science” from getting out there. Of course, sometimes some bad articles squeak by, but not as often as you think.

7) The stupid qualifying exam

I have many choice words when it comes to what I think about the qualifying exam. If you want to read more about my experience or what your experience will be like, here are a few links to those articles. The qualifying exam was the most stressful and hardest parts of my doctorate so far. I had to come up with a proposal, write it, present it, and get tested on it. It took me like 2 months to see if I could continue my studies and do research. If I didn’t pass, I would have had one more try before being kicked out of the program. Not a fun time. This is hard because it is your first hurdle towards graduation. Once you pass this, you can call yourself a doctoral candidate. Things don’t necessarily get easier after the qualifying exam, but at least you know you’ll probably graduate.

8) Seeing your friends, colleagues, and literally everyone advance in their careers or go on vacation and you can’t

I have many friends that are making 6 figures. Some are starting companies, and other’s are enjoying their weekends in another country. All while I spend my weekends and days doing the same thing, over and over, making pennies compared to them. This is hard to see. You will feel like you are behind in life. Trust me, that feeling of being behind can cause you to want to leave. The hardest part about this is saying “I am in it for the long haul and will finish”. Yes, you probably can leave and have a fulfilling career. You probably will make a ton of money right away since you’ll have a master’s , but you have to tell yourself no. Don’t end it just because you see your friends doing things that you want to do.

9) No one understands what your doing.

I left this as the last one, for hardest things about grad school. You are going to go through a ton of hardships trying to et data and results that are pertinent to your research. You will celebrate your wins abut other’s really won’t know why. Most people don’t really relate to what you do in grad school and they don’t realize that a huge win is just getting the pH probe to work lol. Family members won’t understand the strains that go into grad school and your friends won’t understand it either.

Your research won’t be earth shattering. It might just be a very small project that is somewhat insignificant, but it means the world to you. You are the only one that really cares and getting extra support is almost non-existent. I find this to be one of the hardest parts of grad school and PhD. People just won’t understand, and you know what? That’s ok. Celebrate your small and large wins. Those will lead to bigger things later.

The 3 hardest parts of grad school

So let me break it down into 3 of the hardest parts about grad school. These are the hardest things that come from the overall experience. Many things will be hard, but these are the hardest that I , and my friends, have experienced.

  1. You’re very, very poor. Financial struggle is a hard part about grad school that we all face.
  2. You are a little fish in a very large pond, maybe even an ocean. You will feel tiny ad insignificant.
  3. Life will pass by and you will be doing the same thing. This has really affected my lately, but I am almost done!

YEs, grad school has been one of the hardest things that I have done, but not the hardest. There are many things that are difficult and you will experience most f them. Keep going, it is 100% worth it and you will have a degree after that is worth much more than you know. If you do a doctorate, you’ll be a doctor! That’s pretty awesome.

Final Thoughts

These are the hardest parts of grad school that I have experienced. Let me know if you agree or disagree with these and why? I am curious to know other people’s opinions on this subject. As always, I hope you all have a wonderful ay and week. I will see you all in the next blog post. Peace!

One thought on “The Hardest Parts About Going to Grad School

  • I definitely agree with point #2 in getting your Master’s degree! It was shocking to go from a small school for undergrad where I sailed through, top of my class, to grad school, where everyone else seemed smarter than me. Humbling, to say the least!

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