It’s coming down to the end for me. I am 6 months away from graduating with a PhD in engineering! This is both exciting and terrifying at the same time. The exciting part is being able to call myself Doctor Ben. The scary part is having to write up my dissertation, present my data, and defend my thesis. These are all very difficult things to do. Thinking about the difficult things made me wonder “how could I have made grad school easier?” So, todays topic is how to make grad school easier so you don’t stress too much towards the end.
Grad school is all about learning to do research, or for master’s students, learning to do independent thinking. This makes it very tough because you are so used to a set way of thinking. That is, reading, learning in a classroom, and taking tests. Now they want you to actually do independent research and become a professional all by yourself? That’s crazy talk. It’s true though and that makes things a bit more complicated.
Make grad school easy from the beginning
As you go through the grad school process, especially in the beginning, there will be a huge learning curve. This can make things a bit more complicated and quite stressful. There are a few things that you can do from the start that will definitely help you get past this. Here are a few ways in which you can start off your grad school easier than other people.
1) Have a set plan and stick to it
If you are in a PhD program, spend a day planning out what you want to get done each semester. Write down a list of actually achievable things that you can do. Don’t put down something like “finish 3 chapters of my dissertation:. That’s not reasonable and quite difficult to do at first without data lol. No, write down things like “going to start writing my literature review” or something like “will read 3 papers a week that pertain to my research”. These are both very achievable and will definitely help in the long run. Just make sure to stick with it. Don’t come in every day trying to come up with work to do. Have something already planned.
2) Develop an organization plan for data and papers and such
This is such an important piece of advice to make things way easier in grad school. Whether you are doing class work or research, have an organization plan. This means having folders for everything, keeping things consistent, and making sure things can be found easily when you need it. My suggestion is having folders on your computer for finished items, data, written reports and papers, and your dissertation. This will make it easy to fins when the time comes to use what you have.
3) Have weekly, if not biweekly meeting with your adviser
This is primarily focused towards those that are doing research. Schedule frequent meeting with your adviser to make sure that you are on schedule and doing what needs to get done. This is super important because they will be your guide through the whole process. You don’t want to have to stay multiple years or not hit milestones because you weren’t on schedule with what your adviser wants you to do.
Talk with them frequently, especially at the beginning. You are probably going to be working on their research so you want to makes sure you are doing it correctly. By not following directions, you may get set back a lot of time, which is never good.
How to make grad school easy throughout
I want to tell you a few ways in order to make sure the whole grad school experience is a smooth and easy one. The last thing you want is a situation where you spend 6 years of your life counting down the days in which you can leave. You don’t want to struggle through the whole experience. Grad school goes by fast, but slows down dramatically if each day is terrible. Here are a few things that will help make the whole experience way easier.
1) Stay on top of your writing
Write every single day. Do not put off writing until the end. Trust me. As someone who struggles with writing, I can assure you that putting it off until the last few months will only hurt you in the end. If you can, write at least a paragraph for something each day. Develop writing skills that will help you when you are writing a manuscript or thesis. I have found that blogging has significantly helped and has actually made me excited for the thesis writing portion of my PhD. I am not even close to being the best writer, but I sure have come a long way since I started.
2) Treat your PhD like a 9 to 5 job
There are a few posts online where a professor or grad student says you need to put in 80 hours a week in order to succeed. They say treating a PhD like a job will cause you to fail because you didn’t put in the time or effort. These people have one thing in common, well two. 1) They are miserable and trying to make you feel bad and 2) they are wrong. The best piece of advice I received was to treat it as a job. Put in the work during those hours and you will end up fine. Sure, you may need to work more than this, but not all of the time. A PhD is a marathon, not a sprint. Burnout is real (read about it here), and putting 80+ hours a week is going to lead to a bad time. The only thing that really matters is how productive you are. If you spend 90 hours in the lab but only 2 hours of that was productive then you didn’t do a good job lol. Focus on productivity. 3 good hours of productive work is better than 12 hours of fooling around.
3) Learn to be ok with failure from the get go
This is the last piece of advice to make grad school easy. Learn how to fail and learn to be ok with failure. Desensitize yourself to failure. Stop caring that you did fail. Fail over and over and over. What I don’t want you to do is beat yourself up over it. You are going to get kicked in the face, figuratively speaking, more times in grad school than you would like. You are going to fail over and over and think that nothing will work. This is the best thing in the world, trust me. Research is diving into the unknown and figuring things out. You will not solve all of your problems the first round, or the second round, or the third round of experiments. It’s the nth round where you will succeed. You just need to be persistent and get there.
If you learn to be ok with failure than that will open up so many doors. you won’t be afraid to try new things. You won’t be afraid to have to do experiments multiple times. And, the best part, you will learn so much more from failing than you could ever imagine. Learn to be ok with it from the get go. It will help reduce all stress brought on by failure and you’ll become a better researcher because of it.
These are a few things to make grad school much, much easier. What are some things that you did in grad school that made the whole experience easier? I would love to read about them in the comments. As always, I hope you are all having a great time this week. We are right in the middle of summer so that means vacations are on the way. Make sure to go check out my posts on vacationing in grad school (link here). I will see you all in the next one. Peace.