Today’s post might be a tad bit longer than usual. I have been doing some really interesting lab work and have been quite busy, so I am going to take a break for a bit and write a little. I am the person that does things in bursts. Unfortunately, this is extremely exhausting and tires me out really quickly. So, I am quite the “break taker” I suppose. During my breaks, I don’t really relax because I have to be constantly doing something that stimulates my brain. One thing that surprisingly helps is writing. Writing has been my go to for a while now, when I have down time or need to break.
So, this morning, I am going to do some writing before I have to get back to work. I am also trying to warm myself up for a task that I have been putting off for some time now lol. Anyway, todays wonderful and exciting topic is The 5 Stages of GRAD SCHOOL (oooooooooo). I actually thought about this topic on the way over to my office and I felt like I should write about it. I have gone through most of these stages and the last stage will be what I will face in the upcoming year. This is aimed more towards new grad students to kind of help them be ready for some very interesting stages in their academic tenure. So, let’s get right into it!
The 5 Stages of GRAD SCHOOL! (OOOOOOOOO)
1) Classes and Pre Quals
This one of the stages of grad school is one of my all time favorites. See, classwork and getting to know the lab was such a fun and exciting time. Learning new materials, building up my familiarity with professors and colleagues, and being able to go home at a decent time was the bees knees. This one of the stages of grad school usually consists of the first 2 years. You are taking all of the course work required to finish the PhD requirements. You may have some work with your research, but it is mainly stuff to prepare you for after class work. This is the time to develop friendships and get to know the other’s in your program. It is also a great time to develop great habits that will make the rest of the time in grad school much easier.
Take full advantage of this time. Join a sports league, maybe join a club, or just do a bunch of things while you have the time and energy. The later stages can make it more difficult to do these things. Also, take the time to read up on anything and everything that there is about your research. You don’t need to be an expert at this time, but knowing a bit of information about the subject always gives you brownie points with your PI. I loved this phase of my time in grad school. The saying “you’re gonna miss it when it’s gone” truly applies to this. I miss the classwork and being surrounded by super motivated and intelligent individuals.
2) Qualifying Exam Prep
So you’ve made it this far. You did not “masters out”. I have heard of many people getting funded for a PhD with the intent of just leaving after they get their master’s. I think this is why many professors bring on individuals that already have their master’s. That, and funding lol. Anyway, thisstage of grad school is one of the hardest, and frankly, the most stressful. Pre qualifying exam includes writing up a proposal, getting your committee to agree on a day for you to present it, and also reading more papers than you ever have in your life. The proposal write up is quite difficult because you have to come up with unique ideas on what to do research on. By this time, you have discussed with your adviser about what you will be doing, so the only thing to do is write it up.
Now the qualifying exam is a different story. It is a combination of a written test and and oral presentation. The written test can be over literally anything that your committee find fit for you to test on. The oral presentation is there to present your proposal as well as answer anymore questions that they have. My qualifying exam took over a month to complete and even longer to find out if i was a PhD Candidate. You can read more about it on my blogs about the qualifying exam, here and here.
Heck, some grad school programs are trying to get rid of them all together because they are almost like an academic hazing ritual. You will feel defeated afterwards and many people leave just because of it. It is a rough time, but it is do-able. Trust me, I’ve done it and so can you. Unfortunately, it leads into some of the hardest times, motivationally wise that is.
3) Post Qual Slump
Welcome to year 3! Many people on the internet have warned me about this particular time in grad school. You are done with classes, you just finished your qualifying exam., and you are ready for research. Unfortunately, this is the hardest time to find any form of motivation. You will go weeks without accomplishing a single task. Burn out is a real thing and I’m quite sure that is what you deal with during this portion of your grad school experience. I know I felt sluggish, unmotivated, and do right lazy. This is normal and it will pass.
During your third year, you might get very little done because you are burnt out. Just remember to keep going. You will also ask yourself quite often “is this still worth it”? The answer to that question will always be yes. Do not get in the mindset where you think all of this work is for nothing. Remember, your PhD is an apprenticeship. You are supposed to go through all of this to become a competent scientist. Some things need work like lack help with mental health, though. (One of the reasons I started this blog). This year will pass very quickly and you will see motivation come back again. There is hope, I promise.
4) The “Now What?”
Ah, this is where I am at currently. I am coming to the end of my research as well as the end of my PhD. Unfortunately, I haven’t gone full force into my writing yet, though that may come sooner than later. I am in the “now what?” phase. This phase is where you start thinking of the next step. What will I do with my degree? What types of careers are out there for me? This stage can be scary and quite confusing. You’ll scour the web, looking for jobs that require a PhD and realize that most are post docs. It can get discouraging, especially if you are like me and probably heading to industry after college.
This phase is exciting though. You are pretty much a the finish line and can almost call yourself, doctor. All of the years of studying, the late nights in the lab, the packages of ramen, all come down to this phase as well as the next. You are probably ABD (all but dissertation) at this point, so all you need to do is write. Unfortunately, you are too overwhelmed with figuring out what you want to do in life that you put off writing until your adviser starts asking for papers to read and correct. This is the time you hit the last stage of grad school.
5) Fast and The Furious
This is it, the final hurdle between you and sweet, sweet freedom. Why do I say this is the fast and the furious? Well, because it’s going to go by fast and you’re going to be furious going through this lol. i have a friend who is currently going through the writing and editing phase now. She spends hours each day writing. I mean like 14+ hours writing. I haven’t seen her in weeks and I’m pretty sure she hasn’t stepped outside in weeks as well. Unfortunately, her thesis first draft has to be submitted in like 3 weeks so she’s going full force.
This stage in grad school is nuts. You might get some more experiments in, but you really should be finished. Writing can be awful and writing a 300 page explanation of your research is awful. This is also the stage where you will defend your thesis and graduate. It is exciting, goes by in a flash, and can cause you to break. At this point in your PhD, you just want to finish just for the sake of finishing. you really don’ care about the project anymore. You might have a ton of motivation with very little energy.
As I stated before, this is where you defend. I have been to a few defenses and they are all the same. If you passed the quals, you will pass the defense. No one that I know has ever failed the defense and I honestly think it is there for you to show off. Many people present their research in the “victory lap” manner. They are confident, have published papers, and know that they will be a doctor. I like those presentations because it takes away the stress. You did it, you made it this far, let’s have fun and learn about the years of research you did.
These are the 5 stages of grad school that you will likely face when doing a doctorate. Of course, all doctorates are different so these stages of grad school might be different than yours. Let me know in the comments if these are experiences that you had and if this blog post even makes sense lol. I think I have sufficiently warmed up my hand and now I am ready to do work. I will see you all in the next blog. Peace!