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A Grad School Crash Course


Aviva behind the famous "Script Ohio."

It's the second week of September, so by now you've probably found all of your classrooms, scoped out a good place for coffee, and almost got all of your students' names down. So far, so good! Welcome to Graduate School, or, college for adults! Here, you get all the benefits of being a student (great health insurance, a built-in community of peers, amazing libraries) with far fewer draw backs (hangovers, terrible dorms, terrible dorm food...need I go on?), what's not to love? Grad school is a huge transition for most people, and with that, comes a whole host of new things to navigate. I've done 3 years of it already, so I'm here to hit you with a little advice. This won't be your traditional self-care list, so if you've got your bath bombs in hand and a yoga video queued, feel free to go ahead and roll up your mat...for now!

1) Make a schedule. And stick to it.

Your classes will provide a pretty good framework for what your week looks like, but you'll still find yourself with free time. Do your best to keep some semblance of 9-5 hours--that means getting up at a reasonable hour, answering email, going to meetings, and doing some home work. My partner is so good at this, and it's something I have been trying to learn from him. He has a designated space in our apartment where he does work, and it helps signal to both of us that he's in professional mode. Don't have room in your studio apartment? See if your university offers a grads only library with carrells or find a nice coffee shop with WiFi.

Separation from your resting space and working space is healthy! Check this blog out for more: http://info.achs.edu/blog/never-do-homework-in-bed-3-reasons-why

2) Learn how to write a professional email.

Start with an appropriate salutation that includes the recipients name if possible, it adds a personal and direct touch. Get to the point of your email in the body section and consider adding a blank line if you're providing a lot of information, just for the sake of aesthetic clarity. See if your university has templates to use for an email signature in order to up the professionalism a little.

A few other protips:

Add the recipient's email to the "To" and "Cc" lines AFTER you've written your message and proofread it. Feel free to send it to a friend first for an extra set of eyes.

Think about including things such as a link to your website or social media, your pronouns, and any other pertinent information in your signature. And last, be careful not to hit "reply all" unless it's absolutely necessary!

3. Explore your campus.

I go to a HUGE school. The Ohio State University is basically a city within a city, and that was super intimidating for someone like me, who went to a liberal arts institution for undergrad in Amish country (I love you, Wooster!!). It was so hard for me to cope with class change time on central campus, that I spent my whole first year isolated in one or two buildings--what a mistake! Since then, I have made time to take the "long way" to my car, which has given me the chance to find hidden gardens, new cafés, and gorgeous places to sit and work. Challenge yourself to pop in your headphones and take a stroll during your lunch break. And then, ask your friends to meet you for coffee somewhere new! Remember, "A change is as good as a rest."

4. Take part in your community.

Okay folks, its time to get those yoga mats back out, because I bet there is a really great (and free) class that you could take somewhere on your campus! Even though you're a grown-up student, its good practice to find some of the free and amazing events your campus probably offers for free. Student Life at OSU brings amazing speakers to campus, hosts talent shows (volunteer to judge--trust me, it's a riot!), and offers free exercise classes through the gym. Participating in campus traditions and events allows you to experience what undergrads see and do, which is vital if you are teaching them. Plus, there's a good chance that you are somehow "paying" for these activities already through your tuition, so you might as well check it out :)

5. Ask a professor to coffee!

Whew, this one is kind of scary. One of my good friends in my department has connections all over campus. His secret? A simple email that asks a professor to meet for 30 minutes over coffee and talk about their research. This is where your professional email skills meet a little self-advocacy (more on that in another post). Chances are, there is an amazing instructor in another department who has similar research interests to you, and although you might not be able to take their class, you can create opportunities to learn from them!

After a good conversation, my friend often asks to visit their class so he can listen in on discussions and enrich his academic experience through interdisciplinary encounters. This can turn into directed teaching experiences, independent studies, or even a committee member for when you get to the dissertation phase!

I hope this short list provided a few things to think about adding to your to-do list. What has worked for you? Share your tips in the comments!!