Monday, May 14, 2012

Grad School Experiences- Year 1

I will be having two separate grad school-related posts due to my...ehh... lack of brevity. This one is about grad school specific related things, like classes and my daily schedule. The following one will answer the question, "So why are you doing this?"

By the time this post goes live, I will be done with my first year of my Ph.D. program. Yay! One down, 3-4 more to go! I'm not sure if any of you are considering grad school or interested in my experiences, but I wanted to share them anyway. This first year has been a HUGE learning experience for me, so I wanted to take time to write down some of what I've learned.

First, a little background. I am a full time grad student, working on my Ph.D. in Criminology at a local university. I also work as a Teaching Assistant within my program which not only pays for my school but I also get a monthly stipend during the school year. Not a bad gig, really.
Anyway, I do not have my Master's yet-- I just graduated from Texas A&M last May with my Bachelors-- but a benefit of this program is that I will earn my Master's along the way. Two degrees at once? Yes, please!

It is so true what they say, if you are not fascinated by your subject, don't do graduate school in that field. All I do most of the day is study criminal behavior, and thankfully I find it downright fascinating. There's also the not-so-exciting stuff like research design and statistics, but those classes have been interesting to me and have actually helped me see that I should be a researcher. I have really enjoyed seeing how research is actually done, why people do specific things, and how screwing one thing up can totally throw off your results. 

Yes, I'm a nerd. That should be more than abundantly clear by now. But anyway...

I take three classes a semester. Grad school classes are not undergrad classes. Sure there are some similarities, but oftentimes the professor is much more casual in the grad-level courses. I now have some professors that insist on me calling them by their first names, and others that I would never consider calling them anything but Dr. so-and-so. You obviously work a lot closer with the professors, especially if you're a TA because they are literally your bosses. There are some costs and benefits associated with that, especially when I feel tied to my university email at times, but I have also gotten some amazing opportunities to do really cool things in just my first year of grad school, so the benefits outweigh the cons in this case.

The classes are for the most part at night. For whatever reason, this never even crossed my mind until I registered for classes this summer. Imagine my disappointment when I walked out of my registration appointment and texted my newlywed-husband that I had classes 3 nights a week, one of them from 7-9:45 PM! But as much of a downside as that is, especially when we get up at 5:30 AM for Matt to go to work, it gives me tons of freedom. 

My day typically looks something like this: Wake up, pour Matt and myself our bowls of cereal, eat breakfast, kiss my husband good-bye as he leaves for work, do some computer 'work' (i.e. blogging, Facebook, email), go work out for about 45 minutes, shower, and then start 'real' work. Before I leave for campus, I'll have lunch and pack my dinner if needed. Then drive about 40 minutes to campus, praying to not get stuck in traffic, then hang out/work in the TA office, go to class, and then come home. Relax. Sleep. Repeat.

Time management is so important. No one is willing to hold your hand and you gotta get your stuff done on time. You are responsible for yourself and your work being completed when it is due. Thankfully I have always been a responsible student so that helps. That, and I like schedules. These qualities are definitely good things to have as thus far, I have completed all of my education without having to do an all-nighter. Yes I'm proud of that, and yes that may change, but I like to get my work done ahead of time.

Anyway, other things about grad school. In my program there is something called the comprehensive exams. You will hear way more about it in a couple of years, but it is basically the end-all-be-all test that separates you between being a Ph.D. student and being ABD (All-But-Dissertation). 2 days and 12 hours of examining you over anything and everything. Yup. It will be a blast. But as I said, that is a couple of years away for me. 

Next semester I start my Master's thesis, which will be good, and it is something I'm sure you will hear about.

Other miscellaneous things I've learned:
  • Publishing is difficult. I just completed my first experience of getting published (woohoo!) and there are a lot of hoops to jump through.
  • Do not be afraid to ask questions. I have a couple of professors I feel particularly comfortable with and I have asked both of them several 'dumb' questions, but the answers are always worth it
  • There are a lot of informal rules about academia and grad school that I never realized. That deserves its own post for another day.
  • Undergrads are interesting. That is all I will say on that topic as this blog is not anonymous. 
  • People cannot write. Or cannot follow instructions. Possibly both.
  • Flash cards, Microsoft OneNote, and Google are this grad student's best friends. 
  • My grad school has zero team spirit. Coming from Texas A&M where I still consider myself a very proud Fightin' Texas Aggie was quite a culture shock.
  • My grad school buddies are very diverse. There is no other word for it but they are a fun group of... adults? Seriously, I'm the youngest and the only TA straight out of undergrad. 
  • Grad school is difficult. No doubts about it. A lot of reading and a lot of writing, but as I said earlier, if you find it interesting, it is manageably tolerable as opposed to completely painstakingly boring.
I could go on longer of course, but I figured this post is getting long enough. But if you have any questions, feel free to ask. I am now about to have so much more free time and I definitely remember what it was like applying to grad schools, wondering what the program was like, etc. Don't hesitate to ask, even if you aren't considering grad school but are still curious about it! 

No comments:

Post a Comment