The summer is underway and the first week of grad school steadily approaches. Suddenly you’ll turn around and realize it’s just around the corner. So, what should you expect in that first week? And what should you do when you get there?
A Few Tips:
1) Make sure you know where you’re going.
It sounds silly, but you do not want to be that ‘first year’ wandering around trying to find your class! Don’t end up feeling like a college freshman. Take a tour of the campus and walk around your specific building getting a sense of where your classes are likely to be. Once you have your schedule, spend even an hour locating the rooms for those classes or at least show up early before the class. It’s not great to start your grad school experience showing up late for class. “Um, I got lost…” doesn’t sound very impressive.
2) Research your courses in advance.
A lot of programs have a course sign up the week before the program starts. It can be a stressful, mad-dash to get into the classes you want, so do your homework beforehand and have some back-ups. Remember, you can always reassess after you meet the professors and decide to switch into a different course. It is a waste of time if you spend many hours in those first few days agonizing over which courses are the absolute perfect fit. Talk to some alumni or current students in advance to get a sense of the best professors and which courses fill up quickly.
3) Go to networking events.
A) you’re going to be tired and B) probably overwhelmed (particularly if you’re also new to the city or town.) For those of you who are solidly in the “Type A Social Butterfly” category, this may be a piece of cake but for others, you may need to push yourself a little. Don’t miss out on these opportunities to make friends from day one, to connect with professors on a personal level, and generally get a sense of your fellow students. Remember, networking is half the battle in our fields! 4) Start thinking about extracurricular activities. What options are out there? Student clubs? Working groups? Faculty-led research groups? Make time to go to info sessions and connect with others in the groups to find best fits for you. You don’t want to over-pack an already busy schedule, but things will shake out after the first few weeks and you don’t want to miss the train on these opportunities. 5) Choose teams wisely. If your program is anything like mine, there will be a LOT of group projects. The first week of school I had to form a group in econ to do our weekly assignments (and that’s before I really knew anyone!) Consider personality from first impressions: do they seem intelligent? do they have work styles that match yours? are they “last minute” people or “planners”? Any of these could be fine, but know yourself and know what will drive you crazy! And what about logistics? Does the group member live near you? Do they have a compatible schedule for meetings? Don’t end up experiencing Conflict Management 101, just to complete your econ assignment every week. You have enough on your plate as is!
Pitfalls to Avoid:
1) Don’t let your regular routines go. You want to be your best self, because the reality is that first impressions matter. Don’t forgo that morning run, don’t forgo the sleep you need. Don’t abandon your usual salad for french fries because you’re stressed and haven’t figure out where the grocery store is yet. This is tricky, because I’ve also just listed a bunch of things TO DO, and there are only so many hours in a day. With so much to do and so little time, do as much as you can in advance so your routines don’t fall apart. It’s a balancing act. Balancing is a skill you’ll benefit from learning that will help you throughout your grad school experience (and life thereafter!) 2) Don’t get behind from Day One. You may have been out of school for 5 or even 10 years (maybe 15!) so some of the coursework and reading may be new. Or maybe you’re just a slow reader. Or stats is just not your thing. Make sure you stay on top of readings and coursework from the start or you’ll be kicking yourself when a first presentation comes around 3 weeks later, and soon after that, mid-terms. Set yourself up for success from the start! 3) Don’t stress… Yeah, I know, easier said than done. It all comes back to the impressions you’ll make, the experience you’ll have, and the quality of the work you’ll produce, all of which impact your post-grad school outcomes. If you stress, take a step back and put it all in perspective. You got into an amazing grad program (and you deserve to be there!) and if you make a few mistakes along the way, it will be OK. Hang in there and cut yourself some slack in that first week and weeks. But not too much slack…