Grad School? More Like Academic Hunger Games!

“May the odds be ever in your favor.”

If you’ve seen the hugely popular film, “The Hunger Games,” then you’re quite familiar with that quote. The film’s plot focuses on how a boy and girl are chosen from each of the 12 districts, and are thrown into a battle-to-the-death where the last one standing wins.

I shared this famous quote, because graduate school can, at times, feel like an academic hunger games. However, no matter where you are in your graduate school journey, it’s important to be aware of the factors that can lead to a negative experience. These factors can include: students in your cohort, the lack of support, and your own progression.

As it relates to the classmates in your cohort, avoid comparing yourself or you accomplishments to them and their success. Comparing yourself to your fellow classmates, can lead you to doubt your own skills and ability to navigate the graduate program. The reality is everyone learns at their own pace, and students may have a better handle on the subject material than you do. Instead of looking at your lack of knowledge as a weakness, turn it into a strength by collaborating with your classmates and helping each other with understanding the material better. This will not only help you learn more about yourself, but also help your classmates learn things that they may not understand.

The next, and arguably one of the most crucial things, to have in graduate school is support. Not just support academically, but emotionally as well. Without proper support, your journey through graduate school can become increasingly difficult, as you may feel very alone. Making friends with students in your cohort is helpful as they can offer support when it comes to classes, and also help you with relieving stress when you put down the books and do fun activities. Support from your advisor is also important, as it’s imperative to keep in touch with your advisor on a weekly basis to ensure you’re staying on track with your graduate program. Keeping constant communication with your advisor shows him or her that you’re invested in completing and being successful in your graduate program. In “The Hunger Games,” Katniss had support in preparing for the deadly competition from a stylist named Cinna, who helped her find her inner strength, and from a former Hunger Games champion named Haymitch, who helped her train and strategize. That support played a big part in helping her survive and win the games.

Lastly, the speed at which a student progresses in their graduate program can have the most significant impact on their success. When it takes you longer to learn material or progress in certain parts of the program, it’s easy to feel frustrated and become intimidated by your fellow classmates. For example, when it comes to qualifying exams, it can be frustrating when you don’t past them right away while some of you classmates pass their qualifying exams on the first try. But it’s important to not lament at your inability to keep pace with your classmates, and focus on progressing at the pace that works best for you. Learning and understanding the material in your classes in your own way will make you that much more prepared and ready for your qualifying exams and future research projects.

It’s very easy to look at graduate school as a fight for survival till the last man is standing. However, do not compare yourself to others, and trust the training and skills you have which have gotten you to this point of being a graduate student. So as they said in The Hunger Games: “Welcome to the Hunger Games. May the odds be ever in your favor.”