Grad school and Advisor/Mentor relationships

Grad school is not a journey that you take alone, but rather one that you traverse with the help of others (e.g. Advisor or mentors). Since being accepted to grad school, I have had the realization that while I am in the process, I am not alone. I am surrounded by supportive professors who want to see me succeed. I would venture to say that most graduate student both in Ph.D. or Master’s programs have opportunities to connect with those who can help one to advance both academically and professionally.

One of these important relationships is that of your advisor/mentor. I put the “/” in between those titles because the two can be separate individuals or the same person. The role of an advisor/mentor can differ greatly based on the goal of the relationship. For example, an advisor may provide guidance when it comes to courses, professional development, etc… but may not be open to discussing non-academic related issues that may impact you as a graduate student.

A mentor, however, may fill the void that the advisor does not address by providing support in non-academic areas. How you as a graduate student identify potential advisor/mentors can make a huge difference in your success. In short, advisor/mentor relationships are a crucial component of grad life and you should be encouraged that in the game of grad school you do not have to be alone.

“Grad school may make you feel stupid”

“Grad school is suppose to make you feel stupid”, I  heard someone say before starting my own grad school journey. Wow -”Stupid”–Really? How am I supposed to respond to that, I thought? Was that a prediction that would become true for me?. All of these questions ran through my head before starting grad school in the fall of 2014.

The later realized that the person who probably said the above statement was making an observation rather than a prediction. I realized through my experience that graduate school is suppose to be training ground for both education and professional development. Thus, I would agree grad school has made me feel “stupid” not because of the difficulty but rather because of the vast amount of opportunities to expand my knowledge. Also, due to the nature of the grad school I have been able to expand my network of expertise by connecting with those in other disciplines. This means that while you can feel inadequate the fact that you can learn and be supported by others should bring you up. So while the idea of grad school making you feel stupid might not be appetizing, as a process grad school makes you a better student/scholar in the end.

Best of luck in grad school!

Grad school is a marathon

Grad school can often feel like a sprint to the finish. However, grad school should be experienced as more like a marathon or triathlon due to the twists and turns that can happen until the coveted graduation day arrives.

First off, as a student you have to balance courses, research, internship experience, etc…while trying to balance a social life. This means that while grad school can be difficult to handle due to having to balance competing things, it is an experience that is spread out over several years in order to be successful. Thus, grad school is more of a marathon than a 100-m dash to the finish line. Also, remember that grad school is not a solo experience where all the runners are running individually, but rather it is an opportunity to connect with your peers, faculty, and administrators in order to be successful.

I hope that throughout your individual graduate school journey you are encouraged by knowing that its is more of a marathon and that you can pace yourself rather than feel rushed in order to finish.

Being Married in Grad School

Copyright (Jorge Cham, 2015)

It is often said that Graduate school and Marriage are similar in many ways.

  1. Time Commitment – Typically grad school commitments are between 5-7 years (Ph.D.) which is a substantial amount of time given the usual 3-4 years of high school and college. However, for marriage you make a life-long commitment, but during that time is included the years that you do research, take courses, and work with your advisor. So you have an overlap of graduate school and personal time, but this can be of benefit as being married to someone who is supportive can be the best catalyst to finishing the Ph.D. in a timely manner and avoiding the dreaded perpetual ABD status.
  2. Partnership – When you decide to attend grad school you are paired with an advisor/mentor so that during your time in the program you have someone to guide you. This emulates being married in the pairwise relation between two individuals with a common goal: earning a Ph.D., publishing research, and being ultimately being happy. It takes “two to tango” is true for both your Ph.D. journey and life as a spouse. There is no “I” in Team so you both have to work together to achieve your team and individual goals. If this partnership does not work, then nothing will get done.
  3. Productivity – I find that as a newly married doctoral graduate student, being married and committing to spending the rest of your life with another person can often be the greatest support for your dream of a  rewarding career in academia. Most often having another person(i.e. spouse or advisor) encouraging you in times where you need to be productive can make the difference between submitting a mediocre or excellent paper.

Final Thoughts: Given the benefits of being married while in grad school, do not be dissuaded of making a commitment to the one you love when you are faced between the rigor of grad school. The benefits typically outweigh any potential limitation.



The Name of the Game is Research

I am an avid fan of boardgames. So many of the lessons that I have learned so far in my PhD journey can be tied back to particular experiences shared around the gaming table.

One of my favorite board games is Settlers of Catan. If you have never heard of Settlers of Catan, I recommend that you create a new tab, go to Amazon, and buy it immediately.

Settlers of Catan is a strategy resource management game in which the objective is to gain resources (wood, sheep, wheat, brick, and ore) and build/settle on the island of Catan. Pretty simple, right? Well, as with many things in life, it is not as simple as it seems. In the game, you must trade with players in order accomplish your goal of building as many settlements as you need in order to win. This can make the game quite an experience.

As in Catan, you must be diligent in research as you bring together your resources (data, time, subjects, ideas, and finally publications) to be successful. An excellent element of the game is that collaboration amongst the players is almost always required to be able to win. This means that learning from your advisor and peers on how to improve your research should be considered a resource that will allow you to become a winner (i.e.  published first author on an article/chapter/book, snag an awesome postdoc,or whatever the goal is in your field).

However, you must keep in mind that everyone around the table wants to win, so YOU must be resourceful and meticulous in your strategy/approach. Make sure that the people you align with have your best interests at heart, and don’t be afraid to invest in others as well.  Research is important, so make sure that you utilize and maximize your resources to ensure that you achieve a win!

Here’s to playin’ the game. I’ll see you at the board.