How To Prepare for Transitioning to Grad School

As many of you prepare to end your last semester in undergrad and transition to graduate level in the fall, I offer some jewels of advice to ease the transition.

Assuming you start your graduate program some time in the fall, you have about 5 and a half months as of the date to prepare for your new journey. And in that time, you can do A LOT to aid in your transition to grad school.

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Struggling to Find a Routine? (It’s okay!)

As I wrap up the 3rd year in my PhD program, I still struggle to find my sweet spot of productivity. BUT THAT’S OKAY!

Graduate school is essentially a marathon; you have a great (intellectual) distance to travel, and the primary goal is to finish. In order to do that, a balance must be struck between academic/professional work and self-care. Very often we forget about how important it is to take care of our mental and physical well-being. When we focus on sprinting too fast for a short distance, we run the risk of burning out (physically, mentally, and emotionally). So how can you negotiate your own balance of well-being and performance?

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The Journey from Student to Scholar: A Lesson for Life

As I move into my 3rd year in the PhD program in Sociology, it is becoming more and more evident that I am no longer a student, but a scholar. This is my last year with courses, so very soon there will be a great deal of freedom in terms of time, with which I will be expected to develop my own intellectual identity. And this is not easy.
The first year in my program I was really just surviving because the work and the local culture was very different for me. My second year was somewhat easier as I began to get the hang of things and learned to use my time more strategically. As I enter my 3rd year there is pressure, but now you place most of it on yourself. Ultimately it is on you to pace yourself, gain great mentorship, and more importantly BELIEVE IN YOURSELF. This is all a process and at times grad school can feel very unproductive, but remember every aspect of your graduate education is there to provide you value. You are not only gaining intellectual and discipline specific training, you are also learning life skills. Think about it!

As you continue to present your research, you gain more comfortability in receiving and incorporating feedback. The more responsibilities you take on, the greater understanding you gain in what you are actually able to handle.

The moral of this post is you have no idea what grad school can do for you outside of the obvious training. But grad school, like life, is a process. And if you embrace what you can gain, rather then what you are giving up or missing out on, your journey from student to scholar will be as much a life transformation as it will be a journey in professionalization.

Dinner, Diversity, and Community Building at IU, Bloomington

As an Emissary, responsible for recruiting diversity to the Indiana University, Bloomington graduate school, I have become much more familiar with the spaces designed specifically to expose grad students to others from the campus community who may differ in culture or background.

Just last night, I was fortunate enough to have dinner at La Casa. This Latino Cultural Center has been vibrant in the local campus community since its inception in 1973. With the rising numbers of the Latino population rapidly increasing both in terms of representation at IU and across the U.S. La Casa serves as a constant reminder of the need for others to have at least a basic grasp of Latino culture in all its complexity.

Over a free (and amazing) meal, we discussed developments for La Casa as well as the tentative future plans for a Latino Learning/Living Center. Rather than simply discussing the theoretical implications behind our ideas, we as a group were involved in a critical discussion where perspectives were asked of undergrads, graduates, and faculty. More importantly from my perspective, not everyone was Latino.

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Waiting To Hear Back? DON’T WAIT

Waiting to hear back from schools that I had applied to was perhaps the most nerve racking experience I had ever gone through. There is no one to call and ask, and except for the April 15th university agreement date, there is no obvious date that you will receive that email. For those of you who are still in school or working full time, this may be enough to occupy your mind. I myself was in my last semester of undergrad and working 30 hours a week and still inevitably creep into my mind.

Perhaps the best advice I can give is to continue to develop yourself as a scholar in your field. Attend any workshops or conferences that can assist you in your career development. Continue to ingest as much information regarding your prospective career. Remember you are training for your vocation in and outside of the classroom. In doing so you focus on what you are trying to create with your continuing education and you leave the decision making process out of your head – as much as possible 🙂 – and continue working independent of who does or does not accept you.

IU was my final application date (Jan 15th) so by now I had all of my applications submitted. Unless you are applying for a masters degree I suspect those of you reading this who applied for next year have submitted all apps as well. This is an amazing accomplishment!!! And while you may not recognize it you have taken the time to submit a reflection of your previous personal and academic accomplishments and argued why the training of each respective program can develop you into the professional you aspire to be.

Much of the denial process from my perspective was not because I was not qualified, or not “good enough”, but rather my “fit” with that program either did not come across effectively in my personal statement or it did, and the respective committee simply chose otherwise. When you want something and you do not get it the reasons can sometimes be pointless, but remember that there is a program and a place for you, and that was and is your task. I sincerely wish everyone the greatest possible outcome!!! No later than April 15th……….

Personal/Research Statements: Moving Forward

Are you almost ready to be done with these statements??? Trust me when I say I know the feeling!!

Well, hopefully at this point you have gone through at least a few drafts of each statement (Personal vs. Research). As you complete rough drafts, you want to make sure that you keep getting in-depth feedback from key mentors. Since the people writing your letters can make a much more convincing argument for you if they understand what points you are making in your statements, it is important to make sure that they are the main editors you are referring to. Having too many different readers, who provide a variety of different suggestions, can make the process of completing these statements much more challenging. Also, remember that Continue reading

• Making it easy for recommenders to write your letters.

When approaching professors from your institutions make sure to be clear with yourself about the quality of work you produced and the depth of the interactions you had with them. Did you ask professors for feedback? Did you go to office hours and seek greater understanding? These types of interactions seem to typify what a healthy, supportive letter arises from.

After you are sure you would receive a strong letter of recommendation, either send an email or ask in person whichever works more naturally in your situation and explain what you are trying to do, that you would be grateful for their support, and tell them when the deadline is. Typically a month or greater is optimal to ask for a letter, bu never ask with less than two weeks to go. Professors are incredibly busy and it may result in at best a rushed letter and at worst one never getting submitted.

Keep professors kindly reminded of the due dates as they approach. When all letters are submitted take time and send emails to thank everyone who supported you. All of these people supporting you are your personal and professional network and it is important to stay humble and appreciative.

Connecting beyond your department

Once graduate school begins, you may find yourself constantly running into colleagues from your department. While your department is a fundamental component in your professional development, it is other members of the IU and Bloomington community that provide other unique perspectives. While graduate school is incredibly busy, it is important to find social opportunities outside of your department. From graduate student organizations, to volunteering in the community there are always groups and organizations where you can interact with awesome people from different walks of life.

There is also the Jacobs School of Music here at IU, so frequently there are amazing orchestras and other musical performances. During my first semester of my first year, I attended the musical Continue reading