So what are you into? Ok great, that’s exactly what you should look into. Chances are, at IU there is an organization or club that touches on that exact thing that you like. For me, I like salsa dancing Yes, there is a club for that. I have competed in a couple triathlons. Check, there is a running club, biking club, and swimming club (and team). Professionally, there are so many options. I am part of a student organization for those within my field of study. I am part of the Emissaries for Graduate Diversity. The opportunities to join an organization or almost limitless. Outside of the university there is a professional organization for just about every field in existence. I have yet to hear of a field that does not have a national or international organization for said field.
From personal experience, you will not have enough time to participate in every organization pertaining to your interests. They key is to select a couple and be active in those. Balance is important: you don’t want to pick to many and experience burn-out or exhaustion; you don’t want to pick to few and not have many experiences outside of coursework. 2-3 organizational affiliations seems to be healthy for any grad student…from what i can tell. For me, that has seemed to work pretty well.
So everything seemed to be going well but there is now an enormous boulder in your way that you were completing not expecting. So grad school threw you a curve ball. Well welcome to the club. Know that you are joining some elite company. Let me guess, you’ve always been an excellent student? You’ve always gotten along well with all of your professors and just about all of your colleagues? For the most part, you achieve all of your goals? Does that sounds familiar? Well if that accurately describes you then know that you are the rule, not the exception. So what happens when things don’t go quite as planned?
The nature of grad school is one in which challenge is a common occurrence. Grad school is meant to be difficult. It is designed to stretch you. It is not intended to be like the undergrad experience. Arriving at that realization can be difficult, even painful. I know making the transition from undergrad to grad school was very difficult for me. Could how I handled a challenge as an undergrad work to handle an obstacle or challenge in grad school? Nope.
So what to do then? Regardless of the type of obstacle or the depth of the challenge, it is really important to know that you are NOT ALONE in facing an unexpected situation. I can count 4 or 5 times between the MS and PhD where I felt like I had been punched in the gut: some outcome had gone 180 degrees from what I was expecting. As a God-fearing person I am a strong believer in doing all that you can within your control and then not stressing the rest. I believe strongly that how you respond to difficulty is revelatory: you reveal yourself to yourself through adversity. So what has experience taught me? I truly believe that hard work and smart work can overcome a lot of the challenges and curve balls that arise in grad school. I truly believe that a humble attitude is 100% to maintain a level of peace and sanity during grad school. I believe in you-get-what-you-give or what-goes-around-comes-around. In fact, every single person (including myself) that reacted positively to adversity or challenge had a positive experience down the road. Every single time. There are so many other grad students who likely have had a similar challenge that talking to one (or three) you trust can only be helpful. The same goes for a faculty member or two that you trust. I’ve mentioned in a previous post that surrounding yourself with a core of people that you have high amounts of trust is very very important during grad school. This is one of the reasons why. Work hard, work smart, rely on those you really trust, and you will likely be just fine and have an equal or even better outcome then what you originally planned. That seems to have worked well for me.
- Personal relationships: family and/or dating
First, make no mistake: graduate school is all about relationships. Some of them are life-long brotherhood (or sisterhood) type relationships. Some of them are difficult. All of them, however, are a part of grad school. Now the most important relationships are those with the highest levels of trust. With the stresses and rigor required by grad studies, it is imperative that you surround yourself with those that have your best interests at heart. That cannot be understated. That means family and loved ones are an essential part of a healthy grad-student support system. Vital.
Now the next most important relationships are those friends that are likely new but you still have a lot of trust in them. Peers of students can provide a wonderful support as well. In fact these can ultimately be lifelong friends. Think about it: you are studying together, grinding hours upon hours for entire semesters in the same situation. You understand what the graduate experience is…like no other. A true friend is priceless as a graduate student. And the more you have–no its not cliche–the merrier.
To illustrate, let me share an experience. One semester in my doctoral program I experienced a major roadblock. Without sharing details, it was extremely difficult for me. My trust in certain administrators was at an all-time low. But one of the fortunate things for me was that I had a small network of upper level doctoral students with whom we shared an extremely high level of trust. In this difficult tie I was able to turn to these friends and hear their perspectives and rely on their experience. At one point, I spoke to some of them almost daily simply to give them updates and hear their take on the situation. I was able to survive and progress in my program in time…but one crutch that I was able to lean on were those friends that shared much trust. I suggest any grad student who is serious about their long-term success try to cultivate sincere, highly trustworthy relationships while a doctoral student because you will likely rely on them–and certainly them on you–at different points of your program. Make no mistake: the relationships cultivated as a grad student will be a huge predictor of your success.
I can’t believe a month of the semester is already in the books. (Time flies when you are having fun?) In all honesty, one of the things that helps make the academic calendar speed up is the prevalence of guest lectures, seminars, and conferences to attend. As a grad student there are several roles to fill with respect to such opportunities.
A the most basic level you can simply attend a relevant guest lecture to soak in all the information a visiting lecturer can share. Or, if there is not one any time soon, you can arrange for one to come. Most departments have a small pocket of available $$ funds to be used for academic purposes. It is possible to arrange for housing and food for a visitor. With this, you can offer to have a professor or other expert come for 2-3 days. Lastly, you can volunteer to help run a conference. I’ve had the opportunity to co-chair two conferences hosted in the School of Education. These student-led opportunities are invaluable for for both lessons learned and experiences gained. Every conference (both student-led and professional) that I’ve ever been associated with or heard of has always had the opportunity to volunteer and help for several hours during the conference proceedings. So even serving as a volunteer at a professional conference is possible. In totality, the key to these opportunities is to learn, develop, and network with and from those who share the same interests.
There are several things you need to know: First, DO what you like. Second, do what YOU like. Third, do what you LIKE.
1) Do. The key is that your niche will involve doing something. It requires leaving your comfort one and acting. Make no mistake: finding your niche will not fall in your lap nor be presented on a platter. Instead, it will be discovered. You have to be about doing.
2) You. To be frank, finding your niche requires knowing YOURSELF first and foremost. While the undergrad years are fundamentally about learning, growth, and development, the graduate school years are about refining that self-awareness. There is too much at stake and too much demanded of you as a grad student to waste on excess. What do you like? What do you enjoy? What activities have meaning to you? What motivates you? However you answer these questions are a good starting point.
3) Like. Your niche will undoubtedly be discovered in something that you have enjoyed in the past. What is fun? What is rewarding? How do you like using your leisure time? Who do you enjoy working with? What causes do you champion?
So remember, you will find your niche by getting out and doing. what. you. like.
As a graduate student at IU you have access to a wide variety of technology options to assist in making your experience as a student a more efficient one. IU does a fantastic job of making access to expensive software and printing options as cheap (if not free) and accessible as possible. For that I am VERY grateful.
Free Software. There are two options for accessing free software at IU: 1) software to download to your personal computer/device (“IUware”); 2) software to access remotely and stream for single-use or short-term basis (“IUanywhere”). Both options are extremely helpful as a student. I have used both and have saved over a thousand dollars…easy. First, I have downloaded an Adobe Suite of programs to my PC. This is huge! Next, I have used IUanywhere to stream SPSS–a statistical program that is absolutely essential as a doctoral student. Without question, the inventory of free software programs available to graduate students is the most important heads-up I can share. Take advantage of it. You really won’t need to purchase a program while you are here. Over a thousand dollars saved…easy.
Printing. As a graduate student at IU the mandatory “technology fees” account for 1000 pages of printing. This means that whether you like it or not you have 1000 pages of printing to your name. Again, this is a very helpful feature to be aware of and take advantage of. USE IT!
Email. As a student you will obviously have your IU account. I would suggest incorporating your IU email account into your MS Outlook or iMail account….it makes everything so easy and simple.
For Help. You can access the University’s Technology Services division UITS which is designed to answer specific questions. This is a very helpful service to get anything technology-related resolved or answered.
Your first month at IU will come and go before you realize what happened. The most important thing is to not get left behind!
First, make sure all of your schooling questions are answered as soon as they arise. It is not wise to assume anything as a new graduate student. Your colleagues, the department secretary, and your adviser are all in positions to help. Personally, I have found great wisdom to be gained by peers who are a year or two older in the program. A fellow student who is slightly more experienced that you can trust is an invaluable ally and source of information and mentoring. Ask questions! Your first month at IU will be a much happier experience if you ask questions at every turn.
Second, explore! Check out a football game which is $5 for students. Or, check out a performance from the music or drama schools. The Lotus festival is another event to attend. Brown County State Park looks beautiful in the Fall. Lake Monroe is always close by. McCormick’s Creek is another state park to hike…if you do be sure to bring a camera! There really are plenty of options.
Last, and probably most important, do things with your new friends. While you may feel like the only “new” person…the truth is you are not. GO out of your way to introduce yourself. I did this and found that many others felt similar to me that first month at IU. Invite them to join you. Invite them to your house. The best thing you can do the first month to ensure you are accomplishing what you need to is to make friends with as many of your peers as possible and socialize with them — then, through simple conversation you can resolve a whole host of issues and answer a myriad of questions that you will certainly have in a new environment. The best thing you can do is to enjoy the first month!
YES! That is the short but truthful answer. Yes, yes, and yes! Between available grants and scholarships for masters students and assistantships, fellowships, and research assisting opportunities for doctoral students, pursuing a graduate education is doable. If I can do it, you can do it. And no, you won’t need to eat Ramen noodles every meal.
First, if you are a potential masters student there are always supplemental aid opportunities. Because Masters degrees are typically two years long, the light at the end of tunnel is not far away. The turnaround to pay off any loans is therefore a quick one.
Second, if you are a doctoral student I would go so far as to say “Don’t go to a program that does not have some type of funding source.” Doctoral programs typically provide fellowship or research assisting opportunities for students. These allow you to kill two birds with one stone. That is, the work you do in these roles will also count toward your growth and development as a scholar and progress as a student. When there is no such opportunity, then the next best option is to seek an assistantship. Assistantships are similar to work-study opportunities you find as an undergrad or masters student. However, the difference is that assistantships often cover all of your tuition AND provide a stipend. So even though these are not the gold mines that fellowships and research assisting are they still provide the financial assistance anyone would want.
Now back to my first point. If none of these opportunities are available as a potential doctoral student, then I would recommend you seriously consider applying to said program. Why? Because doctoral programs can be evaluated by the money brought in by the faculty. Is that a fair measure for evaluation? Absolutely. Ask around with those familiar with the doctoral world, you will find that most would agree that a strong department made of strong faculty is one in which the faculty–by and large–bring in research funding. It is a fair measuring stick. It doesn’t need to be the only way to measure, but it should be a measure. Definitely.
So can you afford graduate school? You bet.
It consumed me. For two months I would awake naturally around 5:30 am then read and write until 10:00 pm, breaking only to eat and use the washroom. For these two months I had energy like I seldom do. In fact, it was a stretch of production that I have never experienced before. I literally did nothing but think critically and articulate my thoughts each day, all day, for these two months. But why?
The doctoral degree process is a rite of passage. It requires that the student demonstrate a minimum level of acquired knowledge and research ability while on the path to obtaining the PhD. In order to do this successfully, certain milestones must be reached and a major milestone is the “qualifying” process. Essentially, the doctoral student must show a mastery of the major influences the field in which they study and therefore “qualify” to continue in the pursuit of their degree and advance toward the beginning of the dissertation.
In my program, we are required to submit an online “dossier.” This electronic dossier is a declaration of my statement as a potential PhD candidate as well as highlight the major actions taken in the areas of research, teaching, and service. My dossier was the single reason I spent so much time and energy they way I did for the past two months. My desk was covered with articles and manila folders to separate the various topics I needed to master. Additionally the area two feet to the left and right of my desk was piled a foot high with books and other prominent readings. This small space served as my battle station for two months.
I would wake up at 5:30 and immediately turn on my desk light, power on my computer, light the candle on my desk, and grab some water from the fridge. My mind would not allow me to deviate too much beyond this routine. Within about ten minutes I was seated and ready to go. Each day I would reread the entire dossier and determine where I should devote most of my effort that day. I had zero temptation to check on the score of the ballgame, watch TV, take a nap, or otherwise. Before I realized what was happening several weeks passed by. Then, before I knew it two months had passed by and I had submitted my dossier.
As it now stands I am 4 days away from my oral defense of my already-submitted dossier. I will then be judged by two faculty member in my program who are not my advisers. I am almost there, almost done. Looking back it is clear that the process consumed me. I hope this reflection is helpful for you. Remember, the PhD is a rite of passage; we must demonstrate that we know our stuff to progress on the path toward the PhD degree. It can be done, certainly. But it requires nothing more exotic than steady, simple, and relentless work.
I must make a confession. I come from a place (Bay Area, California) where the typical city has nearly hundreds of thousands of residents…and some cities have well over 1 million. My hometown of San Jose, CA is a residential city and yet still has well over 1 million residents. So naturally the overall size of the average city or town in the Midwest was a culture shock at first. Driving through Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois I say hour after hour of vast rural and agricultural land.
Then I arrived in Bloomington. Now Bloomington is certainly not San Jose or San Francisco. Nor is it not Chicago–or Indianapolis, for that matter. But as a fan of boxing, I use this metaphor: for its size, Bloomington packs a serious punch. I think the analogy holds. Here’s why.
First, Indiana University is a large research institution. Therefore, enrollment is in the tens of thousands. This makes the population of Bloomington particularly high. So based strictly on numbers Bloomington is larger than most Midwest towns, especially those in Indiana. Indianapolis is about one hour to the north and Louisville is two hours to the south. Aside from that there is not much going on in southern Indiana in terms of large cities or tens of thousands of people en masse.
Second, Indiana University is an international university. As a result, you see a thousands of international students. That translates into one thing: lots of fantastic, authentic, first-generation-caliber ethnic culture…especially food. That in itself is not particularly common in the Midwest; but in the state of Indiana that is EXTREMELY uncommon. There are dozens of ethnic restaurant options, dancing options, etc.
For these two reasons Bloomington as a city is a big fish in the small pond of rural southern Indiana. In no other part of the region will you find anything remotely similar in terms of numbers or cultural diversity. But these are the distinguishing features that makes Bloomington so unique.