Things to do as soon as you start your PhD program
1) Set up a support system around you, both academic and non-academic. Meet with your cohort, go out to grad student events, meet with your professors, and start a good relationship with your advisor. Let your family and friends know that will you need their support too as you start this new phase of your life.
2) Manage your time wisely. Being a grad student involves juggling a lot of responsibilities! Start identifying what works and doesn’t work for you, and work around your strengths and weaknesses.
3) Continue/Start networking. It’s never too early to start. Ask your advisor what conferences are good to attend, set up meetings with faculty members that you share research interests with, mingle with the advanced students and post-docs (these are good people to look for mentorship too)
4) Start looking for and applying for grants/funding. The more you do it, the better you get at it, and the higher the probability of you getting something.
5) Start looking into what you can do to build up your CV. Applying for grants is a start, but you can also start planning conference presentations and joining professional organizations.
6) Get into good writing habits. Our job as PhD students is to learn how to conduct good research, AND to be able to communicate it (after all, what good is research if nobody knows about it). Writing takes a good chunk of our time, but there is no good system in place within the PhD student process to make people good, habitual writers. Join a writing group, ask advanced students to talk to you about the writing process, and start a daily writing habit. This will really help you out in the long run!
The 7 year rule came into place as of August 2011, meaning I have 7 years from that date to complete my dissertation. So this year I primarily focused on getting my data organized and ideally I am looking to have a dissertation proposal very soon. In recent years, my department has had students complete their dissertation proposal having already completed their analysis–so I am trying to do the same. From now until very early in the fall this is my main focus. Next year I start a new graduate assistantship and ideally I’ll be writing up my dissertation as well as looking into faculty position openings. It will be a very busy year, hard to say it will be the most busiest. Each year my Ph.D. program has come with its own challenges from managing time spent in classes and on class assignments, working as an instructor, research graduate assistant and generally trying to balance life. The summer is about to start though and it’s the perfect time to reenergize a bit, visit with family, and to hit the ground running in terms of setting myself up to have a great start in the fall. Steady as I go.
So the next steps after having accepted a graduate program offer of admittance is to carefully consider all of the resources-networking available to you. Several examples include: banking, cost-of-living, parking permit, change of address information (i.e., mailing and all other correspondence), access to social and peer networks, and staying organized (i.e., good record keeping). Although I came to Indiana from another state, I made many of the appropriate transitions mentioned prior to coming to Indiana. I recall emailing, making phone calls, and doing a number of online searches to gather all of the information I needed so that as soon as I did arrive to Bloomington, IN I had taken care of most of my to-do-list in terms of making the transition from one state to another.
My best advice is to make a list of all the things that can be done prior to your arrival as well as once you arrive. In my own case, I came to Indiana in the July prior to the start of my first semester, this was primarily because my assistantship start date–but it allowed me enough time to be settled in before the start of my program. So, talk to current students, your given faculty, and ask plenty of questions as you outline your next steps.
The Indiana University student newspaper is a good resource to find information on community opportunities, housing, the surrounding city of Bloomington, restaurants-entertainment and you name it. Check it out.
Currently, our very own IU is hosting its first ever Latino Film Festival and Conference. This event has brought together national scholars and film makers, to discuss the themes and issues within Latino cinema. The event began yesterday evening with a screening of Sleep Dealer, followed by a Q&A by the director, Alex Rivera. Several discussion panels were organized for today and tomorrow, along with more awesome film screenings, including Blacktino (director Aaron Burns), Gun Hill Road (director Rashaad Ernesto Green) and some classics, like Zoot Suit (Director Luis Valdez). This event is a depiction of the dedication by IU and the people and organizations within it to promote the diversity of perspectives and enrichment of life in Bloomington. And best of all, it’s completely FREE!!! Hats off to the IU Cinema and organizers of the event (for a list of the organizers, and more info, visit the website).
Have a dog and wondering if they will like Bloomington? Well, you are in luck, because Bloomington is a wonderful place for students who are doggy owners. To house your pet, there are multiple housing options that allow dogs (and other pets) for an additional fee. There are lots of beautiful places to go for walks, like the B-line trail that goes through downtown, at IU through campus, or at Bryan Park, where lots of families and doggy owners hang out. Griffy Lake Nature Preserve to the north of town has lots of wonderful hiking trails, and even its own unofficial dog park. Of course, if you are interested in an official dog park, Karst Farm Dog Park, on the southwest side of town, is really great too! The Hoosier National Forest and Lake Monroe also offer lots of trails for hiking with your furry friend. You are also very likely to see many dog owners with their companions just strolling through downtown on any given day. What about your pet needs? There are a couple of local pet stores in town, as well as your bigger name pet stores on the outskirts of town. And, if you are interested in adopting a new pet, the Bloomington Animal Shelter is just the place you need! My doggy loves Bloomington, and I’m sure yours will too!
I know Canada doesn’t sound too exotic, right? I was recently in Vancouver, Canada attending the Society for Research on Adolescence’s Biennial Meeting. This was the conference’s 14th gathering to date and the first time it was held outside of the United States. I attended in part, because I was selected as a 2012 Junior Mentor–an honor that pairs current doctoral students with selected talented underrepresented undergraduate students whom are about to transition into graduate studies. As a Junior Mentor, I attended an all day pre-conference, served on a panel having to do with graduate school funding, and I primarily spent my time mentoring and networking. Overall, participating in this program was the highlight of my trip.
Although I’m originally from the Pacific Northwest–this was my first time visiting Vancouver, Canada. I will admit, Vancouver, Canada is a beautiful place. My trip was a reminder that when I complete my Ph.D. program, I would love the opportunity to find a faculty or university position in my home region.
So what is Bloomington, Indiana like? Ultimately, it is what you as a graduate student make of it. Depending on the year you are in within your graduate program (e.g., stage in Ph.D. program)–you’ll either have time to explore (often) or you will be so busy balancing school and anything personal that your time in Bloomington will be completely full. The campus is beautiful and the town is quaint. I wouldn’t consider Bloomington to be a major urban center and yet although rural by some standards, I wouldn’t consider it rural in the extreme. I think of Bloomington for what it is, unique for sure in the Midwest, a college town, home to a major research I flagship institution, and often attracting individuals from all over the world (i.e., a few reasons as seen below).
Moving to Bloomington from a suburb in Houston TX was quite a change for me, especially because I was born and raised near such a huge city. I will admit, it took me a while to adjust to the small town feel of Bloomington, but after almost 4 years of living here, Bloomington has really grown on me. Despite being small, there are always so many things to do around town. Events are usually organized both by the university and the town, and involve everything from community sports to art, music, fine dining, theatre, comedy, dance shows, cinema, lectures, and organizations for the community to join. A few web pages that I keep an eye on for events happening in town are this one: http://www.visitbloomington.com/things-to-do/events/
and this one: http://bloomingtonscene.com/
Bloomington not only provides lots of entertainment, but the town also has lots of opportunities for people to be THE entertainment. From having weekly open-mic comedy, to making it feasible for people to schedule their own shows at some of the local venues. If you have a talent, Bloomington has a place for you to show it off
This is a picture of a show I was a part of recently. We played at the Bishop (a pretty cool music venue/bar in town)
At the beginning of my PhD, up until not too long ago, I struggled a little bit with what I used to call “failure”. This wasn’t “failure” like “I’m not doing my work and i’m going to quit my PhD failure”, but “failure” of the kind where you work really really hard to get a specific result, or to answer a specific question, and things don’t turn out the way you think they might. This used really bring me down, and I used to think “what am I doing wrong…”
But recently, I had a realization. This thing that I was calling “failure” is actually, plain and simple, THE “research process”. Of course every question we try to answer is not going to be answered on the first try. Otherwise, we would have all gone home a long time ago. This was especially highlighted recently, when I was at a talk and the researcher was discussing this great result that had produced several publication, and they remarked “It took us 2 years to figure out how to set this study up for it to work”. In other words, it took them a lot of “failures” in order to get to their success.
So, when you’re feeling down because that great idea you had isn’t working, or you’ve run too many studies to count, but yet you have no “good” results, it’s OK! Keep your head down and keep working away. The worst that can happen is that this idea is really a failure, but now you’re a little smarter, and you can move on to work on a new idea based on this little “failure”.
One of the really great things that I love about working in my specific lab is that our advisor really encourages graduate students to work one-on-one with and mentor undergraduate students. The way it works is that we are basically allowed to take on a few students to help us with our research. Students receive course credit and research experience, while we the graduate students get help to conduct our research AND sharpen our mentoring skills.
Over four years, I have managed and mentored 10 students and can feel that I’ve gotten a little better at delegating responsibilities and helping students develop their critical thinking skills. It’s really like managing your own research group, and it feels great when you see some of these students thrive. Last year I mentored 1 student through her honors thesis project and defense (she has moved on to a Masters program), currently I am mentoring another honors thesis student (who has been accepted at four great PhD programs in my field), and I have another current student who is presenting a poster at the Women in Science conference this Friday (link: http://www.indiana.edu/~owa/wisp/). All of this is mostly due to the amazing abilities of these great students, but I like to think that I have helped a little