Tricks of the Trade: The Dos and Don’ts of Grad school

As a first year graduate student, I have quickly learned some of the tricks of the trade for surviving the first year.

  1. DON’T isolate yourself during the first year. Grad school is hard enough already so don’t carry the burden alone. This leads me to the first DO:
  2. DO enjoy and get to know your cohort during the first year. These people will be around you (for better or worse) for many, many, many years to come. They will be your future colleagues. Therefore at least some of them should be your support system, therapist, editor, friend or whatever else you needs to get through grad school. BUT…
  3. DON’T start comparing yourself with your cohort or other students. Being a grad student itself is extremely challenging, but once you start comparing yourself with others the challenge can become unbearable. Remember that the first year for EVERYONE is an extremely difficult time, where people start doubting themselves and their ability to be a successful graduate student. It’s also an extremely humbling process, but the struggle becomes more bearable when you are not afraid to seek out help or advice. This leads me to the last rule:
  4. NEVER be afraid to ask questions or seek help from professors or fellow students. If you don’t understand the readings, start a reading group. If you doubt your writing, ask a fellow student to help you with ideas and edits. If you don’t know how to frame your research ideas, reach out to a professor. Remember that no one assumes that you should know everything or that you are dumb for asking questions. After all, if you already posses all the knowledge, then what’s the point of going to grad school?

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.

Technology on Campus

Using every and all forms of technology is completely acceptable and recommended in grad school. Indiana University makes it easy for people like me to understand new email interfaces, citation management softwares, setting up wireless printing, and more.

  • University Information Technology Services – the technological support and services for the entire university. I have taken classes on Excel and HTML for my graduate assistantships to help me learn new skills and brush up on others. There are various workshops and trainings you can sign up for through the university.
  • After I purchased my pride and joy, bane of my existence, laptop I had to download some appropriate software such as Office for MAC, Adobe, and the wonderful Endnote. These software programs and many more are available through the university.
  • Questions or issues with software, internet logins, pass phrases not working, or email servers giving you trouble…well the campus support center will answer questions by phone, email, in person, and by chat.
  • There is even a place to purchase hardware on campus right in the Indiana Memorial Union and discounted items through IU Surplus.

What I have described here is only a small part of the tech services and support here on campus. I am still learning about new tips and tricks all the time.


Becoming more productive


Managing your time as a PhD student is exhausting. I often find myself blinking at the sheer number of tasks that need to be completed.  Since the start of this academic year, I have juggled revisions on my parts of my dissertation, learning Swahili, attending research skills workshops, writing conference presentations, teaching, and managing my three non-dissertation research projects. Even though I have experience in these areas, they still take lots of time.  I dream about having a research assistant.  LOL.

I know that there are two types of people in my PhD world:  (1) those who are productive by nature; and (2) everyone else.    This post is for that second group.   Continue reading


When it comes to graduate school, most people’s first thoughts jump to experts in training in a narrow field of study, but further consideration might reveal the truth – graduate school, in fact research and teaching in general, is very reliant on collaboration.  It is a key component that differentiates the good scholars from the best, and is a skill that is carefully acquired and refined throughout a career.  If you need further evidence of this, just take a stroll around the IUB campus – you will see a building constructed especially for collaborative work, which is even named the Multidisciplinary Science Building II (or MSB II for short).


The recently constructed Multidisciplinary Science Building II (MSBII) on the IUB campus. Photo by Ren-Jay S.

Continue reading

Libraries at IU


The Herman B Wells Library, as viewed from the West. Photo by Ren-Jay S.

The first time you see the Herman B Wells Library at IU, you may think, “wow, that’s awesome!” or perhaps, “what a strange looking building!”  Either way, you may or may not realize that you’re looking at a library that hosts an extraordinary Information Commons, multiple quiet and group study floors, and endless rows of stacks that contain tomes of knowledge that have been slowly accrued over the last several millenia.  So I encourage you to venture in, grab a coffee, and learn about the endless resources that are available to you through the IU Libraries.

We are fortunate here at Indiana University to have a library system that includes agreements with other libraries to grant us students and the faculty access to almost any resource in the world.  I have yet to find a book, journal, or article that is not accessible either online, in print, or through Inter-Library Loan.  So, it’s pretty easy to access scholarly resources here at IU, which makes life as a graduate student MUCH easier.  There are many satellite libraries here on campus housed within each academic department (for example, the Chemistry Library, Life Sciences Library, Law Library, etc.), so you don’t have to venture far to speak with a librarian to assist you with your studies.  Moreover, the library even offers live chatting to help you facilitate your research if you get stuck and need to ask a question right away.  A little known secret is that some of the satellite libraries even offer graduate assistantships to students that includes a fee remission, health insurance, and a stipend, just like a teaching or research student academic appointment would.  So if you’re still searching for funding, the libraries might be a good place to look if you’re running out of options.

The bottom line is that the extensive resources and expertise that are available through the IU Libraries exist to facilitate the work of graduate students and faculty, which makes life much easier for us.  So go ahead and stop in one of the libraries sometime and get to know your friendly neighborhood librarian, because they might just get you out of a bind when you’re burning the wick at both ends trying to finish up an important project.