To the potential graduate students out there

Every semester, the Marine Science Institute asks one of the students who graduated the semester before (preferably a PhD but usually a Masters) to give a speech during the orientation for the new graduate students. The speech is usually inspirational, full of “I had an awesome time and you will too!” anecdotes and “Grad school is hard but you’ll pull through if you do A, B, and C!” tips. Seeing as I won’t be graduating anytime soon and that I highly doubt they’d ever get me to give the speech once I did graduate, I’d like to take this opportunity to share something I’ve been composing in my head for the past month.

The non-academic, non-scientific things I learned in graduate school:

1. Don’t go into grad school for the wrong reasons. The wrong reasons include (but are not limited to):

  • You’re bored with your job.
  • You hate your job.
  • You don’t know what to do with your life.

Speaking as a science major, the only reason to go into grad school is if you want to do research for the rest of your life. The purpose of grad school is to teach you how to do independent research. If research will not be your life’s work, then there’s no reason  for you to spend years of your life  (2-4 years for a Master’s degree, 4- 8 years for a PhD) of your life learning how to do it. If you’re bored with or hate your job, then either get a new one or set up challenges for yourself within the framework of the job you have now. If you don’t know what to do with your life, then get a mentor who can guide you. Going into grad school without a clear goal in mind will just make you even more miserable.

2. Once you’ve made up your mind to go to grad school, do your research (pun intended).

There are lots of different graduate courses in lots of different schools. Do the work and find the course that will satisfy you both intellectually and emotionally and will help you get to where you want to be in life.

3. Once you’re in grad school, surround yourself with people who will support you.

This isn’t anything earth-shattering but it needed to be said. Grad school can and will be hellish at times. You’ll doubt yourself, your capabilities, and your purpose. You’ll feel lost. Dismayed. Inept even. It’s necessary to have someone believe in you during the times you don’t believe in yourself.

4. Don’t be afraid to take a break.

The world nor your life will end if you graduate a little behind schedule (unless you’re on a time-sensitive scholarship with lots of strings…). Take a break. Re-assess. Your physical and emotional well-being are worth the extra semester or two.