22 Things No One Tells You About Graduate School

1. That you are going to spend hundreds of dollars on books that you will probably never use/read again in life. But see, you can always sell your books back to a used bookstore for a pretty good price.

2. That no matter how well you think you know your committee, it is always possible that during your all-important oral exam, one of your professors goes AWOL on you, slinging at you from out of nowhere, leaving you feeling absolutely hopeless.

3. There is going to be that one person in your seminars who always has ALL the answers.

4. You are going to feel like a fake. This is typically something you feel during the first year — that your graduate school made a huge mistake in letting your lazy ass in. You worry that soon enough, all of your faculty and colleagues are going to discover that you are not as smart as your impeccable application materials puffed you up to be. This is a perfectly normal feeling. It goes away, I promise.

5. You are going to go to dinner parties where people debate Marx, Lacan’s “the mirror stage” and Derrida. This is your Friday night.

6. There are going to be periods where you try to avoid your dissertation advisor for weeks because you haven’t handed in that chapter revision. So far you’ve been really successful with not running into her on campus, but then there will be that one day where you run into them at the coffee shop and it’s like, “Fuck.”

7. That you should make friends with people outside of your program at the very least, and that you should make friends with people outside of the Ivory Tower just so you maintain some degree of sanity.

8. There’s no need to be competitive with people in your program, because you are not competing with them unless you both work on the exact topic, which shouldn’t be happening anyway!

9. Someone is going to have highlighted or marked all over some library book you just checked out, making it virtually impossible to read.

10. That it is OK not to have all the answers. Sometimes, saying “I don’t know” or “I’m not familiar with that text, could you please explain it?” is better than trying to make it seem like you tower above everyone else in knowledge.

11. People are going to be better than you, just like in real life. Let them. Focus on your own contributions, talents and interests.

12. You are obviously going to get excited about wine and cocktail receptions. But another thing you’re going to love? FREE COPIES. Also? That machine that lets you scan books/book chapters and emails them to you as a PDF. GENIUS.

13. Nobody tells you what a dissertation is or how to write one. That’s part of the mess you signed up for.

14. Your friends outside academia are going to be getting raises, making much more money than you, having significantly advanced in their careers. It will make you totally jealz. But are they happy though?

15. No one tells you that the mental health services center on campus is usually free. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of that.

16. Have other interests while you are in graduate school and nurture them. Take on internships, volunteer when you can, do stuff that’s unrelated to your studies to make sure you keep sane. But also, doing internships and stuff is cool because if you don’t get an academic job, you’ve still built an arsenal of other experiences for the real world job market.

17. That there are way too many Ph.D.s and not enough jobs for them. Finding a job requires all the usual stuff — smarts, talent, an interesting project, great letters, teaching, and awesome CV and publication record. But also LUCK.

18. At the end of every semester you will have a meltdown because you are going to have three seminar papers due in two weeks time, how on earth are you going to finish them! And yet, you always finish with flying colors, not really understanding how you came out on the other side alive.

19. Only you can figure out how to be productive for yourself. There are all kinds of books out there telling you to write for “15 minutes a day” and to try the “Pomodoro Method,” but use these things as guides, not absolutes. You might treat graduate school like a job, working from 9 to 5 every day. That’s awesome. But there were times when I was in graduate school where I would work for two months straight, really hard, and then I wouldn’t do anything for a month. It’s all in what works best for you.

20. That the actual act of graduating/walking across that stage is $$$$. The academia regalia is crazy expensive.

21. That you are going to get closer to the undergraduates than you think…!

22. Rejection is par for the course. You are going to get rejected from journals, presses, academic jobs, conferences, fellowships, tenure decisions, etc. But never take it personally. Always find a way to push forward. TC mark

image – Shutterstock

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