Looking back on my time in grad school is a bittersweet feeling. I had a lot of difficulties but I still treasure the hard work and tears (maybe that’s the cognitive dissonance speaking). I thought I’d share with you some wisdom from my time in grad school: the things I wish I would’ve known. If you understand and take seriously some of these things, then maybe you can avoid some of those tears in grad school (literal and/or figurative tears).
1. Your GRE scores matter A LOT. I didn’t put too much stock in my GRE scores. I bought a study book the summer before my senior year of undergrad and worked on my high school math skills. I took the GRE once and got an incredibly mediocre score. It was pure luck that I got into a PhD-level program. I really regret not taking one of those courses where they teach you the “tricks” to taking the standardized test.
2. Just because you think you’re good at something, doesn’t mean you’ll like it. I wish I would’ve realized this before I went off and decided what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I just thought, “Oh, I’m good at school, so I’ll go do more school.” I had this approach with getting a teaching job in academia, too. Just because I was good at giving a 50 minute oral presentation, didn’t mean that I would like teaching. If you want to know if you’ll like something, you need to try it first.
3. Where you go to grad school doesn’t matter as much as who is your advisor. This is important. Your advisor is your lifeline during graduate school, so choose carefully. Just because the school has a good football team, an amazing alumni base, and an awesome rec center doesn’t mean their graduate program is good, too.
4. Student outcomes are a big deal when selecting programs. They now have ways to track graduate programs on student outcomes, which are the stats on students after they have graduated. Check out phds.org for more info. Do their graduates get jobs? Do they work in academia or industry? All these things are important when selecting a grad program.
5. Graduating with a PhD ≠ success in life. Getting a PhD doesn’t automatically put you in the fast lane for winning at life. Being nice to others, developing a social support network, volunteering your time, etc. will certainly help, but ultimately your life success is not contingent upon the degrees you hold.
We’ve all had successes and failures, but remember the failures don’t define who you are. How you adjust because of them is what matters. In my next post, I’ll share some things that I’m glad I did in grad school.