We caught up with some of the members of this year’s SAGE (Students Advising on Graduate Education) board to ask them just one question: If you could give your first-year-grad student self one piece of advice, what would it be?
After all, beginning graduate-level coursework, meeting professors and fellow students, acclimating to teaching responsibilities (sometimes for the first time), and diving headfirst into research – all while trying to figure out life in a new town – is the definition of information overload.
Their responses were funny, honest, and totally on point.
Make sure you take advantage of orientation to learn about all the resources available on campus. There are so many of them, and you’ll never take advantage of all of them if you don’t know that they exist. (Case in point, health insurance – one SAGE member admitted, “I still have no idea how it works.”)
There are jobs outside of academia. It’s okay to come in wanting to be an academic and then to change your mind. It’s also okay to start a Ph.D. knowing from the get-go that you want to work in industry or for a non-profit.
Get specific, but don’t limit yourself. A lot of people tell you that grad school is a time to get super specific and while that’s true in your research, you should make sure that it isn’t true in the rest of your life. There’s a lot of value in spending time outside lab, exploring recreation facilities, learning about health and wellness stuff, and even just meeting people outside of your department.
Your research interests are going to change. Don’t’ let that freak you out. Roll with it. Not only is it okay, it’s a good thing.
Don’t pressure yourself to be an expert. You have the next two, five, seven, or more years to learn about your topic and hopefully a lifetime of learning after that. Don’t let what you don’t know hold you back from doing something new and interesting.
If you are not getting the experience you need or something is wrong – speak up. The Graduate Adviser or Director of Graduate Studies in your program can help. Don’t feel comfortable reaching out to them? Contact the Grad College at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Unlike in undergrad, coursework isn’t all about the grade. Coursework for the most part is something for you. It’s a chance to gain skills that are helpful to you. Having that mindset before you begin can make a big difference.
Teaching undergrads can be fun, but it can also be challenging. Fortunately, there are loads of people who have done it before you. Find someone who has done it before and connect with them. A teaching mentor can help you make the experience worthwhile.
Grad students – what would you add to the list? Does any of this advice ring true for you?
SAGE is a student advisory board and leadership opportunity for graduate students at Illinois that fosters active engagement with Graduate College programs and initiatives. SAGE board members enrich graduate student community, build leadership and administrative skills, and strengthen Graduate College services and programs.
This board contributes to the graduate student community at Illinois by providing varied perspectives that enhance the academic, professional, and social experience of graduate students at the university and collaborating with Graduate College staff on a project related to a program, initiative, or the broader goals of the college.
Check out this year’s members and learn more.