What was the most UNEXPECTED part of Grad School?


What might surprise you about graduate school

We asked SciAll’s scientists and contributors, “What was the most unexpected thing about grad school for you?”

Moving from undergraduate to graduate school is a big leap. So, what surprises did they run into?

  1. Being successful in undergrad vs graduate school was very different

For Dr. Sammy Davis, it was getting A’s, being successful is your classes in undergrad did NOT automatically transfer over to being “successful” as a grad student. Graduate school required her to learn a whole different set of skills, and become more independent and self directed.

This was also unexpected for Dr. Jenan Kharbush. She was surprised that grad school wasn’t just a harder version of undergrad. Instead of just new more difficult classes, it was something totally different. She also expected to do more studying that she actually did. Instead, she did a lot more reading and independent research, which isn’t the same as studying from a textbook to pass a test. The test were very different than what she expected.

2. Being treated as a scientists or colleague

For Adrian Perez, he was surprised when in graduate school other scientists started speaking to him as a scientist and colleague. Or even, like you’re someone who might know more about a subject than they do. For Adrian, it was an interesting double edged sword. If this happens and you’re not confident or feel like you don’t really have any expertise it can play into imposter syndrome. But, it can also give you confidence! It can (very correctly) give you the feeling that by the end of your Ph.D. you might be someone who is the utmost expert on a topic. Or at least, some small part of that topic. Which, is very cool to think about…

3. You can start out not knowing what you will work on

For Dr. Burçin Mutlu-Pakdil, she didn’t know that it is ok not to know what you will work on. Grad school is a place for students to enrich their skills and find their own path. So, you don’t really need to know all the answers in your early career. It can be a fun journey, and you will discover many great things about yourself along the way.

4. Graduate students frequently get PAID

Dr. Joe Pfaller reminds us, it can pay to go to graduate school! Definitely in Biology, but also in Chemistry and Physics, whether to grants and fellowships specifically awarded to you, your advisor, or through teaching assistantships awarded by your department, colleges and universities don’t expect graduate students to take out big fat student loans to pay for tuition and living expenses while in grad school.

5. There is more freedom in graduate school

Dr. Mike Gil unexpectedly found himself with the freedom to choose his own adventure in graduate school. There was a lot less structure than he was used to in college and K-12 education. It was super exciting at first, and then it became kind of daunting. It can feel like you have so much freedom you don’t know what to do with it.

Dr. Alex Jentsch also found the freedom during graduate school unexpected. His freedom derived from his classwork being a lot more focused on his one particular topic in physics, and he had an easier work situation. Handily, his work as a TA was essentially in the same building where he took his classes. He found this gave him a lot more freedom, and made it easier to maintain his schedule.

6. Grad school can be… fun!

Dr. Isaac Ligocki really didn’t anticipate how much fun grad school was going to be! He found he had a ton of time to think about really interesting scientific questions with a great group of colleagues that are now some of his best friends. He had a blast!

7. It’s A LOT of reading

Rossana Maguiña did NOT expect the large number of books and scientific articles she had to read for her comprehensive exam. She had never read that much… in her life. Before that exam, or after…

8. You’re a human during grad school

Amelia Munson wasn’t expecting to be a human during grad school. She was prepared to be a scientist and student, but forgot that 5-7 years is a really long time… and it’s a really long time during an important time in your life when so many other big things will happen. Being a grad student is all part of that. It becomes your job, your friends, and your life, and that’s sort of a great thing.

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