By now graduation season is almost over, you could be relaxing on the beach, or getting your last minute travels in before you enter the field like me in a few weeks. Over the last few years, I’ve learned just how much the summer counts and to always make the best of it. These tips are designed from my own good (and bad) experiences, so I hope that they help you in some way.
For my rising senior undergraduates:
For those of you who may be perusing the blogs looking for insight into professional organizations or the graduate school life, keep in mind these few tips:
1. If you are a senior and are planning on applying for graduate school in the fall, start e-mailing professors in the departments you are looking at. Introduce yourself, tell them your interests, ask them about theirs. This is one of the most important tips I can share with you. It is crucial that you begin these conversations early to give professors a sense of who you are, what you have to offer, but more importantly for you to get a sense of who they are and if you are compatible. I’m sure there are horror stories out there about students getting to their respective institutions and finding out that they are unable to work with people they admire and aspire to be like. DO NOT LET THIS BE YOU. Fostering a good relationship with your committee and/or advisors is one of the best ways to ensure that your graduate experience is smooth and somewhat less bumpy.
2. Thoroughly, thoroughly research the departments, what they have to offer, what the university has to offer, and what the city the college or university in has to offer. Choosing a graduate school is like choosing a partner to spend the next few years of your life with. Think carefully about your likes and dislikes as they pertain to socialization, weather, distance, public transportation, etc. For example, I only applied to schools on the east coast. Why? The major reason is my family, I did not want to go half way around the country and have to worry about how or when I would get home if there was an emergency, the second was it was more familiar to me and I thought it would be easier to adjust. It just so happens that the two main schools I wanted to apply to, University of Maryland- College Park and the University of Florida, were on the east coast. Moving to Florida was still a major adjustment, but in the end it was the best decision I could have made at that time.
3. Begin drafting those personal statements for graduate school applications and scholarships/fellowships. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but taking the time to eloquently write about your desires to pursue a graduate degree takes time and it also gives the person reviewing them some time to read over them. Look into statewide and/or federal fellowship programs.
For my rising first year graduate students:
1. Start thinking about what conferences you would like to attend for the year. By now most of the abstract portals are open, if you plan on submitting a paper or poster presentation. If you are just planning on attending and networking, put a little of your summer earnings away to help pay for the conferences fees and registration and/or any travel arrangements that need to be made.
2. Whether you are on an M.A. or Ph.D. track, start thinking about your end goal and an end date for that goal. It seems strange but it helps keep things on track and in perspective. While life does happen, you need to think about where you see yourself in the next two, three, four, of five years. On the first day of my graduate school orientation, I remember the school’s officials saying, we love you but we also want you to get in and GET OUT.
3. Update your resume and CV and order yourself some business cards. They will come in handy, TRUST ME! Moo.com has these really neat mini-business cards, 100 for $19.99. They are eye-catching and a conversation starter. Vistaprint.com is also a recommended source for getting high quality business cards for a decent price.
For my continuing graduate students:
1. My biggest tip, is to hang in there. We’ve all probably reached that point where we are tired of being in school, wondering what’s next, and trying to stop ourselves from giving up. You’ve made it this far, and hopefully, like me, you won’t have much longer.
2. Depending on where you are in your program, I’m a fourth year (yikes!), start thinking about what kinds of jobs you’d like to pursue in the afterlife, I mean after graduation. If you’re thinking about being in academia, start figuring out how to get that teaching experience under your belt if you haven’t already. If you’re thinking about a government track, like me, start figuring out how you can either intern or volunteer in the specific agency you’d like to work in.
3. If you haven’t kept track, figure out where you stand in the program, especially what the next steps for you are. As I’m approaching the time to take my qualifying exams and defend my dissertation proposal, it helps me to stay focused, keep the end goal in mind, and to give me the swift kick in the butt to not let procrastination set in. Depending on how hectic your summer is, try to prepare for those comprehensive or qualifying exams by reading and preparing your bibliographies.
Regardless of what point you are in in your academic career, make the summer counts. Take the time to relax when you can, catch your breath, but also get ahead in what’s to come in the next few months. The summer flies, but don’t let it be a wasted summer!