Friday, June 28, 2019

What to Expect out of Grad School

If you are reading this, I will assume that you are an incoming student. Congratulations, you have made it to the best university! I recall me being at this stage, one year ago - lots of dreams, "assumptions," and confusion. So, I hope this article might help clear things up a little bit. 
I was just as excited as you after being accepted into the U of M. As an engineering student from India, a rigorous undergraduate schooling only made me say, ‘Phew! I can have a much more relaxed school life in the US, finally!’ (What was I thinking?).
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I knew grad school would mean going through some hard classes, but what baffled me was the education system. I did not expect some grad courses to be as intense as a ton of homework assignments, midterm(s), finals and a course project! I don’t mean to scare you; it is completely doable with mental preparation and time management. My first semester was misery simply because I didn’t foresee what was about to come. This put me in so much stress I couldn’t handle. However, my second semester was much better, because I rolled up my sleeves as I began the winter term.
Grad school isn’t hard, provided you are consistent. Start you assignments early; at least read the questions the day they are assigned. This allows you to allocate the right number of hours in your calendar. Grad school means a lot of things happening simultaneously, that sometimes require equal attention. The best way to sail through this would be a regular schedule and a planned calendar.  Use your weekends to sketch down how the upcoming week might look like. It is hard to go by plan, but it helps. Juggling isn’t hard if you keep track. Most of you would have been quite organized in your undergrad years, but grad school is a slightly different dynamic because it’s not a marathon, but a sprint.
The task of finding a(n) job/internship comes next! It might require submitting hundreds and hundreds of applications. This implies that you are bound to receive one or two rejection emails every single day. Stay intact, do not let it demoralize you. A rejection has nothing to do with talent. Also remember, everyone has a timeline. Never let peer pressure overcome. A delay does not equal a no.  
The key to a successful and smooth grad life lies in teamwork. Make friends in your class, socialize. Almost all assignments and projects in grad school are designed in such a way that you work as a group, unlike undergrad assignments. It reduces working time even to a fifth! It also helps you learn more. You can feel a shift in quality of assignments in grad school. I would say undergrad assignments are ‘labor-intensive’ whereas grad school assignments are ‘brain-intensive’. You will often see professors giving you two weeks to solve a single problem. So don’t procrastinate assuming it is just one question!
Talking to your professors and advisors and maintaining a good relationship is integral for a good grad school experience. Never hesitate to talk to your professor and/or teaching assistant (called GSI in the U of M). They certainly help you understand the subjects better and would also help you navigate through various other aspects of grad life. 
So to sum it up, what to expect out of grad school? 
The answer is simply, “It’s going to be a series of firsts. Just be prepared with spirits high and you will love it, you will ace it!”
Written by Monica Jambu
Summer Orientation Peer Advisor
Graduate Student

Always Mind and Care for Your Mental Health

Studying abroad is tough. Not only do we have to deal with challenging curricula, cultural differences, and language barriers, we may also frequently suffer from homesickness and self-doubt. Sometimes the pain can be too overwhelming that you feel you cannot take it any longer. That’s totally normal! You are not and will never be the only one who feels this way. What I want to let you know is that it’s always okay to be not okay. But it’s not okay to struggle along. Always be mindful and take good care of your mental status, and don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Nothing is more important than enjoying your life here at the University of Michigan.

I remember myself going through a breakdown during my first semester. Trying to go over a mass of reading materials made me lack sleep for days. However, during the class, I still found it hard to keep pace with the professor. After class, I couldn’t help but feel the world was so doom and gloom. I kept questioning that since I had all the passion towards what I was learning and tried to devote the best of myself, why couldn't I make it? Everything just seemed so meaningless to me at the moment. I called my mom and fell apart. I started to doubt whether studying abroad was a good choice and told her how I felt I could not take this any longer. Fortunately, my mom didn’t push me. She said that I had done really well so far and could always choose to quit if that’s what I really wanted; that her only wish was for me to be happy, and she will always be there for me. I got reassured by my mom's words and decided to put myself together. I made up my mind to stick with my efforts and let time tell how things would turn out to be. And it was truly a turning point for me – you’ll be amazed by how powerful the support from your beloved ones could be. It holds you together and helps you move forward.

It really was not a pleasant memory. However, through this experience, I found a better way to deal with similar situations and learned how to take good care of my mental health. First and foremost, confront your feelings. Like I mentioned at the beginning, it’s always okay to be not okay. It’s safe to say I sometimes feel anxious, stressed, depressed, or empty. It’s always important to learn to be honest about what you do, and how you feel.  Second, focus on what you’ve achieved rather than what you are “lacking.” Sometimes we might just need to relax. Take some rest, eat some chocolates, or go for a run. Remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can and everything is going to turn out just fine. Last but not least, remember that there is always someone ready and willing to listen and help you find the assistance you need. When you feel down, don’t hesitate to reach out to your friends, family, or whatever can make you feel better. Let them tell you how great you are. The University of Michigan also offers Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) in every department and even online counseling services that can help you out. Finally, never, ever give up on yourself. No matter how bad things seem to be, there’s always something good out there, just over the horizon.

Written by Jiawen Qiao
Summer Orientation Peer Advisor
Graduate Student

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Building a Social Network: Communication for Academic Success and Personal Development

It is no secret that we need social connections to thrive in any kind of environment, and we all benefit from sharing experiences, knowledge and skills. As a student at university, it is no different: effective communication and developing interpersonal skills can take you a long way.

In my experience, communication starts in the classroom. You can discuss subject matter and benefit from different perspectives, and even end up making some good friends along the way. The best part is that this relationship extends beyond the classroom. Student life is stressful, and sometimes you need to be reminded that you are not alone in the struggle. Every time I have faced an obstacle, like a difficult research problem or choosing between courses, I received very good advice from seniors in my program because they have done it all before. Unless you speak up, you will not realize that there may be someone who understands what you are going through.

When it comes to professors and advisors, it is up to you to figure out what communication style works best for you. I have been in two different lab groups and the advisors have rather different approaches towards student meetings. One has weekly group meetings followed by individual meetings for regular updates, and the other has a fixed time allotted for meetings every week, and you may choose to go as you please. It may take a while to figure out what works best, but it is worth it when your research and coursework proceeds smoothly.

It is also important to start building a network of professional connections as a student. There are many networking events, seminars and lectures through which you can meet people in academia, industry and other fields. Networking is one of the most useful skills you can attain at university, and I have seen people get excellent opportunities like internships, co-ops and even jobs because of the contacts they make through various events. It all comes down to how you present yourself and put forth your ideas.

On a personal front, it is quite easy to isolate yourself and focus on nothing but academia. This may seem harmless in the beginning, but in the long run, it can be detrimental to your progress and well-being. I really appreciate the social events organized by my department and the Graduate School, as they are opportunities to go out and unwind with other students, relax and get in better shape to tackle the next big thing. It seems like a tertiary aspect of school, but it helps strengthen your personal connections.

In general, maneuvering through student life is tricky, but we can always support and encourage each other. We may come from different countries and backgrounds but we are united by our experiences at university, and that brings us closer to each other.

Written by Aishwarya Chandrashekar
Summer Orientation Peer Advisor
Graduate Student