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?).
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