Top 7 Tips on Making the Transition into Graduate School
Updated: Feb 16
Graduate school is tough, we all know that. But deep in our hearts, we want to follow those incredible role models like Marie Curie, Antonia Novello, Sally Ride, and so many others to have an impact in our society. The interesting thing is that we may know our short and long-term goals, but we don’t know how the journey might end up. Reflected on their experiences coming to a graduate program in the United States, Marlia Bosques, Ana M. Vazquez-Catoni, Noelymar Gonzalez from the Ohio State University and Andrea Lugo from Cornell University shared their personal experiences on transitioning to grad school.
Here, are their top seven tips on how to make a successful transition into graduate school.
1. Recognizing adversity is an opportunity
Marlia says that in a perfect scenario it would be ideal following all your goals in your hometown, having everything accessible but we all need to get out of our comfort zone order to discover big opportunities and give back to our people: “I got to know the resources at my department really well and I knew we were lacking in a lot of fundamental materials and information. I thought the best way to make an impact on my community was to pursue a degree at a top agriculture research university outside Puerto Rico and then go back with new innovative information and experiences. Also, I knew that in a different country I would be completely out of my comfort zone and that has to help me grow as an individual, professional and scientist.”
2. Carefully considering your concentration when choosing an advisor
One of the top perks of graduate school is that you get to choose who is going to be your boss or P.I. (Primary Investigator), so choose them wisely! Noely and Marlia got to the same conclusion:
“The number one priority should be your advisor and the project that you would work on. Your advisor is the person that would be along your side throughout your whole journey and their ultimate role is to support and guide you. Secondly, you need to be passionate about your project. You are going to work with that most of your time and things are unfortunately going to go wrong but if you love it, you already have the strength to keep going.”
3. Taking time for self-care (mental health and well-being)
First things first, prepare yourself weekly, use reminders, and remember to put yourself on the “To-Do List”. Ana explains:
“Every week will be different and dynamic in its own way. Admittedly, it's difficult to balance life and work. It all really depends on what fills your soul and how much time it consumes. For that reason, it is important for me to schedule ahead of time stuff that requires many hours in a day (concerts, visiting friends out of state, etc.). Within a day, I make time for little things that make me happy and fulfilled, like calling family, listening to new music or a podcast after I got out of campus.”
4. Acclimating to changes in culture and climate
Weather is the most challenging task to overcome but finding peers who would warm your heart will help you get through it. Noely expressed: “Moving from PR to OH was very difficult. Things like changing language and cultures were highly challenging and it completely took me out of my comfort zone. The drastic change in weather, going from a tropical island to a temperate region, has significantly impacted me and still try to get used to. However, I’m happy I’ve been surrounded by nice people who have helped and supported me in the process.”
5. Understanding things won’t always end up the way the expected
Mistakes happen, learn from them and repeat. Marlia says: “You are going to make mistakes and that you shouldn’t make yourself feel like less because of that. Instead, you should analyze the situation and learn from it. Enjoy the journey. It is crucial to take time to slow down and appreciate how much you’ve learned and grown.”
6. Recognize what’s expected of you as a graduate student compared to an undergrad
Ana says that the demanding work-life schedule makes it harder to find time to have fun; however, it’s still something necessary to do from time to time:
“In a graduate studies program, you are expected to manage your time wisely. For instance, you have some experiments to run, and classes, and deadlines to meet, and meetings to attend, which can make the experience overwhelming at times. What I learned is that you actually have to schedule free time for yourself, so you don’t burn out in the process.”
7. Appreciating all the opportunities available to you at a higher ed institution
Andrea explains that one must find their own collaborations, networking and set your name high: “Here in graduate school, you have all the opportunities and resources to create your professional and academic career as you desire. During your time in graduate school, you will meet future connections that share the same mission and collectively will work for the same objective at some point. You will grow as an individual, discover new interests and might even change your goals but the important thing is being grateful for the education you are receiving. Give back to those who inspired you and spread the knowledge to the community.”
You can read the Portuguese version here.