What I learned in my first semester of grad school

What I learned in my first semester of grad school

The dinosaur to the far right is me, yes. (Photo by Alan Middlestaedt)

I can’t believe it. I’m done.

Well, a quarter of the way done, anyway. That’s right—I survived my first semester of grad school. You know what they say, time flies, etc. But truly, when I look back over the past few months, I can’t believe how much I’ve done. Just within the first few weeks, I was interviewing Slash, navigating downtown Los Angeles court rooms, and writing more in a short period of time than I had all year. Since late August, I’ve also developed a backbone and video editing skills, not to mention a clearer focus on what it is I want to do when I’m a student no more.

To be honest, I went into this program with some reservations. Maybe more than one should have when going into serious debt for said program. But then, that serious debt was the main reason I had reservations. The other, of course, was just self-doubt.

In any case, I’m so glad I stuck it out. The opportunities I’ve had would’ve been much harder to come by had I gone with a more grassroots approach. Not that any of these things would’ve been impossible had I done that instead (that’s the thing about journalism—you don’t need a degree to do it), but I’ve definitely benefited from the constant kicks in the butt that being enrolled in a rigorous program gives you. I needed someone to give me assignments—especially difficult ones.

So what have I learned?

I’ve learned that self-doubt is absolutely part of the experience. At least, to start. After a while though, you’ve got to shake it or at least fake it. (You know, until you make it.) Grad school is as much about becoming confident in your footing as it is studying the methods of those who do it better. You want to be like them? Act like them.

It’s up to you to make the most of it. Just like anything else in life, graduate school is what you make of it. Yes, you might go into it expecting one thing and end up realizing it’s entirely different from what you pictured. (I was so confused during orientation. Why are they giving us camcorders? Don’t they know I want to write for, like, those magazines made of trees?) But grad school is not the time to be narrow-minded. Embrace the challenges. Go beyond the minimum requirement. You’re wasting your money if you don’t take full advantage of all the resources available to you, no matter what the field. Graduate knowing you got everything out of it that you could.

Friendships form fast. I couldn’t believe how quickly people were forming into groups even during orientation back in August. For an introvert, that can be overwhelming. (Especially if you’re an introvert who’s still getting her bearings in a new city.) But even if you’re not quick to form friendships, they will establish over time. Having every class together—and suffering through seemingly impossible assignments together—dictates that. It’s so funny to think back on how different my cohort seemed in the first week of classes. By the end of the semester, it was a tight-knit unit with weird inside jokes. (As evidenced in the photos above and below.)

what I learned in grad school

$100 to the person who can figure out what we’re trying to spell. (Photo by Alan Middlestaedt)

This is, of course, based on just one person’s experience, and grad school experiences obviously vary greatly depending on what you’re studying.

My perspective is also shaped by the fact that I took “off” a couple of years between undergrad and graduate school to get some experience under my belt. And even though at the time that job—where I worked among a truly special group of people for two years—was not what I wanted to do in the long-term, I’m so glad I took that time to work there, learn a bit about an industry I didn’t know anything about at first, and save my money while I lived rent-free at home. That time of my life helped make this time of my life possible.

That time was also when I really started pouring into my blog, because my job wasn’t something I took home with me at night. (Journalism is so totally the opposite.) And thank God for this blog, because between the writing and the photography, it gave me a creative outlet I so desperately needed. The fact that I haven’t abandoned it since starting grad school is something I’m very proud of. Turns out I’m not terrible at this time management thing.

So I’ve learned this much. I look forward to seeing what else I learn over the next year and-a-half.

Fellow academic scholars, aspiring graduates, and students of life—what valuable lessons have you learned lately?

Comments

  1. Are you guys spelling “Implement?”

    Congrats on making it through your first term! It sounds like you’re in a fantastic program and it’s exactly where you should be. Way to make the most of it!

  2. Yayyy, congratulations! Can’t wait to have a celebratory drink with you =]

  3. Are you guys trying to spell “implement”? The “n” is kind of tricky, but I’m going to assume that’s an “n”. xDD

    Congrats on getting through your first semester of grad school. c:

    “Turns out I’m not terrible at this time management thing.” To be honest, that’s exactly how I feel about my blogging as well. The part I have trouble with, however, is the commenting and keeping up with such. :x

  4. yes, Implement sounds about right ;) I have taken a hiatus from school due to financial reasons and I can definitely say without hesitation I miss the assignments and being taken out of my “comfort zone.” Hopefully, next year I can return – all in due time. Who do you want to be like Cassie? Congrats on completing your first semester in grad school!! :) Have a great one! -Iva

  5. Congrats on surviving your first semester! I was a Journalism undergrad major and it was an exhausting major for THAT! Whew. Enjoy your next few weeks of downtime and soak it all up. :)

  6. I start school in January and I am alternately terrified and excited. Being back in school thrills me, but it’s going to be a vastly different experience compared to my undergraduate years. I’m going for journalism like you and it’s nice to have someone else experiencing it with me. I hope I make friends and do well.

  7. Grad school is as much about becoming confident in your footing as it is studying the methods of those who do it better. You want to be like them? Act like them.

    AH, such is life, I’ve found.

    Congrats on a successful first semester! Making me want to go back to school over here. :)

  8. Dang it, y’all beat me to it. I got “implement” as well. Ahh there goes my $100, haha. :P

    Seems like you’re in a 2-year program like me?…with a different focus, of course. Your thoughts on fast-forming friendships didn’t apply well on my end. Then again, seems like yours is very specific and small. Although mine [Public Health] has a few “majors” or divisions, the classes are inter-correlated and a lot of your classmates are not from your major. The interdisciplinary nature of my program really slows down the friendship formation process. Another reason why it’s difficult is because a lot of my classmates are married and have their own families. Did you know that the average age in my program is 28!? I just turned 23 a few months back, and am considered the baby of the group.

    Perspectives matter, of course. I just finished my first semester. Likewise, I look forward to what the rest of my grad student life entails. :)

  9. I loved reading your reflections on grad school, Cassie, and they inspired me, too. It’s such a hard decision to make to go — sometimes it seems like a logical decision and other times, it doesn’t. Still, I think you emphasized a great point — while the opportunities and learning experiences are possible outside of the walls of a university, it’s much, much harder and a lot more trial and error (and error and error). Formalized training has its definite benefits and one of them is being a part of a network, automatically.

    I’m so glad that your decision is being reinforced and that you’re so open to all of it. I can’t wait to see how the rest of your time goes!

  10. ooh this makes me want to go to grad school. i’ve always thought about going back to school. :)

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