What All New Graduate Students Must Know
"Graduate school is the best time of your life. Enjoy it while it
lasts!". While these words of signal processing guru Prof. Martin
Vetterli are in many ways true, several students fail to bring them to
fruition mainly because they are ignorant of what graduate school is
about and the problems grad students face. This page lists important
issues grad students must be aware of and provides relevant Web references.
1. Differences between undergraduate college and graduate school
Graduate classes are usually much more demanding than undergraduate
ones. Typically 9 to 12 credit hours will keep you very busy.
Tips for Managing Coursework
- Discussion Groups: Form homework discussion groups (if permitted
by the professor). This way students can help each other understand course
- Time Management: Finish assignments well in advance of the deadline. This will save you a lot of stress.
Research differs from the normal undergraduate coursework in many ways.
- Innovation: Research is inventing/discovering something new.
- Lack of structure : Research problems are not well-defined unlike
course assignments. Textbooks covering the latest research work are rarely
available. Problem solutions are not guaranteed. Strict research deadlines
do not always exist.
- Communication: Effectively communicating research ideas is
crucial. The CAIN project
helps Rice students develop good communication skills.
For more information on doing successful research see:
- Research Area:
Choose a research area that really interests you. The more fun research is
the easier it is to do.
- Adviser: Find a suitable adviser. Some students prefer a "hands on" adviser who will work closely with them and explain the "nuts-and-bolts" of research. Others prefer more independence and can do with "high-level" research
- Research Buddy: Professors can have hectic schedules and may not be
able to spend considerable time with you. Find another student(s) to
discuss research ideas.
- Work: Develop a sense of urgency. Don't wait for your adviser to push you
every step of the way. Take the initiative in setting up meetings with your adviser.
- Write: Write weekly research reports, jot down ideas, and
make summaries of papers. Writing stimulates thinking.
- Prof. Richard Baraniuk
How to be a good graduate student - Marie desJardins
2. Several relevant practical issues
Since grad school research is often unstructured, time management is a
key issue. A few basic time management tips follow.
- Set goals
- Form a personal schedule: Include only those events that match your goals. Set in your schedule a time to plan for the following week.
- Leisure time: Schedule time for flexibility and leisure.
- Evaluate schedule: Keep a journal of how time was actually spent.
- "To Do" list: Manage a "To Do" list with different items prioritized. Use the most
productive hours for high priority items.
The typically low graduate student stipends coupled with high expenses
necessitate financial management.
Some obvious ways to deal with the problem are:
- Accounting: Keep track of daily expenses
- Budgeting: Prepare a budget. Common expenses include university
fees, health insurance, and car expenses (insurance, repairs, state registration).
The intellectual challenges and enormous workload can take their toll
in the form of emotional fatigue and depression that are accentuated by
insecurity, anxiety and boredom. The importance of dealing with
fatigue and stress cannot be understated.
The above topics are discussed in greater depth in articles provided by Graduate Resources.
- Monitor stress: Journal your progress in dealing with stress. This will help you
find how this syndrome operates personally in your experience and will
help you find solutions.
- Analyze thought process: Begin to analyze your destructive "self-talk".
- Seek help: Do not be ashamed to talk to a close friend or
seek professional help if stress becomes unbearable. The Rice Counseling Center offers such
Last Update: August 17, 2003