It is 4 AM right now in NYC (which has apparently become my sleep-time) and I feel overwhelmingly blessed to have the opportunity to be studying in a good school, where I get to learn something new every single day. The past month has been extremely productive – in terms of exploring new areas, forming bonds, networking with people from diverse backgrounds and just understanding how unaware and dumb I am (meeting too many smart people has that effect).
The first few weeks after grad school shoots you in the face with assignments, classes, projects and events. Some students buckle under pressure, but most tackle it with grit. Sadly, your neat and tidy to-do list becomes exhaustive and ugly very soon. Here are just a few learnings on my part over the past few weeks:
You need good people around you:
Within just a month of beginning grad school, I see people buckling under pressure and I feel I am barely holding on. After a long day of studying, thinking, writing assignments and attending classes, when I go home I want to be able to talk to my friends about my day and their day. I want to engage in absolute nonsensical talk because that’s what helps you shake off your daily stress.
I cannot stress this point enough. So, when you enter grad school, or if you’re already in one, make as many friends as you can. Value every single morsel of people in your life.
You study a lot:
That seems quite obvious, but it’s one of those sayings which is much easier said than done. When I say the above, I don’t just mean sitting down in one place for 3 hours to study. I mean sitting in library morning to night, going into the next morning to learn the new concepts and finish your assignment. The silver lining here is that you would never (hopefully) do it out of obligation – as long as you were wise in choosing your major, you would love doing it.
By now, library has become my first home. One side note: In my undergrad days, I never understood the seriousness of girls not being able to use the facilities outside hostel after 9:00 because of curfew. But here, after going home at 3:00 and 4:00 AM in the morning, and being able to do that, I see how much girls are being deprived of in certain colleges in India.
Learn to adjust – Integrity in Diversity:
The ability to adjust with people who starkly contrast you and maintain good relationship with them will take you a long way. And that is mainly because it’s one of the hardest soft-skills to accomplish. As much as you want to be amicable, arguments do spring up occasionally.
People here have strong convictions and will not agree with you always. It could be your roommates, project mates, class mates or just a bunch of people you met on a hiking trip. You need to understand that not everyone has the same exposure or values as you do, and try to adjust. Most importantly, the age gap here is huge. My department has people ranging from 21 to 30+ – think about the accumulation of experiences that every student has there. Thriving in such an environment, and learning to forget the age difference, is critical.
Geniuses all around:
I am constantly amazed at certain people I meet here, and how precocious they are. You feel dumb and question your educational value every day – but it makes you want to be smarter and work harder. I see people who already have start-ups, people who have 7+ years of work experience and people who can complete a task in 30 minutes when it takes you 4 hours.
You just need to understand that the outcome has an equal proportion of talent and effort (probably more of the latter), and try to leverage on one of the two.
The why matters more than the what:
People value genuineness and personal effort a lot Hence, you should forget the concept of copying or ripping off of someone else’s work. Every single assignment or project is considered sacred. I still remember one of my first assignments in a subject took me 3 days to complete – with at least 3-4 hours invested each day.
But it’s a great feeling knowing that whatever you did, is solely your own (with occasional help from peers).
Professors match your excitement:
This is very subjective to departments, but overall, I find the quality of teaching almost satisfactory. To be brutally honest, I wish some subjects could be better – but it might be too soon to say. Keeping that aside, one of the best classes I have sat through happened a week back. The class stretched for 5 hours (which is a routine), but I felt more energetic after than before.
The most wonderful moment is to see your professor match your excitement for a subject – or even better, lift up your enthusiasm.
Almost all the people in my closest friends circle here are those who are extremely motivated and take their courses seriously. Sometimes I realize how lucky I am to have that, because when you have passionate people around you all having solid aims in life, it enhances your level of thinking and determination. And I hope everyone has such a circle in their grad school.
I encountered so many ‘first time’s the past month. The first time I went to a karaoke bar, first time I had the famous Insomnia cookies, first time I made pasta, first time I gave a presentation in front of one of the most intimidating professor, and so on. And I am sure I will encounter many more such.
To those who are already pursuing their Master’s and PhD, I hope you take away as much as possible. To those whose dream is to go to grad school, do not waste the next few months. Spend as much time as possible learning about the zillion programs out there, make a list of universities you really wish to apply to and re-think it over and over. Spending a couple of hours every week to write your SOP and Resume will help you more than you can imagine later on. There is a fine line between getting selected and rejected – don’t let it be a couple of hours of research and hard-work.
P.S. Free advice: Learn to enjoy the most trivial of things.
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