The roller-coaster that is graduate school

"Graph - Work Output" "Piled Higher and Deeper" by Jorge Cham

“Graph – Work Output”
“Piled Higher and Deeper” by Jorge Cham

Welcome to grad school, where schedules are made up and plans don’t matter.

(Alright, that’s not entirely true, but you’ll see what I mean soon enough).

Last week, I had a fairly productive week in the lab. To me, a “fairly productive” week means that I met with my supervisor, and crossed most items off my to-do list. I’m making good progress, and I’m on track to submit my thesis on time. I’m lucky to currently be in a spot in my master’s degree where I am typically making constant headway – but that’s not always the case.

The phrase, “patience is a virtue,” is one of the most relevant expressions of graduate work. A lot of the time, there is a lot of waiting happening. Waiting for ethics approval. Waiting for experiments to be completed. Waiting for participants to be available. Waiting to receive experimental equipment. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Luckily, all of this waiting has fostered initiative and problem-solving skills in my life. How can I fill my free time? What other work will I eventually have to finish? Have I missed any new (and relevant) journal articles? Even when my current goal is complete and requires me to wait before advancing to the next step, I’ve learned to determine what else I can be doing so that I remain productive and don’t end up wasting time. It’s true – practically all scheduling in grad school is made up (based on you and your supervisor) – but that also means that you’re able to tailor your schedule to your personal needs. You may have a part time job, a volunteer position, a commitment to a sports team, but the beauty of grad school is that it allows you to be flexible with your learning and research, and plan to work your own hours at your own pace.

There are certainly other times where the exact opposite is true. You’re busy running around on data collection days. You have continuous work to do during your data processing. You have constant back-and-fourth when trying to submit your final draft for publication. You have to re-configure an aspect of your project after meeting with your supervisor. These are the days where time-management and prioritization come in handy. The busy times are some of the most exciting, but also the most demanding.

Just remember, all of these ups and downs are a normal part of graduate school. The progress during the busy times is very rewarding, and the break during the down-times can be rejuvenating. Graduate work is a roller-coaster (or a graph with many peaks and troughs), but you can manage it in the way that’s best for you.

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