Blossoming in Grad School – The Practicalities

How to win at graduate school in 4 easy steps:

1) Control the web

Put on a shirt that you would wear if you were doing a public presentation at a national-level museum. Have someone take a photo, then repeat with a different shirt. Don’t overthink this: put on shirt, stand in front of a neutral background and take the photo. Repeat. Five minutes tops, you want to look like yourself and not scare small children, that’s all.

Go to your new university or free-website place and create a website with:

  • one of these two photos on it (no other photos)
  • dates and details of your undergrad degree and high school degree
  • if you had a job, give the details
  • some general statements from your grad school applications about what you are interested in and why
  • link to your CV
  • no personal stuff unless it is directly related/ relevant to what you are studying in grad school

Go to,  research gate,or mendeley

  • set up your free website
  • use your other photo
  • fill in EVERYTHING, especially your interests
  • spend about 1/2 hour searching for professors you have had/ have read and ‘follow’ them

Tell a few friends/ family about the sites – search for yourself on-line

Darling, you want to be in control of who you are on the web. When someone searches for you, you want them to find one of these two sites (not a photo of you doing heavens knows what with heaven knows who). Use other kinds of social media for friends and the good stuff in life. These two sites are for your academic life: future classmates, staff and teachers from your new university, people you meet at conferences etc. You want to have a clear/ easy web-presence that makes sense.

2) At home – prepare for the invasion

In undergrad, you and the people in your major knew the same stuff so you could ask a lot of people for help (students in your class, the TA, the prof). If you had a job, you and colleagues HAD to share info and work together to a certain point, but in grad school, you and your cohort are going to be going in very different directions; the knowledge is going to diversify wildly so make SURE YOU HAVE SPACE to keep and organize all the data.

Get the BIG bookshelf and make sure there is space for another one in your home office space. Buy files/ highlighters/ folders/ plastic crates, etc. There is going to be paper and you are going to need to organize it easily and quickly. Make piles as you go along, keep all your notebooks – slap post-it notes on top of articles (I mean both real paper and electronic – set up files on your computer by topic and class).

I promise you that in your 3rd year you are going to realize an article you read in first semester will hold the key to the universe, but no one else will remember, make sure you can find it.

3) At the university – make your workspace livable  

Depending on what the set-up is, you might have shared office space or just a desk, whatever it is make sure it is NICE and FUN. Get the pencils you like, buy the mini fridge, get a plant, stick up postcards, etc. Make your office space more Va-va-voom, less Alcatraz, more Designer Guild fiesta, less Prison of Azcaban.

And, Darling, check out the kitchen. If it is a dump, buy cleaning wipes, air fresheners, hand soap, and bright-colored paper napkins. Don’t think about the money or that it is someone else’s job, just figure out what thingies you want around you and buy them as cheaply as you can.

4)  Rope yourself into the team

Darling, this is the time to put that ‘me’ into team. Watch Ted Lasso. Answer EVERY e-mail from your department, take the survey, give the feedback. If someone asks for help, send them the info. Be the person who passes on information and if you don’t know/ can’t help, don’t ignore the call or e-mail, answer back that you don’t know.

In undergrad you were in a marching band, moving in step with a lot of people. In grad school it’s much more diverse. You are all starting out from the same base camp but are climbing the mountain by different routes. When you hear someone yodel for help from another valley: HELP THEM, not just because it is the right thing to do but because within weeks it will be you disoriented with night coming on and a storm brewing. If you want someone to leave the cabin to light a flare for you – do the same for other people.

Also see:

Blossoming in Grad School – The Theory

Congratulations (and advice) on your college/ university acceptance! (graduate school edition)

Congratulations (and advice) on your college/ university acceptance! (undergraduate edition)

Tales of the University Splendide and the University Superius

How to Cope with Engineers at the University Splendide

Surviving education


Woman Reading, Jacques-Émile Blanche

Woman Reading, 1890,Jacques-Émile Blanche