Grad Student Advice: Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Entered Graduate School

Chi Min and McNair Scholar Alan Goyzueta

In this month’s blogpost, we asked a current graduate student, Chi Min Seow, about what he wishes someone had told him before he entered graduate school. Chi Min is a graduate student in mechanical engineering, and Senior Scholar Alan Goyzueta’s graduate student mentor. Here he offers his advice on what he wishes he had known before beginning his graduate degree, and what he’s learned along the way.

Graduate school is about exploring your interests: make sure you’re there for the right reasons. Chi Min emphasizes that while we all have our own reasons for going to graduate school, it’s important to recognize that graduate degrees are a significant commitment; one you should give careful consideration, and should be based on your interest, curiosity, and passion about the topic you’ll study. As Chi Min said, “If the field you’re applying to doesn’t interest you a single bit, you are in for a gloomy period of time in your life.

Don’t get sidetracked by minute aspects of your graduate school experience when you might be better served in the long run by focusing on completing the research at hand. As Chi Min put it “In many cases, solving the problem should be placed ahead of generating an idea.” This is an important concept to consider, though it may vary by discipline. A student’s work in the humanities may rest upon their novel research idea/argument for their thesis or dissertation, while a student in engineering may be expected to complete a faculty members or research groups project in a finite period of time. Which leads to our next point…

Always make sure to keep your advisor closely informed of your progress—whatever that may be. As Chi Min wisely advises, “Your advisor should always be aware of your current situation. They are the best person to give you advice on your research…at the same time, expectations should be communicated very frequently between you and your advisor.”  Chi Min notes that he’s witnessed fellow students trying to move forward on their research projects independently, reading countless articles and books looking for direction when their advisor would have been able to guide them forward easily.

If you don’t know, just ask. It’s important to keep in perspective that in graduate school, and in academia itself, we’re all here to learn from one another and share our unique perspectives along with our final research product. Your advisor should be your advocate, and the person you turn to along the way with any questions that you may have. Chi Min wisely emphasizes, “You may not know everything about your project, and that is okay. The most important thing is you must be willing to ask others. They could be your advisor, your colleagues or your friends.”

Along with individuals in your department, don’t forget to make contact with the McNair community at whatever university you may end up at. You may be able to connect with other current and former McNair Scholars and share your experiences with them. And remember, once a McNair Scholar, always a McNair Scholar.

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