The first year of graduate school can be a scary one, but we are here to say it is not impossible. As a first-year student, you are learning to navigate scientific papers and what feels like an unmanageable amount of material. Everyone in your class has different expertise and this can appear to set an uneven playing field when in reality, everyone is learning something new and different. It’s difficult not comparing yourself to your classmates because that is the natural reaction, but really do not do it! Remember that you are all trying to figure this whole thing out and that YOU are just as deserving as the rest of your classmates to be in your class.
Some general advice: Form a study group; they will be your life line during the first year. When choosing a lab, do not become paralyzed in the decision, just do the best you can and find the mentor that fits you BEST. The science will change as you continue in your career, whether that be a post doc or industry, but the MENTOR during your PhD training is of utmost importance. Reading papers will get easier, and as the year goes by, you will be so surprised how much you have learned and the difference in how you approach scientific questions. This will be gradual but it will happen when you are not paying attention. And last but not least, take it all in because it will go fast! Before you know it you will be starting your second year wondering what happened to the first. Enjoy it because it really is a truly amazing time!!
Advice from the Co-founders of GradSlack:
The greatest advice I can give an incoming first year student is to find your support system. Find the people that celebrate you on the good days and lift you up on the bad days. Remember to take care of yourself and define a work life balance that works for you. DO NOT GIVE UP! There are days when you will not want to do it anymore but remember you were selected amongst many other people for your position and you deserve that spot! You have been given an opportunity that only 0.00128% of people on planet Earth are given, so make the most of it!
Don’t let yourself freak out TOO MUCH. I know I was nervous after quitting my stable corporate job to go down this unknown path – but at this point, I haven’t looked back! It was quite intimidating to go back to school surrounded by people that seemed to know everything already, but reach out to them, let them know areas you may be struggling with, because there are times when they too will need you (believe it or not 😊). So, take a breath, and realize our jobs allow us to sit in a classroom or work in a lab and learn ALL DAY, how many other careers give you that opportunity? So just enjoy it!
You’ll struggle a lot the first year. You’ll struggle in class. You’ll struggle in your rotations to find a home. You’ll struggle to balance school and your personal life. But embrace those struggles, because from them come really wonderful things! Class is tough, but you’ll learn so much even if you don’t realize it! You’ll learn to think scientifically, to question the world around you, and how to read scientific papers without wanting to give up. Finding a home (lab) can be a HUGE struggle, or at least it was for me. So really do everything you can to get the most out of your rotations. Ask questions, learn new things, form relationships with the people in the lab and the PI. Even if you end up not choosing a particular lab, you’ll walk away with a wealth of information and hopefully a few new people in your corner. The balance between work and personal life can be tricky, but you’ll learn during your first year how much time you realistically need to put into studying and you’ll learn how much you need your friends and family outside of school. When you’re having a particularly rough day remember that what you’re doing is worth it, and when you’re struggling, you’re really growing!