Congratulations, you have been accepted to your Dream Graduate School! You will be interacting with brilliant minds in your field and researching topics you are most passionate about. But what should you do now that you have been accepted?
Having done it myself a mere three years ago, I am here to bring you advice on what your next steps should be before you start your first day as a graduate student.
Determine potential advisors
Different departments work differently. In some, you will get accepted with an advisor set, while in other departments you have anywhere from a semester to a year to determine your advisor. If you are in the latter category, I will tell you that is never too early to start. The more you know about a potential advisor, the more informed your decision will be when the time comes.
Read about the professors in your department and arrange for Skype or in person meetings. Prior to the meetings, reading their published paper and the journals they are published in. Think of this as an informational interview. Talk about their published research, ask about the future direction of their research, and your research interests. If possible, arrange to talk with their current grad students to get a better understanding of what working with the professor is like.
Prepare for the Move
When I started grad school, I had to move to a new city and although it was not far from where I lived, I really did not know much about it. The image I had in my mind was the exact oppite of what it actually was. I learned that it was a beautiful, historic, hip and diverse city, and quickly grew to love it. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its bad parts.
First thing you need to do before moving, is to figure out the safe and affordable places to live. This will be important for when you are coming back from late nights at grad school. Other than googling, ask someone you know who lives there. If you don’t personally know anyone, you can try contacting the graduate coordinator in your department for help. Once you determine potential locations, start looking for apartments. You can look at places like Craigslist (but personally I was wary of this), Facebook pages for housing/subletting for your school, or Apartment.com.
Budget, Budget, Budget
Budgeting is vital in grad school to prevent debt and maintain a decent lifestyle. Typically, in science and engineering fields, PhD students get funded through a stipend. Which is great because you don’t have to take out loans for the next 4-6 years. Nevertheless, stipends are quite small and depending on your circumstances have to be stretched far.
I recommend that you write out a list for yourself all your expenses and how much they will cost. On my list, I had my “housing” expenses such as rent, internet/cable, electric, etc. Researching step 2 will be important, to get an idea of how much housing costs in your area. I also had my “living” expenses such as groceries and entertainment and my “other” expenses such as shopping or travel which was where I got to play with the numbers.
Make sure to also include savings. I can not stress enough the importance of this, because if you ever have big expenses come up, and you will, you will want some cushion in your finances. So, give yourself the flexibility to do so. I am currently saving up for my first car!
Graduate school can be very long and tiresome and while taking time off is more flexible compare to a job, it can also be difficult. I suggest that the summer before you start grad school you do something fun for yourself. Either go on a vacation or take time off to enjoy your hobbies and hang out with your friends. The summer before I went off to grad school, I worked for half the summer and used the other half to spend time with my best friend who was also starting grad school. We had a blast, it felt like summers back in middle school!
Now, my favorite part, shopping! A new start deserves a new wardrobe. Go shopping for some new outfits so you can start grad school in style! Find items that are smart and casual to help you look put together. Don’t forget some well-fitting business clothes that you can wear to conferences or presentations. Also, you might want to consider your program requirements. For mine (chemical engineering), we have to work in laboratories which means close toe shoes and standing most of the day. Therefore, I made sure to get some cute and comfortable shoes.
Hope this advice helps you make a successful start to your grad school, from one grad student to another. If you are in graduate school and have other recommendation for what you should do after getting accepted, please comment below. I would love to hear your thoughts!
This blog post was inspired by a few of my close friends who have recently been accepted into graduate schools. You know who you are, wishing you all the best next year!