10 Things I Learned in 3 Years of Graduate School

Last week marked the end of my third year of graduate school. It made me thing back to 4 years ago when I was going into my fourth year of undergrad and remember thinking about how much I changed since first stepping on campus. It also made me look back at my time in graduate school. I remember starting graduate school. I was eager, excited, and nervous all at the same time. I had so many different experiences over 3 years. Not everything went according to plan, but I have overcome challenges and thus learned a great deal. I can attribute these to my personal growth in confidence, courage, and compassion towards myself. I decided to write a memento to my 3 years in graduate school and the share 10 of the things I learned along the way.


It is alright to be different and unique – As you might be able to tell, I am not your typical Ph.D. student in chemical engineering. Evidence by the many people who are taken aback when I tell them what I do. And I knew that going into grad school, that I was not the norm. Firstly, I was a woman in engineering and secondly, I am quite fashionable and girly. It was a little difficult in the beginning accepting that I was different but also refusing to change myself. At the end of the day, I am so happy that I did not conform. I will not change who I am for anyone and I embrace my quirky outfits which make me so happy!


Don’t beat yourself up – Graduate school can be stressful and you are likely to experience a lot of setbacks. I know I have had my fair share. Such as the experiments that we finally had to call quits on after I worked on them for almost a year and a half. The main thing I learned and still learning is to not be so hard on myself. Not to doubt myself so much, not to feel guilty, and not be discouraged. These things won’t help you complete your goals but only hinder you in enjoying the good times. And when I feel disheartened to pick my self back up and keep at it.


Overcoming fear of public speaking – I used to be the worst a public speaking. Heart pumping, sweaty palms, and stuttering. Not pretty. In graduate school you are pushed more than ever outside your comfort zone as you are expected to present 15-30 minute presentation on your work in from of leaders of your field. Good luck. At my first conference presentation, I think I was so nervous during my presentation that I almost blacked-out. Luckily it was a huge success and one good thing came of it is that afterwards I was so excited to present again.

Importance of giving back – I am going to be honest that before graduate school I was not the biggest fan of volunteering. But some experiences in graduate school changed all that. I started participating in science days with elementary and middle school students. It has been one of the most rewarding things and I have realized how important it is to encourage STEM in schools.


Take suggestions from peers and advisors with a grain of salt – You are going to get a lot of advice in graduate school whether you ask for it or not. A lot of it will come from your advisor, hence the name, and some from your peers. It took me a while to realize that advice people give you is just that, advice and you can pick and choose what is best for you. Even with advisors! I know personally I missed out on a few good opportunities when I listened to my advisor. It is so important to realize when you are out of your depth and when to follow you gut and knowledge.

Stand up for yourself when dealing with difficult people – I would like to coin this year as “The year of the annoying post-docs”. Honestly, I have had some very difficult and trying experiences, one of which could have possible involved a near brawl at a high school event. I may share these experiences in more detail in another post. But for now, I will share with you the take away from my experiences. Sometimes you have to defend yourself and say no to people even when it can be difficult. And other times you have to outperform their expectations. You go girl!


Importance of self-care – In graduate school you sit between expectations of an employee and a student, which can be very difficult to manage when you have high demands. As well as often self-imposed expectations and anxiety. Self-care and taking time for myself was one of the ways I was able to overcome many of those difficult moments in my life when things just got too overwhelming. During those times, I enjoy putting on a face mask or taking a candle-lite bath. I have also found that rekindling my excitement for old hobbies great for de-stressing.


Home is your sanctuary – At the end of a long work day, coming home is one of the best feelings. One of the most important things I have done during my time in graduate school was invest in my home. Over three years I have made it my very own and a place I love to be in.

Take breaks and vacations – The day in, day out life of graduate school can get mundane. You can get stuck and lose motivation, especially if you have several years of school ahead of you. I have learned that is it alright to take breaks and go on vacations or stay-cations to help recharge. After a vacation, I have come back with new energy and excitement for my work.


Take risks – Who in the academic world would think that a scientist and engineer can be a fashion blogger too? It was a big a risk for me, because I knew people would not get it. But I decided to overcome my internal fear and hesitation and peruse this passion. I enjoy writing blog post, taking fun outfit pictures, and bonding with others over graduate studies!

Hope you enjoyed this post. I would love to hear what you have learned from your graduate school or first job experience!



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