10 Things I wish I knew before going to Grad School

Hi loves,

Well, the thesis defense has come and gone! I will recap the experience in another post coming soon! I did live stream it, although I never got around to announcing it on here, but if you follow me on social media, you should have seen the announcement! It was saved to my Facebook page, so you can replay and take a look! I refuse to watch it again…hahah!
These last couple of days post defense have been a lot of reflection and stressing out about the things I have to finish up before moving on to the next stage, which includes finishing some experiments with whatever time I have left at UCLA and moving two times.
I’m also showcasing an outfit I put together as a conference or social look – with a blouse and a skirt my aunt sent me from Cyprus! I decided to pair orange with a black, patterned top, but I would also just go with a solid black top!

I wanted to share some tips with you, 10 things I wish I knew before going to Grad School, as I feel like I have a lot of wisdom I can share, and help people with things I had to learn the hard way! I wrote a similar post on ways to take care of yourself in grad school, which you can also check out for some tips!

1. You are among the best of the best. 
Something I struggled with was not being the smartest in the room, and putting myself down for it. In order to even get to graduate school, you had to go thru an interview process, and were hand selected to join a few others in a cohort class for whatever department you are joining. You are among the best of the best. And it’s ok to not be THE best. It’s impossible. At times I felt stupid for not understanding topics as fast as my classmates, and just know that its ok. Everyone learns things differently and at different rates, with different methods. When I did study groups, others would catch the material fast and I would still not understand it. I studied better on my own.

2. Not everyone is going to like you, and thats A-OK.
I wish I accepted this sooner. The second I came in to grad school, I faced SO MUCH DRAMA, mainly from other women who tried to tear me down. I’m pretty easy going, easy to get along with, and had never had issues with people in the past. But, grad school attracts all kinds of people, and its ok to not be friends with everybody. Trust your gut instinct and intuition. First impressions can tell a lot, and TRUST your intuition. I was too easy to quickly trust many people, and it came back to bite me. People talk behind your back, little things you say can get taken out of context and telephone their way around, I got invited and then uninvited to events everyone else was invited to – it was vicious and unnecessary. It felt like Adult version of Mean Girls! I never thought I did anything wrong to piss anyone off, and I just realized some people just aren’t going to like you because you exist. You know how that saying goes – you could be the juiciest peach and there’s still going to be someone who hates peaches! I felt like other people’s insecurities were projected onto me as hate, and I honestly think it was girl competition – as if we can’t all be smart, pretty, bad ass women in the same field…. You just have to accept that not everyone is going to like you, and honestly, you don’t want everyone to. hahah!

3. Grad School is a Marathon, not a Sprint.
My first two years, I started research strong. I worked my butt off, started working every weekend, because I was excited about my results. That was great and all, until I burnt myself out fast. I realized that in order to finish grad school in 5-6 years (here in the United States), you have to pace yourself. Work hard but pace yourself, because I have burnt myself out many a time, and I need some kind of mini break to get myself back into the grind of things. So if you don’t HAVE to go on a weekend, take it and relax – you can go to lab on the other weekends.

4. Working out is your best friend, and cheapest therapy.
I worked out to help deal with my stress and anxiety, and it was the best thing I could’ve done. When the doctor tried to prescribe me medication for anxiety, I said NO. Instead I dug deep to find the root cause of my anxiety, and tried to deal with that, and worked out daily to help get rid of anxious energy.
It really helps keep you sane, and helps clear the mind. Get the heart pumping, get your mind off of any frustrations, and gets rid of antsy energy. Many a time I’ve channeled my anger or anxious energy to push hard on a workout. I mainly workout at home because I can’t be bothered to wait in line for equipment at the UCLA gym, and since my time is so limited, I would rather be most efficient and work out at home – I have some weights, stream my workouts, and can quickly jump in the shower. No driving, no worrying about the bros staring – and my workout buddy is my cat! 😀 If you want to try a free 14 day trial of the streaming service I use, you can sign up for a premium trial membership HERE, or you can purchase a year long subscription along with superfoods HERE

5. Have a hobby to turn to for fun when grad school isn’t.
Having a hobby you can turn to is key – something you can do to release some steam, something you enjoy doing. For me, that is blogging. It doesn’t feel like a job or a chore, and I actually have fun writing posts, when I have the time. Finding something that you can do when you are feeling down or tense can be great. Whether that’s playing a musical instrument, taking a dance class, painting, or whatever – find something!

6. The Imposter Syndrome is really real.
A lot of times I’ve felt like I’m a fake. That I somehow made it thru the cracks and someone’s going to realize I’m not great or I’m not good enough. But then I realized a LOT of people feel this way. And I think it has to do with how academia is set up. You are specialized in a certain field or area, and you are the expert. When time comes to move onto something else, it’s really easy to feel overwhelmed.  Just know that you aren’t alone in feeling like this, and you just have to be confident in yourself and your capabilities.

Blouse: Express | Skirt: Warehouse | Shoes: NineWest

7. Science doesn’t always work, and thats ok. 
The sooner you understand this, the easier life will be, especially if you are in the sciences. Science a lot of times DOESN’T WORK. You could be doing everything right, and the littlest thing, like temperature of the room you are doing the experiment, could mess with your results. It’s ok, and its not the end of the world if you are stuck. You will figure it out (eventually).

8. 60% of Grad Students experience Anxiety, just no one talks about it.
SO many students face anxiety and depression, and it’s just not really talked about. A lot of times its stigmatized, and people feel scared to admit or talk about it. But there’s really nothing abnormal about feeling anxious, or depressed. Do seek out help when you need it using the resources on campus, make an appointment with a counselor, or talk to a trusted friend. Vent it out. Blog about it. Talk to someone. It all helps in dealing with it. You can check out my post about Life with Anxiety, and I even made a youtube video in my Grad School Survival Guide Series on my Youtube Channel

9. Get Involved.
Whether its activism for causes you sincerely care about, student clubs – get involved. I involved myself with many organizations, was a part of 4 student government groups, 2 other student groups of interest, and even got involved in organizing events outside of UCLA, as I was involved in organization of the March for Science LA. Do something you are passionate about, it’ll really help you learn leadership skills, help you network, and you will get a sense of accomplishment. If you want to advocate about something you feel strongly about, do it. I started many a petition, brought up issues to the Grad Student Association, and more. Don’t just sit and complain, as I know a lot of students do. Be the voice, and do something about it! Change doesn’t happen without a voice.

10. You will come out a completely different person. It’s ok to say No.
When I first started grad school, I was a meek 22 year old that let other people walk all over me. I said Yes to anything that was asked of me, I spread myself too thin, I got overwhelmed, I always went out to socialize with people even if I was tired – the list goes on. I am now leaving a different person. I am confident in myself and who I am, confident in my abilities as a scientist, and I know when to say NO. It’s ok to say no, something I had to learn the hard way after over stretching myself. I would try hard to get all these extra things done that people would ask me and then I would be in lab until 9 pm. It kinda sucked. I guess my eyes opened when I asked someone to do something for me and they said no to my face. I was pretty upset, and then I realized, everyone is going to be selfish. I was being too nice, but too my own detriment. Dealing with everything I did, learning that not everyone is going to act or react how you expect, not expecting anything from anyone, among the other lessons I learned, I am a different person. My PhD is not just about my degree, but it also signifies a mental and emotional growth. And while at times it sucked, I wouldn’t trade it in for anything.

What do you think about these tips? Is there anything you would add?

Let me know in the comments below!


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