Editor’s Note: This post is co-authored with Chad Clay, Assistant Professor of International Affairs at the University of Georgia, and is cross-posted at Quantitative Peace. It also owes a debt to our colleagues in UGA’s Departments of International Affairs and Political Science that participated in the Graduate Student Professionalization seminar on September 12, 2014.
Last week, we, along with several of our UGA School of Public and International Affairs colleagues, met with graduate students in our program to talk about graduate school expectations. For first year students, this was an introduction to graduate school. For those past their first year, it was a refresher. Over the course of the meeting, a few points were raised that we feel may be of broad interest, and so we have listed those points below. Of course, this isn’t a comprehensive graduate school survival guide. For more guidance on these issues, you should check out the recent posts by Amanda Murdie and David Shorter on the topic.
You will have existential crises.
You will ask yourself why you chose graduate school. You may even contemplate quitting. It is normal to think about this. You’re making a large career decision by going to graduate school, and it makes sense to ask yourself along the way whether it is really the path you want. As you ask and answer these questions, though, talk with other graduate students and (if appropriate) faculty members. Your thoughts may be motivated by a short-term issue (e.g., not understanding the political science jargon), which remedies itself over the longer-run.
Likewise, students also tend to believe that everyone around them “gets it” more than they do in the early stages of graduate school. Indeed, most political scientists have stories about the moments in graduate school when they were convinced that everyone else in their classes knew more, was better prepared, was getting more sleep and exercise, had better ideas, etc. In the vast majority of cases, these things simply weren’t true. Those students that seem to “get it”? They likely feel the same way that you do. This is yet another reason to get to know your fellow graduate students, talk with them, and work with them. You are all in this foxhole together, and graduate school is much easier when you help one another through the hard times.