Surviving Grad School: The Essential Guide to Not Devolving into a Blathering Idiot (Disclaimer: guide is not applicable for those who are already blathering idiots.)
I’m in a mood. Instead of writing a short treatise on how much I hate people (I’m fairly certain I’ve covered that topic ad nauseum) I have decided to put forth a guide for current and future graduate students who desire finals week to be just another week.
(Pre 1- Don’t be delusional- finals week will NEVER be just another week.)
1- Have a secret underwear stash: you, as a grad student, have precious little time to eat; doing laundry is a luxury. A secret underwear stash allows you to continue living with some semblance of dignity (but don’t expect too much- clean underwear only gets you so far.) Case in point- Up until today, I hadn’t had time to do laundry for a month. Since I have a secret undies stash, I have managed to not feel disgusting and demoralized on a regular basis. Never underestimate the power of clean undies (I realize that last statement contradicts a previous statement- I’m a grad student and I just finished finals, my brain is fried.)
2- Accept that EVERYTHING IN THE HISTORY OF EVER that can go wrong, will: A tried and true cliché. Imagine- you’re finishing your thesis. Your deadline is in a week and all you need to do is finish the edits your reader wants, give it back to your reader, do the final edits and perhaps tweak the format, and then turn it in. A week is plenty of time to do that, right? It is if everything goes exactly as planned. It won’t.
Your reader will go MIA and not get the final edits to you until 1.5 days before the deadline.
Your computer will crash and you backed up your thesis but now you have to use one of the school’s computers, which means you need go to school, pray that you get there while the computer center is open (the hours change during the semester- one week they’re open till midnight; the next, 9pm. Logic is not the strong suit of academia.), pray that there’s a computer free (it’s finals week, remember? Every student suddenly needs to use one of the school computers and there are only so many available.), and then finally, you’re home free. 3.25 days have elapsed since your computer crashed. 1.75 days till deadline.
One of the most likely scenarios is that you will get sick. You’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time in the library with all the unwashed, dorm dwelling undergrads, you’re super stressed (as a grad student, stressed is your natural state) thus your immune system is weakened… you can see where this is going right? Before you know it, you’ve contracted the plague. Time to ask for an extension.
3- Know what makes you happy: it seems simple enough but when you’re up against 23 different deadlines it’s highly unlikely that you will remember that eating mochi ice cream puts an instant smile on your face. Little things that you can do in 2 minutes or less or, even better, while you’re working, are best. You need to eat (such a pesky problem, the whole dying prevention plan.) so stockpile your favorite candy, fruit, jerky, whatever, in advance.
4- Plan ahead: in terms of grad school, being prepared means knowing where all the quiet, comfy, power source- equipped spots are on campus, which coffee shops stay open till midnight, having money for printing your papers in the library.
5- Accept that you will most likely lose some of your sanity, especially if you’re working on your thesis: lately I’ve spent a lot of time with friends who are in the final stages of finishing their theses. They can see the light at the end of the tunnel, they know it’s not an oncoming train, all they have to do is ONE MORE THING. They have been subsisting on coffee and cigarettes (sad but true) and 3 hours of sleep a night for the past 3 weeks. These things make them particularly susceptible to mood swings that, if left unchecked, morph into full blown insanity in a few days. The only way to prevent the insanity is to not write a thesis. As a grad student, that’s not really an option. By default, you will go slightly insane while finishing your thesis.
6- Don’t take this whole grad school thing so seriously!: In the grand scheme of things, a thesis that gets turned in a week late is not the end of the world. It’s not even the end of your world. On a scale from 1 to a million, one being the least catastrophic, turning your thesis in a bit late is a .3. It’s hard to see that grad school isn’t the only thing that ever existed when you’re in the midst of it but it’s not. It’s 1 thing on a long list of things that you will do in your life and almost all of them will be way more awesome and important than grad school.
This post is dedicated to all the graduate students who have survived another term. We live to learn another day. Well done.