Considering Graduate School?

Advice by Dr. Prince Chidyagwai, Ph.D, Temple University, Philadelphia

Having recently finished graduate school I have looked back and decided to write about things I learnt along the way which might be helpful to fellow "Usapers" (students) considering applying to graduate school in the future. Here are a few pointers from my five year experience with graduate school. Experiences will differ with fields, I work in applied math but I will try and make this as general as possible.

Talk to your professors early on in your college career.
Develop close working relationships with your professors and mentors early on in college. If possible sign up with one of your professors at your undergraduate school for a summer research project of your interest. This will give you an idea of what work in graduate school will be like. Undergraduate research experience on your recume (CV) will also improve your chances of getting into programs of your choice.

Qualifying exams are hard. Study really hard!
When you get to graduate school you will most likely take exams that will determine if you are ready for the Ph.D program. These exams differ by department and field, however they all have one thing in common. They are hard! Brace yourself for some really hard work at the start of your graduate school career to make it past this hurdle.

Choosing an advisor and picking a research topic in graduate school
This is one of the most important decisions you will have to make when you get to graduate school. I suggest doing your homework about all the people you are interested in working with. This will obviously start by doing research into the kind of work they do and then seeing if this suites your interest. You might also want to talk to other students in the department to get a feel for how they deal with their students. Taking a class from your potential advisor is also a great idea. The key thing is to pick a research area that will keep you interested and motivated because chances are you will be doing that for a long time.

Socialize with other colleagues in the department
I advise you to spend time interacting with other department members to get an idea of the kind of work other people do. This is also a very good way to get ideas on who to work with for your research in your first years. As the years go by its a good way to get colleagues to collaborate on research problems.

Find a hobby
Find a hobby that takes your mind of work to allow yourself to relax because unlike regular nine to five jobs research problems and projects will always be with you even when you go home!

Explain to your family what you do and convince them its worth it
Like most of you I came from a family who understands the value of an education. However, for most families their patience starts running out after your third degree, which was the case for me after my Masters. They expect you to start working and go on with life. The idea of more school and more degrees to some extent does not quite make sense. You should find creative ways of explaining your complex research and help the understand how to support you.

Enjoy the experience
Looking back I would not trade the experience for anything else. It was a lot of hard work, hard exams sometimes but all worth it in the end. I will be happy to answer any specific questions.

I wish you all the best in your graduate school plans!

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