A new school year is just around the corner, and for some that means their first year of being a grad student. Beyond just academics, there are some important changes that you need to address in this first year. Yes, the classes are going to be harder, the hours longer, and the dedication required is literally going to blow your mind. But there are other things to consider when you’re a grad student. The most important being that you are NOT an undergraduate. You are a professional, grad school is your job.

I like to think of myself as a video game character, from Fallout III or Fable. I fight battles against final papers, face the challenges of the beasts of administration, and work on gaining skill points in my discipline. Moving from the undergrad to grad level means I’ve got to be ready for the changes in challenges. So here’s my advice on leveling up your life to match grad challenges:

Wear the Correct Armor: Undergrads have a uniform of gym pants, UGG boots or sneakers, and hoodies. Making the move to grad school doesn’t mean you need to wear suits and heels, but it does mean that you need to show that you’re not an undergrad. Don’t wear anything that can multi-task as something for the gym or bed. Try a nicer pair of jeans, collared shirt, nice sweater or a casual skirt. This advice does shift by discipline, but try your best to match the fashion of your advisors and professors. The worst thing that can occur for you is to be confused with an undergrad because of your wardrobe. Check out this post on dressing like an adult and adopting a grad student style.

Get the Right Weapons: I’m talking about a good computer and a smart phone. We’re living in a world that is increasingly digital. You need to have constant access to emails and up to date calendars. Find an operating system that you like, I would suggest either Mac or Google. Stick to a calendar, sync your phone and camera, and use it! I’m not kidding, getting a smart phone changed my life. I get emails and tweets from professors hourly and its much easier to deal with it throughout the day than all at once. It also allows you to use social media for networking. One more note: while I do like stickers on laptops (conference ones, those relating to awesome programs you’re involved in, community based ones) its probably a good time to get rid of any inanppropriate ones (i.e. curse words, ones that are controversial, anything offensive)

Be an Elite Member: As an undergrad you can get away with being one of the numbered students who didn’t interact with the department. As a grad student you are a member of a community and need to be a part of it. Attend brown bags, have lunch with the department, and act like a work colleague. Make friends with the secretaries, they have saved my butt numerous times and may help you out in the future. Of course, you don’t want to be overly casual, so remember that grad school is a job and your department is your work environment.

Create a Strong Character: In our new world of technology and social media, its important that you have a strong, but most importantly consistent identity. Just like forming your character at the beginning of a game, you need to decide early on how you want the wider academic community to view you and stick to it. Pick a tagline (Katy Meyers, mortuary archaeology grad student, huge nerd), pick an image, and make it the same on every single social media site and program you are involved in. Creating a strong web presence is not a new concept, but its important that you remember it and keep up with yours. Check out this post on ProfHacker for the basics.

What suggestions do you have for leveling up from undergrad to grad?

[image by Flickr User Matt Baker and used under Creative Commons License]



4 Responses to Level Up Your Life

  1. Stephanie Hilliard says:

    Great article. I think that was one of the most exciting things about finishing my undergraduate and moving to graduate school – was realizing I was now a professional. I had stopped being part of the undergraduate cattle herd and moved into a new realm.

    Good advice on consistent “branding” for your image as a graduate student. I had already thought about the need to portray a professional image, but not about the consistency across media. I will definitely pursue that.

  2. I loved the section about wardrobe. My wardrobe in undergrad had many people thinking I was a graduate student. Now, it seems, undergraduates think I’m a faculty member. It makes a huge difference in how you are view.

    But, also knowing how your department/field dresses is key. For example, I’m in a digital design field (game design specifically). It was very important for me to learn to wear nice casual clothes and business casual clothes–even layered graphic tees. Heels aren’t a necessity–I’m in a field full of men. I’ve had to learn to dress down a little. This is a shocker for someone who loves a good pair of trousers or skirt with a sweater or collared shirt, and had to wear a suit to “dress up” in the past.

  3. […] 1. Resist the temptation to act like an 18-year-old.  The last time I was treated like a student, I was, well, a student. An undergraduate student, to be exact. Coming back to school much much later for my Phd, I felt myself wanting to drop my business casual for jeans and ratty sweatshirts. This is a mistake. I realized very quickly that, despite the tendency for graduate students to dress like students, if I wanted to be taken seriously, I needed to dress for work.  (For more on this, see a previous Gradhacker post from Katy Myers “Level Up Your Life.”) […]

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