As I was kind of expecting, I seem to have slightly over-estimated the amount of work I can handle this term! Grad school is complicated – I hear so many people saying how amazingly chill it is—they sleep until 12, get to school around 1 or 2, and stay until around 5. Then there are the me’s who run around like chicken’s with our heads cut off who get to school around 7:30 and stay until 5, at which point we go home and do work there.
So why don’t the me’s get to sleep until 12? Well dear readers, let me tell you so you can know what you’re getting yourself into when you say “yes” to the fun extra things you can do in grad school.
1. Courses. Grad courses are a lot more work than undergrad courses. A lot of people told me that before I started, but I only semi-believed them. Let me give you an actual idea of how much work is involved in a particularly heavy grad course, so you’ll hopefully get an idea of how many you want to take in a term. The most the majority of grad students take is 3. I’m in 4. Oops.
Lectures: 3 hours per week
Tutorials: 1 hour per week
Journal club: 1 hour per week + 45 minutes of transportation to/from (this involves meeting with other graduate students working/taking classes in the field and taking turns presenting and discussing a relevant journal article each week)
~ 5 focus notes – summary notes of relevant journal articles
A 2000-word literature review
A group experimental project and report
On the plus side, the course is really interesting and the prof is great!
2. TA-ing. TA-ing is another complicated grad school thing. It is half really rewarding, fun, and really makes you know the course material inside and out, and half disheartening, frustrating, and takes way more time than you will expect.
The fun part is getting to know the students and feeling like you actually are helping them, and in some cases, maybe even getting them excited about the course (well, excited may be a strong word…). The disheartening part is when you think everyone gets what you’re talking about, and you see they totally didn’t on the problem set or quiz.
The frustration comes in when you look out onto a sea of 120 blank faces, knowing the class has no idea what you’re talking about and you can’t think of another way to explain it, or students making a big deal of you taking off a mark for something, when you know you could have taken off many more in other places but are trying to be somewhat lenient.
As a first TA position, I really recommend doing a lab since they usually only last 2 weeks and you only have to prepare one lecture that you give over and over again. Tutorials are nice since you get to know the students a lot better, but they are a lot more work.
3. Research. This one is also a complicated grad school thing since all supervisors are different. Some will definitely want you to start making some progress on your research while you’re taking classes, and others won’t expect you to start until after you’re done (the first 8 months of the program). For me, the amount of work my research has been is roughly the same to the amount of work an undergrad project course is. It’s something that is always there and I kind of put off/slowly plug away at until I have a deadline or meeting coming up, at which point it’s all you do for a day or two.
Grad school for the most part really is pretty fun, and I am enjoying what I’m doing (ugh, with the exception of one course which each lecture is an hour and a half of my life I will never get back), its just a lot of work.