Written By: Emily Kelly-Castro
Edited by: Paulina Krzyszczyk
The following is an article review of Three reminders to help you thrive-not merely survive-in grad school by Neil A. Lewis Jr.
You’ve made it to your next step in your life, graduate school! This is where to start building your professional career. The following years will be filled with new experiences and knowledge. You will meet new friends, peers, and future collaborators. You will also lose friends, meet bad mentors, and have stressful and discouraging experiences, but don’t give up! Always remember what drove you to make the decision of going to grad school.
This is Dr. Neil A. Lewis Juniors’ first tip in his article, Three reminders to help you thrive-not merely survive-in grad school. Lewis is an Assistant Professor of Communication and Social Behavior. His research focuses on examining how and why people’s identities and social context interact to influence their motivation to pursue goals and their success in achieving them. In this article, he discusses the bad reputation that graduate school sometimes gets—for being underpaid, for lack of support from family members, and for how different it is from a “normal job”. He affirms that these arguments are not too far from reality and may contribute to the fact that graduate students around the world have a higher rate of depression and anxiety than the general public. There are many things that need to change to make graduate school a better environment, but in the meantime you have to keep going. Dr. Lewis Jr. gives three tips to survive, which are:
1) Remember your reason for pursuing this path-and write it down
2) Remember the people who support you and stay connected with them
3) Remember to give yourself a break
For the first tip, he suggests writing down your reasons for going to graduate school. They may evolve with time, but that is okay! Always keep them in mind, especially in the moments when you doubt your decision. This will make you remember why you are pursuing this path and the end goal.
For the second tip, remember the people who helped you, never gave up on you, and motivated you to get this far. You are not alone, and you don’t have to go through graduate school alone. There will be really difficult times when you want to give up but remember these people and reach out. You will also meet new people along the way who want to support you—let them! Having someone in your corner cheering for you and willing to pick you up in your low moments is always important. Going through graduate school alone can be difficult, both emotionally and mentally, so take advantage of your support group!
The last tip from Dr. Lewis Jr. is to “give yourself a break”—which he provides two perspectives on. The first one is to recognize how graduate school is very different from undergraduate studies, when you were trained to find the correct answer. In graduate school, however, there are NO correct answers! You are responsible for asking the questions and looking for answers. You are going to make many mistakes and have many failed experiments along the way. This is normal, so do not beat yourself up about this! Step back and try to look at the problem from a different point of view. Consult with your peers and your advisor and do not assume that you should get the correct answer entirely on your own. The second way to give yourself a break is to literally take time off— trust me you are going to need it! Don’t bury yourself in work just because that is what you “should be doing”. Take some time for yourself as well!
As I reflect on Dr. Lewis Jr.’s advice, particularly the second one about support networks, I remember the mentors I had while I was an undergraduate student. These people constantly motivated and urged me to set higher goals than the ones I thought I was capable of doing. Thanks to their advice and motivation, I’ve made it to graduate school! This is why I strive to be a good mentor. I work towards this through sharing my experiences and guiding others on their paths to graduate school. I try to be someone who motivates younger students to keep going and give it their best efforts. I want to be part of the support group that Dr. Lewis Jr. recognizes as a necessity for success in graduate school!
Overall, the best graduate school advice that I have received so far is to make the most of it, and build strong connections with the people that you meet.