Like marriage, moving, and switching to decaf, enrolling in graduate school leads to a myriad of lifestyle changes, even when pursuing it directly after undergrad. The workload, for one, will make you feel like a juggler, a scholar, and a Sallie Mae frequent flier rolled into one. The curriculum will push you to develop a laser-like focus on your field of study, not to mention a newfound relationship with flashcards.
While some of these changes are more demanding than others, you can take comfort in knowing that you won't be going through any of them alone. Unlike in college, where students take courses with a wide range of students, you'll progress through grad school with a cohort of students and finish your degree together. Depending on the school or program, cohorts typically range from 15 to 40 students, with even smaller classes.
Ultimately, the relationships you develop within your cohort will be a lot like the connections you may have developed with your coworkers. You'll see each other regularly, collaborate on the occasional project, and meet up for happy hour from time to time. Through it all, you'll learn a lot about your peers. Possibly enough to categorize them.
In a psychology program, it's the student who kept a journal chronicling their siblings' behavior before they learned to spell "angry." In an MBA, it's the student who speaks of supply chain management with the wistfulness of an 80s power ballad. They don't get excited about busywork, but the monotony of updating their notes or prepping for an experiment doesn't drive them crazy either. Instead, they see the occasional tedious tasks as stepping stones to bigger, better, and more exciting work.
Of course, they won't tell you any of these things, but you'll still be able to spot them. They're most likely to point to the clock and ask, "How is it already 4 p.m.?" Come Monday morning, they're the least likely to mention coffee.
From prestigious scholarships to academic awards, this student consistently goes above and beyond, sometimes, in a slightly off-beat, modest way. It will be apparent when they show up late to a meeting after staying up all night pouring over an obscure-but-possibly-relevant paper, or as they mutter to themselves while taking an exam.
In reality, this student doesn't just care about reaching their goals, but how well they perform them. You might not know it, but they spend long hours in the library and the classroom, putting substantial work and experiencing plenty of failures. Call them a genius, and they'll laugh. They just want to keep learning.
You've experienced the awkward introductions and painful chit-chat of in-person networking events. What's the most you ever got out of them? A chance to practice your handshake? A few LinkedIn connections? If "industry mixer" is a phrase that makes you cringe, know that many of your classmates will feel the same way.
In contrast, you'll likely meet a student who doesn't see networking as the least bit awkward or burdensome. The maximum number of relationships they can realistically manage far surpasses the norm, and the bouquets of business cards they leave conferences and cocktail hours with prove it. It may seem as though they're on a race to rack up contacts, but it's easy to envy their ability to approach even the most successful professional with confidence.
This person found themselves in a role that took more than what it gave in terms of money, happiness, or energy—or maybe, all three—and now they're in the market for a new career. They may not be as youthful as, say, Doogie Howser, but they make up for it with and enough professional experience to know their program is precisely what they need.
If they've been out of school for years, readjusting to a student’s schedule may take some time, especially when balancing grad school with a spouse or family. Add in the challenge of learning a new subject and for them to feel thrown in the deep end. The good news? They can opt-out of really parent-teacher conferences because they have to study for a midterm. More importantly, they're getting the chance to do something over again, and they're in an ideal frame of mind to savor it.
You're most likely to see this person pacing the halls before a class presentation, and why not? Beneath the surface of a seemingly ordinary exterior, they're fighting a constant churn of anxiety. Are they working hard enough? Are they good enough? Would a fourth follow up email give their advisor the wrong impression?
This student could use some time to focus on their mental health, but they're too afraid of what could happen if they missed a class. Not that anyone would ever believe something was wrong, anyway—their peers just think they're the driven type. What they need is someone to assure them that everything is going to be okay, without recommending yoga.
Grad students devote more of their time to their programs than to anything outside of them, which makes it only natural that they want to build connections. Having someone you look forward to seeing can make it easier to get through a grueling project or the stress of exams. They'll help make your coursework feel more worthwhile, and be your go-to when looking to celebrate successes in school.
It's not just your peers that can help you make the most of your experience, but all kinds of people within your school's community. Maybe you'll bond with a professor whose interests and teaching style inspires you, or a member of your school's financial aid team will come though when a personal emergency threatens your standings. Likewise, be on the lookout for your department's secretary. They'll provide expertise on everything from fellowships and TA jobs, to grant opportunities and filing your thesis—as long as you introduce yourself first.
Questions or feedback? Email firstname.lastname@example.org