Tuesday, March 30th, 2021...2:04 pm

5 Things I wish I’d known before starting Grad school

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By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

photo of U of T campus with Robarts library in the background

In a few short weeks I will be done Grad School (and also being the Gradlife Ambassador). While my MA program was only one short year, I’ve definitely learned some things along the way. Since I can’t go back in time and share them with my slightly younger self, I thought I’d post about them for other Grad students. Whether you’re starting U of T in the fall, returning for another term, or also about to graduate yourself, I hope my “wisdom” can be of some use to you

1. Don’t be afraid to branch out in your learning

Because I was so nervous to be in Grad SchoolTM with Grad StudentsTM , I was afraid to take courses that fell outside the topics I had specialized in during undergrad. Luckily, in first semester I ended up taking a class on a topic I had never studied before, and it ended up being the best class I took all year. While I did enjoy deepening my knowledge of topics I had already studied, branching out and taking new classes that scared me was not only a really exciting endeavour but I think it made me a more well-rounded student. So don’t be afraid to pick up that class on a topic you’ve never studied if it interests you.

pink calendar on a pink background

2. Be as organized as you possibly can (i.e. keep a calendar)

Unlike undergrad, once you’re a Grad student you have a wide range of responsibilities and dates that fall outside of the purview of your course syllabi. Because of this, I strongly recommend you keep a calendar and set reminders so that you have a good handle on your schedule, because honestly no one else will.

3. It’s okay to be wrong – everyone is

The first time I made a wrong comment in seminar I was so utterly embarrassed that I didn’t talk in class for the rest of the week. In fact, I was so mortified I wrote a post about it. I used to be wrong in my undergrad classes all the time but for some reason I had it in my head that all my contributions had to be correct now that I was in Grad school. Well I’m here to tell my past self (and maybe future you) that this was the wrong outlook. Throughout the year, myself and my fellow classmates often took guesses and tried out new ideas in seminar, and sometimes we were right and sometimes we weren’t and that’s okay. The important thing is that you’re participating and testing out new ideas because this is exactly the point and the beauty of the seminar model. So you’re going to be wrong and nobody’s going to care, and I suggest you laugh off your mistake and jump back in there.

zoom screenshot of smiling grad students holding up their art
One of the many fun doodle nights Gradlife put on this fall

4. Try to get involved in at least one extracurricular thing, no matter how small

While it might seem at first as though there’s no way you’ll be able to handle anything other than your work, I strongly suggest that you try and join one extra-curricular club or committee, even one that’s low commitment. This year, I became the Gradlife Ambassador and I got to run a ton of amazing events where I met a whole bunch of cool Grad students from U of T. I also  joined the planning committee for the annual Book History and Print Culture Colloquium, and while it was at times a lot of work it was overall a really fun experience.

5. People are nicer than you think

Over the course of undergrad, I had been told that Grad school was competitive and brutal and mean. In reality, my experience was the exact opposite. Everyone in my program was extremely nice and friendly, and were always down to gripe about how much work we had to do (and were putting off). I recommend you go in with the mindset of wanting to meet new people and make new friends, because I found that this truly was how everyone else I met approached their studies as well.  

Is there anything you wish you’d known before starting Grad School? Anything you want to know? Let me know in the comments below!

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