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A Day in the life of a TTU Grad Student

As told by former Tennessee Tech Master’s student

Any graduate student will tell you that life changes when you go into graduate school. While undergrad varies between intense and laid-back (given whatever major you are), graduate school is a much more focused and concentrated journey into academia. Pictures of burned out, exhausted students with 7 cups of coffee sorted under “grad student” litter stock image sites and google searches. People tell horror stories of forgotten deadlines and rejected proposals, presentations and publications and papers out the wazoo. But how realistic is that when looking at all graduate majors? Are you doomed to sleep-deprived months where you push yourself to the brink to meet harrowing deadlines? Maybe. Probably not. Hopefully not. All I can talk about is mine and some of my fellow colleagues’ experiences as grad students at Tennessee Tech. Hopefully I can paint a somewhat accurate picture of life as a TTU grad student.

What your life looks like depends on your major and concentration.

As Professional Science Master’s student with a concentration in Environmental Informatics and a graduate assistantship split between the School of Environmental Studies and School of Interdisciplinary Studies, a day in the life for me looked different depending on what day of the week it was. Since my major was interdisciplinary in nature, my program of study incorporated coursework in statistics, business, and GIS (geographic information system), and so my classes did not easily relate to one another.

Moreover, since my GA work was split between two schools, I had to parse out my time spent working on each school’s projects equally. These things, coupled with the variable schedules that both schools tended to have for their faculty, led me to have a bit of a perpetual professional and academic “identity crisis”. I was blessed with a flexible work schedule as a GA, but I had to constantly adjust my schedule according to school and work deadlines.

On days where my classes started later, I could sometimes afford to sleep in a bit and get some GA work in before class, but other days were packed from morning all the way until the evening. In addition, each semester’s schedule would be vastly different due to the nature of the classes and the work. Some semesters I found myself consistently being in the office earlier while other semesters I’d have to work late into the evening. I had more late nights at the office than I care to admit.

My GA work also shifted over time. I began my work doing mostly administrative tasks such as document formatting and conducting research for a lit review, so my days would be spent looking at word documents and doing archival research online.

Later on, my duties became more marketing-oriented, such as designing websites, flyers, posters, banners, newsletters, and presentations and recruiting, managing social media, networking, and correspondence. In addition, by my second year of my 2-year program, I started my capstone project which incorporated working as an intern with a supervisor in my field. So, in short, my days were incredibly varied and constantly shifting.

However, some programs necessitate rather strict routines for their students.

For instance, one friend of mine who was a pursuing a Master’s in Biology had a pretty different schedule from mine. She would get up at around 5 am to go into the lab to do work, then attend class, then teach a number of biology labs, and then try to fit in more lab work before going home and sleeping. Class time was heavily overshadowed by graduate thesis research, proposal writing, and teaching.

Often, she would be gone over the weekend to conduct sampling for various biology classes or graduate research projects. She seemed to have almost zero free time and was constantly running from one thing to the next. Talking to other graduate biology students revealed a similar schedule. There was a heavy focus on research, sampling, and teaching and a lighter focus on classwork.

Another program I got to see a more inside look of was the Masters of Business Administration. Since some of my courses fell into that program, I befriended some of the other MBA students I had class with. The general consensus was that the workload was heavy and demanding, and the teachers liked to challenge their students. One friend of mine had a particularly grueling schedule. She worked shifts at the Cookeville Regional Medical Center while simultaneously taking full-time hours and working as a GA for the College of Business. She was also in the process of applying to med school and taking the MCAT. She saw the MBA as giving her a competitive edge when applying to med school. This friend was perpetually working on something, and her schedule was ever-shifting and she was incredibly hard to track down sometimes.

So, daily life varies depending on your program. But one thing stays constant across all graduate majors…

Grad school life is a constant juggling act between work, school, and your personal life

Like I mentioned before, my days were split between classes and GA work. One thing that tended to be a struggle was the constant need to reprioritize my work. At some points, when a big test or paper was coming up, I’d need to shift my GA schedule to allow time to work on it. I would often come in on weekends to work after a particularly schoolwork-intensive week.

On the other time, there would be instances where big work deadlines would sneak up on me and I’d need to push schoolwork to the back burner to complete the GA work in time. When I began my internship that was yet another thing added to the plate of never-ending things that needed my attention. There were many times where I would feel like I’d gotten a great deal of work done in one sector of my life, only to realize that I had a bunch of things to catch up on in another area. This, of course, was the same for my other friends in grad school.

A social life is important to have, but you have to be strategic with your plans

Surprisingly enough, I still was able to maintain a personal life outside of school and work. I had never lived in Cookeville prior to going to Tennessee Tech for grad school, and it took me about a semester and a half until I was able to find some people I really clicked with. Those first months were quiet and focused, and I was a lot more productive on my own. But emotionally, I was very thankful when I did find people to spend time with on a regular basis. Often, I wouldn’t really talk a bunch about grad school because it was a relief to not have to talk about my work. It was nice to be able to sit back and not think and just laugh with friends.

Even still, I found times where my personal life would try to get in the way of grad school. I would get caught up in wanting to be around my friends all the time which would eat into my productivity. In response, I had to make sure to carefully plan out my days and mostly prioritize work over social time. While I wanted to spend time with all of my friends all of the time, I realized that I would only be more stressed if I continued to put off work, and my social life would eventually suffer as well due to that stress.

That’s why, no matter who you are or what grad program you’re in…

Remember to spend time alone to “reset”

One of the most important things I learned is that whatever I was doing, if I felt myself getting overwhelmed, I had to make sure to take a little bit of time alone to “cleanse my palate”. The most relaxing and healing times for me were often spent alone and outdoors, just reading or journaling. If anything, the mere act of scheduling time to just relax is helpful. It helped me remember that I could take time to rest and didn’t always have to be doing something.

In conclusion, grad school is different for everyone! But it poses a massive challenge and will stretch you in many ways. Each day will look different, even if you have a consistent schedule. If anything else, remember to expect the unexpected! This is a wonderful opportunity to grow in many ways.

Written by Amy Stafford

Benefits of Grad School

“Why go to graduate school?”

This is a question that many students ask after completing their undergraduate degree, unsure of whether grad school is really the best way to help them achieve their career goals. Both the cost in tuition fees and the extra length of time out of employment can mean that applying to graduate school is a decision not to be made lightly.

For this reason, it is essential that your overriding reasons to go to grad school are firmly founded. Below is a list of 10 of the most common reasons to go to grad school, which, depending on your field and mindset, should help you decide whether applying to graduate school is the best next step for you.

1. Invest in your future

Although it’s not strictly necessary to have a firm view of your future career before applying to graduate school, it certainly helps. This is because grad school often acts as the academic version of professional training, enabling students to graduate with all the right knowledge in all the right places, ready to jump straight into their desired careers.

Either way, students applying to graduate school should do so with their eyes on the future, seeing further study as an investment in their own potential and not simply as a way to postpone the end of student life.

2. Get noticed in today’s job market

More people than ever are attending graduate school today, and because of this an undergraduate degree alone can sometimes fail to get you noticed alongside equally or more highly qualified candidates. With university education in contemporary society increasingly viewed as more of a rite of passage than a luxury, and 11% of the workforce (in the UK) now holding a graduate degree, bachelor degree holders are struggling to appeal to employers even at entry level in certain industries – especially when up against candidates with PhDs.

3. Get more than a qualification

Whereas much of the worth of an undergraduate degree is in the qualification itself, the most important reasons to go to grad school may be more for the professional skills you’ll gain, the personal development you’ll undergo and the valuable connections you’ll make with fellow graduate students, academics and industry experts.

It’s frequently said that grad school is about much more than obtaining a few letters behind your name and a fancy piece of paper; it’s about developing yourself professionally so that you’re ready to enter the world of work. If you act smart in grad school, by the time you graduate you’ll have built yourself a professional landing mat of contacts and relationships, which will serve to keep you in the field and, ultimately, employed.

4. Pursue your interests in more depth

Although most undergraduate degrees allow students the opportunity to study modules and classes of personal interest, a graduate degree does this to a much greater extent. In order to get the most out of your graduate degree, you will be expected to conduct personal research alongside set study topics, in order to develop your thoughts and ideas regarding something that deeply interests you.

Attending extracurricular activities and meetings, hearing from guest speakers and lecturers as well as full-time faculty members you find interesting, is what makes grad school so diverse and multidisciplinary. For students with passionate academic interests then, the answer to the question “why go to graduate school?” is obvious!

5. Contribute to the world’s knowledge

If you’re someone who wants to contribute to the world within any field, professionally or academically, you’re going to have to know your subject inside-out. For STEM subjects or other highly specialized fields, grad school helps to make that happen. Kylie Rochford, a graduate student at Case Western Reserve University, explains that this was one of her main reasons to go to grad school: “Undergraduate study gave me the opportunity to understand existing knowledge in my field. Graduate school gives me the opportunity to contribute to that knowledge.”

6. Make connections

Grad school is different to undergraduate studies in a number of ways. One difference is that while undergraduate level student life is widely associated with socializing, sleeping late and cramming alone in the library, grad school is much more about connecting with people professionally – not just fellow graduate students but faculty members too.

So while you may have locked yourself away in the darkest corner of the campus library during your years as an undergraduate, as a graduate degree student you’ll need to learn how to network like a pro by honing your ‘people skills’. If that sounds scary, remember that networking doesn’t have to be a dirty word; networking is your friend! In the professional world, networking is something many of us must do to get our feet in the door, and simply means you’ll be connecting with like-minded people within a professional context in order to collaborate, discuss and further your own knowledge, skills and professional circle.

Not only will you be making professional connections, as a graduate student you’ll be making good friendships as well. The very nature of graduate school makes finding friends who are motivated, focused and mature just that little bit easier; your grad school friends could be the ones you end up sticking to for longest.

7. Increase your financial prospects

Bettered financial prospects is a popular answer to the question “Why go to graduate school?” – though it may not necessarily be the most important factor. Even so, a graduate degree has been found to improve the financial prospects of UK workers by over UK£5,000 (US$8,200) more each year, compared to someone holding just a bachelor’s degree. Although this may not seem like a life-changing amount, the additional money accumulated in a working lifetime works out at around UK£200,000 (US$328,700). And that’s just the extra!

8. Get academic recognition

Grad school provides a stable forum to research and explore theories and ideas. If during your degree you conduct any research that is particularly exceptional, the chances are you’ll be recognized for that achievement by the academic community – perhaps by being invited to present your paper at a conference, contribute to a research project, and even receive accreditation in a piece of work published in a journal. International recognition is also a prospect for those who continue their research after graduation, and one day, who knows, you may well become a prominent expert in your field.

9. Work with the best

At grad school you’ll be surrounded by leading thinkers in your field – including both the faculty members and guest experts at the front of the lecture hall, and the fellow graduate students around you. When working with people we’re inspired by and look up to, staying motivated and working hard is much, much easier.

In addition to all these talented people, you should also have access to excellent material resources, potentially including the latest technologies and high-end equipment being used within your field, such as spectral imaging scanners or nanotechnology systems.

10. Gain an internationally recognizable qualification

Although last in this list of reasons to go to grad school, gaining a qualification which is recognized by employers around the world is incredibly important to many prospective graduate students. This is particularly the case for international students and students wishing to work abroad.

 

Source: https://www.topuniversities.com/student-info/admissions-advice/10-good-reasons-go-grad-school

 

The Graduate School Application Process

 

So you’ve decided that you want to go to graduate school.

What are the next steps? There are several ways to go about applying for graduate school, but the best approaches are those that are well-planned and start early. The following tips from the Princeton Review outline a well-planned approach to the graduate school application process.

Your Application Timeline

If you’re planning to apply to graduate school, it’s best to start early—it will increase your odds of being admitted. Many graduate programs have rolling admissions, which means applications are evaluated as they arrive (rather than all at once after the final deadline).

Here’s a sample schedule for a student hoping to enter grad school in the fall. This is a best-case scenario which leaves time to craft a great application, resolve unforeseen problems (a lost transcript, a delinquent recommender) and submit with time to spare.

May:

Begin researching grad schools. Take a GRE practice test. Your GRE score will help you determine how much preparation you’ll need for the real deal.

June:

Sign up for a GRE test prep course (we recommend the in-person or online options). Register for the GRE general test if necessary.

July:

Request information from schools that interest you. Consider paying a visit to your alma mater to meet up with a few former professors. They can recommend good programs and may even help you make some connections.

August:

Take the GRE general test. If you’re not happy with your scores, sign up to take it again. Begin drafting your statement of purpose.

September:

Register for the November GRE subject test (if necessary). Finalize your list of prospective schools, and familiarize yourself with the professors who share your research interests at each school. Contact your recommenders. Keep polishing your statement of purpose.

October:

Request official transcripts from your undergraduate institution. Send your recommenders supplemental materials (like your resume, personal statement, etc.) that they can use as a reference. Make contact with students and professors at your prospective schools. Arrange a campus visit if you can.

November:

Have someone in the field and a few smart (and honest) friends read over your personal statement. Take the GRE subject test; make sure that your scores will be sent directly to schools.

December:

Complete and submit all grad applications, keeping copies of every section for your records. Verify that your recommendations have been sent.

 

Source: https://www.princetonreview.com/grad-school-advice/application-timeline

Preparing for Grad School Interview Questions

There’s one key element that can help separate your grad school interview from the pack: preparation.

Specifically, preparing for the types of grad school interview questions that might be asked. You may not be able to access their exact list, but you can still pinpoint the types of things they’re likely to ask you about, or practice with interview prep questions. By thinking about these in advance, you could ensure that you have solid answers at the ready. This may help you appear—and feel—more poised and confident as a result.

Here are 10 interview questions commonly asked in grad school interviews

 

  • Why do you want to go here, instead of other schools?
  • What are your research interests?
  • How will you contribute to our program?
  • What are your short-term and long-term career goals?
  • What do you see as the major trends in your field of study?
  • Tell me about you achieved a significant accomplishment?
  • Lists some of your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Tell me about your hobbies and interests.
  • Where else have you applied?
  • What questions do you have for me?

 

We’ve also included a few examples and tips. Review these, then start creating answers of your own.

 

  • Why do you want to go here, instead of other schools?

 

Of all the potential grad school interview questions, this one might be the most common. It has a few key elements you could consider:

  • What you like best about that program and university
  • Your familiarity with that school (e.g. showing that you’ve done your research)
  • How, specifically, that program could support your goals and interests

Think about each of these factors when putting together your response. That will help ensure that you’re both focused and sufficiently detailed. After all, answering thoroughly and thoughtfully could help to show your school how much you care, and how much effort you’ve put into your application. Staying focused on these points also means you’ll be less likely to go off on unrelated tangents. Instead, you could sound professional and concise.

Finally, make sure your answers are not only honest, but also constructive. Telling a school you want to attend only because they’re the cheapest option might be the truth, but it’s not a truth that’s likely to help your cause. Try and stick to answers that will show your dedication and enthusiasm, without going overboard and sucking up.

Example:

“I like (School X) because of its 1:3 faculty to student ratio. This is important to me because it suggests I’ll get a lot of mentorship. Also, Billy Bob Corndog’s research focus on venomous animals and poisonous plants of the Rocky Mountains aligns very strongly with my interests. It would be great to work closely with him. I’ve also heard great things about the student culture and fieldwork opportunities from Elvira Discovampire, who is a recent graduate.”

 

  • What are your research interests?

 

This question could especially be relevant if you’re applying to a more academic or research-focused graduate program, as opposed to one that looks toward a certain career. It’s important to have a detailed answer to this question. That should include a few key elements:

  • Your specific topic (This should be fairly narrow! Your research area isn’t the whole field of biology; rather, it’s poisonous plants and animals in the Rocky Mountains.)
  • Your background and experience with that topic (This includes research you’ve already done, prior coursework, work experience, and similar accomplishments.)
  • Why you’re interested in that topic (Did a mentor inspire you? Or did you have a personal experience that led you to this topic? Make it personal!)

Of course, all of this could vary, depending on what you’re studying, and why you want to study it at that particular school. Feel free to edit those above points if you need to!

Example:

“My work is in the area of venomous animals and poisonous plants of the Rocky Mountain region. I first became interested in this topic when I got lost up near the Continental Divide and ate raw elderberries for sustenance. This caused some gastrointestinal issues, but piqued my interest. In college I majored in Biology, and took coursework in Spiders of the Southwest, Rattlesnakes of the Rockies, and Berries You Shouldn’t Eat. I also had a research assistant position with Professor Hiss and together we published our findings as an article called “Beware the Brown Recluse”, which was published in 2005 in the American Journal of Things to Avoid.

 

  • How will you contribute to our program?

 

When you’re applying to graduate school, what that school could do for you is an important factor. But the school is also looking for students who could bring something to the table! In many cases, some grad school interview questions will be dedicated to exactly that. Your answer could have to do with your diverse personal or academic background, unique skills, driven personality—whatever you see as your strongest asset. Now is your chance to sell yourself. Be honest, and show the school what a valuable addition you’d be to their community! (One caveat here: make sure you don’t brag. After all, you might be selling yourself, but the focus is on what you can do for the school, not so much on how great you are.)

Example:

“Well, I bring a unique research background. For example, I spent a summer in college doing fieldwork that focused on identifying and tracking live nests of poisonous baby snakes. I’m really excited about the advances in the field and love to experience and employ the latest technology, such as heat-sensing devices and snake-tail spray painting. There’s lots of opportunity for collaboration with other scientists and students I’ll meet in the program. I also find my sense of humor comes in handy and can uplift others’ spirits during stressful periods like finals, or getting accidentally injected with venom.”

 

  • What are your short-term and long-term career goals?

 

These kinds of graduate school interview questions could be especially crucial if you’re applying to a more career-oriented program—but it’s relevant either way. After all, academia doesn’t exist in a vacuum! You’re pursuing your degree for a reason. What is it? Here are a few tips on how to frame those goals for your interview.

Draw a connection between the degree you’re pursuing, your area of research, and your specific career goals. Show them why your graduate education could be a valuable asset!

If you can, anchor your goals in the school or program you’re applying to. For example, is there a member of the faculty whose work and career you admire and wish to emulate? Have their alumni achievements inspired you?

Point out why your goals are important, not just for you, but for the world, your field, and your community. Will your work help make your city a better place? Maybe your research could inform policy, or help people help others more effectively.

Example:

“I really admire Professor Hiss’s professional track – for about ten or fifteen years he focused on snake and spider handling, research and publishing on Australia’s deadliest creatures. Once he had really established himself he stepped into an academic role. I see myself doing the same – learning in the trenches in the short-term, and then teaching in the later part of my career. In America, there’s a notable lack of university-based research centers on venomous animals, and I have a dream of establishing a one. Ideally it would be located in the American Southwest so as to have the best access to the most venomous animals.”

What do you see as the major trends in your field of study?

This question is about evaluating your expertise. You might say you want to study venomous animals, but how fluent are you in that field? Before your interview, make sure you’re familiar with current or recent influential research, especially related to your own topic of study. Be able to speak on the content and findings, the implications of that research, and other relevant details. And don’t be afraid to share your own informed opinions on these topics!

Example:

“In the past year, there’s a trend in Europe and in parts of Asia that involves dying venomous animals in pastel polka-dot shades. The rationale is that it will make these animals easier to spot, and therefore avoid, but frankly, I disagree with their choice of color and pattern. Pastel polka-dots can make the animals look harmless and cartoonish and there have been several instances in the past year of people grabbing the animals excitedly and sustaining a toxic bite as a result. I like the approach used in East Africa in the 1980s of implanting a tiny musical device within these animals that plays the theme song from “Jaws”. But that proved too costly so the program was discontinued.”

Tell me about how you achieved a significant accomplishment.

These kinds of grad school interview questions aren’t asking you for modesty—though you do want to stay grounded! Try and focus on something directly related to your field of study, if you can. Then you could use this question to tell a story that demonstrates your competence. Not sure how to frame your accomplishment in a way that won’t sound like you’re bragging? Try talking about the obstacles you had to overcome to get to the finish line, how you overcame them, and what you learned from the experience.

Example:

“During my junior year of college we went to Arizona to do fieldwork. One component involved trapping the most venomous animals without being bitten. I won by catching nine scorpions and three Gila monsters in one day. It was tough! I was up all night, hiding under pine needles and behind cacti. But I was determined to take home the prize, which was a trip to Australia to hunt box jellyfish, so I made it happen.”

List some of your strengths and weaknesses.

When listing your strengths and weaknesses, make sure you keep your goal in mind—acceptance to a specific program. Try and focus on strengths that apply to the work you’d be doing as a student there, or as a member of their broader school community. Make sure you illustrate these with concrete examples. As for weaknesses, be honest, but constructive. It might be tempting, but try and avoid the somewhat dishonest strategy of naming a supposed weakness that’s actually a strength. Instead, demonstrate self-awareness by naming a concrete weakness you’ve noticed in yourself, and elaborating on what you’re already doing to try and overcome it.

Example:

“My strengths include my passion for the subject – as I mentioned earlier, I’ll stay up all night to catch Gila monsters and scorpions – and my attention to detail. I consistently get very positive feedback on my detailed knowledge of animal behavior. One weakness is that I can get caught up focusing too much on the details. For instance, I’ve been known to work for three hours on one sketch of poison ivy. I’ve been addressing my tendency to obsess by allowing myself a set amount of time to work. For instance, these days I set an alarm so that I allow myself to work for 45 minutes. When the alarm goes off, I have to stop or take a break. It’s been working well so far.”

Tell me about your hobbies and interests.

The other grad school interview questions so far have all focused on your area of study and what you could bring to the program in question. Here’s an opportunity to show them who you are outside academia! You not only get to show that you’re a well-rounded, passionate student with diverse interests. You could also show another side of your personality, values, and forge a memorable personal connection with your interviewers. And if you can do all that while still connecting those interests to the school community, all the better.

Example:

“I know in order to keep a balanced lifestyle I have to attend to my health. I’m a squash player – I play 3-4 times per week. I notice your school has some great squash courts, which is a bonus for me! I also love to cook, especially Thai food, and tend to have small dinner parties once or twice a month to be sure I’m getting some socializing in.”

Where else have you applied?

When preparing your answer for graduate school interview questions like this, think back to why you said you want to attend this program. What the interview is trying to understand here is where they fall in your school preference, and how dedicated you are to attending that particular program. So if you’ve applied elsewhere, be honest about it, but also try and explain why you’d prefer their school over the others. And if it’s the only school you’ve applied to, explain that decision to, so they understand why you’re so committed.

Example:

“I’ve also applied to University of Arizona’s graduate program, because the fieldwork opportunities would be so excellent. But frankly, the faculty here is stellar, and the curriculum here aligns better with my interests than the curriculum at U of AZ. This is my top choice.”

What questions do you have for me?

This is definitely a question you want to prepare for! The only way you could get it wrong would be if you don’t have any questions to ask. Try to prepare a few, just in case some are covered by your interviewer before you get a chance to ask. And try to be insightful, rather than asking basic questions you could have figured out on your own. You could ask about research opportunities, working with specific faculty, recent faculty or student publications, what career paths graduates have pursued… whatever it is that sparks your interest! This shows that you’re actively interested, perceptive and that you’ve done your reading.

Example:

Example: “I recently read a study by Dr. Corndog, on new methods for trapping Gila monsters – since I have unique experience in this practice, I was wondering if there is an assistantship opportunity on his staff?

This is a lengthy list of 10 grad school interview questions, but remember, it’s not exhaustive! Your interview experience may be unique, so be prepared to hear some unexpected questions, or ones not suggested here. If you need to improvise, don’t be afraid to take a few seconds to breathe and think your answer through. Be clear, concise, and polite in your answers, and you could make a solid impression. And maybe even increase your odds of acceptance!

Source: https://www.gradschools.com/get-informed/applying-graduate-school/graduate-school-interview/graduate-school-interview-questions

 

3 Steps to Reduce Midterms Week Stress

Image result for Grad school blog midterms

Midterms week is going to be crazy no matter what, so it’s a good idea to be prepared for what you’re getting into before it’s here.

Step 1: Know your midterm schedule

The very first thing you want to do is get out your syllabuses and write down all of your exam dates in a calendar so that you can get a feel for what’s ahead. You may have several midterms within the same week—on top of having a term paper due. Scheduling this in advance gives you time to prepare accordingly. If you know what you have on your plate, it won’t sneak up on you, in turn reducing your end-of-term stress.

Without proper planning, it’s easy to find yourself buried in work come midterms week, feeling like you just want to curl up into a ball and cry—if only you had the time! This might sound a tad dramatic, but you nonetheless want to avoid overloading yourself. Even if you have several exams in a row, getting organized and preparing will help you avoid burnout. It also helps to plan some time to relax after your exams are complete.

Step 2: Prepare for your exams accordingly

Do whatever you do to stay on top of your study material. This may mean reading the textbook before every class, re-writing your notes, making flashcards, or watching videos to help you master difficult lessons and ensure you stay on track. If you prepare throughout the semester you won’t have to buckle down as much in the weeks immediately prior to midterms.

Research suggests that studying in spaced-out intervals is more effective for retaining information than studying a lot in a short period of time, so you should avoid cramming. It’ll help you in the long run. If you’re a chronic procrastinator, this is easier said than done. Make it part of your daily routine to review material. If you’re always caught up, you’ll know when you encounter new material that is more difficult and can make time to get help. That way, you won’t get behind and can spend your midterms week reviewing instead of teaching yourself material that you’ll be seeing for the first time.

Step 3: Breathe in, breathe out

Stress can be a healthy motivator when studying, but it’s not your friend during midterms week. While just about everyone experiences some level of pressure before an exam, you don’t want to have so much anxiety that it affects your scores. If you’ve followed the first two steps above, you won’t feel as stressed—though no amount of preparation can guarantee you won’t experience some test anxiety. The key is to manage it.

Going for a run, calling up a friend or family member, or taking a break are all great ways to blow off steam before or during exam week. Find an activity that gets you out of the study grind and focusing on something else, whether it be sports, doodling, shopping, chatting, or watching Netflix.

Taking a breather and being active actually yields better exam scores than pushing through a study break. When you don’t take a break, it’s easy to lose focus. No one can study non-stop for a whole week, so find something that helps you disengage and relax. Studying doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) pull you away from the rest of your life, especially if you’re fully prepared walking into midterms week.

Source: https://www.kaptest.com/blog/grad-school-insider/2016/10/13/3-steps-to-reduce-midterms-week-stress/

15 things to do this spring break as a grad student

In March or April of each year, grad students get a week off from suffering.

Or, at least, a week off from having to attend classes or undergo campus obligations. Multiple ways to spend this week exist, some more productive or fun than others. But a week-long break in grad student time is like a year in everyone else’s time. Every moment must be used or cherished. Here are 15 things grad students may want to do this spring break.

1.) During this week off, perhaps you should avoid intellectual anything. Seriously, just watch funny movies, do mindless activities and avoid friends who can’t seem to go an hour without philosophical or political conversation. True vacation!

2.) On the contrary, you could use this week to work on your thesis or dissertation. With dissertations consisting of often a couple hundred or more pages, according to a chart by FlowingData.com, and a thesis being close to or half of that, you should probably get on that sooner rather than later.

3.) There are plenty of music festivals go on during March and April, from Austin’s South by Southwest to Iowa City’s Mission Creek Festival. Check out MusicFestivalJunkies.com for a seemingly comprehensive list and get your rock on this spring break.

4.) Let’s not sugarcoat it: Grad students are often poor. So why not use this spring break to earn a few extra bucks? Work a job, do some odd jobs or pick up an extra freelance gig. Do you and your wallet a favor!

5.) Go home this spring break. Give your parents a hug, your dog a pat on the head and your friends a high five. Breathe in the nostalgia and relax.

6.) Go travel! USA TODAY posted a useful list of affordable places to travel for spring break, including Portland, Ore. and Vermont. Roam free!

7.) You could play catch up this spring break. That is, if you’re behind. Maybe you’re not as far as you’d like on your research or a class. Perhaps work on it during the day and have fun in the evenings.

8.) Spring break’s a fine time to search for summer internships, fellowships or jobs. Browse InternQueen.com, Craigslist and other sites and get searching. Or ask around, go to networking events and sniff out opportunities.

9.) It doesn’t have to be how MTV showed it in the ’90s, but you could go to the beach during spring break. Not everywhere is cold. StudentUniverse.com has a great list of spring break beaches on its website, from Miami to Cancun. Get in the water!

11.) Keep your mind active this spring break, by visiting museums, watching documentaries and reading for fun. This contradicts number one on this list, but hey, going mindless for a week isn’t for everybody.

12.) Hang out with your friends who are either undergraduates in college or not college students at all. You surely know some of these people. You know, the types who don’t have a 300-page research paper lurking. See how they operate. Adopt their possibly-less-stressed-than-you attitude and breathe deep breaths.

13.) As a grad student, you may be so busy that you have been missing out on your own city. So stick around for the break, check out events and walk the downtown.

14.) As Lindsey Mayfield pointed out in a 2012 article for US News & World Report, “By spring break, you’ll probably have a good idea of what the rest of the semester will bring.” Use that foreknowledge this spring break to prepare for the rest of the semester. Reflect on the past few months and start planning ahead. A bumpy ride until May is probably ahead of you.

15.) For goodness’ sakes, don’t be like the grad students in a recent Late Night with Jimmy Fallonskit, who do things like enter wet argyle sweater contests and pass out in their bouillabaisse after drinking one too many glasses of Riesling on spring break. Unless that’s your thing.

Spring break as a grad student may not be as stress-free as it was when you were an undergraduate student and surely nowhere near stress-free as it was during high school or grade school. But a week off is a week off and you can use that time however you wish, even if it means indulging in more school work or working a job.

Source: http://college.usatoday.com/2014/03/04/15-things-to-do-this-spring-break-as-a-grad-student/

 

GRE Information and Study Tips

Most graduate programs require taking the GRE (Graduate Record Exam).

Every year, more than 700,000 people take the Graduate Record Exam, commonly known as the GRE. While the test is similar in many ways to its college-entrance cousin, the SAT, there are some important differences.

Unlike the SAT, the GRE is most commonly taken as a computer-adaptive test

This means there’s no need for a No. 2 pencil and those all-too-familiar bubble sheets. On the computer-based test, the difficulty of the questions is based on the accuracy of your answers to previous questions. The better you perform on the first sets of 20 verbal and quantitative reasoning questions, the harder the next sets of 20 questions will be.

The GRE is broken down into three primary components: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing

For the verbal reasoning section, test takers have two 30-minute periods to answer two sets of 20 questions. Test-takers answer two sets of 20 quantitative reasoning questions, with 35 minutes to answer each set. The analytical writing section consists of two essays, for which test takers get 30 minutes to write each. The verbal and quantitative reasoning sections are graded on a 130- to 170-point scale in 1-point increments, and the analytical writing section is scored on a 0-6 scale in half-point increments.

Having a good SAT/ACT score and GPA don’t ensure that tackling the GRE will be a simple task

The GRE doesn’t necessarily test on a student’s knowledge or aptitude. Rather, it tests students on how well they can take the GRE. Therefore, there are specific things that students need to focus on in order to do well on the test.

 

Below are six surefire studying tips for the GRE:

1. Go back to high school

Having trouble differentiating your X-axis from your Y? Have too many late nights in college wiped away the important teachings of Pythagoras? You’re not alone. Many GRE test takers are many years removed from the basic tenets of high school math, which play an important part in the quantitative section of the test. If you’re rusty, it’s important to revisit the concepts of algebra and geometry that you learned in high school.

“Algebra and geometry are assumed background knowledge in college courses, and you will be hard-pressed to find a class to take at that level [that] will prepare you directly for questions of this type,” says Eric Reiman, a GRE tutor with Creative Tutors. “If you’re preparing for the GRE alone, a text like Algebra for Dummies or Geometry for Dummies could be a great help, and both come with example problems to work.”

2. Sleep with your dictionary

While the GRE’s quantitative section is not much more advanced than the math found in the SAT—and familiarity with concepts learned in high school should be enough to post a decent score—the verbal section went to college and graduated with honors in English. Test takers who slept through their English classes or turned to SparkNotes may be in trouble.

During your time in school, be sure to read as much as possible to expand your vocabulary so that you can decipher unfamiliar words, testing experts say. You can assimilate far more diverse vocabulary over four years of college than you could ever hope to by cramming for a few weeks or months prior to the GRE.

“As a successor to the SAT, the GRE uses adult words that aren’t found on the SAT,” says Reiman. “It is extremely important for success on the qualitative sections of the GRE to be well read.”

3. Take a GRE prep course (if you can afford it)

According to Andrew Mitchell, director of pre-business programs at Kaplan Test Prep, the GRE is designed specifically to differ from areas of study in college and is supposed to be a measure of a college graduates’ critical thinking skills, not necessarily what they learned in school.

No matter how much cramming you might’ve done in college or how stellar your grades were, thinking critically might not come naturally. The tutoring classes tend to pay off, but are a sizable investment. Kaplan’s instructor-led classes cost more than $1,000 for about eight on-site sessions. Twenty-five hours of private GRE tutoring with Kaplan can cost roughly $3,000.

“It’s worth investing some time and money in preparing for the GRE,” says Mitchell. “Critical thinking is something that’s hard to change overnight because it’s such a lifelong skill. We try to help people unlock their critical thinking skills by getting more familiar with the test and more familiar with proven methods.” Another option for building critical thinking that’s a little easier on the checkbook is using the free resources on the Educational Testing Services (ETS) website. Sample questions and essay responses, advice, and scoring guides are available online from the folks who created the GRE.

4. Take a practice test

While your vocabulary may be impeccable, your writing skills polished, and your quantitative abilities sharpened to a razor’s edge, none of that matters if you’re unaccustomed to the test’s unconventional format.

“To walk into this test unprepared, to sit down [and take it] having never done it before is suicide,” notes Neill Seltzer, national GRE content director for the Princeton Review. Educational Testing Service, the Princeton Review, and Kaplan all have free computer adaptive tests online that help simulate what is a foreign experience to many.

“It’s different from the SAT, and that really threw me off the first time,” says Amy Trongnetrpunya, who earned a perfect score on the quantitative section of the GRE after scoring poorly on her first try. “The computer-adaptive practice exam really helped.”

5. Don’t like your score? Take it again

Schools have access to any GRE scores for tests you’ve taken in the last five years, but experts claim that many universities only care about the best one. While this isn’t true for all schools and all programs, many universities pull the highest scores from the GRE ticket they receive from ETS. The admissions officials (and sometimes work-study students) who receive the tickets are the first line of defense, and oftentimes, they record only the top score when they’re compiling your file before sending it up the admissions food chain. “Even though ETS will report every score, the person reading that file and making the admissions decision may only see the highest math and highest verbal,” says Seltzer.

6. Take a tough English course

Even if you aren’t an English major and don’t plan on writing the next great American novel, honing your writing skills is integral to overall success on the GRE. The two essays in the analytical section take up roughly one third of the time test takers are allotted. Some testing experts argue that near the end of college you should take a high-level English or writing course. While enduring a high-level writing course might put a small dent in the GPA (and ego) of non-English majors, it is an immense help when it’s time to crank out two timed essays on the pressure-packed GRE.

“I would emphasize taking a few rigorous English and writing college courses, in addition to test prep, to best prepare yourself for the caliber of questions you’ll find on the GRE,” says Alexis Avila, founder and president of Prepped & Polished, a Boston area-based college counseling and tutoring firm.

 

Source: https://www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/articles/2012/04/30/test-prep-6-tips-for-gre-success

Student Spotlight – Jalen Talley

He started out as a trumpet player in sixth grade, but Jalen Talley, ’17 music education, always felt more like a tuba player. When his high school band was looking for tuba players, Talley says he “just picked it up and never put it down.”

That was his senior year of high school. He knew he wanted to be a musician, but hadn’t thought a lot about how it would play out. One of the instructors Talley met through his involvement with band at his high school in Oak Ridge, Tenn. had been a part of the Tech tuba ensemble in the 1980s and told Talley about R. Winston Morris, the university’s internationally recognized tuba and euphonium instructor.

“Then I saw a special on TV about him and thought ‘I guess this guy really is a big deal,’” Talley said. So, he applied at Tech and auditioned for Morris.

It was a tough audition, Talley said. Morris told Talley he “could play a little,” but he saw potential and helped Talley get into the music program.

Since coming to Tech, he has had the opportunity to tour the east coast, play two international performances and perform in Carnegie Hall.

“I didn’t know when I applied here that I would be playing in Carnegie Hall before I was 21,” Talley said. “No one ever told me that I would get to do all of this. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

And his relationship with Morris is something he finds especially valuable.

“He has taught me everything I know about tuba, everything I use anyway,” Talley said, “He is more than a teacher to me. What he has done for me is so much more than that.”

Talley’s talent is evident in the awards and honors he has received at Tech.

Recently, Talley was the first African-American student to win the Joan Derryberry Memorial Concerto Competition, which allowed him to perform as a soloist with the Bryan Symphony Orchestra.

“I will always be a tuba player,” Talley said. “As long as I have it, I will play it. It honestly feels like it was meant to be and that Tech is where I was meant to be.”

 

Source: https://www.tntech.edu/spotlight/student/jalen-talley

 

Committed Relationships and Grad School

Maintaining a committed relationship while attending graduate or professional school can be complex and challenging.

The reality is, your relationship is simultaneously a source of support and a source of demanding responsibilities. The tension between these two dimensions can pose some significant threats to a thriving relationship. To minimize these threats and actually grow closer during demanding times, it’s important to keep some main goals in mind.

There is a challenging complexity to being in a committed relationship while attending Graduate School or a Professional School (such as Law School or Medical School). At the most basic level, the challenge emerges from the reality that your relationship is, simultaneously a Source of Support and a Source of Demanding Responsibilities.

The tension between these two dimensions can pose some significant threats to the thriving and surviving of your relationship. To minimize these threats and actually grow closer during the demanding time that graduate and professionals schools are part of your lives, it’s important to keep some main goals in mind.

Engage in Open and Honest Communication and Planning

To minimize problems and to enhance your relationship, communicate before and during challenging times.  Communication, however, is not simply a matter of exchanging information (although that is an important part of a respectful relationship). Communication about one’s feelings is also important. Letting your partner know the emotions you have about a situation, even one you may have agreed to accept, can be just as important as letting each other know what time you’ll be home. In addition, communicating your sensitivity to your partner’s thoughts and feelings, is also important. Otherwise, invisible resentment can start to accumulate and not get expressed until the situation does not seem to match the emotions at the time.  

Sometimes, simply communicating verbally isn’t enough, especially given the busy life of being in graduate or professional school. Keeping a calender or some other tool to help plan together, as much as possible, can help alleviate the strain that results when you made need to change some plans. This also helps acknowledge the disappointment, not to mention keep track of how often disappointments are happening.  

Set Boundaries

Learn to recognize the appropriate times to set boundaries between your self and your program of study.  Without such boundaries, any program can present enough demands to usurp all of your time, doing so in a way that appears absolutely necessary.  Also, it is important to recognize the boundaries needed between yourself and your partner.  As with any relationship, having each of you involved in other dimensions of your lives (including friends, hobbies, work or school) keeps the relationship from becoming too enmeshed, putting so much pressure on the relationship to maintain each person’s sense of worth and competence.

Remember to Negotiate

Acknowledge and plan for the unique demands of being in graduate level training.  Because your partner will often need to compromise times he/she expected you to invest in your relationship, it is best to be aware of the situations that may require negotiation.

–Irregular hours of school

–Abrupt and/or intense academic demands and sudden changes in priorities

–Un-anticipated work activities for professors

–Unscheduled social activity with school peers needing to maintain a cohesive bond to support each other.

This is a lot to expect from a partner or spouse without offering something to balance things out.  When asking for your partner to make a sacrifice, offer when, specifically, you will be able to give something to the partner and your relationship to balance out the scales of compromise.

Know When to Re-Negotiate and Re-Assess

When unable to keep promises made in recent compromises, it becomes critical to collaboratively re-assess the boundaries that had been put in place.  It also becomes critical to review the needs of the partner and the needs of the relationship when you feel you must re-negotiate something you had already agreed to do.

Attention and Support

Your partner may be having a hard time dealing with the many compromises made for the sake of your program demands.  Acknowledge this out loud.  Show an intentional and genuine interest in the emotions and activities of your partner’s life.  Set time aside, with no material related to your program in sight, and ask about your partner’s day.

Affection

Affection in the context of a rushed pace or a momentary endearment can often feel like a token rather than a genuine investment back into a relationship that is running low on emotional fuel.  If you have not enjoyed affection with your partner, “plan” some spontaneous affection.  Almost by its very essence, affection requires some degree of spontaneity.  However, the demands of graduate or professional study can leave you waiting  much longer than you realize for “a good time” and it may require some planning on your part to be emotionally available, with enough energy, to express how you feel through affection.

Help with Domestic Needs and Personal Projects

There is often an imbalance in chores and household duties because the graduate student has such irregular demands.  Rather than maintain the imbalance indefinitely, plan specific times when you can offer to assume the duties you often have to rely on your partner to assume.

Recognize and Talk Through Fear and Insecurity

Question automatic assumptions that you do not have enough time to fulfill your relationship needs. Sometimes, fear and insecurity about being in a competitive program is disguised as an overly conscientious work ethic. Question any perceived or assumed prohibition of vulnerabilities. Fears can emerge that having a relationship with its own needs may threaten your success. There may be a prevailing attitude in your program to re-enforce these fears. Work together with your partner to face the fears. The very person that may sometimes seem to threaten your success will likely provide you with the re-assurance that you need to succeed.

Graduate school and professional schools are challenging and rewarding experiences, contributing to your professional and your personal development.   The same is true of your committed relationships. If you need support and want to attend to your relationships needs with professional guidance, feel free to call us at 660-1000. CAPS offers assessment, individual or couples counseling, and relationship enhancement workshops. We want you to succeed, in all the domains of your life.

Source: https://studentaffairs.duke.edu/caps/self-help/committed-relationships-grad-school

Grad School Application Essay Writing Tips

Your graduate school personal statement may initially get only five minutes of an admissions officer’s attention. In those five minutes you have to show that you are a good pick for the school.

Writing an amazing graduate school essay is probably far more straightforward than you might think. Graduate school admissions officers aren’t looking for gimmicks. They’re looking for passionate, motivated, and prepared applicants who are ready to hit the ground running in their program. Read on for more details in creating your best graduate school essay. If you’re looking for one-on-one assistance, check out EssayEdge.com.

Know what the admissions officers are seeking

Don’t make assumptions about your graduate school personal statements. Many programs simply ask you to submit a personal statement without any further guidance. Other programs will tell you exactly how they want the essay structured along with word count limits and formatting requirements. Review the prompt thoroughly and plan your essay before you begin writing to ensure that you create an essay that will be an effective and persuasive addition to your application package.

What should you do if the program doesn’t give you any specifics? With greater numbers of applicants to graduate programs, the trend is toward shorter essays. This is especially true of graduate programs in the STEM fields. Unfortunately, longer essays tend to be skimmed rather than read thoroughly, and most any admissions officer will tell you that the best essays that they’ve read are always shorter essays. Think about what is absolutely essential, and write about those aspects of your experience with passion.  

Personal, personal, personal

Did we mention personal? Some graduate programs will ask you to write an additional essay about an issue within your chosen field. However, your personal statement should be about you as an individual. Write about issues only if they relate specifically to your personal experiences. For example, ‘In Africa, a child dies every minute. This stark statistic prompted me to join an NGO aimed at providing nutrition and healthcare for children in Namibia.’

Keep your anecdotes focused on your life after you began college

It is common for graduate school applicants to start their personal statements with an anecdote about something that happened during childhood or high school. On the surface, this makes sense because that event was what started the journey that has culminated in an application to the program. However, graduate programs are for professionals, and writing about your childhood is more appropriate for an undergraduate essay than one for graduate school. If you feel that you absolutely must include something from your childhood, use it as the starting sentence of your concluding paragraph.

Know your program and make connections

Securing acceptance into a graduate program is more about being the best match than about being the most highly qualified. Among applicants who meet the program’s minimum requirements, they’ll choose an enthusiastic and informed applicant over one with higher test scores and a better GPA who doesn’t seem to know much about their program.

During your graduate studies, you’ll likely do research, and graduate programs want to know that you can both participate in ongoing research as well as find a mentor for your own project. In your essay, write about professors in the programs whose work interests you and why. Also, there is life outside of the classroom. Does the school have a close-knit traditional college campus? Is it located in the heart of the city? Especially if you will be moving with your family, show the admissions officers that you will thrive in their environment.  

Finish with a strong statement about why the school is your top pick

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the school is your only pick. However, generic essays have no place in the graduate school application process. Form letters aren’t persuasive, and generic essays won’t help your application package. If you can’t sincerely write that the school is a top pick, then why are you applying there? Instead, focus on creating stellar essays for the ones that actually interest you. Help the admissions officers understand your overarching vision for your future career and how your time at the school will prepare you to realize these goals.

Source: https://www.petersons.com/graduate-schools/write-graduate-school-essay.aspx