For those of you that don’t know me, I am Kristen and I am and alumnus of Alpha Omega. I graduated from K-State in December 2009 with an Animal Science and Industry degree and spent the spring and summer of 2010 at home (Mt. Zion, Illinois) working for a genetic testing company and taking care of my family’s small herd of Shorthorn cattle. My plan always was to attend graduate school, but when I still hadn’t decided a location about 2 weeks before graduation I figured a semester break was probably a good plan. Now, I’m finishing up my first year as a Master student in Molecular Genetics at the University of Illinois. Working on my MS has been a great experience and I encourage anyone who thinks they might even be slightly interested in grad school in any field to at least check it out. Over the past 10 months I’ve realized there’s a handful of things I really wish someone would have told me about grad school.
1) You are going to be broke. You might be lucky to get an assistantship or a fellowship when you start grad school. It’s going to seem like a ton of money, especially compared to that minimum wage job you held all through your undergrad career and summers at home. The truth is, between rent, utilities, gas (especially since it’s always seeming to jump to $4 these days), groceries, coffee shop visits, lunch from Jimmy John’s or anything else that will deliver to your desk, or dinners with friends (because that is the only thing that can keep you sane some evenings) you’re going to be waiting for that notice that your paycheck got deposited. Embrace it though, it teaches you to budget and more importantly find even more ways to dress up Ramen than you found in the past 4 years.
2) You are going to be tired. Even when you think you can get to sleep early, you will spend your night watching TV or Facebook-ing because you just have to catch up on Grey’s or what that girl you wished you could just get a better grade than in class is up to now. You’ll feel guilty for wasting 3 hours of precious time you could have been spending reading journal articles or analyzing data or writing that manuscript that you’ll get up at 5 even though you stayed up till 2. Which leads me to my next secret…
3) You are going to become addicted to caffeine more than you ever thought was humanly possible. Maybe it’s due to the above mentioned, or maybe it’s because that’s just what grad students do. Either way, even if you never used to drink anything with caffeine in it other than an occasional iced tea you’ll start with one every few days because you didn’t get much sleep and that will turn into a morning cup which will then turn into not being able to get through the day without at least another dose by 2 o’clock. And some days earlier. Here’s a hint: try the powder cappuccinos. They’re way cheaper than going to the coffee shop everyday and they aren’t half bad. This also helps with number 1 a touch.
4) You are going to need a support system. Take this from the most stubborn, hardheaded, independent girl you may ever meet. Your family and friends will be your lifeline on those days when you dropped something and broke it in the lab, your computer crashed mid 10 page paper, or you are just flat out having an off day. Coming home after a long day at work to a roommate, whether it’s a friend or a family member or a pet, and being able to vent and let it go will make the next day a LOT better.
Grad school has truly been an awesome experience for me. I have gotten to work towards my goal of improving agriculture by teaching and helping other students understanding genetics. I’ve learned even more about myself (based on the aforementioned things) than I did while at K-State in my “growing up” years. And I hope that my experiences will help a few of you that are thinking about grad school or getting ready to start survive a little easier.
By Kristin Walker