What I wish I knew before grad school

It’s not as if I dived into grad school head-first. Even before my friends and family were behind me in my pursuit of knowledge, I knew in my heart that I want to be a researcher, not a medical doctor. I wanted to find answers to scientific questions, even if I don’t see the applications of my research right away, even if what I have to show for myself are the lightbulb moments that come by overcoming every obstacle in writing a scientific paper.

Most parents would be proud to know that their child wants to be a scientist, but unfortunately, that was not the case with me. I had to be assertive, fight, to be independent both emotionally and financially to pursue my dream.

Though I prepared significantly for my degree, nothing can prepare you well enough for the challenges and uncertainties of grad school. That said, here are some of the things I learned that I wish I knew before I signed up for grad school. It would have made my journey a lot more exciting (and probably easier).

  1. Choose the right people. When you’re in the right crowd, everything else will fall into its right place.
  2. Be honest about your intellectual and emotional limitations.
  3. Be a knowledge hoarder. You can’t possibly retain everything you’ve read and heard in grad school, but the most improbable and brightest ideas can come from unexpected places. You don’t have to remember everything, but keep them accessible in one place so you can refer back to it if you need it later.
  4. Your knowledge of data processing and statistics can make or break every research you do.
  5. Don’t quantify work too closely, both for your mental health and those around you. When you love what you do, you won’t mind getting above and beyond things, anyway.
  6. Always offer help to those who need it. If someone needs it but is too arrogant to ask, learn to let go. This is where independence becomes handy. Accept that you cannot force help unto others.
  7. Never lose the child-like wonder you had back when you were fantasizing about what becoming a scientist must be like. If other factors are dampening your excitement, address that problem immediately before you blame everything on the thing you’re most passionate about — Science. Think of it like your child. You shouldn’t expect anything from it, but know that it will take a lot for you to keep it alive.
  8. Learn how to work with difficult people. The field is challenging in itself, and as you’re not perfect, you’ll inevitably disappoint a lot of people. You need to be okay with that and move on.
  9. As much as you love Science, know that it isn’t everything, and you need to hold your life and hobbies as closely as possible. Maintain your life and creativity while pursuing Science. It will save you in the long run.
  10. Know that the grass isn’t always greener. Each of us has a different path to becoming the Scientist we want to be, so we must take different roads to get there. Celebrate each win, both yours and your colleagues. They’re your friends and colleagues for the rest of your careers. Make sure you’re a positive presence in their lives and careers.

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