5 Things That They Don’t Tell You Before Grad School

  1. Your time is not your own. You need to learn to be flexible with your routine. Especially coming out of a 9-to-5 will be difficult to adjust for any quasi-adult. Now, you no longer have neat little buckets of how you want to allocate your exercise, meals and “self-improvement” efforts – every hour is one you can spend studying, writing, reading, learning. So learn how to be ok with the fact that you’ll be skipping meals, working until you sleep and getting groceries in the middle of the night at the 24-hour Harris Teeter (shout-out to Harris Teeter for saving me from many breakdowns).
  2. You will never know everything, so specialize. Unless you’re one of the lucky and envy-provoking few that already had the opportunity to work in energy prior to coming back to school, you will probably know nothing. And that’s completely fine, but try not to be too comfortable in this space for long. Here’s the thing, grad school is a self-selecting bunch of go-getters. You’re one too and you deserve to be here. You will be consciously aware of the old saying that there is always someone smarter than you around the corner, in fact, in the very same breathing space. So pick an interesting energy topic and make an effort to know a little bit more about it each day.
  3. Google News Alerts and LinkedIn are your best friends. If you know an event is coming up, set up a Google News alert on that speaker or their company to have fresh and relevant questions to ask them. There’s such little prep work involved and it’ll make you sound smart. LinkedIn is that weird cousin of Facebook that somehow grew to be pretty important and now you may regret making fun of them. If you haven’t already, list the fact that you’re a professional student and highlight the extracurriculars you’re involved in. Try to set up calls with people you don’t know at least once a week or until you get that awesome summer internship.
  4. Go to events like it is your job. You’ll quickly realize that classes, even though grades “don’t matter” in grad school, will start monopolizing your time. Homework, that cute concept you thought you left back in high school, will creep into your schedule. Don’t forget that networking and learning about the industry is the key reason why you are in a professional, not (purely) academic, program. People are always at events with free drinks and food so that is where you must be also. If you start seeing the same folks at multiple events, introduce yourself and don’t be shy to ask questions about what you don’t know. Experts want to share their knowledge, and are always flattered by a captive listener.
  5. Get a hobby. If you are coming into your first semester with hobbies that take up a bunch of time and money, good luck holding onto those. If you’re one of the superhuman few who can finish energy modeling within a day, most likely you will be able to maybe keep up with that one thing you love to do. There will be a time when nothing seems as important as the homework/networking grind. But even if it’s once a week, carve out a sacred time for yourself and practice the one intentional thing that makes you less stressed. You will need it!

For any questions and comments, please email me at soli.shin@duke.edu.