I was recently accepted into a graduate biophysics program and have a couple questions about what I should expect going into my first semester. While I'm going into a physics PhD, I'd like general advice from any field. I have two specific questions, but welcome any advice that you are willing to share.

What is the biggest thing to overcome/accomplish during your first semester and a graduate student? Looking back, what is something you wish you would have done differently?

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    Your second question might be a bit opinion based for the site. For the first question, a big one is learning time management, to juggle classes, teaching and researh. See e.g. academia.stackexchange.com/q/56963/17254
    – Anyon
    Apr 22, 2018 at 5:47
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    What I should have done differently: I should have started reading journal articles earlier than I did. I should have thought about long-range career planning instead of just having fun with my studies. Apr 23, 2018 at 2:02

3 Answers 3


Some time during your undergraduate degree, you hopefully moved from the 'repeat back information' paradigm of high school, into the 'integrate information from many sources, analyse it, form your own opinion and defend it' paradigm of university. However, this is not always true for mathematics, physics and similar subjects where there is a right answer that can be constructed.

If you have not made this paradigm shift, this will be a big difference. Because you are now in a research environment. The answer is not necessarily known. What is important is bringing together different types of evidence and working out what is going on.

It may also be true that you have not written an essay during your undergraduate degree (I did only one in my maths degree). This may also be a big transition.

I found my later social sciences undergraduate degree (particularly philosophy courses) to be invaluable in developing good writing skills. A short essay (eg 2000 words) forces you to be articulate arguments really clearly, which is great for research writing.


This may be closed as "primarily opinion based" (especially the second part), but I'll take a whack at it.

What is the biggest thing to overcome/accomplish during your first semester [as] a graduate student?

Your first 1-2 years is likely taking classes. So, the biggest thing is passing those classes. This should be achievable (though a lot of work), so I'll list also two secondary goals: making friends, and finding an advisor (though this may be a bit early to line up an advisor; every university has a different process).

Looking back, what is something you wish you would have done differently?

Stayed in my office more. I tended to work on my own at home; while I learned a lot, grad school would have been more fun if I had made more friends and done some of the work collaboratively.

  • Also, understand to what extent you are to be pursuing research while taking classes in the first few years. This varies by program. Apr 22, 2018 at 22:40

CULTURE SHOCK especially if you are transitioning from one state to another state and from one university to another university. Even if you grew up in two locations in two different states like i did. if you are setting up new "home' in a THIRD location,THERE WIL BE CULTURE SHOCK. The new university and even the new department college will have DIFFERENT sub cultures, so it may take MORE than one semester or quarter to adjust.

Your cumulative GPA, weighted or unweighted, MEANS NOTHING. You are in an entirely DIFFERENT degree program. if you DO NOT maintain 3.000000 or higher GPA on 4.0000000 scale, you will be put on academic probation, and possibly not be eligible to have teaching or research assistant ship. You are competing with graduate students who have been there longer than you have. You are also at some point competing with FACULTY members for professional recognition.You HAVE to able to WORK with cooperate with OTHER pwoplw no matter how much you like or dilike individual people. Graduate school is TOUGH. Your ego is going to take a beating. You WILL be gossiped about, no matter WHAT you do..

You also HAVE to be able communicate well in Writing, in Academic English , which often is like foreign language to many people who did NOT grow up with parents who graduate college degrees who were both teachers like i did. If you do NOT know how to use a library and resources a library has, i suggest you go to library orientation in the first weeks of classes.You HAVE to do YOU OWN RESEARCH now and know HOW to use a search engine. NO ONE is going to do your homework for you OR spoon feed you links and hyperlinks.

If ALL you have right now is self esteem with no self respect, you may NOT survive graduate school. Low esteem is survivable. No self respect may NOT be survivable.I dropped out of graduate school for 7 years, but I DID go back to college and i went back to graduate school. i DID graduate. I SURVIVED graduate school, but only because i was stubborn and i REFUSED to give up on myself.

I started graduate school in Spring 1981. i graduated from graduate school on July 29, 2000. that was 20 YEARS of my life. My mother died while i was working on My FIRST bachelor's degree. My father died while i was working on my master's degree.. I have THREE bachelor's degrees. The third one had reason that made sense to me and it took only 2 years to get.

College staff can be GOLD mines of information about faculty members, staff, College and university services, like tutoring,and what is available in the local area like medical doctors, dentists, grocery stores, restaurants, bars, whether a county or town /city is "wet" or "dry", drugstores, pharmacies, and WHERE things are.

Congratulations and good luck. Remember how nervous and scared you were when you started college? Th is Act 2. LIFE ins continuing education process and it NEVER STOPS. You will make mistakes and you will have failures, small and big. Learn from your mistakes, Take responsibility for your actions and consequences of your actions, because you do not get do-overs in graduate school. You either learn, adapt and SURVIVE, or you don't.

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    WHY the random CAPITALISED words? Apr 22, 2018 at 8:21
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    That's my online writing a style. i am used to answering questions on Yahoo Answers. I am addicted to Yahoo Answers, and i do NOT like Reddit. The capitalized words are for emphasis... The capitalization is NOT random. it just SEEMS to be random. I cannot read your mind and you cannot read my mind. Apr 22, 2018 at 9:41
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    @CarolMiller1600 Perhaps you could use italics or bold face instead of using CAPITALISED words for emphasis. That would fit more in the overall style of this site. Apr 22, 2018 at 14:07
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    " if you DO NOT maintain 3.000000 or higher GPA on 4.0000000 scale, you will be put on academic probation" Many schools have GPA requirements in grad school, but the specifics vary a lot by school and program; this precise policy is far from universal.
    – Henry
    Apr 22, 2018 at 14:53
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    @CarolMiller1600 - Welcome to StackExchange. I have a suggestion for you (in addition to steering clear of all caps as the lizard said). Proofread. Write your draft, then step away and do something else for at least ten minutes, then come back and read your draft in the area below the box where you type in your post. It will show up in formatted form down there and that is easier to proofread effectively. Also, make sure your browser is spell-checking as you type. Final tip: you can learn formatting tricks by pretending to edit someone else's post (i.e. read their markdown). Apr 23, 2018 at 2:00

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