Can someone provide advise as to what a student should do immediately after being accepted into a graduate program and has identified with a professor?

Usually students are accepted in the middle of their final year of undergrad. A window of time opens between now and when the first semester begins.

I wonder what should a student optimally do during this time to smoothly transit into the designated graduate program.

Some thoughts:

  1. Build up relationships with other graduate students, professors

  2. Start reading papers on the topic of focus

  3. Start preparing course work for first year of graduate school

  4. Start identifying specific research area and pin point thesis topic and open questions

  5. Get to know the locale

But ultimately this question is directed at people who have went through this process. What can a student do now in the little time that he or she has to smoothly enter the graduate program?

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    Go out for a very nice dinner with your friends and family members to celebrate.
    – RoboKaren
    Mar 6 '15 at 1:51
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    okay maybe not that immediate ;)
    – Fraïssé
    Mar 6 '15 at 1:51
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    I hold a master's degree, two post-master's degrees and a doctorate. Trust me illegal, I ain't no rocket scientist. I would suggest you congratulate yourself earning a bachelor's degree and take pride in your acceptance into graduate school. Perhaps I am immune to the seriousness of graduate school, but many people I know, myself included, actually found graduate school in some ways EASIER than undergraduate. Perhaps taking the attitude that the "work" simply has to be done, it gets done. Just do it. I worked throughout both my undergraduate and graduate studies, sometimes part-time,.........
    – JJLL
    Mar 7 '15 at 6:11
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    ..............sometimes full-time. My grades took a hit but I personally did not care. I was not working towards academic excellence, rather my goal was career/professional. If your goal is the same, I'd concern myself with planning for what to do AFTER graduate school. Many employers look not just at grades but on work experience as well. So find yourself a job, keep up with your studies and enjoy. what should you do before starting graduate school? In my opinion, remember you have to first graduate college. Work during summer, take a trip, hang out with buddies, have fun. And most of all....
    – JJLL
    Mar 7 '15 at 6:21
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    .....become legal immigrant and HAVE FUN!!! Good luck to you.
    – JJLL
    Mar 7 '15 at 6:22

I have three utterly contradictory pieces of advice:

  1. The first year of graduate school will be a much more intense version of the coursework that you took as an undergraduate. In particular, the basic core courses often sink many first year students. For example, in some disciplines you may be asked to read over 1000 pages a week during that first semester, while in others you might be asked to do significantly more complex problem sets or labs than you've ever encountered previously. If you can, I'd obtain copies of the syllabi for the required first year classes and start reading as much of the material as you can. The more breathing space you can give yourself that first semester the better. Build up your scholarly reserve.

  2. Graduate school is a very long haul. Burnout is a very real possibility. Because you don't have a gap year, you should use your summer to expand your mind a bit. Go for a month or so of walkabout in Europe or Australia. Take what will be your last extended vacation for a little while. Build up your emotional/psychological reserves.

  3. Unless you're in a well-funded program, you may well be destitute -- especially before you pick up a TA/RA position. Even with funding, you may only make $15-25,000 a year, which can be very hard to live on. You might want to build up your savings heading into grad school so that you don't have to take out too many loans or spend too many cold nights eating ramen noodles. Build up your financial reserves.

  • 12
    So sell fake watches on the street of Paris while breath in "astrobiology for the graduate student" :)
    – Fraïssé
    Mar 6 '15 at 2:02
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    This! I took an industry job to do #3 of RoboKaren's advice and also studied a bit off and on to pass a preliminary exam before I walked in. Focus on not burning out. I know it's a exciting time, but it's important to remember it's not just about a head start.
    – T K
    Mar 6 '15 at 2:06
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    Perhaps you should clarify what field(s) this applies to - because, for instance, in my field (mathematics), neither #1 nor #3 are quite applicable. (No "history of discipline", 1000 pages of mathematics per week would be absurd, and TA/RA funding is pretty much universal for PhD students.) #2 is, though. Mar 6 '15 at 2:39
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    I agree with the spirit of your suggestions and just wanted to mention that the specifics can vary. One of the things I like best about this site is learning that aspects of academia I had always considered universal can actually vary widely between disciplines/countries/etc. To continue on my theme, in case anyone is interested: A moderately dense page of mathematics can easily take an hour or more to read and fully digest, so 1000 pages per week is out of the question; I'd say 40-50 is a more plausible average. Much more time is spent solving exercises. Mar 6 '15 at 3:59
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    It is nice to support everyone and lower-level service courses are a huge part of that. $25,000 (9 months) is about right for wealthy private institutions, publics more like $20,000 or less. For students who are single and live simply it tends to be sufficient. Mar 6 '15 at 4:01

Talk to a lot of graduate students, especially in the lab(s) you are interested in. If necessary, cold-email them and ask about their experiences in the PhD program. There will be time to talk to graduate students during visit weekend, but you won't get enough time to have a lot of in-depth conversations, and in general the department will put on its best face for you. (It will mostly be the happy students who bother to show up at visit weekend.)

You don't want to accept an offer only to realize it was not quite what you'd expected. There are usually things that seem like no big deal during visit weekend, but are actually a huge pain in the ass, and you want to be warned of that early.


As a PhD student in engineering, I can say that the most important initial task is to build relationships with your peers and especially your supervisor. The stronger your academic relationships, the better your foundation of support will be. This will especially come in handy when you need help, either academically or personally.

Also.... read.... a lot.... My trick is to setup a Google Scholar alerts system that forwards relevant articles to a special Gmail tag, for me to read at my own convenience.

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