6 Everyday Lessons That An Intense Grad School Degree Program Taught Me

Posted: March 11, 2017

While getting a degree from Grad school overseas, this young woman also learnt some crucial non-academic life lessons, that she shares with us.

The atmosphere was tense in our home in Southern Bangalore as I packed two gigantic suitcases, stuffing them with everything I would need for the next whole year. As if the distant land ‘America’ was an uninhabited desert, I shoved, squeezed and forced a million household items and trinkets into my bags. Everything from cooking utensils to ready-to-eat Upma to nail-trimmers went in.

“Don’t leave anything behind, because you will not be able to buy them there”, people warned me. I was after all going to be a student, with limited resources and with a distant prospect of finding an on-campus job.

Stepping out of India alone for the first time, the task of living with strangers, excelling in studies AND cooking and doing the dishes can be daunting. That said, after enduring all the hardships that college life throws at you, college will always hold a special place in our memories. And it matters not whether you attended college because these 7 lessons that I learned will apply equally to all:

To get ahead in life, you will need the help of friends as well as strangers

Standing in a line for two hours just to hand over your resume to the recruiter (and not get a chance to speak a word) at the college campus fair can be a tad too discouraging. Knowing that you only have a 1/7th chance of landing an internship is not exactly a boost to the ego. Yet, with some help from friends, the interviews seem a little easier.

When a stranger you meet at the library shows you how to use a software in the last hour before the deadline, the assignments seem a little less taxing. Combined effort goes a long, long way in grad school. When life throws a curve ball at you, a friend’s helping hand and the goodwill of strangers can save you.

It is sometimes OK to be average when you are among the best of people

Have you ever done something amazing and felt that you didn’t deserve it, that you probably attained it by accident and that there were other people who deserved it more? Well, there is a name for it – The Imposter Syndrome.

The term, coined by clinical psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes in 1978 describes the concept in which high-achieving individuals fear that they are in the wrong place and that they are not good enough to be in the position which they are in. Former Chancellor at MIT, Dr. Eric Grimson says that it is common among students even at MIT. College life at Grad school can be very hard to get through, especially when you are surrounded by smarter people (which you most definitely will be).

Sometimes, it is sometimes ok to be average among the best as long as you learn, endure and strive to improve.

If it takes 5 minutes, do it now

College took up most of my early 20’s. Grad school took up a lot of my sleep. Sometimes, trying to squeeze an extra 15 minutes from a day seems impossible.

One rule to remember in those times – if it takes 5 minutes, do it now, rather than ‘later’. It takes 5 minutes to pay a bill online, 5 minutes to take out the trash, 5 minutes to wash last night’s dinner plate.

Know your priorities

A Grad school professor will not care if you have another exam on the same day as his. A company visiting the campus will not care if another popular company is visiting the same day. Indeed, they intentionally visit on the same day to meet students who are truly interested in joining them.

Get your priorities sorted out before your busy days start to overwhelm you.

Know that you will fail, and that you will fail often

If you get a below-average score in an assignment, grad school does not make your subsequent assignments easier. They only get tougher as you go and you have no choice but to try your best in every single one, no matter how many times you fail. All you can do is get tougher with each failure, because as I learned in college, to succeed one must be prepared to fail often.

Soft skills matter everywhere, all the time

Mr. 4-pointer (someone with a GPA of 4.0/4.0) learned it the hard way that getting into a good school was only the first step. He had no more probability of landing an internship or a job at the cafeteria than a 3-pointer unless he had good communication skills, confidence and exuded geniality. A recruiter wouldn’t take a second glance at a 4.0 GPA resume unless you were clever enough to make it stand out from the pool of those of hundreds of other 4-pointers. It matters not what college you went to (or did not go to) or what degrees you hold if you aren’t a master in the soft skill area.

So the next time you decide to attend college, step into the wonderful world with an open mind.

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