First, I have to say, plans are meant to be changed. But no matter how many times you must change the plan, I have come to realize that, having a plan, no matter how disorganized, is always better than not having a plan at all. So, don’t hesitate to go back to your planner to redraw and re-plan things out. I firmly believe its all part of the process.
We were asked to think carefully about how we want to go about our graduate education. Looking forward in time can be a little overwhelming. It is 2018 and I have just finished my first year of the program but now I am being told that I have to figure out how I want to go about the next four years. It is a bit much. Below I will highlight what this plan is supposed to look like. For my program, the goal is to get you out within 5 years. Even I can see that this is just hopefully thinking. For some people it takes the additional sixth year to finish because a lot of things goes into how quickly one finishes their program. There is the personal motivation, support, project, and most importantly the advisor.
- Year One (2017-2018)
- Lab Rotation
- Select a Lab
- Pass the comprehensive cumulative exam
- Year Two (2018-2019)
- Pre-dissertation Research
- Pass the qualifying exam (defend your proposal)
- Form committee
- Year three (2019-2020)
- Pre-dissertation research
- Develop a research plan
- Hopefully, publish a paper
- Attend a conference (present a poster)
- Make sure to meet with your committee a few times during this year
- Think about writing a grant proposal
- 4. Year four (2020-2021)
- Pre-dissertation research
- Start writing your dissertation
- Schedule to meet with your committee
- Attend conferences/Meetings
- Start thinking about what you want to do after graduation
- 5. Year five (2021-2022)
- Finish Project
- Finish writing
- Plan your future
- Defend your thesis
- Graduate and Leave
It all seems like a lot, but 5 years is a very long time, and through each step there are people to reach out to that can assist you in planning everything out. A mist everything you must deal with, life still must happen, and I think this is what makes the whole experience so difficult. You have your personal aspirations outside of your studies, there are friends and naturally family is always there, so a balance is critical.
After completing the required course work, on average, you spend 10 hours in the lab. Breaks and holidays becomes a myth and are only possible if you are up to speed with everything that you need to do. So there are no built-in weekends, breaks or vacation. All that will be determined by how organized you are.
Slowly but surely you become a spectator to the outside life because your work demands unreasonable time commitment. This is made worse by the countless failed experiments. By year five, most students are angry, depressed, and more than ready to leave. I know it sounds scary, its no different than any other thing in life that requires time and energy, so when done correctly, the benefits can be worth the time commitment.
Some of these things I have yet to experience, but what I have seen, is that when graduation comes around, you do not see a single sad face. Everyone is celebrating, making thank you speeches, and most move on to what they always pictured themselves doing.