Note for First-Year Graduate Student


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The Bell Tower, University of California, Riverside

If you are a new graduate student, time can be tough because you have a lot of hassles in the first year. You have several heavy coursework, need to maintain minimum GPA, have to do teaching assistants (TA),  probably rotate in labs and select your Ph.D. supervisor, learn new skills in the laboratory as well as set-up yourself in a new city (new country for international students like me), explore the new campus, make new friends and cook your own food. That’s a lot for the first year.

While it is easy to become overwhelmed to meet these requirements, a fresh graduate student must not forget the big idea of a Ph.D. research. Many new graduate students are fresh Bachelor or Masters degree holders who approach the Ph.D. program as like undergraduate school, which is a mistake. Often there can be a gap of suggestion and lake of help to make a clear conception of what a Ph.D. program is.

I am a second year Ph.D. student myself right now, and I am not going to write an elaborate post about what is Ph.D.! But, over the last year, I have come through several articles that I found interesting. I am going to share them in this post for readers. Interestingly, two of them were provided by my supervisor, Dr. Joel Sachs. So here are the papers with my very short summary:

  • “So long, and thanks for the Ph.D.!”a.k.a.“Everything I wanted to know about C.S. graduate school at the beginning but didn’t learn until later.” by Ronald T. Azuma

    Ph.D. students are not actually ‘students’ and graduate school is not technically a ‘school‘. So graduate school is kind of idea business where grad-students are a strange type of employee. They are paid by primarily by projects that are managed by professors (and professors do hard work to get a scientific research grant. In these days the success of getting research grant in low as 5-10%). So as an employee, one need a diverse array of skills from research to organization to presentation.

  • Some Modest Advice for Graduate StudentsSome Modest Advice for Graduate Students by Stephen C. Stearns

    This is a very interesting read. The author makes it clear in the beginning that ‘nobody cares about you’. He doesn’t like taking courses because they are ‘useless’ and suggested reading in your field exhaustively in the first year so that you must know why your work is important. I remember a third year graduate student who was my mentor in the first year, Amanda Hale, told me once that your aim is to become world specialist in your field by first couple years of Ph.D. The author of this article also discussed different types of a thesis, which is very useful. 

  • Reply to Stearns: Some Acynical Advice for Graduate Students by  Raymond B. Huey

    So the previous article was so blatant that this author writes a reply to it. He says some people do care 🙂 which is great to know. He also stresses on behaving like a professional. Relationship of a Ph.D. student and his/her supervisor is a professional one — so one needs to manage the relationship properly.

  • The importance of stupidity in scientific research by Martin A. Schwartz

    This short article actually published in a journal named ‘Cell Science’. The author has a very interesting viewpoint on stupidity. He thinks that it is quite normal to feel and be stupid along Ph.D. Interestingly, he also advocates to practice ‘productive stupidity’ where one become ‘ignorant by choice’. This is the most pleasant reading after going through the other three articles.

I hope new graduate students will find these articles useful 🙂


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