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Thread: Some stuff to do after acceptance before starting a program

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    A long long time ago XanthusARES's Avatar
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    Some stuff to do after acceptance before starting a program

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    I thought that I would share some of my experiences on what I wish I would have known before entering a PhD program. Let me be clear before I start though, things will work out. If you don't get this stuff done, it's not a huge deal, it will work out. So at this point a lot of you have your acceptances and are beginning to plan your PhD life. First of all congratulations, it's a big deal to be accepted, welcome to the fold. Also get ready for a life filled with stress and uncertainty. Also a lot of positive things too, in fact a ton of positive things that are great! Just those are often diluted by the stress and uncertainty. Make sure to enjoy yourself for the next few months. That's what I'm posting about today, the next few months.

    1. Moving. If you are moving for a program, start looking at the city and thinking where you would want to live. If this is a city you are familiar with, this will be an easier thing to do. If it's a completely unknown city, it will be more difficult. Start looking online for information about where people live. A good proxy is to look at where the popular restaurants and bars are at. Generally those areas are pretty decent places to start checking out. Or if you're looking for a more quiet neighborhood look near the elementary schools. Start thinking about how you want to get around at the school. Do you plan to take the bus everywhere? If so where are the bus lines? Do you have a car? If so do most places offer parking spots? Ask current students about the city and housing market. If the department didn't ask to fly you out, tell them you are interested in checking out the city and school and see if they'd be willing to pay for your flight. I think you'd be surprised how many will be able to help you out. Worst case scenario they won't fly you out, but they'll give you a free dinner and drinks when you do come up. It never hurts to ask. Start thinking about how you plan to move and ask around about quotes. Are you going to u-haul it? Use PODS? Get a moving company (super expensive, but almost completely stress free)? Just start thinking about it now so it doesn't sneak up on you.

    2. Money. The PhD lifestyle is not exactly glamorous. Sure we make good money and we shouldn't complain. Particularly we shouldn't complain to friends in other social science areas, their finances are much more difficult than ours. But that doesn't mean you'll be living high on the hog. Hopefully you started saving already, but if not, I'd start right now. Try to save as much as possible, having a few thousand in the bank for unknown expenses is always a good decision, particularly during the program. Maybe that means picking up more hours at your job, or not going on that European vacation this summer. You should definitely enjoy yourself, but keep savings in mind. It will pay dividends in the end.

    3. Masterminding (I wanted to keep the M thing going, I really mean logistics). Schools do a great job of getting you into the program. They aren't always the best at helping you past that point. Side note: this is life in academia. You need to be a self-starter and figure things out yourself. However it is a big switch from the corporate world and can be extremely intimidating, particularly because it will seem like everyone else has their crap together. They don't. So here are some questions that will be helpful for you to ask your PhD coordinator or business school PhD coordinator. 1. How does funding work (i.e. will you be paid bi-weekly, monthly, semesterly, yearly)? Each school does this differently and it is based on the funding type, so ask just so you'll know what to expect. 2. What are your expectations? Will you be teaching on day 1? Will you be working with a prof on a project? Try to figure this out ASAP because if you will be teaching, you'll want to get the course material right now so you can prep. 3. What paperwork do you need to fill out? Do you need to be at the school to fill it out? This could delay your first paycheck so getting it done early is best. 4. What is the coursework schedule for the particular school you are going to? What I mean is this, how long do you normally take courses (2 years? 3 years? 4?) when do you take comps or even if you do? This is not extremely relevant when you start, but it becomes relevant in year 2 (assuming you take comps at the end of year 2). Just knowing the information will help you to be prepared early (which is always a benefit to me).

    4. Mapping Coursework. I was going to include this in the previous section, but realized it needed it's own section. One think you'll learn is that each school takes coursework differently. For some it is extremeyl important, for others its a barrier that needs to be crossed to get to research. You need to figure out what type of program you are going to and ask questions that will help you to take the right courses. One note, I've often said that grades in a PhD program don't matter, that the role of the program is research. That's true, but you should take classes that will help you to be a better researcher. In fact that is the total goal of the progam and the coursework. Take them seriously because you'll need to know the material not for a grade, but for writing papers and doing good research. With that in mind here are some questions you should ask right now. When do you sign up for classes? Are there specific classes you are required to take? What have others in the program taken? Are you on a clearly defined class schedule, or can you take whatever you want? Are their requirements about number of credits or class type (i.e. my school requires 6 method courses)? Do you need a minor and if so what does that entail? Talk to current students about what they did, often they'll be more helpful than faculty who have little interest in the logistical nature of classes. Talk to the grad school coordinator about actually signing up for classes. Find out what you need to sign up (a student ID number? Access to a web portal? An email address? A course list?) Basically you want to know early enough so that if a class is popular you can get signed up before it fills up.


    That's all I can think of right now. Mostly enjoy your time off, find housing early and try to save some money. Any other members who have input feel free to post it below. Any new acceptees who have questions about the process, please let us know and we'll do what we can to help you out.
    Til now I always got by on my own
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    PoC
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    Re: Some stuff to do after acceptance before starting a program

    Great write up!

    However, I would slightly disagree and actually recommend taking that vacation. Taking a vacation is going to be super hard over the next 4-5 years and maybe taking it before your program starts will allow you to clear your head and get mentally prepared for the PhD.

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    A long long time ago XanthusARES's Avatar
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    Re: Some stuff to do after acceptance before starting a program

    Quote Originally Posted by PoC View Post
    Great write up!

    However, I would slightly disagree and actually recommend taking that vacation. Taking a vacation is going to be super hard over the next 4-5 years and maybe taking it before your program starts will allow you to clear your head and get mentally prepared for the PhD.
    100% take the vacation if you have the money. Even if you don't have the money take some time off and do something. I mostly meant be wary of spending too much money and save where you can.

    However definitely take the time off and if you can afford a big vacation trip while still saving, definitely do it.
    Til now I always got by on my own
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    Re: Some stuff to do after acceptance before starting a program

    Thanks! That is exceptionally helpful!

    Quote Originally Posted by XanthusARES View Post
    I thought that I would share some of my experiences on what I wish I would have known before entering a PhD program. Let me be clear before I start though, things will work out.
    That's all I can think of right now. Mostly enjoy your time off, find housing early and try to save some money. Any other members who have input feel free to post it below. Any new acceptees who have questions about the process, please let us know and we'll do what we can to help you out.
    Last edited by Dak601; 03-13-2017 at 09:17 PM.

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    Re: Some stuff to do after acceptance before starting a program

    Thanks XanthuAres.

    Not sure whether one (at least me) can go without taking a vacation at all over 5 years. Even very busy politicians and business executives manage some break. Unless, it is from a cost perspective. I would say going without a vacation for so long will hamper productivity. Even if one cannot go to a beach or a city break, to not work for two weeks in the summer and a week around Christmas, and instead read for pleasure will help not to burnout. Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, chess, cycling, gardening, Forsyth, John Grisham; I need something to take my mind away from work.

    Quote Originally Posted by PoC View Post
    Great write up!

    However, I would slightly disagree and actually recommend taking that vacation. Taking a vacation is going to be super hard over the next 4-5 years and maybe taking it before your program starts will allow you to clear your head and get mentally prepared for the PhD.

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    Re: Some stuff to do after acceptance before starting a program

    Quote Originally Posted by XanthusARES View Post
    Let me be clear before I start though, things will work out.
    ...

    2. Money. The PhD lifestyle is not exactly glamorous. Sure we make good money and we shouldn't complain. Particularly we shouldn't complain to friends in other social science areas, their finances are much more difficult than ours. But that doesn't mean you'll be living high on the hog. Hopefully you started saving already, but if not, I'd start right now. Try to save as much as possible, having a few thousand in the bank for unknown expenses is always a good decision, particularly during the program. Maybe that means picking up more hours at your job, or not going on that European vacation this summer. You should definitely enjoy yourself, but keep savings in mind. It will pay dividends in the end.

    ...

    That's all I can think of right now. Mostly enjoy your time off, find housing early and try to save some money. Any other members who have input feel free to post it below. Any new acceptees who have questions about the process, please let us know and we'll do what we can to help you out.
    You reminded me of some good experiences.

    So, when I started I did a European / Alaskan vacation from mid-May until the end of June. My wife and I moved out at the beginning of July and stayed with a current PhD student for a few days while we found an apartment. We were restricted to stuff that was open right then, but it really did work out.

    At some point during math camp (I think the end of July before I had gotten another check from the University) I left a pen in my pocket and my wife did laundry. My wife was 7 months pregnant and pretty much everything that fit her was covered in blue ink. We had blown all of our cash between the vacation and moving expenses so we went to Target to get a few basic items of clothing and tried to use a credit card. The card froze because we were in a new state and don't normally use it. Customer service kept telling us it would work again but it didn't. I think we were in the Target line for about an hour.

    In retrospect, the vacation was totally worth it. Moving without a plan worked out too, but knowing where you are going to go is probably a good idea. However, it would be best to keep some savings around (good advice for all stages of life). My wife still makes me take pens out of my pockets right away if she ever sees them.

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    Re: Some stuff to do after acceptance before starting a program

    Quote Originally Posted by PobleNou View Post
    Thanks XanthuAres.

    Not sure whether one (at least me) can go without taking a vacation at all over 5 years. Even very busy politicians and business executives manage some break. Unless, it is from a cost perspective. I would say going without a vacation for so long will hamper productivity. Even if one cannot go to a beach or a city break, to not work for two weeks in the summer and a week around Christmas, and instead read for pleasure will help not to burnout. Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, chess, cycling, gardening, Forsyth, John Grisham; I need something to take my mind away from work.
    Man I didn't expect that part to be the part that people picked up on, but that happens I guess. I'm not suggesting that you won't get a vacation or ever take a break during the PhD program. You will. In fact I would say it's a must. There are some people who will tell you the opposite, but you really need some time to catch your breath and get back on track or you won't be productive (there are some exceptions to this). Definitely take a vacation, definitely take breaks during the program (for example I don't work on Sundays. Ever. I stop working at 4 PM on Saturday and don't do anything else until 8 AM on Monday).

    The big part is simply just to not spend all of your savings on a vacation. Don't get me wrong you'll be able to make something work out if you do, but you'll be better off if you don't. That being said if you have enough savings for a trip and money in the bank, take that vacation. My wife and I spent a month at a cabin in the woods with some friends fishing, drinking and smoking cigars before I started the program. It was a great month and I would definitely do it again. But we made sure we had money in savings. BTW the money we had saved we had used by the end of the first year. Things (i.e. babies) sometimes pop up (expectedly for our child, but sometimes unexpectedly for others).
    Til now I always got by on my own
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    Re: Some stuff to do after acceptance before starting a program

    I didn't mean to pick on you Xanthus. Thanks for giving us information from your experience.

    I was going to take a longgggg break before autumn, if not taking a vacation is indeed common among PhD students!!

    Quote Originally Posted by XanthusARES View Post
    Man I didn't expect that part to be the part that people picked up on, but that happens I guess..
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