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Commitment and life pre PhD

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Alright so weíre getting towards the end of the interview season. We are not at the end of the season, there is still hope. Iím still not writing a post about complete rejection yet. I also began this post almost a month ago, but things got in the way of me writing an extended post (mostly school and research and all of the fun stuff that comes with being a PhD student, youíll know soon enough).

Many of you are in the envious position of having multiple offers. More of you will be in this position soon. Some of you may have only one offer, but are extremely positive that this is the right choice for you. If any of these describe you, youíll inevitably be committing soon to the school of your dreams (at least this is what the school will become). So itís March now and school doesnít start until August (or September, I never remember which). What should you be doing now? Most of this advice is for people who are moving cities to go to school, but some of it can be useful even if you are just moving down the street.

As soon as you accept

1. Go out and celebrate. As Iíve mentioned in nearly all of my posts, good things happen in our lives only occasionally, so take the time to enjoy them when they do.

2. Go on Craigslist and start looking at apartments. Iím not suggesting that you necessarily start sending out emails, but you want to see what the rental market is like in the new city you are going to be moving to. Youíll get a good idea about average apartment prices and what styles are available (i.e. large complexes or privately owned houses).

3. Speak to people at the program. Ask if the coordinator can get you in touch with some students. These people will provide invaluable insight about the school, the city and what you need to do to prepare. The more contact that you can have, the better. This is the time to ask all of those questions about the location that you want to know. Where do students live? What kind of lifestyle will your stipend afford you? What is the parking situation like at the school? Do you need a car to get around? What is the public transportation system looking like? Winter Ė does it exist?

a. Most importantly ask them now about the housing market. Where I go to school all of the landlords got together and decided that all leases forever and always would start on August 15 and end on August 14. This means that one day a year every single u-haul is rented, and roads are horrible to drive on. Secondly everyone who lives here, knows that August 15th is the date you move. So they start signing leases in November. Let me say that again. PEOPLE HERE SIGN LEASES FOR THE FOLLOWING AUGUST IN NOVEMBER! So when you get accepted in March and start looking for an apartment, youíre already staring at the wrong side of the line. Once May hits, well you are up a certain creek at that point so be prepared to pay a gross amount of money for an apartment that has a sink inside of a closet and $200 a month parking at a parking garage 7 blocks away. I donít know about other cities, but this is a big deal for my school and city. The earlier you know, the better chance youíll have.
4. Relax. Try to take some time to yourself. Play some video games, read, watch TV/Netflix, go outside, whatever you do to relax do it. Also, and this is huge, enjoy your weekends. Soon enough youíll be spending all weekend in front of a computer screen either at home or in your office, enjoy the fact that this isnít necessary for the time being.

5. If you are working think about how you are going to leave, maybe start putting some bugs in your managers ear that you may be leaving. Donít start a project that will go for another year. Donít slack off too much, youíll need to keep your job until you are ready to leave. Save some money while you still can.

6. Along those lines, start thinking about a budget. Try to include every little expense that you can think of. These add up fast, and your stipend will only go so far. The more you can plan beforehand, the better off youíll be. Here are some things that youíll need to think about as initial expenses
a. The move. Are you going to use a moving company, a u-haul, PODS? No matter what all of these cost money. Start thinking about it now so that you have the time to save up for it.
b. Security deposit. For some places this is first and last monthís rent. No matter what it is generally a sizable amount of money, make sure you have enough saved up.
c. Do you need a new computer? Tablet? Phone?
d. The actual trip itself. Depending on how far you are traveling, you might need to stay in a hotel and youíll definitely need gas and food. Are you going to eat every meal out or are you going to pack your meals? My advice is to be conservative with these estimates (itís always better to have money left over).

A few months before you begin (Juneish depending on the area)

1. If you are lucky enough to live in an area that isnít my city, this is the time that youíll sign that lease. Plan a trip to see what is available if possible. If not, try to read as much about the place youíll be virtually signing a lease with before you do. If you canít make it, perhaps ask a current student to go check out the place for you. Most students will be willing to help you out, especially if you promise to buy them a beverage of their choice (under $8 of course) when you show up.
a. If you are single, maybe consider getting a roommate. Other PhD students tend to make great roommates because they are working as much as you are. Plus splitting a 2 bedroom is generally cheaper than a 1 bedroom. I would avoid rooming with a PhD student in your program. Youíll see them all the time during the day, give yourself a break in the evenings.
b. Also if your school offers graduate student housing, this might not be a bad decision for a year, although youíll probably need to look into this in March.

2. Start thinking about wrapping up those work projects. Again I wouldnít check out of work, but start the transition.

3. Have you been celebrating? No? Well no time like the present to start.

4. So word on the street is that there are places in the world that you can go. If you have the money, I would suggest taking a trip. Some kind of trip. Even if itís only for a day to the local forest/lake/baseball game/bar. Do something for a whole day without thinking about anything related to PhDís or research. Go with your friends or family (or both) and just really enjoy the time you have. Once youíre in the program youíll have time to do things (donít let anyone tell you that you wonít), but it will be different. There is always work to be done, so if you do something un-work related, it means that you arenít doing something work related.
a. This is going to be a separate post, but one of the biggest concerns that we have as graduate students is understanding time management. Let me be clear there is always work. Always. If you watch a movie, that is 2 hours in which you could have been doing something related to school. This doesnít mean that you should be working non-stop all the time, but, and I know this will be difficult for all of us to hear, you need to be OK with not getting stuff done. The carefree life of completing projects weeks before the deadline is gone. Things get done, and will always get done, but you need to know what is important to do and you need to take some time away and not do stuff.

5. Continue to work on your budget. If youíve done your job of developing a budget right now (meaning March/April), in June youíll have a good idea where you stand. Are you on track to meet your financial goals? What do you need to adjust in your life to get there? Again if youíre conservative with your potential estimates youíll be good come August.

6. Make the final decisions for you move. Book your POD/U-haul/friend. One big thing is that if you are moving across country to an area you donít know anyone, youíll probably have friends and family to help you load up the truck, but probably have no one to help you unload it. Think about how you want to deal with this issue. If you are going to sell some stuff before you move, you should start that sooner or later. You donít want to be needing to sell your couch in the next 4 hours because youíre leaving. (Iíve done this and ended up nearly giving it away which was horrible)


1. Well this is the big move. Most schools (at least in my head) start somewhere near the end of August. Different people have different amounts of time necessary to make the transition. I like to have at least 2 weeks in a new place before things start up. That gives me a chance to get my stuff unpacked and apartment set up. Iíll have the opportunity to explore the neighborhood, find the closest grocery store, check out a bar or two and just get settled. For others, they only need a few days (and can only afford a few days based on when they can quit work).
a. Youíll at least want to show up before orientation to get a look at your office and meet some of your co-workers.
b. It is also a good idea to meet with your potential adviser so that you can hit the semester running. Have some ideas for research that theyíll inevitably shoot down.

2. Try to get some last minute rest in. Itís going to be a long 5 years. Enjoy your remaining days of freedom.
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