Some stuff to do after acceptance before starting a program
by, 03-13-2017 at 02:26 PM (4795 Views)
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.