Graduate School Take Out: A First Semester Reflection

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You did it. Turned in your last paper, finished your last reading, put down your pen, and turned off your caffeine machine. Your first graduate semester is over.

You’re tired, or rather chronically exhausted, and all you want to do is lay on the floor and veg out to Netflix for an ungodly amount of hours.

Cue Jessica Jones.



But what do you do with all the crazy mumbo jumbo of the past 4 months? After the first semester, what do you take away to improve the subsequent semesters in your academic journey?  How does graduate school change you?

Obviously, I can’t speak for everyone, but I can offer my reflection and ask, how much does this sound like you? There are certain things I find that graduate school has imparted to me. This is my “Take Out,” if you will, from my first semester as a masters student. (Excluding all the actual take-out consumed in the process of surviving my first semester. Thai food anyone?)

Take Out #1:

Graduate School doesn’t teach you to know things; it teaches you to QUESTION EVERYTHING.


Moody: Constant Vigilance


No longer are you learning about the canon, you’re learning about ways to question the canon, ways to look at novels, question what they’re doing and how they’re doing it and how well they do it. You aren’t here to regurgitate information but to be a part of the conversation that creates it. That’s a big step.

Take Out # 2:

It creates a hyper-organized you, 

. . . because there’s no way you’re going to remember to attend those three department meetings, those two lectures, meet with two separate people for different projects, go to your classes, and oh yeah, get that giant mound of reading that’s due tomorrow done if you don’t keep track of it somehow. Hello 850 pages of The Wanderer. (Never heard of it? Well, it was published in 1814, so I hadn’t either. Say hello to daytime drama meets political revolution). Those agendas you may have thrown away in high school or undergraduate now become the answer to life, the universe, and everything, whether they’re digital (Wunderlist is awesome BTW), or printed. They’ll remind you that no, you can’t go out to see The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Part II the weekend it comes out because you have too much reading to do then. NO SPOILERS.



And it doesn’t help if that PDF you printed and took all those awesome notes on is mysteriously missing when class approaches. Find some system for keeping track of all that and use it-you may find your sanity still intact by the end of the semester. *

*Effects not guaranteed. Exclusions may apply.

Take Out #3:

Your time management skills triple in size!

This goes hand in hand with organization, organization’s BFF you might say, but they are not always tied together at the hip. Graduate school teaches you not only to show up on time (or be early?), but also how to figure out what to do when, because yeah, a day at the beach (Hello 1 and 1/2 hour drive to the Jersey Shore [yes, SHORE]) sounds wonderful, but you have a paper to write that’s worth a hefty portion of your grade. Start typing.




You learn the valuable skill of when you can go out and have a drink (Hard Cider anybody?) or when you have to hunker down over a book with your favorite (purple) pen to take notes (I think I’ll still have some cider. That works, right?).

Take Out #4:

Teaching is difficult and AMAZING.

Now, this isn’t something everyone does in grad school, but at Lehigh, most of our English graduate students teach their own class. Not a TA, not a tutor, but instructors of Composition I or II (required courses for every Lehigh undergraduate), responsible for all the content, structure, and grading for a class. So, graduate students learn swiftly the downs and ups of this profession.

Is every student the one you dream of: prepared, talkative, eloquent? No, absolutely not, but they’re not why you’re teaching, the ones who need to learn are. And it’s a magical thing to watch them start to connect the dots, pick up one concept and apply it to the next one, as the way they looked at the world opens up into new dimensions. Nothing is cooler.

The duality of the roles our graduate students play here at Lehigh presents its own interesting dynamics, but that’s, perhaps, a post for a different day. (Any volunteers? No? Okay, I’ll go watch The Hunger Games now.)


In the end, teaching can give you a better appreciation for your professors and a better understanding of the classroom, and that’s probably why you’re here in the first place, no? Especially if you hope to one day be called Professor Fitzpatrick. (So you probably won’t want Fitzpatrick, but you get the idea?)

Take Out #5:

Process is important.

And let’s clarify here. I’m not talking about procedure, but reflection–processing the vast amount of information and transforming that you’ve undergone. And this is perhaps the most multilayered of the other “take outs” (although teaching also teaches you a great deal). Process is a constant dedication to reflecting on yourself, on what’s going on academically, psychologically, socially, etc., which is particularly important to focus on after your first semester. (A list within a list? Oh well)

  1. How have your interests changed academically? Have they maybe stayed the same, or changed drastically, or perhaps shifted even just a smidge?
  2. Is graduate school the right place for you? Do you want to stay in academia? Or pursue one of the myriad alt-ac professions? (See what another graduate student had to say about alt-ac positions here)
  3. What is different about you personally? How do you see the world differently?
  4. Or any other question. (CONSTANT VIGILANCE)

And indeed. That’s what you need. Take the time to process what’s going on in your life before it all piles up into an explosion that results in TV bingeing (please see above).

So, you’ve learned a thing or two about yourself, been around the block now. And maybe, just maybe, you’re ready for your second semester. Can I get an order of Thai curry to go please?


What has graduate school taught you? Any recommendations for students looking to join the ranks? Comment below!


1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Welcome to Lehigh English & Drown Unbound! | Drown Unbound

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