Guest blog post authored by graduate student Parker Li, (PhD candidate, Political Science).

Everyone’s graduate school journey is different. However, here are the eight mistakes I wish I knew how to avoid when I entered graduate school. It may or may not apply to you, but I hope these “mistakes” can help you re-evaluate your journey and have a great grad school experience!

1. Thinking like an undergraduate

It is true that we still need to take courses. However, we are not passive knowledge receivers anymore. We need to be active thinkers and use the courses to cement our own research. More importantly, we should stop fixating on grades. The knowledge defines us as a researcher, not the grade.

2. Studying too much

It is hard to say “how much is too much?” for a graduate student. It varies across departments and personalities. However, the key here is that study (and research) should not dominate all your life. It is a long journey, and we need peers and families. Actually, having a vibrant social circle can help you research more effectively!

3. Not learning how to budget

It is true that graduate students, on average, do not have too much financial freedom. However, limited financial resources do not mean to spend all you have, paycheck to paycheck. Budgeting—financial thinking in general—should be an essential component of graduate life. This includes but is not limited to finding a part-time job, applying for a new scholarship, budgeting your expenditures, and other financial considerations.

4. Ignoring career exploration

Finding a job should not be a final year graduation thing, especially in today’s competitive and intense academic job market. Don’t get me wrong; I am not saying we should be stressed about it from day one. Instead, I am saying we should re-evaluate our PhD plan and polish our career skills—like social networking and communication skills—from day one. Tweak and re-evaluate as you go along, and explore what options you might have after you graduate, before you graduate.

5. Forgetting about mental and physical health

Getting a degree, especially a PhD, is a long journey. Having a strong support network for your health and wellbeing is important. So many things can happen in your graduate journey, and neglecting your physical and mental health is not where you want to go. Visit UBC's Wellness Centre for support.

6. Ghosting your family

This is especially true for international students, even if it is not intentional. We may not be able to meet our family and significant others for a long time. On the one hand, we should make more friends; on the other hand, we should try our best to keep in close contact with the people we love. We will face many struggles during this journey, and it is always nice to have someplace to go when you need it, and your family and your important others are always there for you.

7. Feeling like an imposter

Imposter syndrome is that feeling that you are underqualified, inadequate or incompetent – often when we aren’t at all. Trust yourself. You are being trained as an expert in your field. If you don’t trust yourself, why should others?

8. Forgetting about on-campus resources

It is common for us to ignore things that are very easy to get, and on-campus resources are definitely one of those things. Gym facilities, online career training and workshops, scholarship applications, social networking, you name it. From free drop-in rec classes during “free week” at UBC Recreation, discounts on swim passes, free visits to the museums on campus and more – take advantage of those resources!



This post originally appeared in the GradStart Orientation Canvas module for new graduate students and was developed during COVID in 2020.


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Wednesday, 20 September 2023