High GRE scores, great recommendation letters, and an impeccable résumé are all the common things we are told we need for graduate school. We stress ourselves for four years of undergrad to participate in things that will distinguish our résumé from our peers. We study rigorously our last semester of undergrad to prepare for a test that basically defines us a student. We hound our professors about completing our recommendation letters before the application deadlines. These are all things we are familiar with when it comes to the process of applying to graduate program, but what about when you are accepted? That’s when the true fears and headache begin (sorry, I’m just going to be very transparent here). No worries though, I’m here to help.
Disclaimer: Every graduate school is not the same. These recommendations are based on my experiences, so tread as you may.
- Find a friend. Heck, find a few friends. During my time in graduate school, I had a group of ladies that I became close with. We studied together, completed group projects together and of course created a social life outside of class. You will be grateful for your graduate school tribe. They will be there to give you that piece of information you missed because the professor flipped the slide too quickly. They will ask the questions you weren’t bold enough to ask in class. They will even share a pitcher of house margarita with you after a three hour lecture, because trust me, you will need it. This group will become a large part of your life for not only the next couple of years, but they will also be the colleagues you call with questions about interesting or complicated cases. Believe me when I say, having a person or group of people to help you survive the next few rigorous years of coursework will be one of the things you will be most grateful for.
- Time management and organization is so important. Not to sound like a mom or anything because I’m sure we have all heard that statement before. However, if you somehow managed to survive undergrad without good time management skills, then you just may be the GOAT. If you did not learn this in undergrad, you will definitely learn it in graduate school. Between classes, practicums, university clinic, research, studying, and a possibly joining a student organization, you truly begin to feel like there are not enough hours in the day (honestly though, 24 hours just isn’t enough for anyone). My first semester of graduate school, I had terrible time management. It wasn’t that I didn’t know how to manage my time, but for some reason I thought I didn’t have to as much as I did during my prior four years. I was 100% dead wrong. My academic performance slightly aligned with my poor decisions. However, it’s not about how you start but how you finish, right? Of course it is. The biggest thing to remember is that grad school is not forever. For SLPs it is typically a max of 2-3 years. So, make school your priority temporarily so that your career and lifestyle is set for longevity. Some things are worth the sacrifice for the moment until you get to where you want to be. The tailgate, dinner with friends, festival and concerts you missed will all be there once you have completed your studies. Trust me, time flies and you will have mastered it all before you know it.
- Take advantage of your practicums. This is most important. It is honestly where you will learn your most valuable information. Graduate school will teach you the theories behind our practices. Practicums will teach you methods, strategies and treatment procedures that you will forever remember and implement with your patients. Some of the things my clinical supervisors taught me, I use with my patients today. So be a sponge. I was grateful to have very knowledgeable and pleasant supervisors that became job references and colleagues. So, it is important to always be professional. Believe me when I say, the speech world is extremely small. One bad practicum can not only ruin it for you, but also future students.
- Attend conferences. Of course, the big conference we all want to attend in graduate school is ASHA, but don’t forget about your state conferences, as well. Your state conferences are important because it gives you the opportunity to not only network, but also to learn about things that are happening or changing in your state. There are so many changes that happen yearly with reimbursements for insurance, policies with ASHA and so much more. These state conferences help inform you on what to expect. We all know that networking is also very important. It’s what helps open doors to new opportunities. During conferences, you will meet people you want to be just like or to be a mentor. I encourage you to introduce yourself to them and start a conversation. These professionals will be people you will also want to call when you need guidance or questions answered regarding research or patients. As a new and future SLP, you will always have questions, because I’m only seven months in the game and I know I do! You will want old professors, experienced SLPs, and of course colleagues who may be in a different setting, to be in your network. State and national conferences are a perfect way to have lunch or chat between breaks to began these relationships.
- Enjoy this moment. I know people will tell you all about the stresses of graduate school and the challenges that come along with it. A lot it is true, but that doesn’t mean it will be that way all of the time. My granddad use to always tell me, “you have your whole life to work.” I didn’t realize this fully until after I graduated. My life now consists of working 40 hours a week. While I extremely love what I do, sometimes I miss studying with friends and being a student. Graduate school is a different experience than undergraduate however, they have some similar attributes. Both give you the opportunity to meet lifelong friends and colleagues. Both give you a type of freedom and breath of fresh air that isn’t a part of the work life. Enjoy it because you won’t be a student forever. Learn all you can now so that you can go on to become groundbreaking and knowledgeable speech language pathologists. The world needs more of us.
Graduate school will be a host of things. It will be stressful, fun, interesting, challenging, demanding, and exciting. No matter what feelings the tasks may bring, I encourage you to always remember why you started.