The first week of classes
When you start a PhD program, or a Masters program (I have a BS and MS so I can speak to this) things aren’t as structured as they are in undergrad. Not that undergrad programs aren’t hard or not hectic, it’s just that there are scheduled times for everything so you know when and where you will have work. It’s a lot like highschool in that respect, you get homework, but there’s a clear end to it. Not so much in grad school, your homework takes a year or even years (for a PhD) to finish. Still, it’s the first week of school, so things change, if only slightly.
Degree requirements depend on the school and your education. Typically there are fewer requirements for going from a MS to a PhD. You can still go from a BS to a PhD, but the school adds some requirements to get you “up to speed” so to speak. Most of your PhD is spent doing “independent research” at least that’s what it says on my transcripts. The requirement is that you hit XX number of research hours before you defend your PhD. We also switch from research to dissertation hours in my school, the difference is when you defend your PhD proposal you switch from research to dissertation hours and you have a certain minimum number of each you need to hit to graduate, but the bar is fairly low, so you’ll never run into a situation where you’ve completed your research, but haven’t fulfilled the requirement.
Since 90% of the time you’re doing research credits and it’s not a formal “class” in that there are no meeting times or even meeting rooms, when school starts things sort of feel like nothing’s really changed. However, there are a few other requirements that make sure there’s a difference between being in school and not. Namely when class is in session I have weekly meetings that I must attend (required for my degree). This term I will also be taking exactly 1 class, along with my enrollment in the future faculty program (which is a class, but also an award, so kind of confusing).
This term I’m taking a statistical approaches for research class. It was recommended by a postdoc I was working with, who went on to be an assistant professor after just a year of postdoc, to take as many statistics courses as I could. It’s solid advice since it will help me in experimental design and that’s important to me since I’m doing research into something new and need to be able to select enough participants to give good “statistical power.”
It’s one day a week, but it will probably require a significant amount of time. It’s virtual too, so that helps a lot since my school was pushing hard for in person classes even though the pandemic is still raging hard here in the US. The class also fulfills one of my degree requirements that I was missing and kind of putting off, so getting that all done means I can focus more on just the research and getting everything done without the worry of degree requirements hovering in the background. They recommend that you get all the requirements out of the way early anyway so you can focus fully on research. I’ll still need to attend the weekly meetings, that’s a requirement up until graduation, but it will be just one day a week for ~2 hours and doesn’t usually come with homework, so not as stressful as an actual class.
Aside from that, I have a lot of background stuff going on. Namely grant writing, a lot of grant writing. Some publications, and a bunch of stuff I mentioned at the beginning of yesterday’s post. Basically the amount of work I have doesn’t change significantly when classes start, but it does change. I won’t have the amount of free time I get over the winter break for example, but I hope to take a day or two a week to relax. The first few weeks of the term are always hectic, meetings with my two PI’s, experiments, deadlines, etc. So I won’t know exactly how stressful this term will be until I’m in the middle of it all, but I’m excited to learn some new things, do some experiments, and finally FINALLY finish my last class requirements for my degree. I told you at the start this year was going to be interesting (from a school perspective) and we’re already off to a good start!