grad school

The Seven Top Benefits of Starting Grad School Early

Your grad school acceptance letter finally came in the mail. Congrats, that’s no small thing to accomplish! You did your happy dance, but then it hit you: Grad school in the fall is a reality and things in your life are going to change. So now you’re wondering how to fill those awkward months between college graduation and the start of your PhD life.

Well, for many it’s a no-brainer: travel, get lost in a good book series, play sports, spend time with your loved ones, sit outside to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air, and just breathe. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?

But not everyone can afford a summer of traveling, and many are too antsy to sit around and wait until it’s time to join their program. If you can relate, then like several other incoming graduate students, you may be contemplating the idea of starting your PhD journey several weeks early.

To help you out with that decision, here’s a list of benefits for starting grad school a summer early.

1. It’s Still Travel – Kind of…

Assuming you aren’t attending grad school where you went to college, moving to a new city is always exciting. Going before the semester starts means you’ll be able to freely enjoy your new place without the stress and commitment of taking classes and teaching. You’ll have time to explore the city, try new restaurants, and meet people. How is that not a mini-vacation?

2. Get to Know the Lab

A month or two working in a lab you’re interested in joining will give you a feel for its environment. It’s an opportunity to evaluate different factors such as the PI, research projects, funding, and group dynamics. Basically, it’s a chance to learn firsthand if a particular lab (and research project) is for you before committing to it for your thesis – especially if lab rotations aren’t offered in your program.

3. Develop Your Research Skills

If you’re rusty on your research skills, then the summer is a good time to get them polished. Devoting the summer to work on your lab techniques, learning how to use certain equipment, and brushing up on the literature will give you a head start for a smoother transition when the heavy work begins. It’ll also give you a competitive edge because your PI will know how you work before lab placements are done (see #4.)

4. Get Your Foot in the (Lab) Door

Offering to work over the summer demonstrates a high level of interest from your part and gives you a unique opportunity for making a good impression on your PI. So it’s a good strategy for putting yourself ahead of other students who may be interested in the same lab but won’t join the program until the fall. And because joining a lab can be competitive, it’s a great advantage to have.

5. Get Some Finances in Order

Maybe you decided not to travel because you couldn’t afford it. So if you’re looking for some cash, such as to cover your moving expenses, then a summer job sounds like a good way of earning a couple of paychecks. And why not work on research? It’s what you’ll do for the next few years anyway.*

6. Beat the Crowds for Apartment Hunting

Finding a new place to live is always stressful. But it’s even worse when the incoming students (think undergrads) snatch the nicest places and cut your options short. Avoid the competition and the stress by moving early in the summer when units become available right after graduation season.

7. You Won’t Be the New Kid in Grad School

Don’t get too excited, you’re still a first-year grad student of course! But by the time your classmates join the party, you’ll be familiarized with the surroundings – you’ll be acquainted with people in the department, know your way around campus, and have located a coffee shop and a couple of good restaurants. It may seem silly, but it’ll make you feel better knowing that you aren’t as lost as your classmates.

The list of benefits still go on. But hopefully, I’ve given you enough to convince you that starting early in grad school can payoff. Also, you may want to print this out and hand it over to your friends and family when they question your sanity for wanting to leave home early to start school again.

Remember to have some fun and get some vitamin D every once in a while! We would love to hear how this summer goes for you, so let us know in the comments section below!

*Stipends aren’t always offered, so ask before committing. Although some students are willing to work for free, non-payment could be a red flag for funding issues or a PI that’s plain cheap. None are good signs for what your future may hold in that lab, so I would advise to steer away.

Image credit: University of Hawaii - West Oahu

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