First year on campus… But not frosh

Well, September is almost upon us, bringing the start of a new school year. Seeing all of the incoming graduate students arrive in their labs allowed me to reflect upon my own experience of starting grad school one year ago. I came to realize that one aspect I’m happiest about is the fact that I decided to change universities to complete my graduate degree. Starting grad school at McGill was a lot like starting undergrad – except that I was a first year student in a different way. Here are some of the reasons that I’m glad I changed it up by starting grad school at a new university, and what I recommend for new students who are in the same boat this year.

My Advice:

Firstly: Explore Your Surroundings

Moving to a new university for grad school meant I was able to experience a new city. I had already become very familiar with my undergraduate university town, and the change of scenery was refreshing. In a city as large as Montreal, there are endless activities at our disposal; new streets to explore, and new adventures to be embarked upon. One way that I was able to fully take advantage of my new surroundings was to bring my favourite hobbies with me and enjoy them in my new environment. I found new running spots (Mount Royal, Parc Lafontaine, and Lachine Canal are some of my favourites), and different places where I can take interesting photos.

What I recommend to incoming students:  If you’re moving cities to begin grad school, take advantage of every opportunity provided by your new location! Do your best to see how your favourite activities, whatever they may be (reading, art, sports, etc), can be maximized and built upon here, or find a new hobby that is unique to the city (e.g. learning a new language).

Secondly: Grow Your Network

With a new university and new city comes a new network. Coming to McGill, I was able to expand both my academic and personal networks, while still keeping in touch with my network from undergrad. Grad school is the perfect time to foster relationships with professors, mentors, and peers, which will all be key when it’s time to apply for jobs or ask for references. I was able to create strong friendships with my lab mates and other students in my faculty, most of whom I may have never met if I didn’t come to McGill.

What I recommend to incoming students: Don’t be afraid to use your lab mates or other senior students in your department as your support network, at least at the very beginning of your graduate experience. They have been in your shoes, and have already navigated the waters that go along with starting in your lab or faculty. I’m sure they’ll be more than happy to help get you moving in the right direction!

Thirdly: Do Something New

Every university is different. Every institution offers different services and has a unique approach to education. Every university, department, and lab has their own distinct research focus, and I found that after encountering multiple research settings, I was better able to ask pertinent questions and come up with more creative and original ideas. I am now able to push the boundaries of my academic comfort zone in a way which would have been much more difficult beforehand.

What I recommend to incoming students: Step out of your comfort zone. One of my favourite quotes is, “You never know unless you try,” and this applies to grad school as well. Experience everything your new university has to offer – go to conferences, get involved, try out the services (i.e. through PGSS), and push yourself to reach your full potential!


Banner image by GradLife McGill Instagrammer @aleksbud // @gradlifemcgill

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