By Adam Boocher
As Dan mentioned in his post a few weeks ago, we’ve just revamped our mentoring program at Berkeley. I think Dan gave some excellent tips on the academic side of things, and so I thought I’d write some advice from a different angle. I’m finding more and more that grad school isn’t all about the research and the math. To give an example, the math department ran a workshop a few weeks ago that I’ll call “A friendly visit from the university psychologist.” The discussion basically centered around the stress involved in being a graduate student and ways of managing it. It was really useful to have a candid discussion about this side of the graduate school experience, and we got some useful tips, which I’ll share below as well as some of the things I’ve found helpful.
My basic advice for entering grad students would be to find a balance and minimize stress. Easier said than done, right? It’s easy to think that math is the only thing that matters, and that more hours per day means more productivity. But this isn’t true. Everyone has their limit and after that point, working more doesn’t necessarily mean that more will get done. I’m a firm believer that success means being happy with what you’re doing. And I’m never happy when I’m stressed. Busy weeks will happen, and there’s nothing we can do about it, but try to have some activities other than math that you do on a regular basis. Something constant. Maybe it’s reading for pleasure on your commute each morning, or maybe it’s singing or dancing with a group on campus. During my first year, an older student told me to seek out these things, and once I did – and it took some time to actually do it – I found it helped a lot.
Yes, math grad school is ultimately about preparing academically through research and teaching, but I’ll be the first to say that if work is all I get to do during grad school, or later as a professor, then I want out now! Although this statement might be vacuous – I don’t think anyone works all the time – I think it’s an important point. During the discussion with the psychologist many students said they felt guilty when they watched a sunset, or went on a hike, because it was time they weren’t doing math. These breaks from study help refresh us. The guilt, however, does nothing. Take time for math, take time to talk to others (I strongly ditto what Dan said for going to tea), but also take time for yourself.