The Road to Graduate School, Part VI

The summer between undergrad and grad

Some people may be wondering, “So you got into graduate school. Now what do you do all summer…?” My answer: a lot of nothing, a little of some things. The number one piece of advice I got from current grad students was to take the summer after undergrad off, to not get a job or worry about much beyond moving. I would have thrown this advice straight out the window if I had been given the chance to continue my research but that was not to be. I took this advice partially because I wanted to and partially because I couldn’t get a job (that I was willing to take).

Yes, I could have gone back to working at Red Robin or Home Depot (former high school jobs). Yes, I probably could have gotten any number of retail or food industry jobs near home. No, I did not. 😛

I’m lucky enough to be able to spend the summer living rent-free with my mom so I only applied for jobs I actually wanted to do (i.e. research assistant, test-tube washer, pretty much anything in a lab lol). None of these jobs wanted someone who would only be available June to mid-August. If you go from a semester system undergrad (off in mid-May) to a quarter system grad program (start in late Sept), you may have better luck getting a science-y job for the summer, if you want.

I also (technically) had 3 part time jobs spring semester of my senior year (2 TA positions and an online job). So, I saved up a lot of money that I am now using to pay to live for the summer and to move to WI. To help you be able to take the summer off, saving some moola senior year would be helpful… Side note, you’re in graduate school, and this means you’re still a student. Most student loans don’t require you to start paying them back until a certain amount of time after you’re no longer a student! So you’re most likely in the clear there for a bit. (Another side note: most grad students say they make enough to start paying off loans from undergrad while they’re still in grad).

Why take the summer off?

Well, part of it for me is that I went to undergrad a couple hours from home. So moving to WI means moving away from family and friends I’ve never had to leave before. I can’t count how many days this summer I spent just hanging around with family, high school friends, college friends, etc. because I won’t get to see them for months (or maybe even years-they may be moving away too) after I move. A completely open schedule means I can get all the visits in I can before I say goodbye. Another reason is that for the love of Pete!! You just GRADUATED!! That was a lot of work, and if you got into grad school, I’m guessing your grades were pretty good so A LOT of work probably barely covers it. Give yourself a break; read books for fun (crazy concept, I know); relax for a change.

But… (there’s always one of these)

Don’t get too lazy. Still keep up with your field. I surf around PubMed a little each week just to see what’s going on in the science publishing world. I also used the summer to start learning Perl, a programming language that’s very useful for biologists and that a UW professor (whose work I’m interested in) not so subtly recommended I learn. 🙂 And you can also use this time to delve deeper into research on people you may want to work with come fall semester. That way you can go to your new program with an educated list of people to get to know ASAP.

But that’s nothing compared to a job or other full time commitment. Yeah, I got a little bored sometimes this summer, but I’m really glad I took a break. I mean, truthfully, this was the first summer I really had a break since junior high school…

The moral of this story is that if at all possible, take the summer off!!

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