First Day of Grad School

Everything in America is bigger, right?

My campus is so big that it has its own bus system. You can get lost. I did. That’s how big it is. Yet it wasn’t this aspect of it that I paid attention to during my first day. My first thoughts were: It’s too hot and I’m old. The campus was swarming with freshmen, their parents and U-Haul vans parked in front of dormitories as boxes were being carried to new homes. I remember being a freshman once but I had forgotten how young one looks then… here I was walking around with my husband and baby and felt very much, well, 30 years old.

But the story doesn’t end there! I was about to get some perspective to that age question. Age is a good thing for grad students (grad students here refer to Master and Doctoral level students). Life experience is a good thing. For me the take home message from my first day was that being a grad student is in every way possible different than being an undergrad. We are here to learn how the university works and how science and research work.

So in a way starting grad school was for me like the first day of school except that this time around everyone is just really encouraging and no one is – at least yet – trying to bully you. You find yourself in a room with people who have fascinating interests. Everyone can act themselves, there is no point in playing a role. One wants to do research on environmental crimes, the other on the Roman empire. Here is one who is interested in disability history and here is one whose passion is climate change and public perceptions of scientific knowledge. You immediately feel drawn to the intelligence in that room.

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From here on I’m an anthropologist.

So here are my first anthropological observations from this week.

Culture shocks are not new to me, I’ve moved many times. But it was interesting to notice that my culture shock was much stronger when moving from Finland to the U.S. than it was when moving from Finland to Ethiopia some years ago. I wondered why that was.

Perhaps when moving to Ethiopia, I had prepared myself with a forgiving attitude, as I thought of going to an exotic, poor country where not all things will be as I expect them to be. I observed everything with great curiousness and even admiration. And I had my prejudices proven wrong a lot of times.

I couldn’t find the same, curious attitude during my first days in Florida. I was much less forgiving to some things, such as burdensome bureaucracy, ugly roadside commercials, lack of public transport. My expectations were higher because I was entering a rich nation, a western country.

Maybe as human beings  (or anthropologists?) we sometimes tend to be more understanding towards the exotic than the familiar (which in my case was a western country). Is it more difficult for me to tolerate unpleasant situations in a western country/my home country as opposed to such events in a ‘developing’ nation? Am I as willing to enhance dialogue with my neighbours than I am with people who represent a completely different culture?

These are things I am curious to learn about myself.

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I’ve been a fan of science for such a long, long time. I feel privileged to finally be able to contribute to it and be a part of it. My job from here on is to learn and to produce some original thoughts. I am allowed to immerse myself in books and articles, make notes, think and plan, interview and analyze, and of course write. I’m so happy. Somebody pinch me.

***These are some of the practical tips I got during my first week***

  • Start your own bibliography immediately. Make a spreadsheet and mark down all articles and books you read. Mark the reference as your field requires it to be listed. Then in another column, briefly list the key conclusions of that reading. Update this bibliography throughout your studies, from day one.
  • Start following these publications:

2 thoughts on “First Day of Grad School

  1. Thank you for the tips! I’ve been doing that bibliography thing but only with key words. I guess I will start writing a bit more for further writing. Can’t wait for your next article.

    1. Thank you Luciana. This was a really helpful tip for me, too. I will write more tips soon, hope you enjoy them!

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