27 and a PhD

Home » Me » Some things to do PRIOR to your start in grad school – Part 1

Some things to do PRIOR to your start in grad school – Part 1

Welcome to my blog!

Hello there, awesome reader. My name is Dr. 27. I'm older than that now, but I'm staying faithful to the origins of the blog.

This blog started 2 months before completing my PhD in a pretty southern university back in 2009. It was a way to practice my writing and take a break from all things thesis. My PhD is in a branch of structural biology where I studied some rather impressive stuff.

After completing the degree, I packed my life of 6 years in 3 days and moved to Canada to do a postdoc in a completely different field. Two years later, and after attending a lot of seminars, workshops and doing some much-needed soul-searching, I ended up getting out and looking for an alternative path to academia and industry.

The blog chronicles my mishaps, ideas, musings and tips on entering, staying and finishing grad school. It also talks about some (or a lot) of personal stuff. For a while, the blog became a place to talk about the frustrations of not knowing what to do after PhD. I wanted to explore alternatives to the traditional paths of research (academia, industry and goverment) whilst going back to my field of training (if at all possible). Eventually a job materialized. Follow my quest as I navigate the waters of being a staff scientist at a core facility.


October 2009
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Continuing with series of entries inspired by the search themes that lead people to this blog, this entry deals with a couple of things you would probably like to consider prior to the start of you PhD (may possibly apply to doing any kind of degree after your university degree/diploma). My previous entry dealt with “crazy thing to do AFTER completing your PhD“.

This discussion is not meant to be super extensive. I, by no means, am an autority on relocation issues or super extensive to-do lists, but having moved from a decent-sized city in the South of the US to Canada gives me some insight into the whole application, relocation, etc processes.

Before I started in grad school these were some of the aspects I considered:

  1. Created a list of possible places you’d like to apply for grad school. Do not look at ranks only… check blogs, email people, visit sites and if possible drive up to the place(s) and check out your surroundings. The school I did my PhD at does a fall undergrad open house for any student within 50-100 miles away from school that might be interested in pursuing a degree at that institution (they pay or reimburse students for the expense, so if your unsure of how the process of applying to grad school is, or what topics are the “hottest” at a particular institution, look for open houses). I mentioned the not to pay attention just to the rankings because a school might be #1 in a certain program that you like and may end up not having the specific project (s) or emphasis of that attract you (no, a degree from an Ivy League school in a topic or department you hate is NOT the best thing to do), or may be a hell-hole or any other number of things. I’m not advising that you should completely ignore those rankings, they are there for a reason, but you should also pay attention to quality of life, outdoor activities, proximity to places/cities/etc of interest. Pay attention to what you do or would like to do in your free time, and then look to see if the university or city offer it. I have several friends who ended up quitting their programs at SUPER well known schools because they hated the location. If you like museums, or photography a place like Chicago or NY might be more appealing than a tiny school in the deep south … just sayin’.
  2. I knew I would not like to spend thousands of dollars applying to schools. Some schools waive the costs of applications if done online. The school I ended up going has been waiving application fees since probably around 2002 … while schools like Yale or Harvard used to ask (I currently don’t know if they waive app fees) upwards of 70$. Therefore, in the middle of the recession, it might be better to first consider schoold that waive costs of applications, etc. Now, you might still need to express mail some other documents, but if you are budget conscious, free app places are a first place to look. This info is listed on the sites. Alternatively, if you are like a guy I used to date, he went to the grad school office he was doing a summer internship and asked for a waiver. Schools do have waivers, all you need to do is ask, so if you have this advantage, use it.
  3. You will need to set up things like a bank account (if you currently have one with a bank that’s totally unknown at the place where you’ll be going), cable, internet, electricity, and other services. Add all those costs and see how much money you would usually spend in a month. Candid blogs like mine have mentioned the cost of living as a grad student and now as a postdoc, so that’s another avenue for finding out such info. Ask students or visit sites to get informed about costs of living and plan, plan and plan how to properly budget your money (if you don’t have a clue Dave Ramsey’s site is a good starting place). My advice is always to try and plan and find out as much info as you can, that way you might end up having less pleasant cost “surprises” that if you just went uninformed.
  4. Check out transportation options. I bought my car on the 3rd month of being in the new place since moving about the city I lived in for 6 years was especially difficult for walkers. Check out public transport sites, costs, etc. Some schools might have passes for grad students. Check distances to places like grocery stores, pharmacies, etc and estimate if public transport is an option. Otherwise you might need to consider carpooling, or buying a car .. if you don’t have one already.
  5. If possible … avoid at ALL costs getting into debt. It sucks to be a 1st year grad student, I know. Money is often tight, you might be in a completely different city from the one you did your undergrad, you might feel all alone and it’s tempting to try and get a place of furnished and pretty FAST. But trust me, if you are debt free by the time you’re out of college, try to stay on that track. That way more more can be spent eating a nicer places and avoiding the 33 cent Ramen noodle diet. Used furniture is a smart option to try and start furnishing your place. Warehouses and factory stores for furnishings are another option.
  6. Because of # 5, I’d say try to put as many pennies into a savings account, or an envelope PRIOR to starting grad school. By the end of my senior year in college I had saved ~3000 USDs, which were quickly drained by books, rent, deposits here and there and getting some furniture (bed, mattress, table and a TV). All those things and more add up in the end, causing a major dent to your pocket.
  7. Take the appropriate exams, like the GRE … and if you are not a native speaker, you might need to provide the school with a TOEFL, or similar language proficiency test/proof.

Like I said, those are some of the things to take into account. In the next installment, I’ll discuss some things to take into account during and after the application and interview process. Part 3 will be dedicated to discussing some of the things you may need to take into account after accepting an offer and moving to the place where you’ll end up getting your degree.

******** I claim no financial gain or authorship of the images included in this post. I used them to help illustrate some of the points I mention in this entry. But, if you like them, please visit PhDcomics.com … the site is AWESOME!


  1. […] some of the good things, the bad things, the waiting, the answering, etc. You can check those posts here, here, here, and […]

  2. […] all this I’ll be a PhD As promised before, I’m going to conclude the series on what to expect when you’re applying for grad school, once you get in and how things look toward the end by posting this entry. It’s about how my […]

  3. […] that I get this sense that the blog-o-sphere comes in SUPER handy when it’s time for your to consider going to grad school, get into grad school and scary things happen, or are almost out the door and have little to no […]

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