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Surviving Grad School: A Practical Guide to an Impractical Lifestyle

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Ah, graduate school. For approximately 5 years you will live awash in the intellectual stimulation that comes with the pursuit of knowledge. You will learn more than you ever have before. Now at the forefront of the human data engine, you are not just being taught, but pushing the limits of human understanding imperceptibly, but significantly, further. In the immortal words of my own Ph.D. advisor: “Andrew, get a life.”

And that’s the problem. Because, while you’re doing all this discovering at the brink of discovery, you also have a life, and lives need to be maintained by a steady influx of cash, food, sleep, recreation, and numerous other non-thesis-related distractions. These “distractions” are actually essential to your well-being and contribute meaningfully to your productivity. But, while there are many guides to how to manage a dissertation, there are relatively few that discuss how to survive the graduate student lifestyle.

I’m here to help. The arc of my graduate school career is pretty well documented in this blog. Suffice to say, it has been a bumpy ride, with plenty of highs and lows.

So, for 2013, I’m launching “Surviving Grad School: A Practical Guide to an Impractical Lifestyle”, a series about the other half of a graduate student career. I’ll focus on some of the gorier details, including managing your finances, what to expect from a student contract, how to take care of yourself, and how to navigate towards that mysterious island known as the Work-Life Balance.

Obviously my advice is based on my own experience and will not universally apply to all grad students. It is necessarily biased towards life science in the United States with a strong field component, and it is a male view of the world from a fairly privileged background. Still, I hope you’ll find something of value in these posts.

First up on the docket is perhaps the most important and most difficult challenge facing graduate students — dealing with your finances. Check back this month for advice on what to expect from your stipend, managing your finances, building credit, dealing with travel and field expenses, and taking care of taxes.


Deep-sea biologist, population/conservation geneticist, backyard farm advocate. The deep sea is Earth's last great wilderness.


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