Transitioning to Graduate School

Your decision to pursue graduate studies will take you on a new and exciting journey. To get a strong start to that journey, it is helpful to realize that graduate school will be very different than your experiences to date. This is best described by contrasting the graduate and undergraduate experiences, which are vastly different and even opposite in many ways.

For example, your undergraduate experience was centered on a curriculum with required reading, problem sets, and other assignments, all with specified due dates. In graduate school, the most important experience—your independent research—will require you to create your own path that extends beyond our current knowledge and understanding. To do this, you will need to give yourself assignments and goals, along with realistic deadlines and an organized way of assessing your own progress. You will have to take the initiative to seek out materials to make new experimental and conceptual connections that take your research in new directions. Taking this initiative and responsibility for your education is key to both your success as a scientist and your satisfaction as a student.

Because graduate school is likely very different than where you are coming from—whether straight from undergrad or from a work experience—beginning graduate school is an enormous adjustment. In fact, the initial adjustment to life as a graduate student can be one of the most difficult parts of graduate school. One of the best ways to ease the adjustment is to better understand what this transition will be like.

For this reason, we have gathered the following materials for you about the transition to graduate school, including tips for your first year. You will also find some comprehensive online resources that provide a picture of life as a graduate student as well as on-campus resources to consider when you arrive at Stanford.