So you got in, now what?: 4 Things to Do After Getting into a PhD Program
by: Bennie Niles IV
About four years ago, I got a phone call that changed my life. It was from a professor I spent time with during my recruitment visit a few weeks earlier. He called to inform me that I was admitted to the African American Studies PhD program at Northwestern. “We’d be lucky to have you,” he said. I remember that conversation like it happened yesterday. I was so hyped about the call that I accepted the admissions offer right there on the spot. No poker face. No “Thank you, I’ll have to consult my advisors.” No nothing. Ya boy was just excited, and happy that I finally had my short-term plans for life after college figured out.
If you’ve recently been admitted to a PhD program, first of all, congratulations! It’s a huge accomplishment. Take some time to simply appreciate the moment. Second of all, know that there are still a few things for you to do before you begin your program in the fall.
Network with Students in Your Department.
If you’ve already visited your new campus, or if you’re still planning to, be sure to connect with different students in the department. Having allies at various stages of the program is extremely helpful, because they’ll be able to coach you through the different milestones along the way. For example, they can offer tips about how to get through coursework and/or provide best approaches to the qualifying exams. Also, it’s just nice to have a good rapport with the people you’ll be spending a lot of your time with over the next four...five...six years.
One way to go about this is by simply emailing some students in the program. Let them know that you’ve decided to accept the offer and would love to stay in touch over the next couple of months. As one of my mentors told me my first day of graduate school, “No one finishes a PhD by themselves. It takes a community.” So be sure to start building that community as soon as you can.
Figure out Moving Costs.
Depending on your program, and your level of finesse, you may be able to get some money to help your with your moving (if you’re going to a new city). But you may have to directly ask the faculty who recruited you for assistance. After I got admitted, I didn’t receive any funding to help me move from Florida to Chicago. Looking back, I wish that I would’ve at least asked for that to be included in my funding package. It’s not a guarantee that you’ll get the money. But until you actually open your mouth and ask, the answer will always be “no.”
To know how much you should ask for though, make sure that you take some time and research the city. When you contact the students who are already in the program, ask them what neighborhood they live in, how much the average rent is, and how much they spend on transportation. Also, make sure that you ask them when they received their first grad stipend check, so that you can properly budget. Don’t make the mistake of having too much month for your money.
Find Housing Early.
If you’re moving to a new city, really spend some time researching the area for housing options. You want to make sure that you’re not overpaying, but you also want to make sure that your place is livable. Ask students what websites they used to search for their apartments. And if you’re going to be flying to the city ahead of time to apartment hunt, don’t be like me and wait until the last minute to line up appointments with local realtors. My day trip to Chicago ended up being a walking tour of the city, because all of the people I contacted were booked. Poor foresight, and a poor usage of funds. My first year, I ended up overpaying for a small apartment because I waited too late to start my search. Again, don’t be like me. Start early.
Take Time to Relax.
Finally, you need to take some time to relax. This advice seems to contradict the other points, I know. But by this, I mean to really take some time to refrain from being a “scholar.” When I got into my PhD program, I was finishing up my undergraduate thesis. But I still contacted my future advisor to ask him for some books to read over the summer. To my surprise, he was reluctant. “The marathon will be begin soon enough,” his email read. I should’ve known at that moment that I’d be in for a rude awakening that fall. And sure enough, he was right. Now, I’m not saying this to scare you. I’m just saying it so that you know that it’s important to take some time to rest beforehand, especially if you’re one of those who are finishing undergraduate or master’s programs. Burnout is real. Rest.
Getting into a PhD program is a huge accomplishment. But if you’re moving to a new city for your program, do these 4 things to ensure that you make a smooth transition.