Is graduate School Supposed to be This Easy

In summary, the student worries about the difficulty of the initial graduate school experience. He is concerned about whether or not the program he has chosen is "mediocre".
  • #1
I'm already starting my third week of graduate school and I have so much free time that I don't know what to do... I would consider myself a very proactive person- I start and finish most of my work as soon as it's assigned, I network with professors to find a research topic/advisor and acquired a 10 hr/week TA position within the first week of classes. I just don't find any of the work I've been assigned challenging... Maybe its because I don't have a topic yet and its only week 3, but I expected graduate school to be much more demanding. I just hope the program I decided to attend isn't "mediocre". Is the initial grad school experience supposed to start easy, then get painfully difficult??
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  • #2
Just wait until you have to start grading lab reports. (You're TA'ing labs, right?)

What classes are you taking?
  • #3
Yes labs. Classes: foundations of fluid mechanics, intro to CFD, linear algebra
  • #4
I wanted to take fluid dynamics of combustion but the dept. head advised against taking 4 classes.
  • #5
Start going to the Extra Class. If you have the time and want to learn the subject you should go. Probably you can just audit it.

Also start trying to read (or read more) current papers if you have the time.
  • #6
I suppose this gives me a chance to explore statistical mechanics or take an extra class. Still, I'm worried about the quality of the program given its current level of difficulty
  • #7
That depends on what you mean by "easy". My experience was a lot of lectures, little assigned homework, few if any exams. Is that what you mean by "easy"? If so, you might just find qualifying exams a shock! If you really want to learn you are going to have to take a lot of initiative yourself. You are going to have to read the textbook repeatedly, doing as many exercises (if your textbook has problems), choosing the the problems yourself, not necessarily getting feedback, etc. The professors, in my experience, are pleased to discuss the course, the textbook, your life, etc. but you will have to take the initiative. In other words, pretty much like real life!
  • #8
That is exactly what I mean by easy. As far as doing extra problems aside from HW, I should probably take that strategy. The only issue I have with that is I have no idea where the courses are going (ie what to expect on an exam) so it's difficult to select problems. Its impractical to do all of them. Instead I'd rather work on a few difficult problems.
  • #9
How did you learn what to expect, aside from reading the syllabus.
  • #10
Your professors can probably recommend problems of the difficulty you want. This is something that you really can't do yourself. If a student wanted extra problems I cannot imagine a professor being upset.
  • #11
Aero51 said:
I'm already starting my third week of graduate school and I have so much free time that I don't know what to do...

Figuring out what to do when you have nothing to do is part of your education. If you can't figure out what else to do, go to the library and read stuff.

I would consider myself a very proactive person- I start and finish most of my work as soon as it's assigned

The thing about graduate school is that once you get past the initial classes, there isn't anything assigned. You are supposed to figure out what to do and to do it. The fact that people don't tell you want to do (and that's because sometimes they don't know what you should be doing) makes it more challenging.

I just hope the program I decided to attend isn't "mediocre". Is the initial grad school experience supposed to start easy, then get painfully difficult??

If you don't find it challenging enough, then find ways of challenging yourself. If the program is mediocre, your job is to make it excellent.
  • #12
In the end, graduate school/being a PhD student is supposed to train you to be a "scientist". That means having the knowledge to work on frontline research problems, and publish results that others in the field find valuable. I can assure you, this is not easy. If you think you have too much time left now I can only recommend you to talk to your supervisor to get you started on a research topic, because that's where the real challenge is.
  • #13
As far as finding a research topic goes, I am still looking. I have found a few professors that would like me to work with them- the issue is finding the best advisor/project. I am taking my time and covering all my bases before I make a decision.
  • #14
Ok, I guess things might work a bit differently in the US. I'm mostly familiar with the EU scene where you typically wouldn't even be enrolled as a PhD student unless you had chosen a particular professor, since he would personally have the grant money to pay for your salary.

But on topic, I guess it's important to make a good choice so you should read up on all things before choosing. Just note however, that asking if the PhD program is too easy is pretty premature if you haven't even started doing any research yet. I think the answer to your title question is simply wait until you've actually started with the real thing before trying to conclude that :P
  • #15
My biggest issue with regards to selecting a topic is deciding on a project that I really love. I am torn between doing theoretical based research (most likely CFD) or applied research in aircraft design. I find myself always switching back and fourth. Design to me is so satisfying and enjoying, but leaves me wanting to develop theory. On the other hand, working on theory is very exciting and invigorating, but my desire to create leaves me wanting to design a build something. It is quite troublesome. On another note I started reading more and got assigned more challenging HW this week, so it looks like grad school is getting more difficult.
  • #16
When I was a freshman at the University of Maine, I was in a dorm right next to grad-student housing. My grad-student friends were not burdened with undue demands on their time. One couple seemed to have way more free time than I did, though that should not have been surprising, since I was a beginning engineering student. Still, it seemed that they could come and knock on my door and want to socialize at times when I had time-pressures on me. They were 4-6 years older than me, and were more comfortable with their time-pressures than I was. We got along.

I'm not trying to suggest that grad school is a breeze, but my two closest friends in grad school seemed to have a lot more free time than I ever did.
  • #17
If you're getting As in your classes that means you are spending not enough time in the lab. Unless you plan on teaching in some super prestigious uni, your grades in coursework don't matter that much. Get the bare minimum at least to pass the courses and spend much more time doing research. I spend much more time reviewing papers for my prof, reading papers, and grinding out new data in the lab between classes than spending time trying to get A+s on coursework.
  • #18
That is a very counter intuitive attitude.
  • #19
Aero51 said:
That is a very counter intuitive attitude.

But it's true. Outside of DE Shaw, no one cares what grades you got in graduate school.

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