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Tales Of A 24 Th Grade Nothing: A Survivor's Guide To Graduate School

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Student Paper Presentation

Tagged Division

Students Constituent Committee

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.1163.1 - 15.1163.11

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Paper Authors


Adam Melvin North Carolina State University

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Adam Melvin is a doctoral student in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at North Carolina State University currently finishing up his dissertation. He recieved an MS in Chemical Engineering from NC State, a BS in Chemical Engineering and a BA in Chemistry from the University of Arizona.
Adam has been very active in engineering education while at NC State serving as a TA and an instructor in addition to running informal TA
training sessions.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Tales of a 24th Grade Nothing: A Survivor's Guide to Graduate School Abstract

Grad school is hard. The sheer volume of challenges that await new graduate students is staggering in number, ranging from initial decisions like "where to go?", "what to study?" and "who to work for?" to bigger questions such as "how do I get this to work?", "how can I learn all of this?" and "when am I going to get out of here?" Regardless of discipline and degree, the graduate school experience is comprised of a series of tribulations that are intended to strengthen and test the student, yet these same ordeals can also break the student. When I began graduate school in the fall of 2004, I truly had no idea what challenges and opportunities I would encounter over the next six years. My tenure as a grad student has been a whirlwind of classes, research, teaching, reading, writing, presenting, adversity, and fun. The lessons I learned along the way have helped to shape me both as a scientist and an educator; however I wish that I knew exactly what lay ahead during my graduate odyssey.

The goal of this paper is to provide that road map, both incoming and current graduate students, through a series of stories and lessons I learned during my graduate career. My goal is to provide fellow grad students with advice necessary to navigate the potentially tortuous path they will encounter such as taking classes, getting into the lab, working with an advisor, and publishing in addition to some more specific scenarios like teaching a course, landing a summer internship, and dealing with the cancellation of a research project. For each topic presented, I extrapolate valuable pieces of advice that have enriched my grad school experience in the context of personal stories and life lessons learned culminating with the opinion that although graduate school is hard, it is manageable and has the potential to be some of the most rewarding years of your life where you can learn and grow into the professional you want to be.


Similar to the pages of a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book for kids, the graduate school experience is a virtual cornucopia of decisions, opportunities, and experiences that mold a fresh undergraduate mind into someone called a master of science or a doctor of philosophy. Everyone begins grad school with a game plan, a series of tasks to complete and goals to overcome. However, these expectations often change as rapidly as the student as a results of new opportunities, experiences and, sometimes, even a complete paradigm shift of goals and opinions. For instance, I came to graduate school dead set to work for only one faculty member (who I didn't end up working for), graduating in four and a half years (I haven't), and leaving with at least five publications (I'm getting closer). As I navigated the tortuous path that is my own graduate career, I realize how I have made good choices and bad mistakes, learned lessons the easy way and the hard way, and grown as both a scientist and an educator. This series of events has led me to a point where I am finishing up my sixth year as a doctoral candidate, on the precipice of defending my thesis. As I look back over the journey I've taken, I wish that, along with my acceptance into graduate school, I had received a guidebook or detailed map with my thesis defense as the 'X' that marks the spot.

Melvin, A. (2010, June), Tales Of A 24 Th Grade Nothing: A Survivor's Guide To Graduate School Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky.

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