Been there, done that.

After six years of grad school, there are a few things I've picked up from personal experience and a whole lot of time talking with other female grad students (AKA procrastinating). I've always wished there had been some kind of handbook about how to handle the whole world of graduate school, so I figured I'd start a friendly place to discuss what it's like to be female in grad school, and maybe pass on some wisdom too!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Habitation Hunt

It's Super Bowl Sunday, which is one of those curious events in the States that I always find kind of fun to watch. I mean, I don't follow football, and hardly know which teams are playing, but it is an event where even non-sports fans get together to watch (mostly the commercials, which how strange is it that the they have become so interesting?). I'm thinking some chips and tasty bean dip is in my near future :)

So, you've decided you want to go to graduate school. You've researched programs, made the difficult decisions on where to apply, written an awesome personal essay, and aced your entrance exams. After surviving your interviews, you've gotten in. Yay! Take some time to celebrate! (It may be the last time you do for a while, because now comes the hard work :) Anyhow, in many cases starting graduate school includes moving some substantial distance. It is not easy finding a new place to live in a distant city, and thank heavens for the internet because I don't know how people managed before it! Make sure you scour the web for places to live, and read people's reviews before you secure your distant home. If you can take a trip to check it out (or even better, scout places while there for your visit/interview), even better.

After moving into my first apartment in grad school, I quickly came to find that there were a few things that I really wished I had to make my life easier. Because, remember, those first two years of school may actually kill you. It's been known to happen (okay, not really, but your time in classes is less than easy). Here are a few things to consider in your new digs: (and please, chime in on your thoughts or additions!)
  • Location. If you can afford it, the closer the better. The last thing you'll want is a super long drive home after a long day in class/the library/the lab. Most places close to campus are expensive, and I get that (or infested with undergrads), but see what you can do.
  • Appliances. Don't have a problem with doing your dishes by hand? Wait til you have a sink-full that smell bad and you honestly don't have the time to do them. I have often lamented about my lack of a dishwasher, and since I finally got one (it is the size of a microwave--I kid you not. And it hooks into my sink. And I think I'm in love with it.), it is awesome. Time-saver extraordinaire!
    • Washing machines and dryers. Wow. I'm all domestic here, but seriously, if you can get them in your apartment (like, you know, have hook-ups for them) DO IT. Craigslist often has older ones up for cheap/free. It's a time thing. It will make your life easier, and no more hauling all your crap to the laundromat to fight for machines every Saturday. (Or my personal favorite, the candy in the machines from someone else's kids. Thank you to whomever stained all of my intimates pink. You suck.) Also, if you have a significant other for whom you do the laundry, well, it just frees up more time. Of course, maybe you can convince him to take over laundry duties. Or you can make it easier on both of you.
  • Volume. If you can, find out if there are regular weeknight parties from a host of undergrads living next door. Ask the other tenants. See what the demographic of the place is. It's one thing to live in a place that sometimes has a party that can get loud and keep you from some much needed sleep, but quite another to live next door to a frat house that enjoys beer-pong at 3am. Every. Single. Night.
  • Personal Space. Let's face it. You're going to get pretty stressed in school. (And if you don't, well, there's something wrong with you. Or you're reading the wrong blog :) Anyhow, you will probably want someplace you can go to that's going to allow you to relax a little. Translation: just because it's incredibly cheap, but looks like Bates Motel, well, you may want to reconsider. I know this generally tends to be more the case for women, too, so make sure you can actually deal with the level of scuzziness where you're going to be living. A place you can study in peace and comfort is going to be worth it.

Student Housing is your friend. Many schools have graduate student housing, so make sure you contact the office early, as there is almost always a waiting list. The housing may not be ideal but the prices are generally pretty good, and often the location can't be beat. (I currently live in married student housing. It's small, but quiet and on campus--as in, I can almost see my building. Other than fighting for the dryer during the winter, it's really not too bad.) Even if you don't want to live in Transient Housing (or grad housing, but I like my name better), they often have resources for the better places to live in town. It's these kinds of offices that you really should get in contact with!

I know all of the above are pretty common sense, but they are good things to keep in mind. The other biggie is roommates. If you managed to get through undergrad without at least one crazy roommate tale, well, congrats! The same rules in picking roommates applies in grad school. I regularly see incoming first-years sending out emails seeking roommates, and this is certainly a good way to get a pool of applicants. But, be sure you get to know this person a bit before you sign a lease with them! I mean, duh, right? You do not need the added stress of the psycho in the room next door on top of everything else you'll be doing. Laying down some ground rules before you sign a lease wouldn't hurt, like knowing how to split rent, who's going to take out the trash, etc.

Living with your significant other? This is a major topic that I'll hit on in its own post, but sitting down and having a frank discussion about responsibilities and division of labor is probably a really smart thing to do. Coming from some experience here, (especially when both are in school) it can get pretty hairy. Having a whole lot of understanding, as well as some framework to fall back on, can make your living situation a lot better. Anyhow, as I said, this is a whole ball of wax to tackle another day.

Happy hunting!

(Also, do you have a topic you want to talk about on the blog? I love guest posts!!)

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