(Ack--sorry, Spring Break got the better of me and I haven't managed to get back to posting. Sorry! I swear, I'll be better about this. I hope.)
I am totally going to steal this post's topic from a friend of mine, because it rocks! (Thanks--you know who you are :) Anyhow, within my department this past year I've witnessed a phenomenon among the undergraduate students. They have organized! (In some way, this instills fear into my professorial heart, but I know it's a good thing.) A thriving student group has sprung up among the students, offering a great new resource for the undergraduates to do some things that I think are incredible and would otherwise never have happened within my department. So, my main piece of advice for today: if your department has a student organization, join it! If you don't, start one! It will help you so much in your graduate school goals.
Why do I think this is such a good thing? Because it offers a place to talk about where you're headed. The fellow undergraduate students in your department may be friends (or not) but they all share in your experience. Those that are planning on attending graduate school offer a valuable resource in several ways: someone to talk to, someone who may have more information, and someone who can help. Alone, a lot of undergraduates (myself included) find themselves attempting to tackle getting into graduate school based on the information I'd gleaned through the years (and of course, blogs like this one :). In some ways, this is just not enough. Other students can provide you with more information--even if it's just that a certain part of the country has the worst winters imaginable and your beach-loving self may want to think twice before attending there. Or maybe some much more valuable information: they've met the person you're thinking of applying to work with and they're going to retire sometime soon and aren't taking any new students.
The other benefits are that these student groups can allow for attending functions and events that otherwise might be too pricey or too terrifying to attend alone. There was a major conference in a nearby city a couple of weeks ago and I thought it was great to see this whole student group get tickets and attend. Even when there was a large group of them who showed up to my talk and laughed at my corny jokes.... I hope they learned a lot from the meetings (if only that they never, ever run on time). It's a great opportunity to see how "real life" research works, and hopefully they obtained a better understanding of whether or not that's something they really want to do.
I didn't have a student group in my undergraduate institution, and after seeing how well this one is working, I really wish I had. It's offered some great resources for the students. If you don't have a group--don't despair! Starting one really isn't that hard. Ask around and see if any of your fellow students within your major are interested. I would be surprised if you couldn't find a few people who would be. Most schools will ask you to have a faculty or staff director (asking around for who is interested--and asking nicely and wisely--should make this step pretty easy). There's usually some small paperwork to file to start a student group, and viola! You're ready to go. Then the fun starts: plan a few interesting activities. Maybe a field trip. Have some fun and get a chance to talk to one another. You'll be surprised what you might learn!
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!