The Beginning of Grad School

Scholar post: By Amanda Slezsak, McNair Scholar ’13

This begins my fourth week as a fulltime grad student, and already I have learned more than I could have thought. Just a little over three weeks ago I was sitting in my orientation overwhelmed with all of the information, research, and people. During my orientation, the director of my program said, “90% of what you will learn here, will be outside of the classroom,” at first I found that hard to believe, but now I can see why. I have learned a lot about myself in just a short amount of time. 

As a grad assistant, it is part of my duties to teach labs, and I am assigned to teach in the anatomy lab. Let me tell you, my first day, I was so nervous, I made myself sick. Then one of my peers told me “they (the students) are more intimidated/nervous than you,” and it helped to an extent. 

I ended up doing okay, but now that I have gotten more practice, I have gotten more confident, and it is getting much easier. One of the difficult things is getting over the fact of being wrong, because let’s face it, I cannot always be right.

Being wrong is okay, as long as it does not become habit. And with anatomy, I tend to get things mixed up or wrong on occasion, but now I can brush it off a little easier than I could before.

This semester will probably be one of the most difficult one for me teaching, because, I haven’t taken anatomy in five years and I need to brush up on and become more confident with the material. The subsequent semesters, teaching-wise should be easier in comparison.

Another item that I have to work on is finding a mentor and get started on research. Thankfully I started this summer meeting with faculty to get idea of what I wanted to do, so I am a step ahead. But the hard part is figuring out who I want to work with.

All the faculty are fantastic, but two of them I really like the research they are doing. So I ended up deciding the one that I think will challenge me the most. I don’t have a strong background in the ‘hard sciences’ and my experience with research is very different from what they are doing, so it will be challenging, but I am confident I will learn a lot.

SO since classes started I have gone to the lab to learn the techniques and everything that goes into the data collection. The first day I went in to learn how to do blood draws, and I watched a second year student go through the procedure as my professor walked me through it. Then when she was finished, he had me practice, talk about nerve-racking. Needless to say, I did well and got it on my first try!

I have since started on doing the processing of the blood to get the cells, plasma, and serum that we will further analyze. It is a lot to remember, but getting the procedures down is the hard part and I can use all the practice I can get. These first two semesters I am primarily going to be helping with data collection for the second year students’ projects as well as the professor’s projects, which will give me time to figure out what I want to focus on for my project.

One of the most difficult things thus far has been trying to figure how to maintain a healthy lifestyle while as a grad student.

My class are long and at night, which makes planning dinners and exercise a bit more difficult. So far I have found that exercising in the morning, typically CrossFit or yoga, helps get my day off to a good start. Running I find the best time in the afternoon.


Amanda rocking it out @ a recent CrossFit competition! We had five peeps representing McNair!

As for eating healthy, I try to pack a lunch and dinner (on nights with class), so one, I am saving money by not buying food on campus, and two, it is significantly more healthy than the food on campus. Grocery shopping takes planning to make sure I am getting healthy food and not spending too much. But once I have healthy foods I just prepare and package them, so they are ready for me when I head to campus. 

Making sure I have healthy food and exercise are my top priorities, because it is hard to focus when on an empty stomach, and I am also in a much better mood. Another one of my top priorities is sleep. I need my sleep, or else I really fall off. A lot of time I feel like an old lady, because I am typically going to bed at 9 – 10 o’clock. But I start my day early working out, then teaching, so I have to get enough sleep to feel rested. 

Overall, grad school is going well, it has just taken some adjustment to find my niche in how to get things done.

–Amanda Slezsak (McNair ’13)
Graduate student in Exercise Physiology
Central Michigan University