An Open Letter to the First Year Grad Students…

Congratulations! You have made it through your first two weeks as a graduate student! You have attended orientation, the writing workshop, and I’m sure a tour or two. You have maybe stumbled upon a Holy Grounds, or favorite food spot on campus. You have definitely found your classes, made your way through the awkward introductions, received your syllabus, and if you are anything like the rest of us, had a small panic attack. How will you ever make it through the next two years? How will there ever be enough hours in the day to complete the amount of work expected?


Take a breath.

Now (maybe grab a drink, snack, coffee, etc.) read some of the advice that helped me get through my first year…I promise it will help.

  1. If you don’t like coffee, start to. It will be your best friend. It will be your lifeline
  2. Pretzels on campus are 59 cents – also learn to love those.
  3. Get to know the librarians, especially Jutta Seibert – she is like a source finding wizard.
  4. When, and if, you have the time volunteer to work in Special Collections or the scanning lab, it’s great hands on experience, and you will without a doubt find something you can use in your personal research.
  5. Make use of office hours. One of the greatest things about the professors at Villanova is that they genuinely want you to do great and are more than willing to help, you just have to ask.
  6. Stay confident in yourself as a historian. You may still be learning, but you are in fact a historian, own that.
  7. Learn how to speed read and effectively utilize book reviews – this skill will never fail you.
  8. Take the opportunity to volunteer or intern, again, when you have the time, at any local museum or historical site. Really, take any and every opportunity you are able to – whether it be volunteer/intern positions, professional seminars (there are a ton of free ones around Philly), conferences, or on campus speakers and events – you will not regret it.
  9. Don’t be the person that listens to their music too loud in the library, Rofinot, or the graduate study lounge – we will all silently hate you.
  10. If you are one of those people that are used to always getting A’s, forget about that, but don’t lose your confidence, ask how to improve, and do it.
  11. You will have no idea what you are doing until about halfway through the semester – none of us do.
  12. You will likely question why you are here, you will consider moving back home and calling it quits on this whole MA in History thing. When this feeling creeps up on you know that you are here for a reason. Know that the department wanted you and believes in you. Each one of us offers a unique voice, a different background, and a personalized experience that helps make Villanova’s History Department the wonderful place that it is.
  13. Lastly, and maybe most important, when someone (coworker, classmate, friend) asks you to grab coffee, food, or drinks – TAKE THE INVITATION. You deserve a break.

I know that all of you are going to do amazing in the program and go on to do even greater things. Know how important this opportunity is and all the doors it will open for you, but don’t take it so serious that you are unable to enjoy it. We’re in this together – and on Thursday nights we are at Garrett Hill Ale House for post class drinks.

A special thanks to Dan Gorman, Chelse Martin, Brianna Quade, Ann Shipley, Elizabeth Motich, and Matt Albertson for helping contribute to this list.

Also, a very special thanks to Chelse Martin, Brianna Quade, Heather Lucas, Sam Hunter, Anna Fitzpatrick and Helen Gassmann for helping me survive my first year!


1 Comment

  1. A few tips for research papers:

    Make sure to check out the library’s guides on primary sources. These guides are an important starting point for research papers and have saved me on a few occasions.

    The library’s Inter-Library Loans system is a great way to get your hands on primary sources that are not digitized. Last semester, for example, the library was able to obtain the full transcripts from a meeting at the Grand Canyon that was not online and was essential to a section of my paper.

    If you need help finding anything, please feel free to email me at jschmit7@villanova. I consider myself to be sort of a Nancy Drew of finding sources, so I am always willing to put my skills to use.

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