Discipline Required: A Harsh Lesson I Learned

Story by

Rajeev Verma




Natural Sciences



Difference between education system in South Asian countries and educational structure of USA varies greatly. The transition from former to the latter can be overwhelming for students from South Asia. I learned this the hard way when I was enrolled in a Ph.D program with assistantship.

Getting into a US university with assistantship is getting tougher and tougher every year for international students and I considered myself very lucky to get into a reputed school with teaching assistantship. During the orientation, I was told by the Graduate Program Director about the expectations of the graduate school and the department from a graduate student mainly maintaining a Grade Point Average (GPA) above 3.0. In my home country, while pursuing my undergrad I was living with my parents and there was no need for me to work while studying. The exam during my undergraduate study was conducted once at the end of the year. So, all my energy and focus on the course would begin before 3 months from that exam.

It took me a while to understand that the professors here put emphasis on homework, class participation and many other aspects that boost student learning and all of this contributed to the final grade. Besides learning, I had to focus on lab rotations which would later on help me in deciding which lab I should join in for a Ph. D. Due to competition from local and international students, I realized I had to put in extra efforts to impress upon the professors who had research grants. Also, since I was on teaching assistantship (TA) I was also expected fulfill the duties as a TA at least 20 hours a week.

So as a graduate student, I had to work 20 hours a week, research in lab at least 30 hours a week and then put in time to study for 2 graduate level courses. All this overwhelmed me and really shattered my confidence when I failed in 2 of the 3 duties as a graduate student. I immediately met up with one of the professors whose class I was taking and explained to him my situation and he suggested various solutions. In the end I ended up getting a B in his course, but ended up with a C in another and unfortunately that put me in a sticky situation with the department’s requirements of a graduate student.

Now looking back, I realized that when I was pursuing my courses in my undergraduate school I kept things for the last moment and I never really put in any effort to solve the homework then. This eventually flowed into my attitude and behavior while I pursued my studies here. I realized that if I ever have to be successful at any academic or professional level I would have to change myself completely. The change starts with a disciplined lifestyle that includes having a very strict time-table for research, study and work. It is also very important to have made some recreational time for yourself because only studying and pursuing research can affect a person’s ability to deal with stress.

So all in all a very harsh lesson learned indeed.

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