You’re reading an excerpt of Admitted by Soundarya Balasubramani. Written by an Ivy League graduate from India, this is the proven guide for students worldwide looking to pursue undergraduate or graduate study abroad in the U.S., Canada, or Europe. Purchase for instant access to the guide and other exclusive resources—including sample SOPs, sample resumes, scholarship lists, and a private community with other readers.
Life is on overdrive when you are in graduate school.
storyDuring my first two semesters, I lived in the basement of an apartment, sharing a room with another girl. I would wake up at 10:15 a.m. to tiny rays of sunlight coming in through a tiny window, get ready in a matter of minutes, and be out of the door by 10:30. As I rushed to the campus for the 10:40 a.m. class, I’d check my email and messages to see if I got any interview calls. The class would go on until 12:15 p.m., after which I’d pick between the three inexpensive places where I always bought my lunch, and take it to the business school library. The afternoons were consumed either by assignments or meetings. Occasionally I would meet someone I know who would stop by to say hi.
By 4 p.m., I’d rush again to another class and sit there for the next two hours. On many days, there would be an event happening in the evening. If it was a networking event, I’d quickly change into better clothes I had stuffed in my bag and attend it in the hope that someone there would give me an opportunity. After a tiring hour or two of standing and talking, I’d retire to another building that was open 24/7, to meet my friends. I would continue working on my assignments or hunt for jobs, depending on my mood, until we all decided to go buy dinner around 10 p.m. from a nearby deli. After a questionably long dinner filled with chit-chat, I’d return to the building, move my things to a different room, and work there until 4 a.m. before finally deciding to go back home and crash onto my not-so-sturdy bed.
This wasn’t every day, of course. Sometimes, I would listen to a podcast and take a walk around the campus. Sometimes, my friends and I would go to the edge of the Hudson River and stare at the breathtaking Brooklyn skyline. Once every two weeks, I had to suit up and sit through a five-hour lecture on consulting taught by a renowned professor* that went from 7 p.m. to 12 a.m. (sometimes longer). It was five hours well spent.
However, when I think about my experience, this seems like a good approximation of the average day.
Calm Amidst the Storm
On a daily basis, you will be shuttling between classes, meetings, assignments, events, and searching for jobs. Not to mention any research you need to conduct if your major entails that. That isn’t a recipe for a calm day.
You will need to learn to infuse some order into the chaos and find pockets of peace to engage in deep work whenever possible.
The good news is, there are many things you can do to prepare yourself for what is to come before it actually comes. Now that you’ve gotten your admit and hopefully taken care of your loan and visa, use this downtime to make your future self’s life easier.
In this chapter, we’ll look at three verticals where you can begin your preparation from now.
Beef Up Your Online Profile
The string of emails from your university will start flowing in soon after getting your admit. Among these emails, pay close attention to the ones with resources to write your resume and set up your profile on professional networking sites. In an increasingly digital world, there is a much higher probability for recruiters to see your profile online before seeing you in person.
Ensure that the first impression you give someone online is the best version of yourself.
We already went through how you can craft your resume in an earlier chapter, so let’s look at how you can beef up your online profile on professional networking sites and job boards.*
Unlike its competitors, LinkedIn serves as both a professional networking site and a job board.
statsLinkedIn had a very humble beginning back in 2003,* when it was conceived in the living room of Reid Hoffman. It received a sizable investment of $4.3 million from Sequoia Capital, which helped it launch its premium services in 2006, aimed at job seekers. Since then, it has seen an upward growth trajectory, becoming one of the top professional networking sites in the world (although lately, it has also become a social networking site).
It was acquired by Microsoft in 2016 for $26.2 billion, the biggest acquisition by the software giant till date. As of 2020, LinkedIn boasts a user base of 660 million users across 200 countries, with the U.S. and India being its top two markets. More importantly, 90 million of the users on LinkedIn are senior-level influencers.
actionWe say all this to drive home the importance of having your profile visible on such a massive platform. Since creating a profile is free, we highly recommend creating one now when you have the time to customize it to your liking. It will always be a work in progress to keep your profile updated, but the right time to start doing that is right now.
No worries, we’ve been there. Generally, if you haven’t been using LinkedIn much until now, your profile would look something like the following:*
That was a dummy profile I created back in 2018 to portray what not to do, in my first YouTube video.* In fact, you can still find it, since I forgot the password and cannot log in to delete it.
On the other hand, if you’re hearing the term LinkedIn for the first time, begin by signing up on the website first. Once you’ve got a profile set up, follow the guidance provided below closely to create a stellar profile.
Beginning with the basics, the following fields are an absolute must on your profile:
1. Profile Picture
Avoid the extremes here. Don’t upload a picture of you taking a selfie. Also, don’t upload your passport picture from three years ago that looks nothing like you. You have to stick to the middle: a semi-professional picture that shows your face clearly with preferably a single-colored background.
Your university will most probably schedule a headshot during your orientation. Until then, settle for something that’s formal and recent.
Take some time to craft this. This is what someone sees first when you reach out. The following are some examples you can choose to include:
graduate school (e.g., Incoming Student at Duke University)
area of interest (e.g., Machine Learning, Big Data Analytics, Linguistics)
job title if you’re employed (e.g., Product Manager, Data Analyst)
titles held in clubs/organizations (e.g., Marketing Manager at TechFest, Founder of 3D Aeromodelling).
Try not to add more than three different types of designation to the title.
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who write one line summaries and those who write one-page summaries.
LinkedIn lets you write up to 2000 characters in your summary (or roughly 350–400 words).* As someone who likes the gray area, my recommendation would be to be somewhere in the middle and write between 200–300 words. Your summary is the part of your profile that is least constrained. There are no dates and titles to be mentioned. Your summary is just a blank, white canvas that you get to paint as you wish.
If you see examples online, you will see that they are all over the place. Some use it as a way to talk about a major life transition,* some preach their professional and personal values,* yet others talk about their major accomplishments.*
The only common thread here is that there is none, because your summary is supposed to bring out your character.
If you were meeting someone in person in a professional setting, what would you want them to know about you if they only had three minutes to listen to you? The answer to that should become your LinkedIn summary.
Your experience is what recruiters, and others in general, would most care about. Chronologically, begin adding all of your professional experiences, such as your current or previous job(s), internship(s), and professional titles held in organizations, if any.
For each experience, add the title, university/company/organization, duration, and location without fail. If the entity is not well known, use the first sentence to introduce it (e.g., NIT Trichy is one among the top 10 engineering universities in India and is recognized as an institute of national importance by the Indian government). It also helps to give some context on the project you worked on, in a sentence or two.
Treat this section similar to your resume. Under each experience, use no more than three to four bullet points to succinctly explain the impact you created using quantitative data and a tight narrative.
Although there isn’t a cap on the number of words, less is always better.
Similar to the Experience section, add your university name, degree, major, and CGPA (if you feel comfortable) without fail. If you got involved in extracurriculars, this is a great place to mention that, under Activities and Societies.
Your skills show others what you are capable of in one glance.
A report* from LinkedIn says that, “Depending on what stage you are in your career, you should try to add at least 5 skills. Members with 5 or more skills listed are contacted (messaged) up to 33x more by recruiters and other LinkedIn members, and receive up to 17x more profile views.”
A great place to begin is by looking through the courses you’ve taken, to extract the topics that were taught. You can also take inspiration from articles that talk about the top skills being searched for.*
To be clear, though, merely adding a skill does not turn heads. There are two ways by which LinkedIn lets you add validation to the skills you’ve listed: endorsements and badges.
For every skill you add, anyone on LinkedIn can endorse you for it by going to your profile, selecting the plus symbol next to your skill, and answering questions around how they knew about it.
Badges, on the other hand, are a more recent feature on LinkedIn that got rolled out in September 2019.* This feature lets you take assessment quizzes for a specific set of skills. You can see the button right below your Skills section with the words Take skill quiz. You need to be above the 70th percentile to pass, after which you can choose to add the badge to your profile.
That is why it is better to be sparing in the skills you add, and improve its quality by reaching out to your friends and colleagues who can endorse you,* as well as taking the quizzes.
The more fields you include → the more keywords your profile has → the more data points LinkedIn can use for better recommendations.
Let’s look at the rest of the fields:
8. Cover Picture
We talked about your profile picture before. LinkedIn also lets you upload a cover image or banner that extends across the top of your profile. Depending on your situation, this landscape picture can be the following:
an event where you were a speaker / panelist / judge / an emcee
a good shot of your graduate school, perhaps a recognizable monument
an image capturing your interests, e.g., a mathematician can have an image with an important theorem/proof
anything that sparks a viewer’s curiosity in a good way.
You might think, why go to the trouble to add recommendations when I’ve already spoken about my amazing experiences and skills?
The answer is the same as the reason your university wanted to hear about you from your professors and managers, despite a comprehensive application from you. I know the author of a book will think her book is the best one written in the history of print. However, if I hear that from ten others who have no strings attached to her, I’ll start to take notice.
We like to know what people around us think of something.
Or in this case, someone.
Similar to your letter of recommendation, get it from people who can vouch for you strongly and talk about personal anecdotes. However, unlike the letter of recommendation, you don’t need to restrict this to your professors or managers. Even seniors and project partners you worked with can recommend you, although the impact of it might not be the same.
This section houses a lot of different topics: awards, courses, projects, publications, scores, and more. We know that sounds exhausting, but think about it this way. The more fields you populate, the more time someone will spend on your profile. The more time they spend, the more reason you are giving them to talk to you.
I remember during my first semester at Columbia, a senior from my major walked up to me and said, “I saw you have [number] awards listed on your LinkedIn profile. That’s very impressive!” You don’t know whose eyes will land upon your profile in the future. For now, play your favorite tune in the background and get to filling this section.
11. Licenses and Certifications
This is where you get to add all the glorious Coursera certificates and other certifications you’ve received. Adding a license or a certification is the highest form of attestation to your ability. If you also took the time to complete a certification course on, say, Project Management Professional (PMP) or Salesforce, pile them on here!
12. Volunteer Experiences
Finally, we end with one of the most underrated sections in the LinkedIn profile: talking about our service to the community. We’ve noticed from personal experience that volunteering is prevalent at many companies, specifically in the domain of information technology. Salesforce, for example, gives the opportunity for its employees to volunteer for 56 hours every year (all paid).*
Hence, adding your past volunteering experiences will greatly boost your image when recruiters from such companies look at it.
Most people who view your profile probably won’t read half of these fields, but the ones who do will walk away with a deep sense of appreciation for you for putting in all the hard work.
We hope you give them a reason to feel that way.
Just a few more pointers to keep in mind.
actionFirst, go to the top of your profile and click on the Add profile section button. You will see a category named Featured under it. The Featured section differs from the Activity section in that it gives you control of what you want to show your visitors. If you have a website, or an article written by you or about you in an external site, or a video you wish to upload with something you did, this is the place for it. Keep updating this section as you climb your career ladder.
Second, use the Hashtag feature in LinkedIn to follow the topics that matter most to you, so your home feed is filled with rich information.* You can begin by searching for a few topics in your search bar prefaced by the # symbol, and following those topics. Once you’ve added a few, you can discover more by navigating to your home page and selecting the Discover more option in the bottom left.* Apart from getting hashtag recommendations, you can also use it to follow people, pages, and groups.
Finally, LinkedIn lets you customize your public profile URL, which is useful as you will attach your URL in various spaces including resume and email signatures. If your current URL is too long or contains numbers, go to your profile and click on the Edit public profile & URL button in the top right corner.* Since two people cannot have the same public URL, this is a first-come, first-served feature. Edit the URL to your liking, and go over your entire profile once, to make sure you’ve put your best foot forward online.
Unlike LinkedIn, job boards have a singular purpose: to let job seekers upload their profile for job providers to evaluate. When it comes to job boards, find out the top two or three as of when you’re applying, create an account, and fill out your profile in all of them. For example, in 2020, Indeed, LinkedIn, and CareerBuilder seem to dominate this list.
There is no easy way to sync your data between these job boards, so you need to fill them in again each time. However, as you begin filling, you would soon notice that almost all the fields are exactly the same between them, thus reducing your cognitive load to think of new responses every time.
thinkWe focused on setting up your profile on job recruiting sites in this section, but you can also get creative in leveraging other social media sites. Graphic designers have turned to Instagram to expand their network, writers use blogging platforms like WordPress or the more chic Medium to express their thoughts, and coders turn to GitHub to keep all their projects up-to-date. Where do you fit? Or, how do you want to stand out?
Plant the Seeds of Networking
The phrase your network is your net worth will come to life as you enter graduate school.
That’s the grad life calendar of University of California San Diego.* Every week is filled with a mélange of events, workshops, and seminars, and you have the fun job of choosing how best to optimize your time while attending all the events that are important to you. This is not an easy task. This has to be done in addition to ten hours of classes, possibly 20 hours of assignments, and even more time spent searching for a job.
But once again, you’ve got a great head start! You can begin laying the groundwork right now.
Glad you asked! LinkedIn has transformed from a job recruiting site to a powerful networking and learning tool. There is a whole suite of courses on LinkedIn just to help you use the platform effectively.* The learning curve to use LinkedIn is not steep: you will be able to perform all the basic functions right off the bat. On the other hand, the learning curve to use it to stand out is pretty steep. We’ll talk about three ways you can do that below. If you want a more in-depth dive into this topic, we recommend you resort to one of the many free courses found online.*
Roshni Chellani,* a Qualcomm engineer and LinkedIn influencer, says, “Students would have much more success with LinkedIn if they perceive it as a way to propel their curiosity by making genuine, lasting connections rather than perceiving it as a mere job search engine.”
And she did exactly that. She spent countless hours understanding the intricacies of how LinkedIn works to experiment with the lesser-known features and form lasting connections. Thanks to her curiosity, she ended up meeting Jay Shetty, a famous author and motivational speaker.*
The journey doesn’t end with creating a stellar profile; it begins with it.
In the beginning, it’s better to cast a wide net. Start connecting with the people you already know. Beyond that, Roshni suggests using groups, university pages, and company pages to find more people to connect with.
Groups: To find like-minded people, you need to be a part of groups that matter to you. As of this writing, LinkedIn has close to 1.87 million groups.* Find the Groups option under the Work pane on your top right corner. Using the search functionality, look for groups related to your interests and university (both undergraduate and graduate school).
The biggest selling point of LinkedIn groups is the lack of barriers to sending messages to second- and third-degree connections. When you are part of a LinkedIn group, you can message anyone in the group, even if you aren’t connected or don’t have a premium subscription.*
This is a huge win for many reasons. First, you aren’t constrained by the length of the message, unlike a connection request that caps you at 300 characters. Second, it shows up as a regular message in their inbox instead of a connection request, thus improving the chances of visibility. Finally, they can see that you both are part of a group and hence already have a common ground to kick off a conversation.
actionIf you don’t find a particular group you were looking for, simply create one yourself.
University pages: Some of the most helpful people you meet will turn out to be the alumni from your undergraduate and graduate school. Having walked the same roads and sat through relatable courses, they get you. All you need to do is reach out and make an introduction. The university pages on LinkedIn make this terribly easy by having an Alumni tab.
Every university has its own page on LinkedIn with an Alumni tab. The highlight here is the ability to filter across seven categories:*location, company, job title, major, top skill, start and end year of school, and degree of connection.
Using this powerful capability, you can easily filter to find people who are, say, product managers at one of the Salesforce offices in the U.S. who completed their degree at Columbia University between 2005 and 2020.
Using this feature, you can reach out to a small set of targeted alumni with a tailored introduction.
If you have some more time on hand, peruse the Videos section to find something interesting. If you notice a video featuring someone or a comment by someone you find insightful, connect right away and mention this in your message.
80% of students don’t do this. Be the 20%.
Company pages: This is very similar to university pages. Instead of an Alumni tab, you will find a People tab with almost all the categories as before, except the company name is now switched with the university name and you no longer have the feature to specify the start and end year of school.
In addition to the tabs seen under a university, every company has a Life section that can be leveraged to your advantage. Under the Life tab, you can find trending posts, articles, and testimonials from the employees. This is a great starting point to use to connect with someone and let them know that you read their post.
We want you to spend some time on this topic, since your first degree connections will have a huge impact on your experience using the tool. If you are connected with a diverse set of students and employees (across various universities, companies, location, and industry), your LinkedIn home feed will also be diverse. If you only connect with your friends and peers from your bachelor’s, you are limiting the potential to be exposed to more rich content.
Being a product manager, a majority of my connections are also product managers at different levels in their career, which leads to me being exposed to content related to building products more so than any other topic. As the years pass, you will also naturally gravitate towards a specific archetype of people and content. For now, keep your network wide.
Sending the First Message
First impressions matter.
Most of the LinkedIn requests we see have the following generic template:
Hope you’re well! My name is Neel, and I’m an incoming master’s student at [university] majoring in [said major]. I wanted to connect with you to learn more about your company and your role there.
Thanks in advance.
When a working professional sees this, their first impression of the sender is that they are lazy. This question doesn’t need to be answered by a person; it can be answered by a web search engine.
When you reach out to someone for the first time, do not ask for favors in the first message.
You should merely focus on getting connected and slowly establishing a relationship. A better version of the previous message is as follows:
How are you? I’m so excited to let you know that I’ll be pursuing my master’s at [university] starting this Fall. I plan to learn a lot from this experience, especially from the students who’ve been through it. For now, I’d love to connect with you and follow you on your professional endeavors.
This tells the other person that you’re excited and hope to speak to them someday, but not yet. For now, you just wish to follow their posts and keep up with their future endeavors. Be sparing in asking favors when you haven’t begun your graduate school. Use this time to reach out to people you wish to speak to, both current students and alumni, once you begin your studies.
However, even this seems a little generic. Let’s see an even better example:
When I was reading your article on diversity & inclusion, I noticed that you too were the head of your university’s SWN chapter. I had the best time working with my team of 20. I’m beginning my master’s this fall at [university]. I’m so excited and would love to connect with you and follow your journey.
Now, that’s a message most people would respond to.
Unlike the first two messages, this one shows the receiver that you spent some time learning about them before blasting an invite. You will be able to find a common ground in most cases in the form of past experiences. Even if you don’t find a commonality, at the very least you can make a comment on one of their recent posts or articles.
Keeping Your Network Engaged
Jonathan Javier,* the founder of Wonsulting and a LinkedIn influencer, says, “Put your community first because when you do, you’ll build a foundation of friends who will support you no matter what.”
Most of the posts made by Javier garner a huge, engaged audience, sometimes viewed by over 100,000 people. That is because he uses the platform to share his personal stories, mostly of his struggles, while ending each with a takeaway for the reader. Unlike many influencers, he also takes the time to respond to the comments on his posts and engage with his audience.
thinkThe advent of social media has given all of us a microphone through which we can broadcast even the most trivial thoughts we have to the entire world. Spend some time thinking about the kind of message you want to relay through this medium.
There are various kinds of posts you can create on LinkedIn (or any platform, really). We’ll highlight three types below.
Sharing resources: The best way to begin engaging with someone is to provide them value upfront. These are the kinds of posts where you can share resources that you’ve collected or created with careful care. It could be a powerful template for a resume, a framework you followed for choosing universities, or even a collection of flash cards you created for the GRE exam. Or hey, it can even be this book!
Think about areas where you have unique knowledge and resources, and overlap that with the kind of people in your connections. Will they find it valuable? If yes, go ahead and make a post. Here is a sample:
I just spent three months preparing for my GRE exam and got a score of 328 (160 V 168 Q 5 AWA) after taking my exam today. I have compiled all the resources I used into the following:
A template of the 12-week plan I followed
A table containing the resources I used with feedback on how valuable they were
Most importantly, a personalized set of flashcards along with synonyms and sentence examples for 1,500 words
This isn’t of use to me anymore; but I’m sure it will be of use to you if you are beginning your preparation. Submit your email in this form [link] or comment it below and I will send it all to you in a neatly compiled folder.
Let’s help each other.
#gre #studyplan #studyabroad #exam #masters
A simple, straight-forward post.
Notice how the post begins with providing some context on why they should listen to you.
In an era where most products are free, the price you pay is your attention.
You need to give people a good reason to pay you with theirs.
Sharing observations: Think back to the last thought you had that made you go, “Wow. That was insightful!”
Shower thoughts are the eureka moments that come at you out of nowhere when you are engaged in a mentally and physically relaxing activity, like taking a shower. They are so popular that there is a subreddit on this topic with over 20 million members.* Shower thoughts arise because you let the prefrontal cortex of your brain run on autopilot. Your prefrontal cortex is valuable for a lot of things: it helps you plan, make complex decisions, and focus deeply on a task. However, it also impedes you from having spontaneous bursts of creativity that surface when you let your mind wander. When you’re showering or listening to music or walking in a park, unencumbered by distractions, your prefrontal cortex takes the back seat and lets the default mode of your brain take control of the wheel.* With the help of a little dopamine, new connections are formed in your brain that sometimes leads to a brilliant insight.
We aren’t saying you should take a pen and paper with you every time you go for a walk. Rather, when you have a thought that seems insightful, make a note of it after you return from the activity. And there you have it: the recipe for a post. Below is an example based on one of my posts on LinkedIn.*
What separates celebrities from the rest of us is not just money or fame; it’s something more powerful.
If you think about it, on a daily basis, we spend a significant amount of our time making schedules, responding to and sending messages related to our career, and wondering if we should be focusing on another opportunity out there.
A celebrity has a swarm of people whose only job is to work on those tasks: building out their schedule, responding to requests, and ensuring that at any point of time, what they spend their time on is the most efficient way to spend their time.
The good news is, even if we don’t have a personal assistant to filter out the information we see, we can still build our own using the tools we have. Use Google Calendar along with an extension like Clockwise that automatically blocks uninterrupted periods of time on your calendar using AI; unsubscribe constantly and use powerful spam filters like Proofpoint to only see the emails you want to; capture your thoughts on platforms like LinkedIn so you can always reference back when you need to.
We live in an era of information overload. Build your own attention filter.
This post is not sharing a ready-made resource, rather a powerful thought:
We can be our own assistants by using the tools we have effectively.
By sharing such insights, you can build a community around you who will look forward to your posts and remember you as the person who made them think.
Sharing stories: These are the most powerful of posts, as witnessed from Jon’s example. We all love reading and hearing stories. I grew up listening to strange tales told by my grandfather as we sat down on the verandah every evening for a few hours. It was wonderful. There’s a reason people fall in love with fictional characters such as Harry Potter and Calvin and Hobbes.
thinkWhat is even better, however, is listening to someone’s real-life story, as it helps us connect better with them, and remember them for longer. We aren’t going to share any examples here, because we want you to think about your own. Don’t limit it to success stories. Failures carry more power because they’re more relatable, and reassuring.
Those were some examples to kindle your mind. But sometimes, even something simple can be powerful.
Akosua Boadi-Agyemand,* now a Program Manager at Microsoft, made a post* on LinkedIn two years ago merely asking for help with her job search, which went viral and got the attention of Jeff Weiner himself, who was the then-CEO of the platform. That one post led to her internship at Microsoft, followed by a full-time offer, and the beginning of what she calls a “BOLD” journey.
So go ahead. Engage with your community, share your journey, your thoughts, and maybe, just maybe, you might strike up a conversation because of it.
Just one final piece of advice when it comes to networking: don’t lose track.
The Pavlov Dog Experiment
Ivan Pavlov* is a famous guy among physiologists. He is most known for his work in classical conditioning, which is described as* “learning to associate an unconditioned stimulus that already brings about a particular response (i.e., a reflex) with a new (conditioned) stimulus, so that the new stimulus brings about the same response.”
Let’s decode that jargon with the famous Pavlov dog experiment. In the 1890s, Pavlov was researching the salivation in dogs in response to being fed. One day, he noticed that his dogs began salivating as soon as they heard the footsteps of the assistant approaching with the food. This instance, of watching the dogs display the same response even for objects or events associated with food as opposed to the food itself, changed the course of his research.
He spent the rest of his life working to refine this theory.
It was clear to him that dogs didn’t have to be taught to salivate when they saw food. It was hard-wired into their system. So he conducted an experiment wherein every time he fed his dogs, thus generating the unconditioned response of salivation, he would also play a metronome,* a neutral stimulus that wouldn’t cause any salivation on its own. However, after a few such trials, he began playing the metronome without giving them food. The result? An increase in salivation.
He had found a way to associate a neutral conditioned stimulus (metronome) with an unconditioned stimulus (food) to generate the same response (salivation) even when there was no unconditioned stimulus (food).
thinkThe theory of classical conditioning doesn’t manifest itself only in dogs, though. We are just as much influenced by it. Think back to the classes you had just before your lunch break in school. You probably felt hungry as soon as the bell rang, even if you weren’t hungry a few minutes before. Why? Classical conditioning. We tend to associate the bell with food.
Now that we know this is possible, we can leverage it to our advantage.
Classical Conditioning and Networking
We created a Networking tab for you in your Dream Tracker. Since you will be speaking to dozens of people every month, or even every week once you begin your graduate studies, internalizing the action of taking notes and following up after a call is crucial.
actionEvery time you know you are bound to have a call with someone, set a reminder on your phone to beep exactly 30 minutes after the call is scheduled to happen. That way, as soon as you get off the call, or a few minutes later, you will hear a ding that will prompt you to note down their names and details in the tracking sheet. If you condition yourself to do this enough times, you will begin to note it down even without the ding.
Now, during this downtime, when you are laying the groundwork, you can set up the tools you need, such as a tracking sheet and a reminder app, to do this effortlessly later on. While we do not suggest reaching out to alumni and current students for job opportunities, we do recommend making that initial contact and following up with tailored questions.
With that, we’ve reached the end of the section on networking 101. Let’s look at the third and final vertical of preparation before you leave your home country.
Be Your Own Teacher
We live in an era where you have access to the most brilliant minds around the world through the virtue of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). MOOCs have an interesting history, by having two histories. It was almost as if there were two separate trains, one that began in 2008 and the other in 2011, both running down close parallel tracks to democratize education but through different philosophies.
MOOC: A Brief History
George Siemens,* a research and writer, introduced a term Connectivism in a paper in 2004.*
Connectivism is a theoretical framework for understanding learning. In connectivism, the starting point for learning occurs when knowledge is actuated through the process of a learner connecting to and feeding information into a learning community. The learning process is cyclical, in that learners will connect to a network to share and find new information, will modify their beliefs on the basis of new learning, and will then connect to a network to share these realizations and find new information once more. Learning is considered a . . . knowledge creation process . . . not only knowledge consumption.
Connectivism can best be thought of as a learning theory that is built on the following foundations:*
Learning happens through interaction with your network.
Information will be updated constantly. Hence, the curiosity to know more is more important than what you know already.
Learning can happen outside ourselves as an entity.
To explore this theory, he conducted an experiment in 2008 by creating a course titled CCK08: Connectivism and Connective Knowledge and opening it for enrollment to students outside the University of Manitoba, free of charge. This was the first time such an idea garnered a massive response, with thousands of students enrolling in it.
While that train began early on, another train, the more popular one, began its journey in 2011 when two professors from Stanford University hosted their course CS271: Introduction to Artificial Intelligence online and opened it for world-wide enrollment, free of charge. This time, over 160,000 students enrolled. It garnered wide media coverage. There were two other courses, along with the one above, that had 104,000 and 65,000 students enrolled respectively.
statsThe now famous learning platforms Udacity and Coursera were in fact founded by the professors behind these courses at Stanford.* This led to such a huge growth that 2012 was dubbed “the Year of the MOOC” by The New York Times.*
We call this a different train because while the philosophy behind George’s idea involved loose structure and immense community interaction, platforms like Udacity and Coursera have a tight structure with some voluntary interaction.
Remember Professor Walter Lewin? Remember his physics experiments? He is the guy who proved the conservation of energy phenomena by releasing a 15.5 kilogram pendulum at zero speed from his chin to demonstrate to the world that the pendulum cannot go higher when it returns from the swing.* If it had, it would have crushed his jaw, and perhaps his brain as well! Which is why his phrase, “Physics works, and I’m still alive!” became quite popular.
If you remember him, you’ve already experienced the concept of MOOCs early on in life. Online learning is on an unstoppable path, and you need to leverage it to your fullest right now.
statsToday, MOOCs are affiliated with 900+ universities and have reached more than 110 million learners. In 2019 alone, 2,500 new courses and 11 online degrees were launched.*
Even better, we will help you think about how to take courses.
When you’re thinking about what courses to take, use the following verticals as a guide:
Domain specific: As the name states, these are the courses that will help you most directly with your graduate school. If you are about to begin your degree in physics, then look at your coursework and see if any of those courses are available online. You don’t need to do this for all of them. We are only recommending that you pick the course that seems most challenging and do some preparation beforehand for it.
Hot topics: We’ve all heard the buzzwords: artificial intelligence, blockchain technology, gene editing, next gen 5G technology, quantum computing, etc. Yet, do you really understand what they mean? Probably not. These are the buzzwords you hear because these are the topics that will in one way or another shape our future. 5G technology will introduce applications we can only imagine right now: doctors conducting virtual surgeries, autonomous vehicles swarming the road, and factories filled with connected robots.* Taking a course on these topics will certainly help you appreciate them better.
Mind-expanding: For lack of a better term, this refers to courses that are in no way directly related to your major, but can be highly useful in expanding the scope of your thoughts and give you more to think about. If you are, say, a chemical engineering student, some example courses would be Ethics and AI, Health and Nutrition, Marketing for the Digital Age, and Behavioral Psychology. None of those will help you with your exams (unless you’re really creative), but they all come in handy in your life.
Now, pick one course each from each of the verticals above, find a platform where it is offered, and take it.
Courses are simply one of the ways to educate yourself. There are always other mediums such as books (both paperback and digital), articles, papers, and community forums. All of this is simply to stimulate your mind to think in the right direction.
The underlying premise is that you should use this time to be your own teacher.
In the previous two chapters, we helped walk you through the best practices to successfully get your loan and visa. Those were non-negotiables without which you cannot enter or live in the host country. Compared to that, this chapter might seem trivial to you. Online profile, networking, e-learning… can’t this all wait?
It can, but do you want it to?
There are two kinds of graduate students: those who scramble to get through the day, and those who are prepared well to shine through the day.
You decide which one you want to be.
With that, we’ve reached the very end of this journey. Just one more left to go.
Final Thoughts on Preparing for Grad School
Kudos on completing the longest chapter in the book! And for reading till the very end. Getting your loan and visa is undeniably important. It’s non-negotiable. You need them. However, among all that work, don’t forget the things which will make your life so much easier. That’s what this chapter is about. Life at graduate school is on overdrive, all the time. Don’t expect a pause; rather, use the time now to prepare.
First, we looked at how you can create a stellar LinkedIn profile. We went through each of the fields in detail to talk about the best practices. The journey doesn’t end with creating one; it begins with it. Once you create a profile, begin planting the seeds of networking by finding potential connections via groups, university pages, and company pages. Then, reach out with preferably a personal message without asking for favors. And of course, use the platform to keep your community engaged.
If you have time and some unquenched curiosity, you can enter the world of MOOCs by taking online courses on topics related and unrelated to your major. This is a great time to be alive and learning. You have access to some of the best minds in the world at your fingertips. Use this downtime well.
A Little Reflection on Networking
thinkWas there a LinkedIn profile of someone that you really liked?
What kind of message got you the most response?
Have you been sharing more personal stories or observational ones?
What is a topic, unrelated to your major, that fascinates you deeply?