1st week of grad school: I survived the door muffler and other stories

Airport art installation


The unfamiliar piece of black rubber tacked onto a closed door’s latch was the most tangible of the many obstacles I faced during my first week of graduate school. But it was far from the first.

As I reflect back, here’s what I’m cringing about the most.

So many little details to sort out

Graduate orientation was scheduled for the Thursday evening before the start of the semester. I should have realized that the department would give us a flurry of reminders and new information that I would have to act on in the short time remaining. This included filling out my graduate student profile, learning how to access my campus email and making sure my laptop could log into the campus VPN. But I had neglected to anticipate this. I was working at my old job right up to the end and hadn’t scheduled a block of time to take care of these action items in the day or so before classes started.

“Pretty much sums up my first week of Grad school.” (Photo: Imgur.com)

Result: I had to flail for a few days in the midst of dealing with my new coursework in order to get these tasks accomplished. I’m very grateful to my graduate advisor and the IT Support Center for helping me untangle my issues!

Woe to anyone who had to deal with these things on top of the tasks we’d been warned to take care of in advance! At least I’d already knocked off these biggies: Getting my Indiana University account and security passphrase set up, learning to access the OneStart and OnCourse campus and course databases and scheduling my Spring 2015 classes.

Our textbook is … ?

In another instance, the syllabus for one of my classes — including the name of our required textbook — was only uploaded a few hours before the class itself held its first meeting. Our instructor said she would not hold us responsible that week for the readings, of course. But, given that I budgeted to order textbooks from Amazon at a discount, rather than buy them at the campus bookstore, I was still at least three days from being able to get my hands on the textbook.

Result: I have to cram six chapters’ worth of reading on a topic that is far from a quick scan — quantitative analysis in the social sciences — ahead of our class’ second meeting in two days’ time.

Thinking is tiring work

Coming from an office environment, it’s hard just to get used to moving around so much every day. Beyond walking to and from class, I decided to skip buying a parking pass, so I’m either walking or biking the mile to campus every day.  The aches in my body testify to what a change this is! But it’s also very taxing to suddenly exercise your brain so much, too. After meeting with a professor about our research work or participating in a lively seminar on trends in informatics (two of the real highlights of my first week), I found myself badly in need of a nap.

Result: I’ve been sleeping 10-12 hours a night, which is murder on my productivity so far. And my body still feels like it’s gone 15 rounds. I’m glad I had the foresight at least to not try to work an outside job this semester.

Getting used to feeling awkward

Awkward Penguin meme: thought about maybe saying something in class adrenaline rush (Photo: Quickmeme.com)
Yep. (Photo: Quickmeme.com)

Fact: I hate looking or sounding stupid. Take being around a whole campus of really smart, accomplished people, and multiply this anxiety by 1,000.

Result: I’m a lot quieter than, as the new person, I really should be. I’d rather sit back and observe and listen than risk people thinking I’m a total moron, getting thrown by what probably seems to those already in the life to be perfectly normal, commonplace objects and situations.

A good example of this is the door muffler. Yes, that’s the black rubber thing attached to the classroom door latch that I mentioned at the start of this post. I saw these objects strapped on all the (closed) doors in a hallway of the Informatics building and first assumed they meant KEEP OUT. But I wasn’t sure — it was getting close to class time, and I could hear people on the other sides of the doors.

Photo of a door muffler at IUPUI Informatics building
Did you know? This is a door muffler. (Photo: Cori Faklaris)

So I hung back in the hallway, checking my email on my phone while surreptitiously looking to see if anyone would handle the doors and give away their true purpose. Finally, someone I know came along and nonchalantly opened the door, cluing me in that in fact, the door was perfectly usable. It took another TWO DAYS of watching how the doors worked before I realized the rubber’s function — it prevents the door from slamming and interrupting the class.

Yes, I’m constantly feeling out of place about coming back to academia, and in mid-year to boot. But overall, I’m really glad I made this change. As the feeling of newness and awkwardness subsides after this 1st week of grad school, I know I’ll feel more at home here.

Author: Cori

Cori Faklaris (aka "HeyCori") is an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Department of Software and Information Systems, College of Computing. Faklaris received her PhD in human-computer interaction in 2022 from Carnegie Mellon University's Human-Computer Interaction Institute, School of Computer Science, in Pittsburgh, PA, USA. She also is a social media expert and longtime journalist, and/or "Doer of Things No One Else Wants to Do."

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