For me, starting grad school was simultaneously an overwhelming, exciting, confusing, and invigorating experience. I certainly had no clue what to expect. So, what advice would I give to someone just beginning their Heller journey?
First, I want to remind incoming Heller students to stay calm: you are here for a reason, and you should be confident in your ability to do important and impactful work here. At times, you may slip into comparing yourself to other students, measuring their professional backgrounds and experiences against yours. But here at Heller, we are all in the same boat. No one is doing “better” or “worse” work than anyone else, and Heller is certainly not a competition. Essentially, everybody has the same goal of being a benefit to their communities, their nations, and the world.
Another piece of advice I can give is: the cold weather isn’t as horrible as everyone makes it out to be! Granted, I am from the Northeast and therefore used to the cold. Be sure to buy good, sturdy snow boots, especially if you intend on walking to Brandeis, or around Waltham and Boston. Get waterproof gloves, wool socks, a warm hat that covers your ears, and a waterproof coat— these items are definitely necessary to get through winter in Waltham comfortably. But remember, winter will always come to an end and Massachusetts summers are beautiful.
I would also recommend that you explore Boston and the surrounding areas as much as possible! I sometimes get stuck in “campus mode” and spend all day tucked away in Heller. It will make a huge difference to your mental health if you find time to explore outside of Brandeis. The historic Walden Pond is only a 20-minute drive from Waltham, Cambridge has wonderful bookstores, and Salem offers everything from cute vintage shops to museums about witches. Leaving campus helped me to clear my head, and ultimately allowed me to perform better as a student. Exploring is also a great way to gain ownership over your new home and a way to feel more present and “at home” in Massachusetts overall.
The last piece of advice I want to emphasize is about cultivating relationships at Heller. I am prone to shyness, and in my first few weeks at Heller, I felt reticent to begin fostering significant relationships with professors and with my cohort. My advice to you is: Don’t hold back! Again, everyone is in the same boat and we are here at Heller for the same reasons. Share your interests and experiences with your classmates and with Heller faculty. Take advantage of professors’ office hours, attend on-campus events, and make weekend plans to unwind with your cohort. The opportunity to foster and cultivate relationships is one of the most valuable things Heller offers to its students. Ask your professors questions, even if you think it might sound silly. Listen to the members of your cohort as they describe their unique experiences. I am so very thankful for the people I have met during my first year at Heller. I have met faculty who sparked new interests within me, and friendships I am certain I will maintain throughout my life. Studying at Heller is a significant experience that we all share – cultivate those relationships and let them flourish!