I spent a lot of time thinking about and preparing for my year here. This meant spending a lot of time at Target and Costco, but it also meant spending a lot of time building a plan and setting goals for myself. What do I want to accomplish while I'm here? I spent a lot of time on this question. Because my program is so short, I felt a lot of pressure to weigh that question heavily -- so I wouldn't miss any opportunities and leave feeling like I missed out or didn't make the most of it.
As I thought about that question, one of the major assumptions I made about going to graduate school at Stanford was that it would be a mostly independent experience that was mostly just about a rigorous academic experience. I expected many late and lonely nights in the library trying to get caught up on my reading. I hoped I would meet a good friend or two that I could bounce ideas off of and digest all the new stuff I would learn with. But mostly I expected an academically rigorous experience that would be mostly solitary. To be honest, I was always really excited about going to school here, but I sort of had this conception that graduate school was something you had to grind through in order to learn, earn the credential, and open up future opportunities. I didn't think of it as something to enjoy.
The biggest surprise of my Stanford experience so far has been how much fun I'm having.
The Policy, Organization, and Leadership Studies (POLS) cohort bonded really quickly. The Stanford master's program model (which is different from the other schools I looked at) is so brilliant: there are 33 of us in the cohort; every week, we have a three hour seminar together. There are people from my cohort in all of my other classes. Within a couple weeks, we knew each other. We also have two intramural teams (flag football and beach volleyball), we have trivia nights, we have weekend excursions, we go to football games. We're planning on running a half marathon and doing the Whole30. We talk about the readings on the way to class, we talk about dating and Trader Joe's and our professors. It's a social experience, not just an academic one.
I didn't expect any of this, but I feel lucky.
One of my closest friends here has a friend that graduated from a different top-tier education policy masters program -- one that I was considering. The cohort was many times larger than mine, none of the students lived on campus, and there weren't really social opportunities outside of class. She told him that at the end of her program, she had one friend.
I realize that probably would have been me if I made a different decision.
One of the first weekends here, a professor in the education school invited our cohort over to her home for dinner and drinks. Almost all of us went, and we had a blast. After a few hours of socializing and eating, the professor was talking to a group of us. After we had cracked a few jokes, she told us, "You're the laugh-iest group yet!"
That's a label to be proud of.