This week was orientation. I got an office, met all of the other incoming biology grad students, and learned more about my responsibilities as a TA. While it's all fresh in my mind I want to record my first impressions.
The department: We met most of the professors and heard a little about their research. I was impressed by their openness and friendliness. Since I didn't get to visit, I was somewhat concerned that the feeling in the department would be one of competition rather than collaboration. All of the professors we talked to expressed enthusiasm for helping us apply their research techniques to our own projects. It's great to know that faculty members other than my advisors are open to future collaborations if our interests converge.
The students (in my department): I wasn't nearly as intimidated as I thought I would be. I haven't started classes yet so this might change, but the first day of Nerd Camp was way scarier. I'm sure I'll have my bouts of inadequacy and "the imposter syndrome" but it hasn't happened yet. From the conversations I've had so far, many of us are in a similar place in the development of our research interests (we have some idea of what we'd like to do but we're not sure exactly how or where to do it). Generally I thought our group of students was kind of socially awkward and shy but I think that will fade as we get to know each other better. I met a few current grad students and had interesting conversations with them about their research (eg. the fieldwork challenges of an urban ecologist- being offered drugs and getting stopped by the police while you try to survey invasive species in rough neighborhoods).
The university: It's big. This place is very different from Small Friendly College, as I knew it would be. Still, wow. During TA training we learned about the demographics of the student body, which I found fascinating. It's incredibly diverse in many ways (the way in which it is least diverse- most come from within the state). My gosh, the buildings are ugly! Except the new recreation center. I like that one. I plan to make good use of my unlimited access and free group fitness classes.
The health insurance: I probably don't have to tell you how awful health insurance is in this country. I've been looking forward to having better health insurance in graduate school for years. For the past two years I've been paying over $100 per month for insurance with a $1500 deductible that is basically just for emergencies. It doesn't cover preventive care or anything useful. Basically it sucks. The only advantage it had was that it covered me abroad (not that I had to use it...)
The university health insurance I'll have during grad school is cheaper and covers almost everything 100% as long as I go to their medical center. I have no problem with that. Overall it seems like a very good plan. The biggest problem with the university health insurance is that it does not cover me abroad and there are no options within their system. As someone who will be doing research outside the United States for this institution, I'm very annoyed. I'm going to be a thorn in someone's side about this particular issue.
Classes: I can't really comment on these yet but I'm taking two real classes and then a seminar and a little research ethics class. I've ordered all of my textbooks online but I'm nervous that the important ones won't get here in time. I think they were only about $100. I'm going to do a separate post about my teaching assignment.