My Transition to RPI/Grad School

Posted January 14, 2019
Photo of Safron

I remember when coming to RPI was a dream that I thought was unattainable. I remember wishing that I would get accepted, wishing that I could make graduate school a reality for me. I knew that switching from psychology to engineering was probably a long shot but that I was worth the shot. And I was. I am. Here I am. 

My name is Safron Smith and I am a first-year graduate student from Georgia pursing an M.S. in Industrial and Management Engineering. 

I will be honest, the transition to grad school was not without a few bumps. Although, I was so pumped up, thirsty for knowledge, I was ready, I wanted this, they wanted me, I got in, and still, the transition was rough. I knew that taking a 4-year gap between undergrad and grad school would add to a tough transition. I knew that grad school was going to be tough, regardless. And I knew that this was natural, yet, I found that I was disappointed in myself for having a rough transition. Did you catch that? I feel as if this is one of those times that my pastor would make a point in his sermon but feeling as though his point flew over everyone’s heads, he had to bring it back again, louder for the people in the back. If he was preaching about this, he would say something along the lines of “I am preaching better than y’all can say amen. Let me try this again. I knew that grad school was going to be tough. This was a given. Yet I was disappointed in myself for having a tough transition. Even though I knew something was going to be difficult, I was upset with myself that it was difficult.” Why did I place so much unnecessary pressure on myself? Did I think I was exempt? When they said grad was going to be tough, they couldn’t have possibly meant me. No way. Take the pressure off of yourself. Breathe. It is going to be okay. It gets better. And it did.

One major influence on my decision to attend RPI, as well as my success here so far, is the Black Graduate Student Association (BGSA). From the moment I received my acceptance letter, the BGSA welcomed me and has not stopped reaching out since. The feeling of having a sense of community that I can identify with coupled with an organization that has like-minded individuals striving to achieve their goals is invaluable and critical to my success as a student at RPI. 

Another factor that helped me get over the hump of transitioning to grad school was utilizing my resources. I wish I had done this sooner. In the beginning of grad school, I placed a lot of the burden on myself, as I mentioned earlier. I felt as if I couldn’t go to the TA for help if I had not done absolutely everything in my power to grasp the material. I am grateful for the many friends that encouraged me to go to the TA, to use my classmates as resources, as well as other professors in my department. It helped me to realize that I wasn’t the only student needing help and even if I was, it was still unnecessary to place so much of the burden on myself. 

My advice to other students is to not be too hard on yourself. Identify all of your resources, but don’t stop there- use your resources. Another key step is admitting to yourself that you need and deserve help. It is so easy to get stuck in the mindset of deserving help if and only if you have done absolutely everything first. You may be trying your absolute best, but it might not be getting you far if you are truly stuck. Seek help and guidance. Reward yourself for milestones. Don’t eliminate social time altogether. Schedule self-care for yourself. Maybe it’s setting aside time for drawing or painting, getting a massage, watching your favorite shows or movies, a bubble bath, meditation or even cooking your favorite meal. Find what works for you.

The biggest realization I have had thus far is that this new opportunity and chapter of my life calls for a new me and a new normal. The system isn’t going to work if you bring in the old version of you without making some adjustments. Accept growth and challenges and stretch your thinking. RPI used to be a question, a dream, a far-fetched idea. But now it is my reality. 

Safron Smith