The most valuable thing that I’ve learned in grad school is that the way I approached education for the first 17 grades was rather stupid. Here are some pointers for those who follow:
2. Keep everything (within reason) that you get in a course. Notes and articles, obviously, but also exams, homeworks, anything you write. Get a nice big binder and jam it all in there, preferably in some kind of organized fashion. It will help you a lot while you take the course, but it will also be a great resource if ever need to, you know, use the skills that you acquired then (my multivariate stats binder is proving invaluable as I write my thesis), and if you ever wind up teaching that course. By the end of my BA in political science, I was gushing knowledge of Middle Eastern politics out of every orifice. Two years later, things are much fuzzier – and my notes are a mess.
3. Wherever possible, each course you take should be the seed for a paper or contribute to research you already have going. Part of this is contingent upon the professor understanding this, as well; it’s much harder to pull off in a course that gives you exams instead of term paper assignments. But your courses should definitely advance your research, even if it’s something you won’t come back to for a long time (I miss you, hospitals research!).
4. Get to know your professors. A course is the ideal way to show a professor how damn smart you are, which is never a bad thing. But even when you screw up, you can still cultivate a good relationship by being eager to learn (as I rather roughly found out this past semester). As Omar pointed out in the comments to GSR #4, we’re here to become producers of knowledge. Making friends who excel at things that you don’t (i.e. professors of classes you struggled in) is an important part of that.
5. Above all else: talk to other grad students, find out who teaches genuinely mind-blowing classes, and take those. Maybe that’s more true for undergrads who have more choices about courses, but I think everyone benefits from some radical mind expansion every now and then.