Guess What, Grad Students?

You Don’t Need to Know Everything

Perhaps you’ve seen the poster that proudly proclaims “All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten” (or maybe you read Mr. Fulgham’s book, or saw the greeting card, or bought the bumper sticker, etc.).  It’s a whimsical list of life lessons that really boils down to the Golden Rule—“Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you”—and the value of maintaining a sense of childlike wonder. As the poster says:

“Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate-school mountain, but there in the sandpile at Sunday School.”

The poster is a clever list of light-hearted observations that can remind us to slow down and not take ourselves so seriously. And yet, here you are in graduate school. 

For some reason, God has called you far past the simplicity of kindergarten into the complicated world of higher education where motivational posters often don’t help make sense of the world.

Advice from Jesus, Paul, and Mr. Fulgham

If you’re a Christ follower and depend on the daily grace of the Holy Spirit, perhaps to this point in life you’ve been able to follow Mr. Fulgham’s advice to look at a simple lesson from childhood and “extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to… your world.”

But then comes graduate school.

Inhuman workloads. Impossible reading assignments. Nobody’s playing nice. And simple answers aren’t enough.

This is when we must ask ourselves: why are we here?

In graduate school, is there really a way to keep our sense of humor; our sense of wonder; our sanity? Is graduate school really just learning that “all I really need to know is that I don’t know what I’m doing?”

It’s true that you’re in grad school to learn something new in a specific field of study. You’re also here to learn more about yourself, about God, and about his creation. It’s not that we don’t have more to learn about the world, as if kindergarten really was the pinnacle. But those timeless truths also matter—precisely because they are the foundation of a life-long lesson. They matter because Jesus praised the faith of a child, and because Paul exhorted believers to move past “spiritual milk.”

4 Tips For Learning Anew in Grad School

Grab a friend, get a cup of coffee, and enjoy four thoughts on “All I really need to know I’m learning anew in grad school.”

Share Something

In kindergarten, Dr. Fulgham reminds us we learned to “Share everything.” But in grad school, you can’t share everything. Because sometimes you’re being ranked against classmates, or competing for resources. You’re likely living in constant scarcity—lack of time, lack of sleep, lack of money. But you can share some things. So figure out what those things are. Share your heart with safe people. Share your notes with friends. Share your lunch with an unfamiliar classmate. Don’t just keep to yourself while you’re in grad school. As much as possible, share your life with people.

New Life, Even in Death

In kindergarten, we learned the sad truth that “Goldfish and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup—they all die. So do we.” In grad school, it’s often a daily death. To self, and pride, and our own sense of security in ourselves. So don’t shy away from death. Whether you’re studying something as timeless as philosophy, as fleeting as cutting-edge technology, or as poignant as medicine, death will be involved. And maybe that’s not a bad thing. The Bible tells us that the little seed in the cup has to die for there to be new life. So watch God bring life out of a season that sometimes feels like constant dying. And if all things come to an end, then someday even graduate school will, too. Rejoice in the knowledge that, for better or for worse, this won’t be forever.

Set Boundaries and Get Rest

In kindergarten, we didn’t just get to “take a nap every afternoon”—we were required to do so. We needed someone wiser, stronger, and more patient than us to help us draw boundaries. So even though graduate school will likely not allow for regular afternoon naps, find someone to help you have good boundaries. Taking a nap in kindergarten wasn’t a luxury; it was a necessity. And there are certain necessities in graduate school—getting some sleep, among other self-care things—that will probably require loving people to take your hand and remind you of your basic needs. None of us can be rock star researchers, brilliant theologians, or groundbreaking scholars if we’re constantly running on fumes. So don’t just take naps, take care of yourself, and let others care for you, too.

Leaning on God Through Tough Lessons

Dr. Fulgham’s final reminder on the poster is that “it’s best to hold hands and stick together.” But one of the toughest lessons from grad school is that no matter how hard you try to stick together, sometimes everything just falls apart. Sometimes you feel lonely, overwhelmed, and exhausted. That’s normal. Grad school isn’t “normal,” but feeling lost when you’re in graduate school is. The more we try to hold it all together, the worse we can get. When your careful routines get wrecked (and they will), when there’s conflict with your roommates, classmates, and families, when your research isn’t working and the readings aren’t making sense, and it feels like everyone has a hand to hold but you, you will fall apart. And maybe that’s the real difference between kindergarten and grad school. Perhaps the whole point is that God is using tough lessons to teach us that through the sandpile of graduate school, God is the one that holds our hand so that we don't have to keep it all together. And that is the real comfort of the gospel and of God's grace!

Remember, friends—everything you need to know in graduate school is that you don’t have to know everything.


Chandra Crane is in graduate school pursuing her MDiv at Reformed Theological Seminary and also works for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Graduate & Faculty Ministries. She's a member of Redeemer Presbyterian in Jackson, Mississippi. Growing up in a multi-ethnic family in the Southwest and now transplanted to the Deep South, Chandra is passionate about diversity and family. She is married to Kennan, a former graduate student and civil engineer, and they have two young daughters. Chandra enjoys reading, napping, and defying stereotypes. You can follow her random thoughts on Twitter: @ChandraLCrane

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