I am a couple of months away from completing my 1st year of the PhD. It has definitely been an adventure! I can say that it definitely has not been easy. I thought that my studies would be just a part of my year, and that research and part time work would equally matter. But it is difficult to say that this is the case. As my classes became more demanding, I started finding less time to spend on my research ideas and had difficulty investing as much time as I would like into work. I am learning some tough lessons this year that I want to share here:
1. Your classes really do need to come first. Thinking that other activities such as time spent on websites and social networks, working part time, or thinking about your research ideas really do need to be managed very carefully at this stage in the program. Getting the best possible grades and learning coursework skills as thoroughly as possible will be the most rewarding thing you can do in your first year.
2. The toughest time of the year is between midterms and finals. Prepare time to focus on this. Cut down on your activities at this time. As you prepare to take your midterms, realize that your final grade is seriously beginning to materialize. Your final exam will be the grade that can change everything. If you did well on midterms, you still need to keep up the work for the final grade. If you didn't do the greatest on midterms, you have another chance to make things better with the final. So, it really matters.
3. Meet often with your professors to see what to study and how to improve. Professors have been very helpful and are often pleased that you have made the effort to meet with them. It's important for them to know that you are making an effort in class and that you truly care about doing well. I believe that this will count to bring up class participation and effort grades, while informing your academic progress as you prioritize what is important to study.
Best wishes with your first year in grad school.