This is me trying to pin down my thoughts on this matter; coherence may not be high. You may recognize these as the ramblings of a bewildered young person who's (still) going through the whole "know thyself" transformation known as the dreaded Growing Up.
First: I am going to grad school someday. Even with the inherent unpredictability of the future, this is one of the events that has the highest probability of happening at some point in my life (pretty much the only other thing with higher certainty is the item "Mel dies.") This will probably be in engineering, and I want to become a professor someday. I will probably also at some point work in industry in some capacity, but as a way of gaining a better perspective for what I should be doing in academia. End statistical disclaimers here.
However, over the last year and a half or so I have been steadily realizing that now is not the time for me to go there. I'm not academically mature enough to be a graduate student; although intellectually I believe I can handle the material (I've been devouring research papers and graduate textbooks for fun for over 3 years with no trouble), I don't have the ability to focus on a research topic (or even know what I want to focus on!), work constructively in a lab for a long period of time, or manage my time on independent projects. I need to learn how to handle responsibility, and I need a broader perspective; in short, I'm not going to be ready to go to grad school by the end of May. (Nor am I sure that I am mature enough to go immediately in to industry. I'm pretty much not ready for "the real world.")
I could probably fake it. I've been fortunate to have access to great classes and teachers, awesome libraries and information sources, and a brain that's quick enough on the uptake to fudge my way through things without developing much intellectual maturity. (Y'know, study skills, on-timeness, scheduling, actually preparing for things ahead of time instead of wandering to the whiteboard without a clue of what the lecture's been on...) I think a lot of Olin and IMSA kids did this through middle and/or high school; I've also been doing it through Olin and have so far been passing classes and all that other stuff because I can improvise and am shameless enough to do so.
However, without developing self-discipline and maturity, I'm not going to do anything close to what I could do if I was able to responsibly manage my time. This phrase is too common: "man, Mel can do all these things when she's distracted... imagine what would happen if she focused!" I want to learn how to focus because I do want to find out what happens. I don't want to waste any potential I could have to do good. (I don't think I have that much potential, or no more than anyone else - but what I do have, I want to use right.)
I'll be taking a "year off" right after graduation to travel, volunteer, and work on an independent project in engineering education that I really should describe here at some point. I've spent the last 9 years cramming content into my little skull at top speed, and this is the first real chance I've gotten to step back and take a breather, really reflect. I've got time and space to grow, and the willingness to do it.
What do you think are the most important things an incoming grad student (or adult in general) should know or have, and how did you obtain them? I'm not too worried about learning specific types of content, although if you have a favorite textbook or want to say "Learn Linux and LinAlg! It's EVERYWHERE!" that's cool too. I'm really worried about... well, maturity. Responsibility. Being an adult that can handle those things instead of an arrogant cocky punk kid who pretends to try, but in reality thinks that everything is a fun game. (This is my attitude towards the world; it's a lot of fun, but it leads to me blowing stuff off that should not be trivialized, and that needs to change.)
I realize that this is something that will happen anyway; maturity comes with experience, which comes with time. I'd like to hear your thoughts, thoug h, O People who art Far More Wise than I.