How to Succeed in Graduate School?

Graduate School is a roller coaster ride, you will have ups and downs. Someday you will rise above the moon, and some other day you will feel that it is very difficult to succeed in graduate school. However, if you scream it will be your worst nightmare, but if you respond to the situation properly and enjoy the ride — grad school will be one of the best time of your life.

Grad school is always difficult, there is no doubt about that. You will have your homework to do, pay more attention to your grad level classes, fulfill your TA duties, have to spend tons of hours in reading journals, carry out your research work, be prepared for weekly meeting with your mentor, present your findings, attending conferences etc. etc. It’s like more than a full time job; you have to build your life style around grad school to be successful.

Don’t focus on grade, focus on learning:

In grad school you have to maintain a minimum CGPA (which can be 3.00 or 3.25+) to maintain your assistantship and also to graduate as well. That does not mean your focus will only be on getting good grades. In real, grades are only a byproduct of learning. So, you should focus on learning new things and apply your knowledge while you do research. Learning is not just about getting good grades, it is also about being creative and paving your own way to contribute to your research work. Building a continuous learning habit is essential to succeed in graduate school.

Build a reading habit:

To succeed in graduate school, you must develop a strong reading skill. You can read any chapters from book, excerpt from any thesis documents, journals or conference papers — but while you read, you need to make sure that it fits into your course or research work and what you should be getting out of it.

When you read something for your own research, if it does not fit your thesis or research work at all, you should stop reading. Yes, if you have spare time you can read anything, then why don’t you read something that will actually be helpful for your research. In grad school, your time is the most valuable thing, don’t waste it.

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Consult Others:

In grad school, your academic advisor would be the first person for discussing anything. However, you also should seek advice from other grad students who have passed a fair amount of time in grad school. If you are in dilemma which course to take then ask your lab mates, if you are confused about that lab class that you have to conduct as a TA then ask others how they did, if you are looking for any opening as a research assistant in a group then ask the grad students from that group etc.

Connect with your classmates:

Your first semester in the grad school is the best time to get connected with your classmates. You will find other new grad students are also taking the same class with you. Introduce yourself, talk to them, share your course plan with them and also ask about theirs. Even if you are an introvert, you should establish a good rapport with them so that you can help each other with difficult assignments. There is no harm in discussing about the procedures of solving a problem. Form study groups with 2–3, you will find it useful. Build a strong network if you want to succeed in graduate school.

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Keep in contact with your professors:

Your Ph.D. advisor should be your number one contact for succeeding in grad school. Not all grad students become professor, but all professors climbed up the ladder of grad school, got their degree, built a good research profile and became professor. They know how it feels to be a grad student, and know what it takes to be a successful grad student. So consult with them regarding any thing. For example, if you are in dilemma registering for a course, then ask his/her opinion whether you should take it or not. If you are wanting to publish your work, your professor will be the right person to help you through the entire process. Likewise, you can seek guidance from them for summer internships or any other academic opportunities.

Learn to do research from the first day:

Don’t be too much obsessed with your coursework during your first semester. Spare a handful of time for learning research. Professors like those students who are active researcher, not the one who just sit back and wait for the instruction. If you have started your grad life as a TA, then you should start looking for opening in your desired research group from the very first day. If you want to work with a particular professor, then you should start reading his/her published papers, talk with the students about the ongoing work, meet any students personally who will be graduating by the end of the semester. Even if you are not working with any professor, knowing his/her research work very well is also a part of your future endeavor for your research work.

If you are appointed as a research assistant (RA) then be proactive and share your ideas. Find papers relevant to your project, read and summarize them, extract information and present in the group meeting. Maintain a notebook and track the progress of your research work.

Manage your time effectively:

Time management is a critical skill to succeed in graduate school. You need to be the master of it. Sort out the most productive time of your daily life, and allocate the time for your research. Your less productive should be spent for your any sort of casual activities such as plotting graphs, preparing slides, finding papers etc.

Make a to do list for your each semester, and then break it down month by month and day by day. Learn to estimate time for completing a specific task, and try not to spend much more time on that task. Don’t get tangled up in a single task for a whole day or eat up your whole weekend while working for your paper.

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Develop your writing skills:

Whether you like to write or not — if you want to be a successful academician and researcher you need to develop your writing skills. Professors love those students who have pretty good writing skills. However, graduate students generally struggle for years to overcome their writing problems; it takes time to master the art of the writing. In order to improve, you can think of taking writing courses or often visit the university writing center to see the mentors and get their advice. With a little effort you can find some wonderful courses on research paper writing on YouTube for free; learn from those during your spare time.

Think twice before choosing your committee members:

Don’t rush while asking some professor to be your thesis committee members just because your professor said so. Yes, you should obviously heed to your professor’s advice, but before that you should do your homework and throw your own suggestion. Consider their work style, research philosophy and expectations about the thesis or dissertations. Some professors do push their students to come up with groundbreaking research, and may be they would expect you to do so even they are not your direct supervisor, and some might make your research more complicated by introducing tons of research questions. It is not bad to do some extra work, but it will take more time then expected. So choose your committee members wisely who help you to succeed and complete your thesis in an efficient manner.

Take care of your health:

This is the utmost important thing that needs to be taken care of. If you are physically and mentally healthy, then you will be super productive. Eat healthy, avoid junk foods as much as you can. Spare some time daily for physical workout.

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Save every penny:

If you buy things that you don’t need actually, soon you will end up accruing credit card debts.

Don’t just rush for buying a newly iPad or a DSLR because you just found a good deal on cyber-Monday. If a 2005 old Honda can take you to Walmart, then you do not need to buy a 10K — 15K car for your casual rides. Learn to become financially empowered — know about building and maintaining good credit, taxes, and savings.

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Pick a quality mentor:

Whether it be on of your professor or someone outside of academia, always pick a mentor who will help you become who you want to be. A good mentor will help you find unique ways to be passionate about your areas of interest and keep you on the right track obtaining your goals.

Build your connections:

Making friends in grad school is hard, but networking is easy. If there is any alumni and current students meet up go there, talk to your alumni. Lot of sessions take places just before the career fair — you should attend those. You will find 2–3 alumni who will be leading those sessions. Talk to them and have their contacts. Each semester you will have career fair in your university; even if you are not in the position of going for an intern, attend the fair and make connections with them. If you are going to a conference, then try to make connections with prominent researchers which might help you to get a postdoc or PhD in big schools. You never know who might be of great help.

Have a personal life outside grad school:

Recharge yourself during weekend — your professor can’t force you to work for him/her during weekends. If it is Friday night, go outside and enjoy the night life around your town. If you have a long weekend comping up, finish all your work and plan for a tour. Reserve your weekends and breaks for yourself only; enjoy those moments, revive yourself and be more productive. Remember, you need a sound health and a peaceful and happy mind to succeed in graduate school.

Disclaimer: No A.I. was used to write any portion of this content.

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