Now that I’ve had a few semesters teaching graduate students, I’d like to revisit a topic: how to be successful in graduate school:
- Adjust your expectations of the work level. Graduate school is significantly more difficult than undergraduate. The classes are smaller, and more will be expected out of you. This is a good thing! After all, you have chosen to get your graduate degree to follow your dream! So, keep this in mind as you are scheduling your classes. If this is your first semester, you may want to start with just one or two classes. Which leads me to my next tip…
- Utilize your advisor. Your advisor is there to help you with your schedule, help you make decisions about classes, maybe even give you some career advice! Building a strong relationship with your advisor will yield many benefits. Always get your advisor’s opinion on the classes you are taking, and be sure to check in regularly with him or her to make sure you are on track.
- Utilize other resources. Find out what services your school provides and use them. For example, here at the University of South Florida, we have a Writing Center that offers free writing consultations. So, if you are struggling with your writing, see if your school has a similar resource. And don’t forget to investigate the counseling center. Signing up for your free sessions will not only help you cope with academic stress, but can also give you a valuable sense of empathy as to what it is like to talk about personal issues with a stranger.
- Do not allow yourself to get behind. Create a plan and a schedule for school work, and work the plan, and stay on track. Trying to catch up after being behind takes significantly more mental energy than keeping up. If you can manage it, try to work ahead a little bit in your classes. This will give you some wiggle room should you have an emergency and need to take some time off.
- Your life will change. You will need to re-prioritize. Get rid of anything that isn’t necessary, or is a time-waster. Learn to say “no” to things. Keep only what is necessary in your life and focus on that. Remember, saying “no” to things you don’t want will free you to say “yes” to the things you really want.
- Don’t neglect your health. You will need to make your health a priority, even if it means stopping work (temporarily!) on an assignment to go work out, sleep or eat healthy. If you lose your health, you will lose your ability to focus and concentrate. Remember, the mind cannot be sound unless the body is sound.
- Seek support. Nobody is going to understand the pressures you are under like other graduate students. It is too easy for us to become insulated and isolated in our busy world. Does your program include any social activities or clubs? Join and participate. Making meaningful connections with your classmates will help make your graduate school experience more rewarding and much less lonely.
Yours in the Joy of Knowledge,
Dr. Barbara LoFrisco