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Your Guide to Success in Graduate School

Graduate school is a major undertaking that requires time, money, and no small amount of hard work. To get the most out of your experience as a graduate student, follow the advice of those who have already been there. Graduate faculty and current students shared what they did or wish they had done during their graduate school experience.

Deciding on a school or mentor

Do your research! Choose a school that has the specific program or courses you are interested in. Do you want a regimented program or one that is more fluid with elective choices? Do faculty members share your research interests? Other important factors to consider might be funding, location, and university facilities and services.

Utilize social media. Get on to share and view papers and connect with other researchers who have similar interests. LinkedIn is also a valuable tool for connecting to colleagues. Many schools and programs have their own Facebook and Twitter accounts that offer alternative insights into what life is like in that particular program, as well as an opportunity to connect with other students.

Get involved with the major organizations in your field. Attend conferences and build your professional network. If you begin early enough, as an undergraduate, it is a great way to discover and meet the prominent researchers in your area of interest.

Make sure to choose a mentor whose interests align with yours and whom you can work with long-term. Keep in mind work-style compatibility; if you will be doing research together, decide if you need someone who will provide structure and deadlines or if you prefer someone who will let you direct your own timeline.

Apply early to increase your chances of receiving funding. Deadlines for fellowships are typically much earlier than the application deadlines, so you must get your application in early to be considered for funding.  Also, don’t forget to file your FAFSA!

In class

When composing a handout for class, make use of the layouts on Microsoft Word (or design your own!) to get the important information across in a clear and organized manner that will stand out from the rest of the class. Make sure to include the major points, any important notes/limitations/etc., and references. Don’t forget your name and the title! Of course, always follow any guidelines given by the instructor.

Use ties to class when writing a paper or giving a presentation.  Have you been studying certain authors, theories, or concepts? Find a way to tie them into your work (even if it’s not required) or determine a new way to look at the issues that you have been discussing.

If you are using a theory, find the seminal pieces and most cited authors in that theory.  This seems like a “duh!” statement, but sometimes it’s easy to forget to lay a strong foundation for the rest of the research.

Double the impact. For example, perhaps in one class, your instructor requires you to write a paper explaining a particular theory, and in another class, you must conduct a research study.  Instead of doing double the research, choose a theory that will coincide with your research study.  However, be sure to write two separate papers, turning in the same work to multiple instructors (even though it is your own writing) is still considered plagiarism!

Start a folder (either physically or on your computer) where you can keep all of the resources you need for your projects (such as your thesis).  Include class papers, instructor feedback, and PDFs of scholarly articles cited, especially those related to your main area of study or major research interests. It is extremely likely that you will draw from them again later. Organize these as you progress through the program.

Don’t forget to back-up your electronic files! It’s never a good idea to put all of your trust in technology. Frequently save documents and files as you make changes to them, and always back them up on an external hard drive or storage program such as Dropbox.

Writing skills are essential in most any profession. It is important to be able to clearly communicate your ideas and research, especially when seeking publication. Always have another person review your paper if you can. Some professors will provide feedback on assignments if given enough time before the due date, but keep in mind that they are often very busy and it may take a week or more for them to get back to you. Visit the University Writing Center for one-on-one editing and feedback. It is also a good idea to invest in the citation guide for whichever style you use most prominently in your field, whether it is APA, MLA, or Chicago.

On campus

Make use of the valuable workshops and professional development opportunities on campus. The Pathways to Success workshops are free and specifically for graduate students. They offer information on everything from writing grants to personal finance to interviewing strategies and more.

The Graduate Student Center is a space exclusively for graduate students. The center offers study rooms, computers and free printing (just bring your own paper), as well as software programs like Camtasia, SPSS, Adobe Master Collection and more.

Talk to people outside of your discipline. A different perspective can illuminate new ideas and challenge you to think about problems and solutions in an innovative way. Keep an open mind and take an interdisciplinary approach to expand the scope of your knowledge.

Utilize your on campus resources. Students have unique access to on-campus services and programs like Campus Activities Board events, the Recreation and Wellness Center, Career Services, Volunteer UCF, Health Services, dozens of student organizations, and more. These services provide opportunities for networking, socializing, building your resume, and maintaining personal wellness. Get the most out of those Student Activity fees!

Work-life balance

Let no time be wasted. There is always something waiting to be done. Take care of little obligations and assignments while sitting in a waiting room. Draw from your work life and hobbies to inspire your research.

Prioritize and pay attention to what counts. Graduate school can be time consuming and mentally exhausting, but can also be a lot of fun! Let yourself enjoy life during this time. Spend time enjoying the company of family, friends, and colleagues. When important life events come up, let yourself dedicate some time to those, even if it cuts a little into your study time.

Effective time management is one of the most important skills in mastering the work-life balance, but keep in mind that not everything is in your control. When the unexpected happens, do your best to stay calm and go with the flow. 

Take time to step away from the academics and recharge to relieve stress and connect with life outside of academia. Go to the gym, take a walk outside, or spend some quiet time in reflection or meditating. The Recreation and Wellness Center hosts classes and events to facilitate your healthy pursuits.

Explore your surroundings. There are countless attractions and activities in and near Orlando. Check out the downtown art scene, challenge yourself to try a new water sport, or expand your taste buds at a new eatery. You never know what might inspire your next project. 

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of the tips, tricks, and advice for succeeding in graduate school. Talk to everyone you know who has been through graduate student life and draw from their experience, especially those who have been through the program or school you are interested in, and choose what works best for your personal graduate school experience. The advice above is based on personal interviews with current graduate students and faculty at the University of Central Florida.

Posted on 4/29/2014 1:20:53 PM in Prospective Students, Resources.


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