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Advice for Graduate Students

Graduate School Is a Full contact Sport: Advice for graduate students from other graduate students

Try to be mindful of the thoughts and feelings you experienced when reading your acceptance letter. The academic year can easily feel overwhelming, however, reflecting back on the feelings of happiness and accomplishment can be helpful to reinforce that this educational journey is worth experiencing.

It can be tough to juggle family, school, work, internships, and your personal life. Just as a class is scheduled on a weekly basis, I found it helpful to schedule time to complete necessary school work each week as if it was an appointment. I hope you enjoy reading! – Jessica Crowe, MSW program

My advice would be to take on only as much as you can manage with grace, and that which will have the least impact on the quality of your life and relationships. Have fun; be excited; take care of yourself. – Bill Densmore

My advice to new graduate students, stay active and stay fit, grad school is a full contact sport. Okay, maybe that's a bit of an overstatement but seriously you're going to need a lot of energy to stay bright and focused, and being active is going to help with that. I might not have looked like I was "studying" in the conventional sense of the word while I was out jogging around Providence, but I can't tell you how many ideas and solutions just seemed to work themselves out during a run. Grad school is all about endurance. The long hours, then constant setbacks and obstacles, the countless sacrifices, these are things that involvement in some kind of sport or other physical training can really help with. The desire to be an outstanding grad student can take a toll on your confidence. Some days you feel like a superstar other days you might feel like you're lost in a foreign country. Having an outlet where you can nurture your own sense of personal success and self efficacy outside of school while also increasing your physical stamina is going to help get you through the tough times without falling apart. – Bridget Grenier, Psychology

If you work full time, make sure you have a flexible schedule when the internships come up. Give your job PLENTY of notice and talk about your options. Allow enough time for sleep so you wake refreshed for your back-to-back day. Scheduling time for fun is just as important as scheduling time for work. Don't put things off until the last minute. Plan plan plan!

Pay attention to your diet and stay healthy. Look into easy, quick meals that you can eat before/during class that aren't junk food. Especially if you're like me and go straight from work to school and don't have time for a real dinner. Take time off from work when you need to catch up on homework (or just to have a mental health day). Vent to your friends/family when you need to. Get to class a little early if you want any chance of finding a parking spot. – Andrea El-Turkmani, MSW program

Never put things off. Your agenda will become your new best friend. – Lauren Mastrobuono, School Psychology

My biggest suggestion would be to start thinking about what you want to write/produce for your thesis project from day one. And don't hesitate to begin researching your topic before you actually enroll in the thesis project course. It's one the most difficult projects you'll ever work on as a student (if you're doing it right) and a lot of preparation is the key to reducing your stress level when the time comes to get started on it. Read message boards and blogs written by other grad students who have completed a thesis. They can provide incredibly helpful insight that can help you on your own project. Doing a quick Google search for "writing a graduate thesis" can make a world of difference. Remember, this project is essentially the portfolio demonstrating what you have learned as a student and what you have to offer to potential employers. It's kind of a big deal.

Also, it can't hurt to start looking for jobs in your field while you're attending grad school. Getting your foot in the door while still in school can lead to a full time job as soon as you graduate, and these days job security is crucial. If you decide to work on campus, be sure to find some kind of job outside of school before you graduate. When you're done with school, you may no longer be eligible for your campus job, and you could be left high and dry in a difficult job market. – Julie Casali, Media Studies

Find a study spot (and a group too) early in the semester and make it routine to go there. – Chris Susi, IMA

Graduate school, much like parenthood, is wrought with self-discovery, triumph, tantrums, uncertainty, and hope. Sometimes, roles become blurry, and you may accidentally respond to your spouse as if he or she were a first grader. And don't be alarmed if you blurt out that your classmate should eat "one more bite before having dessert." And, although I may have forgotten to buy a birthday cake for my son's birthday, I did not forget the birthday; and that's where friends and family come in. And though I may have forgotten the due date of an important assignment, I didn't forget the assignment; and that's where classmates come in. One piece of advice I can give is to create a strong circle of classmates with whom you could survive, oh, I don't know, maybe a week stranded on a desert island.

In other words: diversify. It's important to have balance on this journey, which means at least one classmate who is highly organized, one who never seems to panic, one who loves to do all those things you might despise, such as editing, for example, one who listens to the rants and raves of the rest, and finally, one who can make you laugh. With this type of support, I would predict many more triumphs than setbacks; but remember: this is a give and take. Be aware of your strengths and your not-so-strengths, so that you can contribute to the group as well. Don't ever be afraid to ask for help, and just like any other relationship, communication is key. I haven't met another student who didn't question their future; just as I haven't met a professor who didn't believe in the integrity of their profession. There is a great deal of support available, use it. As for the courses, trust me in that you will learn something important in each and every one, especially about yourself. Second to communication, reflection will be your greatest tool. You will have plenty of opportunities to practice, use them. As for the coursework, somehow it gets done. And if you have the organized-to-the-point-of-scary classmate in your group, you'll always know how much time you have until you really have to panic; then you call up your "don't worry about anything" classmate, and you're good to go. So, let's see, how can I sum up whatever advice I'm attempting to give? How about some neat little pocket-size snippets, such as: you have a voice, and what you have to say is important; your teachers, classmates, and students do too, so practice listening; save your frustration and exasperation for the eighteen-year-old that stole your parking spot while your blinker was clearly on, not for the family and friends supporting you when you return home; try to remember teaching is fun, and learning should be, too; everyone has doubts and worry, it's part of the journey; and finally, take the opportunity whenever you can to use the phrase, "I'm a grad student," it just makes you feel good to say it out-loud. – Kerilynn Antoch, MAT

I suggest taking advantage of the printing allotment in the computer labs. I print all required reading material in one shot early in the semester and avoid the last minute scurry...or one of them at least. – Chris Lambert, MSW Program

My advice to new graduates is get a large calendar, and write ALL class assignment due dates. This helped me view on a daily basis what was due, and how to plan my homework time. I am a stay at home mom, so the only time I had the energy to complete homework was during my son's nap time. During this time I had to know what homework I was going to work on, so I could be efficient and get the most of my hour or two of "free" time. Also, I think trying to manage my course schedule for my program was hard, so a new grad MUST understand MyRIC and how to manage/sign-up for courses in the two year program. Not all courses are available according to their course profile, so check with the department to make sure the course is scheduled in order to plan your grad program effectively! Do your food shopping on Sundays, and plan your meals for your family before the week begins. This was extremely helpful for me, and saved me a lot of time during the week because I did not have to wonder what I was going to cook!! – Nicole Weeks, Severe and Profound Special Education

I think it is important to tell any incoming students that graduate coursework is quite different from undergraduate work. The amount of material in a graduate course is far superior to that of an undergrad. Therefore, students are required to read a lot more material in a shorter period of time. In addition, they are required to do a great deal more research amongst themselves and their peers. In this way, it becomes easier to work with others in the classroom setting because the students can learn from one another by passing along pertinent information. What became most helpful to me was exchanging phone numbers with my classmates in order to ensure I missed nothing during the class time. We were also better able to discuss information amongst each other without the need for the professor to answer questions. Open communication with fellow classmates is what became my lifesaver in the graduate courses. – Susan Gallucci, Agency Counseling

Enjoy the journey. It is a forever life changing experience. One worth remembering. – Robert A. Rocchio, Jr., LICSWRIC MSW

Reaching out to professionals in your field is very helpful. Building relationships with people that practice the craft helps graduate students get a better idea of what they need to do to break into their desired profession, what type of skills and experience they need, and start forming a career plan. – Michelle Valletta, History

Throughout my masters and CAGS program, one thing that I've realized is how important the reading assignments can be. In the professional world, the more knowledge you have in your brain, the more confident you are, and the more respected you are by your peers and supervisors. You only get one chance to do your Masters and CAGS, so put as much info into your brain as you can!

Reading tons of required articles throughout the semester can seem impossible and often, you are able to "get away with it" and pretend that you read the assignment. I wouldn't do this however. A better strategy is to create a work calendar during the first week of the semester once you have syllabus info from each of the classes you'll be taking. Try to read ahead when possible to save the end of the semester for projects and papers vs. reading. Finally, one semester, I was able to find out the required texts for a fall course of taking by July. I ordered the books and committed to reading one full text throughout August. Once I began the course, there actually was an additional required book that was much more complex and I was very happy that I didn't have to juggle as much reading as all of my classmates had to. It allowed to me to have a semi-normal semester rather than an nightmare of exhaustive juggling! I would strongly recommend doing some work when possible in the summer or vacation periods to reduce the stress during the active school year period. It is tempting to relax during this period and "treat yourself" but I found I'd rather have a better 9 months vs. 1 month of relaxation! It will never be easy but you can at least make it realistically manageable! Good Luck! – Chris Gelinas, CAGS, Counseling

As with everything else in life...be prepared, but don't take yourself too seriously. And, remember....with every course you complete, every paper you write, and every exam you take, the light at the end of the tunnel is getting that much brighter!!! – Linda Green, Nursing

Managing work and family. Every term I review the family schedules with my husband and children to set up a routine for the semester. If the plan is done ahead, it makes it a commitment for all parties. I also arrange to leave school 15 mins early on my class night. It just gives me that buffer in case I need to run home before my 4pm class. I also schedule study time and remain faithful to the schedule. For me, Saturdays were dedicated to Grad work. My family was extremely supportive and tried to work around this.

Managing the program. It is helpful to stay in touch with the director of your program and review where you are in the process. Many of the education grad degrees have core classes and then you can choose the remainder of the classes based on your interests. It is helpful to review your plan with someone who can advise you on classes to take and which classes may or may not run during a given semester/year. For example, I could not find an SED class that interested me this fall. My program director helped me connect with a professor in another program who helped me with classes that could support my intended direction for my studies. – Mary Ellen DiBona, Advanced Studies in Teaching and Learning

Silence is not Always Golden:

Advice for Graduate Students from Faculty

Graduate students should feel free to drop in on faculty during their office hours to chat informally. Don't feel you always have to make a formal appointment. We want to get to know you! – Barbara Schapiro, English

Connect with your fellow students and your faculty members they are a great resource. – Annmarie Mumm, Social Work

Over many years of teaching, my graduate students have taught me many things. Among the most compelling is this: Having the time and space in one's life to learn and reflect can be delicious. When the time and space available shrink, it's very hard to learn and reflect. If life's circumstances begin to get in the way of true learning and reflection, share your concerns with faculty so, together, you can explore ways to ensure that your educational journey is meaningful. Silence (at least about this) is not always golden. – Frederic Reamer, Social Work

My advice to graduate students is to prepare for the academic year by lining up lots of practical and emotional support from family and friends.

Graduate studies are far more consuming than one may think. Many students hope to be able to juggle graduate work, full time employment and family responsibilities. That is unrealistic and a set up for melt down. It's not feasible to "suck it up" for a year or two while juggling all that; something's going to suffer, and usually the one who suffers most is the student. Faculty are ready and willing to help students think through how and where they might recalibrate their plans. – Deborah H. Siegel, Social Work

Consider every research assignment as an opportunity to publish. I only wish I had followed it. – Gerri August, Educational Studies

My biggest piece of advice is "ASK!" and make at least one appointment with your advisor. So often candidates say, they didn't know (about a deadline or portfolio) because they never met with their advisor or were misinformed by fellow students. – Marie Lynch, Special Education

Ask your advisor as many questions as possible. It is much easier to address concerns or problems early rather than late. Much of the work done as a graduate student involves obtaining information, organizing information, and using the information in your studies and assignments. Be sure you are clear on the policies and practices of academic honesty to ensure you are giving proper credit to the information you use. – Sue Dell, Special Education

Ask lots of questions. Don't pretend you understand something if you really don't. This is the time to dig deep into your content so make sure you grasp the difficult concepts and see the complexity of it all. Also read, read, read. Read the recommended reading list, ask for more books and suggestions and then read more. –Julie Horwitz, Educational Studies

Switching from musician to history/social studies was somewhat daunting for me, especially in regard to writing. One thing that was very helpful was writing letters like my grandmother used to do (2-3 page affairs)...you just have to find a human that will tolerate them, let alone respond. Journal writing served as an informal way of keeping track of my research as well as monitoring my craziness. Never attempt dieting while writing a thesis. Read outside your field of study and play music. – Karl Benziger, History

9 simple words can help you succeed in graduate work - Go to class; do the work; ask for help.
Check in regularly with your academic advisor. This will connect you to someone in the department on an individualized level, keep you in touch with changes in course offerings, and keep you informed about unique opportunities for research. Look for one topic that you can explore from the perspective of each class you take. By the time your program is done, you will have developed an area of expertise based the research surrounding this particular subject. – Monica Darcy, Counseling and Educational Psychology

Go to events, especially those sponsored by your home department (readings, lectures, informal gatherings). It's a great way to meet other grad students and professors in your department. Connect with other grad students in your program--make time for coffee together before or after class--and be supportive of one another; a community of grad students can be very helpful to all of its members. – Maureen Reddy, English

Check in with advisors and/or program directors, to get a realistic sense of the program, time required, work expectations and potential scheduling conflicts is about the single most important thing new students should hear. In addition, consider degree programs, even if you're only taking a course to keep up credentials or to try things out.

Strengthen online skills for searching online databases so you can manipulate research databases. – Mary Sullivan, Mathematics and Computer Sciences

Page last updated: August 14, 2013