How to Succeed in Graduate School While Really Trying

I am really trying! photo credit: dkjd via photopin cc

I am really trying! photo credit: dkjd via photopin cc

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We are midway through the autumn semester, and I have been reflecting on my graduate proseminar course, which is essentially an introduction to graduate school. Some programs have these types of classes, and others do not. So, in this post I give you links to articles I assign and a few tips I give to our first-year graduate students. The articles and tips are designed to tell students those things which faculty generally assume students know, as well as give them suggestions on how to succeed in graduate school. What would you add to my list?

How do I take a graduate class? How do I know what classes to take?

Claire’s Tips for registering for courses:

  • Talk with your advisor. Talk with your advisor about which courses you should take each semester. They may have specific courses they want you to take, or they may know about a specific seminar being offered that would teach you a specialized skill or knowledge set.
  • Email the professor. You may not be able to tell from the title of a course what the course topic will be. If you see a faculty member is teaching a seminar, email them for a course description and/or syllabus. Even if the syllabus is not ready, they will be able to share with you the topic for the seminar. Then, you can decide whether or not to take the seminar.
  • Take seminars when they are offered. Faculty often rarely have the opportunity to teach graduate seminars. Thus, if you are interested in a seminar in a specific topic, such as attachment, it may not be offered again for two or more years. Thus, it is smarter to take the seminar when it is offered and delay a required course, because you may not have the opportunity to take the seminar the following year.
  • Make it count. Choose your electives wisely. For example, try to take electives related to your research interests. You may be able to write a paper for these courses that are related to your research interests and will thus lead you closer to a publication or help you prepare for candidacy. Further, if you are planning to do a minor or specialization, you should look for electives that will count towards the requirements for the specialization.
  • Explore other departments. HDFS is interdisciplinary, and our students often take coursework outside of the department. If you cannot find an elective you are interested in taking in the HDFS course offerings, you might explore electives in Psychology, Sociology, Economics, or Communication.
  • Register for independent studies and thesis credits. Do not forget to register for independent study and thesis credits! By adding these credits to your load, you will free up time from coursework to focus on your research.
  • Make sure you take the minimum number of credits needed to be a full-time student.

What is a professional organization? Which ones should I be in? How do I network within an organization? What is a conference and what happens at them?  What is a conference presentation? How do I submit to a conference?

How do I find funding?

What is a publication? What different kinds are there? How do you decide what journal to submit to? What does peer-review mean? What should I do if I get an email soliciting my work? Are all publications created equally? How do you decide who is an author? How is the authorship order decided?

What is a grant? What kinds of grants are there for graduate students? Are there scholarships for graduate students?

What is a CV?  What goes on a CV? What does not go on a CV?

What is an annual report? What goes in an annual report?

  • Writing Annual Reviews by Nels P. Highberg
  • Find out if your graduate program has an annual report. What is on it? What should you keep track of? Ask older graduate students to share examples with you so you are not left scrambling at the end of the year.

What is service?  How much service, and what kinds, should I do?

How does the advisor/graduate student relationship work? How do I distinguish what I research from my advisor?  What should I research? 

When and what should I teach? How do I stop teaching from taking over my time?

How do I balance graduate work and my personal life?

What should I spend the majority of my time doing?

Looking ahead

And finally, 3 books all new graduate students should read:

  1. The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker
  2. Publish and Prosper: A Strategy Guide for Students and Researchers by Nathaniel Lambert
  3. How to Write a Lot by Paul Silva


2 thoughts on “How to Succeed in Graduate School While Really Trying

  1. Claire! This is Wonderful! What a Great Resource!

    I am going to send a link to this post to all of my graduate students— you’ve compiled everything that I *try* to tell them into one easily accessible post. Thank You!

  2. Thank you, Claire! I’ll pass this along to Auburn HDFS students, too. Such important information all in one place!

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