Posted by: gcarkner | September 15, 2015

Successful Graduate Studies

To Become a Successful Graduate Student

~Gord Carkner~

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There is often more to graduate life than meets the eye. You are being shaped and also shaping something of a vision for your life and your contribution. This is exciting news but can also be intimidating. Ultimately you are preparing for leadership and building identity, social and moral capital.

 1. Find Your Identity Firstly in a Credible Life. Character has been proven to be just as important as competence, and we all know how important is competence in our academic skills. Know yourself; take time weekly for reflection and a long walk in solitude. Discern your sources of motivation; there may be some dark stuff there that will trip you up some day. Deal with your ‘demons’ while in grad school. Drill down into your true calling rather than floating with what is pop or trendy or ephemeral. This is what we call identity capital and it is a strategic effort in your twenties. Go for the deeper life connected to eternal values and virtues that have proved the test of time and built civilizations. Good mentors can have an influence here; seek them out. It is important to say No to several good things, in order to say a deeper and stronger Yes to your calling. This is the area of personal formation (aka discipleship for Christians). See the book Practice Resurrection by Eugene Peterson on identity capital.

“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”  ~Jack Welch.

“It takes twenty years to build a reputation, but only five minutes to lose it.” ~Warren Buffet

2. Build a Vision for your Life and your Life’s Work. Ask God to help you discern it, refine it, and deepen it over time. Write it down and revisit it often. Cultivate it continuously (obsessively) so it runs deep in your psyche and empowers you. I talk about this more in my blog post ‘Platform for Success’. This is absolutely critical and keeps you from becoming a flaky person, tossed around by the latest news or trends.Go deep for the long pass. To use an agricultural image, put the plow in deeper. I am fortunate to work with people of deep personal vision and it is impressive to see its impact and the productivity of their lives.

“Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.” ~Harry S. Truman

3. Build your Team; Build Community. This is critical to give momentum and practical outworking of your vision. Your ideas, ideals and expertise are tested and engage reality–outside the university. You need on your team prophets (ideas people), priests (people-sensitive folks with an extra measure of emotional intelligence), kings (managers who get the job done, package and patent your ideas, and get it to market so that others can benefit). Some of us work in groups, but many of us work alone as grad students; thus, we are far too unconscious about the importance of team. We often suffer alone for it and take much longer to accomplish the same task. Collaboration is a key to success and is needed in the lab as well as at the pub.  Make sure you feel free to approach faculty for help; they are there to support you and your work.

“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.”  ~Warren Bennis

4. Communicate Effectively and Excessively. Leadership guru Lencioni emphasizes that once a team has boiled down their essential values and core vision, it is an ongoing task to communicate those values, so that the message of one’s vision goes deeper and begins to engage people on your team and beyond your team. This assumes that you have created your manifesto as Seth Godin talks about in Tribes. One way to do this is through developing a robust Linkedin profile to let people know who you are and what you hope to offer to the world, ot what you are presently offering to meet a need or fill a niche. I like his language over-commnunicate, meaning drilling down into that vision and its strategic objectives, talking about it from many angles, working out its implications for those you lead. People then begin to internalize and incarnate it.

5. Take Time to Worship  Life can get on top of us if we don’t take time our to seek transcendence, to enter the scriptural discourse of life in the kingdom through Bible study, to reflect on the counter-culture ethos of the Sermon on the Mount. Remember that agape love is the very foundation of reality. Periodically, we will mention great YouTube worship experiences like Kari Jobe’s Revelation Song. As Dr. Mitton shared with us recently, it is critical to be part of a church community while we pursue higher studies, in order to grow as a whole person. Gratitude for the gifts in your life is a fundamental principle of human well-being.

“The practice of giving thanks … eucharisteo … this is the way we practice the presence of God, stay present to His presence, and it is always a practice of the eyes. We don’t have to change what we see. Only the way we see.”

~Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts

Nelson Mandela built a good leadership profile through suffering and perseverance while in prison on Robin Island. Hopefully we don’t have to stay in jail for 27 years in order to get our vision for life together and become a great leader. Al Gore has offered a masterful statement in his 2013 book The Future: six drivers of global change, on what is needed in six areas of leadership for the twenty-first century. This is the 50th anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis, an academic in Oxford and Cambridge who gave much leadership in the area  of  the Christian mind. The C.S. Lewis Institute has kept his conversation going. Explore this blog for a host of other articles and resources to enhance your experience at grad school. Build you higher thoughts by keeping a journal for extra-curricular musings.

~Dr. Gordon Carkner, GCU Mentor and Resource Research Disciplines

Click to access art-Moser%20(Christ-Shaped%20Philosophy).pdf

See Jordan Peterson’s new book 12 Rules for Life: an antidote to chaos. (2018); and  his Maps of Meaning: the architecture of belief (1999).

Dr. Paul Moser, Loyola Philosophy, “Christ-shaped Philosophy: Wisdom and Spirit United”

See Blog Leadership Freak, one of the best discussion groups on the subject:

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Jump in with GCU for Friendship, Adventure and Discovery

~we are here to help you flourish~


Hike with us next Saturday, September 19, 10 a.m. Ute will lead us up the Grouse Grind in North Vancouver. Meet at 277 west 16th ave (near Cambie) at 10:00 am with a lunch and a bottle of water. (T:604-222-3549) You need five dollars to pay for the gondola ride down—spectacular views and friendly grizzlies to greet you at the top. We hope to do more hikes weather permitting. 

Fall Retreat, October 2-3 in Whistler at the Athlete’s Village Each fall we offer a retreat for a chance to build deeper relationships and study an important topic together. Stay in the dorms that Olympic athletes used in 2010. This year’s theme is the Sermon on the Mount (with insights from Jim Wallis’ book The (Un)Common Good). The cost is quite reasonable. Let us know if you need some financial assistance. 

Regular Thursday Study Group Join us for dessert and study at 277 west 16th ave. starting on September 24 at 7:00 p.m. This fall we are working through the exciting, eye-opening book of Ephesians (with insights from Practice Resurrection by Eugene Peterson). The questions from academic life can be brought to the Scriptures and the study of the Bible can inform our academic work in surprising and life-giving ways.

Prayer and the Spiritual Quest Ute offers opportunities for reflective prayer and spiritual direction: Join her to make space for God in your busy life.

GFCF Lectures offers two lecture on ethical foundations on October 7 & 8 with Biola University scholar R. Scott Smith. These are open to all graduate students and faculty. They open dialogue about the big questions. One panel follows in November 17.


GCU Blog is a work in progress to create dialogue, a platform for grad student voice on apologetics, faith and culture, strategic support for thinking, new ideas and scholarship. Many faculty also write for the blog.  Site:

Faculty Support for troubleshooting, support and friendship, light on the path.

Key Words to Capture the GCU Narrative Curiosity, Community, Digging Deeper into Faith and Reason, Integration, Science-Religion Dialogue, Identity Capital, Big Questions, Meta-Biology, Meaning and Calling, Adding Value to Education, Culture Making, Justice and the Common Good, Creative Imagination, Good Scholarship, Innovation, Christo-centric Inspiration, Incarnational Humanism, Adventure and Fun, Celebrating Creation, Re-thinking the Secular, Social Relevance.

GCU is interdisciplinary and international, it creates a lively conversation as people bring their wealth of knowledge, experience and expertise to the table. They also bring their heart, humor and their joy to community. Let’s get to know each other and explore new horizons together during this important journey of postgraduate education.

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