Posted by: gcarkner | September 8, 2022

Priorities for Success as a Postgrad Student

UBC Bird’s Eye View

Be proactive – take responsibility for your own grad school experience.

• Think about what you really want from graduate school, and identify opportunities to attain those goals.

• You are transitioning from being told what to do, to deciding what to do. You are your own boss.

• Don’t wait for faculty members to come to find you. Take the initiative and build relationships with faculty in your department. Make a special priority of getting to know your mentor/supervisor.

You need to stand out to make it through grad school! And to do that, you need to develop more pronounced academic or personal habits than you already established during your college years. Practicing these habits can:

  • increase confidence, competence, and self-esteem
  • reduce anxiety brought about by tests and deadlines
  • prevent cramming
  • significantly reduce the hours spent studying and instead give more room for the other facets of life.

Participate in the intellectual community of your department and the campus.

• Seek input and collaboration from faculty members and your peers – don’t isolate yourself. Sometimes a great idea emerges from a different department of study.

• Attend optional seminars and lectures within and beyond your program or department.

• Attend and present at conferences.

• Begin thinking of yourself as a member of your profession and academic field. Put on that cap.

Ask questions.

Learning things in grad school would always require asking questions. It may not be enjoyable to some, but this is one of the most effective ways to know certain things you are curious about. 

The perfect time to ask questions in the university or school is once you get accepted. Your entrance to such a new journey would require you to list some essential questions that you need to ask certain people. This will eventually prepare you for what to face for graduate school. 

Be original!

Graduate students’ one major ticket into surviving grad school is to have an excellent research paper. But what makes other students stand out from the rest is that they have uniquely crafted research that reflects their specialty in their chosen field. 

A research paper is a comprehensive paperwork that emphasizes interpreting a chosen topic or argument and supporting references to validate your point. You can gather and use four types of research data when doing your research paper for grad school. Make sure to choose the best one that can make your research interesting and impressive. Here are the ways on how you can be original in making your research paper in grad school: 

Know your program requirements and timelines.

Masters students

• Coursework

•Comprehensive or qualifying exams

• Research thesis or major project 

• Public presentation and/or defense of thesis or project

Doctoral students

• Coursework

• Supervisory committee

• Research proposal approval

• Comprehensive exam 

• Dissertation completion and defense

Find your study spot.

Your study space is an excellent booster to your ability to study efficiently. As a grad student, it’s vital to this stage of your life to create a study environment that fosters productivity and minimizes distractions. So make an effort to manage your study space. After all, a comfortable space sharpens the mind and improves concentration. 

Create your designated space.

  • Decide between an open or closed environment. Customize this spot to your liking. 
  • Invest in materials that can make this area suitable for studying.
  • Keep away from loud areas or distractions like television.
  • Find a comfortable desk or table with ergonomic seats.
  • Commit to studying only in this space and always keep it clean.

Create and follow an annual plan.

• Track your specific program requirements (e.g., courses taken, comprehensives, research, thesis, etc.).

• Schedule meetings with your supervisor and committee. They are there to serve you.

• Publish articles and produce patents, copyrights, artistic works, performances, designs, etc.

• Attend conferences and make presentations.

• Apply for fellowships, scholarships and research grants.

• Think “next stage” —develop an individual professional development plan for the future. Set up a LinkedIn profile.

  • Set one specific, achievable goal. A goal can lead you to a direction you can focus on – set one that’s considerable and has an endpoint. This can lend you a hand in staying motivated.
  • Integrate your goal into your day-to-day life. Think about an objective that you can quickly and frequently do or choose goals that interest you so that it wouldn’t seem like an obligation; instead, it will be like a routine. Then set a timeframe on it.
    • Break down large goals into digestible micro-goals and easy tasks. When faced with a big overwhelming task, it dramatically helps divide the task into more manageable parts and steps. The strategy will help you rid of stress and procrastination. And achieving these smaller steps can build confidence too.

Establish positive relationships with your supervisor and members of your committee.

• Schedule regular meetings with your entire supervisory committee – at least once a year.

• Have a clear purpose for each meeting, and communicate the agenda in advance to your supervisor / committee.

• Follow up on items discussed in meetings – keep your supervisor informed of your progress and challenges.

• Act as a “junior colleague” – ask questions, advance ideas, show interest and support for shared goals.

Bring a professional approach to your studies and interactions.

• Build key skills: organization, preparedness, collegiality, budgeting.

• Take workshops on teaching; write a grant proposal.

• Mentor an undergraduate researcher.

• Learn about research ethics and scholarly integrity. You are building a reputation for a lifetime.

Set up a Document Management System. As you proceed to your graduate programs, you will accumulate numerous documents, such as research materials, readings, assignments, essay papers, and manuscripts. Here are ways to keep your documents well-organized:

  • Use binders, shelves, filing cabinets, and folders.
  • Label your documents accordingly and keep them within reach.
  • Sort them periodically and keep away what’s no longer necessary.
  • Categorize and store your electronic documents like research ideas, professional credentials, articles, and study materials in separate folders named accordingly for easy tracking and retrieval. Store and share bigger files using Dropbox, Box, or Google Drive.
  • Organize your emails. If possible, create an email exclusively for your graduate school work, create labeled folders, delete spam, and unsubscribe from emails that are no longer useful.

Seek balance and a support network in your life. Have some fun and adventure while you work on your degree.

• Remember that you have friends and family outside grad school. Find a church home in town.

• Seek out the many resources on your campus that can help you through the tough times (join a graduate student organization like Graduate Christian Union or attend GFCF (Graduate & Faculty Christian Forum) thought-provoking lectures.

  • Be inspired by others. Feel motivated by reading books, watching motivational shows/videos, and talking with your mentors or friends or family that you look up to.
  • Seek social and emotional support. Open up to your family and friends about your struggles and plans. If you have a mental illness, there are mental health care plans available that can aid with the cost of counseling. All these can help you manage the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  • Be with positive people. Being surrounded by positive colleagues, friends and family can boost your positive self-talk. Look for support groups with the same interest and endeavors as you.

Nurture Your Mental Health:

  • Maintain a regular schedule. Sticking to a consistent schedule will condition your mind and body to follow a daily routine. Devote yourself to a well-prepared timeline to prepare for your day.
  • Distinguish “real problems” from “hypothetical problems.”  A real problem can be addressed at the moment like you would resolve flooding in a home. A hypothetical worry essentially wastes your time because it hasn’t happened yet, like the flood causing problems on the wooden floor. According to Dr. Matthew Whalley and Dr. Hardeep Kaur of Psychology Tools, real-problem worries require that we look into them, while hypothetical worries will have to be dealt with in the future.
  • Try “postponing” your worry. It might sound like procrastinating, but it greatly helps when you give yourself a moment to reflect and take action. For example, you can tell yourself, “I will only let myself worry between 8 am to 10 am today.”
  • Choose the news you should be listening to. Try to read good and helpful news, and limit your overall news intake, such as reading the news once a day.
  • Avoid panicking and overthinking. According to Standford School of Business, it’s critical not to overthink the light decisions and underthink the big ones. In grad school, learn to decide on important matters and never over-analyze petty stuff!
  • Prioritize the things that you can manage. Using your energy for more important things is much worth doing than waste it on something unpredictable. There is a higher chance of accomplishing many productive things once you develop a habit of prioritizing things you have control over. 
  • Incorporate positive distractions. Instead of dwelling in sad problematic news, watch your go-to movies or series, go to wholesome blogs, and watch relaxing videos or interesting clips. You can also spend time with your people to calm yourself out. Use your downtime to focus and prioritize pleasant distractions.
  • Be kind to yourself. Treat yourself with loving-kindness and mind your health. Do simple tasks that give you the feeling of progressing. Making your bed first thing in the morning keeps you from getting back in!
  • Set realistic goals.  The best goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound. Divide your tasks into tiny chunks, and decide on one activity at a time. It helps to finish one chapter of your reading instead of skipping pages and rushing to the next. Michelle Obama Reflects

Be optimistic!

Optimism is a healthy habit that helps us become happier and calmer. It can save people from depression and anxieties. An optimistic mindset and outlook make people more resistant to unnecessary thoughts that lead to stress. It may even help people live longer.

Your success in grad school is closely dependent on how capable you think you are! If a graduate student is convinced that they can overcome everything, they will face challenges head-on and a strong positive outlook.

Join a study group.

A wide array of study groups are always present in graduate schools and universities. Study groups promote a lot of different benefits. Here are some ways how study groups are helpful for you as a graduate student: 

  • They keep you accountable. Study groups mostly have a regular meet-up session where members undergo in-depth discussions about lessons and topics. It establishes a sense of routine wherein you can always follow how the discussions are going and stay up to date with the topics being discussed. 
  • They keep you sane. Your mental health would need a slight pause to make sure you are still focused on your tasks. The social interaction you get from such a set-up can help you ease up and realize your thoughts and priorities without being too hard on yourself. 

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