Strong professional relationships can help you succeed in graduate school.
When you're trying to handle myriad duties and assignments in graduate school, it can feel like nothing outside the program matters. But the aim of an advanced degree is to prepare you to become an expert in your focus area and to help you reach your career goals. And, as any career counselor will tell you, a significant part of finding that dream job is to develop and maintain a professional network.
An individual in your network may connect you with an academic opportunity that could lead to a job, or could offer feedback that leads to a fruitful new angle to your work. And in addition to academic and career opportunities, these networks also provide valuable support and feedback as you go through your graduate school journey.
To help you succeed, here are four tips for building strong professional relationships in graduate school:
1. Frequently and regularly meet with mentors
Ideally, building relationships with your advisors and professors should start early on in your graduate school career, as these networks benefit both your academic and professional goals, as Marilie Gammon, recipient of the 2014 University of North Carolina Graduate School Faculty Award for Excellence in Doctoral Mentoring, explained in a presentation. Set a regular schedule for meeting with these mentors, such as twice a month, or more frequently if needed. It's also a smart idea to schedule meetings where you can get together to review your progress over the year, and set both short- and long-term goals for the future.
2. Have the right mindset
It's important to go into meetings with your mentors, professors or other individuals with a positive mindset and a commitment to effective communication. This begins with being able to listen, as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln detailed. Don't be afraid to ask questions about any issues you are having, even if you feel embarrassed or think it might be a poor question. And when your mentors offer their insight, be sure to actively listen and consider their responses, instead of just waiting for your turn to speak or preparing your next statement in your head. It's also important to not take things personally – graduate school comes with mistakes and criticism, and it's important to remember that any feedback, even if it's hard to hear, is beneficial for your growth and development.
3. Be present
You can make valuable professional connections beyond your professors and advisors, and it's a smart idea to attend as many conferences, workshops, lectures and other events in your field as you can. It's also important to go beyond simply attending these events and instead interact with the experts and professionals there, as academic experts from Florida International University advised in a paper shared by the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Don't be afraid to introduce yourself and ask questions – these interactions could lead to rewarding opportunities and relationships.
4. Engage with your peers
Your classmates and peers in your advanced degree program can also form an important part of your professional network, as a case study published by the Council of Graduate Schools explained. Not only do your peers provide friendship, understanding and support about the challenges of pursuing a graduate degree, but they can also connect you now and down the road to exciting research, academic or professional opportunities.