Master your studying and reading habits early on for long-term success.
Years from now, you’ll look back on your graduate school career and wish you had known way more than you did. Don’t sweat it. You’re supposed to learn along the way. Even still, it helps to soak up any and all advice to quell your concern about embarking on this academic and professional endeavor.
Keep these nuggets of wisdom in mind to get the most out of your graduate school experience:
1. Don’t think about it as survival
While no one can deny that grad school is an intense and challenging endeavor, the key to thriving is to think about success rather than survival. Be proactive in making your own grad school experience, thinking about what you want to gain from your studies and dedicating yourself to reaching those goals.
Don’t expect professors and other faculty members to tell you exactly what to do. Instead, take initiative, make your own decisions and seek out valuable relationships with instructors. With the right mindset, you’ll find yourself making the most of your experience, rather than letting other factors rule your journey through grad school.
2. Find your groove
Figure out when, where and how you can be most productive – as quickly as possible. Test different study strategies, find your favorite cafes and libraries and practice different note-taking styles. Make your own tweaks until you find the quirks and methods that suit your learning style and schedule.
3. Be smart about reading
It feels natural to read everything from beginning to end, then think about how it fits into the bigger picture once you’re done. However, this can be overwhelmingly time-consuming, and may even turn out to be a waste of efforts if the piece ends up being unrelated to your overarching research or study objectives.
Tara Kuther, Ph.D., a professor at the Department of Psychology at Western Connecticut State University, shared a different method with PsychCentral, which is to “read with purpose.” Check out the summaries, chapter headings and bullet points, plus think about how the piece fits into your coursework – before you dive in, as well as while you read. Consider how the piece supports your argument, and highlight any surprising insights that pique your interest.
4. Ask for feedback
According to the American Psychological Association, successful graduate students go out of their way to seek out feedback on their performance. That means talking with advisors, supervisors, mentors and peers to gain valuable critiques that help you grow and improve. The Princeton Review interviewed Ph.D. students about finding success as a scholar, one of whom said: “My smartest move was getting to know several faculty members on campus besides my own research advisor.” Not only do these faculty members have great insights, but they also become perfect candidates for future reference letters!
In addition to asking about your own work, talk to other students and professors about how they approach certain concepts or research practices. Kuther further suggested talking to more advanced students, fellows or junior faculty as they “often have a great perspective and aren’t far away from being grad students themselves.”
5. Don’t focus on grades
Once you’re in grad school, it’s safe to assume that everyone around you is smart. Plus, most – if not all – students definitely want to be there because they made the decision to go back to school. Unlike undergraduate programs, grad school goes way beyond studying. Rather than cramming to ace the exam, grad school is about retaining the information. It’s an opportunity to view your studies and interactions with a professional lens, thinking ahead to how you can apply the theories and concepts in your career. This is especially true if you choose to pursue your graduate degree while maintaining a full-time job in the field.
6. Remember that balance is key
While focusing on your coursework is important, don’t forget that the nature of grad school affords you opportunities to experiment, form valuable connections, attend international research conferences, seek out training experiences, participate in diverse extracurriculars and more.
Plus, grad school is a time for development and discovery. Jennifer Doran, previous chair for the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students, aptly described this as rediscovering your adolescence. She recommended finding enjoyment in the training and experimentation that goes into developing your professional identity.
Take advantage of the perks of grad school, but try not to overwhelm yourself with how demanding the grad school experience can be. Take some time for a few deep breaths and recentering with these self-care tips. A little time for yourself can help manage stress and maintain overall well-being as you work toward your degree.
Don’t be a survivor. Instead, follow these tips to thrive in grad school, and set yourself up for significant success beyond your degree.