How to set SMART goals as a graduate student

  • Setting SMART goals can help you succeed as a graduate student.
    Setting SMART goals can help you succeed as a graduate student.

    How to set SMART goals as a graduate student

    Psychologists agree: SMART goals are the way to go when it comes to setting objectives for yourself. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound, goals of this type are more likely to be achieved than those that are vague and poorly defined.

    Goal-setting is a key component of success as a graduate student – from getting your applications in order to completing your dissertation to presenting at conferences, zeroing in on what you want to achieve by a specific date can help you focus your studies and efforts. In fact, a famous study of MBA students that took place in 1979 found that the students who wrote down their goals were making 10 times as much money 10 years later than the participants who did not write their goals down or had no goals at all, an article by the University of Southern California Spatial Sciences Institute explained. 

    Here are some tips for setting SMART goals as a graduate student:

    Reflect on your ambitions
    Before you delve into fleshing out your goals, you'll want to take the time to reflect on what aspects of your graduate study are most important to you. Think deeply about why you're attending or want to attend graduate school – do you want to advance your career, immerse yourself in a subject you're passionate about, conduct research in your field or gain the knowledge and experience necessary to eventually become a professor? Once you have this main objective established, you can then break it down into smaller, tangible steps which can then be used to help set your SMART goals. It's important not to skip this step – it may seem obvious what your goal for graduate school is, but forcing yourself to seriously reflect on your ambitions can clarify and cement them. 

    Don't cut corners 
    When creating your goals, follow each element to a tee: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound. Don't skip a step or spend more time on one than the other. Spending the time and effort it takes to create quality SMART goals pays off in the future because you're more likely to attain your goals. Some good examples of SMART goals for graduate students include:

    • "I want to become a biology professor at the University of Washington."
    • "I want to have a study published in the Journal of Nutrition."
    • "I want to be accepted to a graduate degree program that will offer financial aid that pays for the majority of my tuition and includes an internship component."

    Reach out to others 
    While your SMART goals are personal, that doesn't mean you shouldn't reach out to others for support in achieving them. Sharing your goals with others can help you gain a sense of accountability. In addition, if friends, family and professors know about your goals, they can connect you with helpful resources or opportunities that can help you reach them. 

    Everyone has dreams and ambitions, but SMART goals can help you make them a reality.

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