Being Successful in Graduate School

Pursuing a graduate program can sometimes feel like a lonely experience because the friends and support networks you had in your undergraduate years don't transition with you. You may be a working professional with caregiving obligations. You may be an online student. You may find yourself questioning why you began a graduate degree. You may experience a significant life event that pushes your abilities to the limit.

We get that. We've been there as well.

So, we want you to be aware of various graduate student groups and professional networks that you can take advantage of to meet others, to explore your professional goals in more depth, and to prepare you for a successful graduate student experience. You can find a lot more resources by visiting our CURRENT STUDENTS page. 

Adapted from the University of British Columbia PowerPoint: On Being a Successful Graduate Student

1. 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.
  • Continue the mental transition from being told what to do, to deciding what to do.
  • Don’t wait for faculty members to come to find you. Take the initiative and build relationships with faculty in your department.

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

  • Seek input and collaboration from faculty members and your peers – don’t isolate yourself.
  • 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.

3. 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

4. Create and follow an annual plan.

  • Track your specific program requirements (e.g., courses taken, comprehensives, research, thesis, etc.). 
  • Schedule meetings with your supervisor/faculty advisor and committee (for doctoral students).
  • Publish articles and produce patents, copyrights, artistic works, performances, designs, etc. (for doctoral students)
  • Attend conferences and make presentations.
  • Apply for fellowships, scholarships and research grants.
  • Think “next stage” —develop an individual professional development plan for the future.

5. Establish positive relationships with your faculty advisor/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.

6.  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.

7. Seek balance and support in your life. 

  • Remember that you have friends and family outside grad school.
  • Seek out the many resources on your campus that can help you through the tough times (join a graduate student organization).
  • Remember that this will be among the most inspiring and satisfying times in your life.
  • And, because your parental/guardian figure isn’t here: Get enough sleep, make time for physical exercise, and eat your veggies!