How to be a successful grad. student
I asked my TECH621 students to interview 3 professors each and get tips about graduate school success.
A bit late, here are my tips & expectations about being a successful graduate student. They are derived from my experience in grad. school, both as a student and professor:
You don’t have to be in grad school. Your parents may have forced you to get an undergrad degree, but you are in grad school because you want to learn. So, learn.
A successful graduate student doesn’t only “absorb” information. She actively seeks knowledge.
Professors might mention something in passing, and the grad. student goes out to research that topic in depth and learn about it, because he wants to, because he’s curious – because he’s a born researcher (you know who’s a born researcher? Don Bulmer. He has an innate curiosity and the drive to pursue knowledge. Those are characteristics of the ideal grad. student.)
Actually, several other tips follow from the first one:
- work hard. As a grad student, I put at least 4 hours of reading & other work preparing for each 3 hour class I took.
- be conscientious. Grad students don’t miss assignments, don’t turn them in late. They don’t miss class (there was never an attendance policy in my grad. classes, but I didn’t even dream of missing class unless I was very sick).
- be critical. Try to view different points of view. Question. Explore. Ask:
- “does it have to be so?”
- “what/who are we leaving out?”
- “what’s the downside of that?”
- “what are the long-term effects?”
- create knowledge. Most grad. students learn to be researchers. Assume your researcher role and if there’s no easy answer to a question, go ahead and research it – create new knowledge.
Try to learn the culture of academia & to fit in
You can’t succeed in academia without doing good work. But you can do good work and not succeed in academia, because you don’t understand how to present your work in ways that are valued by academic culture. The values vary by field and even by department, but be on the lookout, try to identify and learn things such as:
- the accepted/valued outlets for presenting research (posters, conference papers, or panels, and at what conferences?)
- the accepted/value format and writing style
- and even… the accepted/valued topics. There are certain “hot topics” at any given time, just as there are certain “passe topics.”
A mentor can help you figure these things out – but it doesn’t have to be your academic adviser. Ask faculty members, we love to give advice. You learn a lot just by hanging out with faculty or senior grad students. Create these opportunities. Organize a seminar or a get-together, or ask if you can go to lunch with someone.
Every class you take is a potential job interview. I’ve had several professors approach me and offer me teaching or research assistantships while I was taking their course, or as soon as the course was over. In fact, many classes ARE job interviews.
Maybe today’s class or assignment is boring, or seems irrelevant. It doesn’t matter. Try to do your best anyway. Keep in mind that 2 or 4 years down the road, you might need to ask that professor for a recommendation letter. The best thing we can write about a student is that she consistently exceeded expectations. Great work is great. Doing great work consistently and repeatedly is even greater.
As always, please add your tips, comments, reactions, comments or… cabbage jokes 😉