By Laura Morrison, July 2014
Pursuing a graduate degree can be exciting and rewarding, but it can also bring its own challenges and pitfalls. As a prospective student, one of the worst things you can do to impede your success is head blindly into your graduate studies without a clear understanding of what to expect, both positive and negative. Even if you have a handle on some of the larger hurdles like application and funding issues, there are still patterns and habits to watch out for, even after your acceptance that could bog down your progress.
You're not just there to learn
It may sound counterintuitive, but the truth is you're not just attending graduate school to learn. Despite your initial intentions, succeeding at graduate school requires as much of a social investment as it does an academic one. In fact, one of the most important and most tangible benefits you'll take away from your studies is the professional contacts you will have networked with during your studies. As NextScientist pointed out, networking might help you gain you potential collaborators, open you up to new research opportunities, and provide you with professional connections you might utilize after graduation. It's important not to let your academic work suffer, but you'll also want to make sure you're spinning your own thread in the vast web of your field of study.
Don't stop writing
When you finish your graduate studies, you'll come away with a shiny new master's degree or Ph.D. to your name. But while you're still in school, you should be doing everything you can to keep your name relevant in your field of study. Presumably your aim is to establish a career in your chosen field, and there are few better ways to do that than writing and publishing peer-reviewed journal articles. Not only will doing so keep your writing skills sharp, but it will also help you to build a professional portfolio and establish your expertise while you're in the process of earning your degree. Having a handful of journal articles or conference appearances under your belt when you leave might make you a much more attractive prospect to employers looking to hire in your field.
Don't get lost in a time warp
One of the benefits of graduate research is the flexibility it comes with. While you are on a schedule, the nature of much of the work you'll be doing means that your work will be largely self-directed. Some students may even be working part- or even full-time alongside their studies and, as a result, may be pursuing their degree on a part-time basis. This flexibility is good for maintaining work-life balance, but if left unchecked it can become seriously burdensome. NextScientist strongly advises students to finish their degree programs as quickly as possible - harness your new-student momentum and let it carry you through, before you get bogged down in work, research and life concerns and eventually reach graduate school burnout. One suggestion is to evaluate your position every six months or so, just to check in with yourself to determine that you're still on the right track and are ready to continue pursuing your degree.
Don't lose sight of why you're there
No bones about it, graduate school is challenging. It's almost inevitable that you'll find yourself buried under work and stress. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, it's crucial in these moments to remember the passion that brought you to graduate school in the first place. Remind yourself of the work you're doing and the connections you've made, and, importantly, remind yourself that there is a finite end to the work and stress come graduation day.
About the Author: Laura Morrison is the Web Content Manager for GradSchools.com. She earned an MBA from the Rutgers School of Business in 2010.