how to be a (GOOD) graduate student

Yes, that’s the title

A few insights

  • Graduate life can be challenging in many ways, so it’s important that you leverage the skills you have and build additional skills as needed.
    • You have a lot less structure and a lot more independence, so it’s important to manage your time. Hours of class? Hours of work? Hours of personal time? Hours of time for loved ones?
    • You have a lot more to do and a lot less guidance, so it’s important to assess your circumstances, identify your priorities, and determine when you need help.
    • Plenty of resources exist, but they won’t always be laid out for you, so it’s important to ask questions, seek out knowledgeable individuals, and find the resources you need.
  • You’ll always need help – and it’s OK. Embrace that reality and know that Carolina is here for you.

Know yourself & why you’re here

  • Who are you? What are your values? How do they connect to your degree?
  • Why are you in graduate school? What do you hope to achieve and accomplish?
  • What do you want to do and where do you want to be when you’re done?
  • Being able to answer these questions will help you:
    • Clearly articulate what your personal and professional goals are.
    • Seek out and pursue relevant academic and professional opportunities.
    • Stay motivated when you run into challenges and obstacles.
    • Celebrate key achievements and accomplishments when they occur.

Identify individuals for support & mentorship

  • What kind of people do you need around you to be successful?
  • What do you look for in your advisors, managers, and mentors?
  • Who are your best friends and colleagues?
  • Being able to answer these questions will help you:
    • Recognize and appreciate those individuals who provide you with the affirmation, criticism, feedback, and support you need to grow personally and professionally.
    • Seek out individuals who can add value to your overall graduate experience by filling the personal and professional gaps in your support circle.
    • Acknowledge when you’re not getting the guidance that you need so that you can figure out who to reach out to for the necessary support.

Discuss expectations & Consequences

  • Ask your program – particularly your advisor – what the expectations are for you as a graduate student. (NOTE: Read The Graduate School Handbook thoroughly.)
  • Get as specific as you can so there’s no miscommunication or misunderstanding about expectations, deadlines, and timelines.
  • Be realistic about what’s possible and what’s not – know that you’ll likely be challenged and pushed to do more.
  • Discuss the consequences of not meeting expectations – this is usually less openly addressed, but knowing can help you avoid unexpected issues.
  • Document as much as possible to ensure clarity.

Consult & utilize resources early

  • If you’re confused or unsure, ask questions.
  • If you don’t know or can’t find the answer, consult someone more knowledgeable. Don’t necessarily guess – the wrong answer can lead to negative consequences.
  • Know your responsibilities – as a student, as an RA/TA, etc. Even if you don’t read all of the applicable handbooks or policies, you're still subject to all of them.
  • Be proactive and engage with resources in advance as much as possible.
  • Imposter syndrome is real, but it doesn't need to take away your agency.
  • If you don't know, you don’t know. Don’t beat yourself up about it. The most important thing is that you get the answer.

Find balance

  • Analyze your weaknesses and elevate your strengths.
  • Put forth intense effort and take breaks as needed.
  • Do as much for personal development as for professional development.
  • Build your ego without eliminating your humility.
  • Challenge yourself but not at your own expense.

Leverage Your Resources

  • Find them. In your program, across campus, in the community.
  • Use them. Ask for help as soon as you think you may need it.
  • Recommend them to others. Make sure you support those around you.