Having graduated successfully with my masters recently, it would be my pleasure to share my insights regarding graduate school. The decision to go back to school as a mature older student took a long while to reach. I allowed myself a year in the city where the university is located to be certain I actually did want to re-immerse myself in academics.
Acceptance: Accept that graduate school is going to be very different from undergraduate school. The workload is much heavier and requires an almost 24/7 attack to keep managed. You may also have a graduate assistantship and those tasks will need to be figured into your day.
Time management is one of the most important things you must accept and tackle. Keeping strict calendars with deadlines, scheduling your time to do research, scheduling your time to write and scheduling your time to grade papers is important for your success. You may find, once you block out your calendar for all the work you have to do, social life has no place to fit in. This is one of the hardest things to accept about graduate school. Keep in mind, graduate school has a finite timeframe and once you’ve gotten your degree life goes on. You will need to schedule your down time in increments that coordinate closely with your work time.
Assertiveness – Take charge of your education. You will hear that phrase while you are in graduate school. What does it mean? You will have an advisor but their guidance will be based on what you want to get out of your education. You no doubt had to write a Statement of Purpose, or something comparable, as part of your application packet. What was your purpose in enrolling in this particular program? If there are classes you would like to take to further your knowledge or a special project you would like to fulfill that will give you hands on experience, it will be up to you to propose these options and back up the reason for your proposal.
If you step up and make decisions about what you want to achieve this will help you be known in the department. In graduate school you are, for the most part, on your own and the isolation can be difficult. As you begin to distinguish yourself that isolation lifts and you begin to feel more at home.
Professionalism: Graduate school is where you learn to approach your career professionally. In every interaction you will be expected to present yourself well and in a professional manner. This may mean a change in your attire but it will always mean a change in your verbal skills. All classes will have some presentation component where you will be in front of others and more or less teach them based on research. If your speaking skills aren’t very well tuned they will be by the end of graduate school, but if you have any doubts, supplement your speaking opportunities with a speech and communication class.
Just as in any professional arena, making appointments and breaking them is frowned upon; absent mindedness such that you miss appointments because you forgot is frowned upon; expecting the rules of a situation to be changed to suit your personal needs is frowned upon. Make sure you keep your appointments on your calendar and honor them. Embrace this time as one where you are learning highly professional skills that will help you transition from school to workplace.
Communication: You will be considered an adult even if you are a younger student and expected to conduct yourself as such. If you have an issue with anything whether it’s a class or your thesis, you are expected to step forward and let your advisor know. Faculty will not come to you and attempt to dig in to what may be on your mind. Making appointments to discuss your progress and clarify issues is on your plate.
During the second year of graduate school, when you are consumed with your thesis, communication gets much more important. Sometimes the thesis journey isn’t smooth and direct and you will need your advisor’s assistance on how to chart and stay on course. In my class I was the only masters student to graduate in the two-year timeframe. Others had issues and let them ride out without attempting to resolve them. Seeking resolution to issues during this stressful time is your responsibility and could be the difference in whether you succeed or not.
Getting your graduate degree is a matter of considerable pride. None of the hurdles you will have to jump are easy and you deserve congratulations when you surmount them successfully. When you finally leave your school you leave with the knowledge that you are no longer considered a student but are now considered a colleague.