While all graduate students have unique needs, goals, and expectations, they do share some common concerns about their graduate experience.
Good mentoring can help to address and resolve these concerns.
Students from all disciplines observe that professors devote large parts of their lives to their work in order to be successful in the academy.
In turn, students who feel that faculty expect them to spend every waking minute on their work can become overwhelmed. This feeling causes concern for those seeking to balance success in their graduate career with other interests and responsibilities. To help keep the pressures of graduate school in check, consider these suggestions.
It is unfair to assume that any one student represents the experiences or beliefs of an entire group.
When certain issues arise in classroom or theoretical discussions, especially those relating to race, class, or gender, the pressures of being a spokesperson arise. These pressures tend to burden underrepresented students more than others. Consider the pressures put on a woman in an engineering seminar if she were asked, "How would a woman approach this design problem?" or on the man in a feminist theory class if he were asked to provide "the male perspective."
Some students are concerned that if they select questions of gender, race, sexual orientation, or the content of marginalized cultures as their thesis/dissertation topics, faculty will assume they are interested in pursuing only these topics for their entire career or will question the relevance of their work.
Students who are passionate about such questions in their research and teaching should not feel apologetic. Instead, they should consider these ways to bolster the scholarly nature of their agenda.
At times, graduate study may seem to be an isolating endeavor. Isolation, whether from other students or one's home community, is a difficulty all graduate students face at one time or another.
If it goes unchecked, isolation can lead to loneliness and self-doubt, or, in more severe cases, to depression or dropping out. Depending on the discipline, students from historically underrepresented groups or women might feel more isolated than other students, especially if the composition of students, faculty, and content in the department is highly homogenous.
All graduate students benefit from role models they can admire — professionals whose lives they may want to emulate. Quite often, people identify role models based on shared outlook and connections to similar experiences.
Although the composition of faculty at UNL is becoming more diverse, students from historically underrepresented or marginalized groups, and women in some disciplines, can face greater challenges finding faculty role models who have had experiences similar to their own. Some students convey that they hope to find "someone who looks like me"; "someone who immediately understands my experiences and perspectives"; "someone whose very presence lets me know I, too, can make it in the academy." Even so, while shared background and experiences are important, they do not "guarantee" a good mentoring relationship. What is key are shared interests and interpersonal compatibility. All students also benefit from reaching out to potential mentors who are different from them in race, gender, or other characteristics.
To do adventuresome academic work, students may need to question the implicit assumptions and ways of knowing in their disciplines. Indeed, it is because of this kind of questioning that disciplines evolve.
Sometimes students find that their perspectives or intellectual interests do not fit neatly into the current academic canons. For instance, interest in interdisciplinary questions and the social applications of knowledge is growing, but the structure of some programs makes it difficult for students to pursue these questions in their research and teaching. Studies suggest that underrepresented students experience this disjuncture more keenly; however, majority students face it as well.
Productive scholarly environments value new ways of thinking and encouraging students to explore, and possibly challenge, different models of inquiry.