Finding Support in Graduate School

people networking
"Digital Creative Agency Meeting " by perzon seo; licensed under CC BY 2.0

It has long been known that in all stages of our lives we function better if we have support networks or systems in our lives. As you progress through your graduate education, is it important to develop and use the support networks, both professional and personal, available to you. These networks will provide you with friends and colleagues with which to celebrate your successes, resources to help you succeed, and support you when you encounter challenges or struggles. Your network usually incorporates many people who may be involved in different aspects of your personal or professional life. You may choose to keep each group separate or incorporate them into one larger group. You may find or create a support network in any of the following areas:

    Your Advisor can be part of your support network as you advance through your program. Advisors are there to not only assist you in developing scholarly methodologies and research skills; they may serve as your guide to professional development opportunities. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your advisor if you have questions about career paths, professional development opportunities, or concerns about your coursework or research. They are there to help you successfully complete your graduate program and should be one of your first resources for advice.

    University staff such as your departmental staff, particularly those designated for graduate support, and the Graduate Studies (OGS) staff are resources that can be incorporated into your support network. In your department, there is an administrative professional who is your departmental contact regarding graduate program requirements and they are there to answer questions and provide guidance throughout your time in your graduate program. Also, don’t forget that OGS staff members are here to support you whether you have questions about teaching, career paths, or other professional or personal issues. Here are some of the ways we can help.

    Peer support groups function in both the personal and professional aspects. Your major program may sponsor a graduate student association through which you are encouraged to network about professional development, graduate student experiences, and even governance ideas or issues. If you began your program with a group of students as a cohort this is the department’s method of creating a peer support group. You progress together, usually at the same pace, so you have a shared experience. You may also find peer support groups through cultural organizations or other groups you participate in around campus. There are even support groups available at CAPS if you need to support for a psychological or emotional issue.

    pen and paper
    "to do list " by Marco Verch; licensed under CC BY 2.0

    For some graduate students, the biggest challenge is actually writing their thesis or dissertation. One way to find support for your writing is through writing groups. Writing support groups could be a subset of the peer support group, but don't have to be only students in your cohort or program. This can be created as an ad hoc short-term group or a continuing group throughout your educational career. Your cohort could be your writing group. If you aren’t a part of a cohort, then you can explore establishing a small group of classmates (usually between 4 and 8 members) to encourage, review and motivate each other in your writing. If you need some assistance in creating a writing group, there are resources at Graduate Studies to help in the process. For resources, visit this website.

    Your social support system, consisting of family and friends, is a natural part of your life. Social support systems work as a buffer for the experiences you have as a graduate student. Sometimes it’s hard to describe to someone who’s never been to college, especially graduate school, what you are experiencing. Even though they may not fully understand your experiences, they provide an avenue for a break from the rigors of graduate school. It’s important to stay connected to that network. If you live far away from your family and friends, make an active effort to reach out to them regularly and stay in touch.

If you haven’t thought about your support system, you may want to consider some of the options discussed. Whatever method you use or develop to help you succeed in graduate school, we wish you all success.