Seven Keys to Graduate School Success

Adapted from the University of British Columbia PowerPoint: On Being a Successful Graduate Student

Here are seven “keys” essential to a successful and well-rounded graduate career.

Be proactive – take responsibility for your own grad school experience.

• Think about what you really want from graduate school, and identify opportunities to attain those goals.

• Continue the mental transition from being told what to do, to deciding what to do.

• Don’t wait for faculty members to come to find you. Take the initiative and build relationshipswith faculty in your department.

Participate in the intellectual community of your department and campus.

• Seek input and collaboration from faculty members and your peers – don’t isolate yourself.

• Attend optional seminars and lectures within and beyond your program or department.

• Attend and present at conferences.

• Begin thinking of yourself as a member of your profession and academic field.

Know your program requirements and timelines.

Masters students

• Coursework

•Comprehensive or qualifying exams

• Research thesis or major project 

• Public presentation and/or defense of thesis or project

Doctoral students

• Coursework

• Supervisory committee

• Research proposal approval

• Comprehensive exam 

• Dissertation completion and defense

Create and follow an annual plan.

• Track your specific program requirements (e.g., courses taken, comprehensives, research, thesis, etc.).

• Schedule meetings with your supervisor and committee.

• Publish articles and produce patents, copyrights, artistic works, performances, designs, etc.

• Attend conferences and make presentations.

• Apply for fellowships, scholarships and research grants.

• Think “next stage” —develop an individual professional development plan for the future.

Establish positive relationships with your supervisor and members of your committee.

• Schedule regular meetings with your entire supervisory committee – at least once a year.

• Have a clear purpose for each meeting, and communicate the agenda in advance to your supervisor / committee.

• Follow up on items discussed in meetings – keep your supervisor informed of your progress and challenges.

• Act as a “junior colleague” – ask questions, advance ideas, show interest and support for shared goals.

Bring a professional approach to your studies and interactions.

• Build key skills: organization, preparedness, collegiality, budgeting.

• Take workshops on teaching;write a grant proposal.

• Mentor an undergraduate researcher.

• Learn about research ethics and scholarly integrity.

Seek balance and support in your life. 

• Remember that you have friends and family outside grad school.

• Seek out the many resources on your campus that can help you through the tough times (join a graduate student organization).

• Remember that this will be among the most inspiring and satisfying times in your life.

• And, because your mother isn’t here: Get enough sleep, make time for physical exercise, and eat your veggies!