Graduate Student Guide to Success

Stage 1: Getting Started

For new students making the transition to graduate school.



Attend the New Graduate Student Welcome.

Attend the welcome event sponsored by the Office of Graduate Studies. Meet new students, eat lunch and attend the resource fair.

Many departments also organize orientation days for incoming students, usually the week before classes, to help them understand program procedures and expectations. Contact your department for more information.

Read the Graduate Catalog.

Familiarize yourself with graduate policies and procedures. Take responsibility for your graduate career. Know the rules and what is expected of you. Familiarize yourself with policies for course requirements, preliminary/qualifying exams and admission to candidacy. Learn deadlines for completing these requirements, at both department and university levels.

Once you know the policies, come up with a timeline for completing the milestones early in your program. You'll also feel more in control of your graduate career.

Get connected.

Subscribe to or read Graduate Connections. Graduate Connections is an electronic newsletter for graduate students at UNL. This quarterly publication is intended to bring you information to help you more easily make your way through your graduate school career link you with news about events planned and organized just for you provide you with timely information about deadlines and funding and connect you with other graduate students at UNL.

Join the graduate student "just-in-time" listserv. The Office of Graduate Studies runs a convenient "just-in-time" listserv that emails notices about upcoming professional development workshops, events, employment and internship opportunities, and other career news for UNL graduate students and postdocs. To subscribe, send email to In the body of the message (not the subject line) type SUBSCRIBE UNLGRAD. Your department may also have a listserv or similar system for information regarding department functions and deadlines. Ask the graduate secretary for your department.

Join your department's graduate student organization.

Join UNL's Graduate Student Association.


Attend Workshops for Graduate Teaching Assistants.
Explore the online Handbook for Graduate Teaching Assistants.

The Handbook for Graduate Teaching Assistants can help you navigate the difficulty of being a teacher and student. From responsibilities of TAs to preparing for your first day to promoting academic integrity, the GTA handbook provides a wide range of information for TAs.

Begin building your teaching portfolio.

Collect feedbackfrom your students. Because teaching is one of the most important parts of your work in higher education, it merits regular scrutiny and upgrading. Not only is it critical for you to know what — and how — you are doing in the classroom, others who must assess your work need such evidence as well.

Schedule an instructional consultation. Consultants are available to meet with graduate students who have an interest in teaching. We can provide the information, resources and support you need to meet your teaching goals and to enjoy and learn as much as you can from your experience in the classroom.

Become a tutor.

The first year of your graduate program is not too early to begin building evidence of teaching experience. Tutoring undergraduate students is a good way to begin working with students in a teaching capacity. Organizations on campus that provide tutors include TRIO and ASUN.

Take a course in leadership.

For information on courses in leadership in your department, see your advisor or graduate secretary.

Take a course in college teaching.

Try one of the following courses, or contact your department.

  • ALEC 805. Advanced Teaching Strategies: Contemporary and innovative teaching strategies, emphasizing learner-centered instruction, suitable to teaching in college and postsecondary institutions, outreach programs public schools, and other settings. Students participate in active learning as they apply learning theory in practice, prepare and demonstrate teaching methods, and plan for instruction in discipline areas of their choice.
  • COMM 827. Instructional Communication: Advanced introductory course in instructional communication. Focus on: understanding variables associated with the communication process in instructional settings, and managing instructional communication more effectively. Experimental and cognitive understanding of the role of communication in the instructional process.
  • EDPS 991. Principles of College Teaching: Identification and solutions of problems associated with program planning; organizational, administrative, and instructional procedures within an institutional setting. Designing, implementing, and evaluating new or modified patterns of operation and teaching within a public school, postsecondary institution, or adult education agency.
  • PSYC 974. Teaching Methods for Psychology: Teaching methods, philosophical perspectives to teaching, practical ideas about classroom instruction, and career issues involving higher education.
  • TEAC 880. Teaching with Technology: Survey and analysis of the application of technology to improve teaching. Research and related literature on learning, teaching, and curriculum. Critical application of technology and the development of teaching strategies.


Find a faculty mentor.

Discover faculty research areas in your department. Keep an eye out for extracurricular seminars sponsored by your department and meet with faculty whose research is of interest to you. Don't forget to be open to new research ideas!

Review the Mentoring Guidebook. To help graduate students make the most of mentoring opportunities, the Graduate Studies Office has produced a guidebook entitled "How to Get the Mentoring You Need: A Guide for Graduate Students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln." This guidebook is an excellent tool to help you reflect on and plan for the mentoring you need, no matter in which stage of your graduate career you presently find yourself.

Set short term and long term goals. Decide what you plan to accomplish during your first semester and what you want to accomplish before you graduate. Talk to your faculty mentor about setting realistic goals. Also ask yourself what you want to get out of your graduate degree and begin taking steps toward that goal.

Develop your research interests/ideas.

Take part in departmental research colloquia. A colloquia is a series of seminars, usually lead by a different lecturer at each session. A number of departments offer research colloquia during the fall and spring semesters and some departments require attendance at all colloquia for graduate students (Physics and Astronomy). For more information on colloquia in your department, contact your advisor or graduate secretary.

Attend the UNL Research Fair. The UNL Research Fair is a three-day event featuring collaboration, creativity, innovation and celebration of achievements. The Research Fair features a number of activities for graduate students, including a workshop on preparing fellowship applications and the research poster competition.

Develop your public speaking and writing skills.

Join the local chapter of Toastmasters International. Toastmasters is a group dedicated to improving communication skills through activities that include improvisation and group presentations and constructive evaluations. Toastmasters provides a supportive environment for anyone interesting in honing their public speaking skills and meetings are open to visitors.

Take a public speaking course. Some departments offer courses or workshops to help their students polish their public speaking skills. Contact your advisor or graduate secretary to see if this option is available in your department.

Write well and publish early. Publishing is often a long and difficult process that is required to secure top assistant professor positions. Students who begin submitting papers for publication early in their graduate student career increase their chances of being published significantly due the increase in experience. Always write as if your article will be published. Seek out advice on potentially publishable articles from multiple faculty members. Find out what worked best for other graduate seeking publication. Don't give up if your paper is rejected, continue revising and submitting your article to journals for publication.

Visit the Writing Center. The University Writing Center is a free, confidential service available to all students at UNL. Graduate students can receive writing assistance on a variety of topics and project lengths.

Meet with the Library Liaison for your department to learn more about the services available to graduate students.

Explore internal funding opportunities.

If you are currently enrolled as a graduate student at UNL, you may be eligible to apply for internal fellowship funding. Fellowships dollars are free money that may give you more time for research or studying... instead of working.


Explore various career paths.

Seek advice from the Graduate Student Development Team on writing job-related documents and applications. The Graduate Student Development program can help graduate students explore the various academic and nonacademic career paths available to them. We'll work with UNL Career Services and UNL faculty to offer resource materials and workshops, which include the basics of an effective cover letter, delivering the "job talk" and job search strategies.

Attend career development workshops and seminars offered by Graduate Studies

Take action early.

The search for a position as an assistant professor after graduate school begins with your first year as a graduate student. Begin building your application packet immediately by documenting your teaching experiences, identifying appropriate mentors and advisors and starting the first stages of your curriculum vita. Keep in mind that during your future job search, you will not be marketing your skills as a graduate student; you will be marketing your ability to perform as an assistant professor.

Develop your curriculum vita.

A curriculum vitae (CV) is a summary of your training, experience and skills submitted as part of the academic job search process. Search committees use the CV as an initial screening device to determine your "fit" with the available position. Therefore, your curriculum vita should highlight the educational and professional experiences that match the position for which you are applying.

Attend professional conferences.

Professional conferences are an opportunity to begin networking with professionals in your field and to see them in action. Many conferences are offered on both the national and regional level. The opportunity for some travel funds may be available in some departments.

Develop an Individual Professional Development Plan.

Develop an Individual Professional Development Plan to help you think about the next stage in your career. Update this plan as you move through your program.

Stage 2: Moving Forward

For students in the middle of their graduate career.



Serve on a departmental committee.
Serve on the executive committee of your department's graduate student organization.


Participate in the Teaching Documentation Program.
The Office of Graduate Studies provides a number of services for graduate teaching assistants to help you assess and improve teaching practices. Any TA is welcome to participate in the Teaching Documentation Program at any level.

Consultants are available to:
  • meet with you to discuss questions related to teaching
  • visit your classroom and observe you as you teach
  • record a class session on videotape for you to review
  • hold discussion sessions with students to identify your teaching strengths and areas that could be improved
  • administer a mid-semester student assessment called TABS (Teaching Analysis By Students) to help you capitalize on strategies that are working and change things that aren't

In addition, consultants can help you plan and develop a teaching portfolio and will help you craft your teaching philosophy statement for academic job applications.

Consult the online Handbook for Graduate Teaching Assistants.
Mentor an undergraduate researcher.
As a current graduate student, you are in a unique position to work with an undergraduate interested in pursuing a graduate degree, by providing invaluable information and insight based on your own experience and expertise.

To start mentoring an undergraduate student, contact the undergraduate advisor in your department or seek out opportunities through the UCARE and McNair programs. More programs are available through Undergraduate Studies.
Build your teaching portfolio.
Although a teaching portfolio is often characterized as a documented statement of one's teaching responsibilities, philosophy, goals, and accomplishments as a teacher, what goes into a portfolio depends on its intended purpose.

The portfolio should be a flexible document that can be used in a variety of ways, consistent with the needs and interests of the one who compiles it.
  • For example, a graduate teaching assistant's portfolio might include a reflective statement on teaching, a brief description of the courses taught, and a summary of student ratings.
  • In contrast, the content of a portfolio submitted for promotion and tenure review would be more comprehensive, including representative course materials, a description of changes in content and methods that have been made over a period of time, illustrations of student learning, and supporting documentation.
The purpose of a teaching portfolio is to build a collection of evidence that gives direction for growth and documents changes in your teaching.
  • A good portfolio provides a guide for developing overall instructional abilities, for course development/improvement, and for sharing instructional knowledge with colleagues. One important function of the teaching portfolio is to make teaching public.
  • We recommend that graduate teaching assistants work collaboratively with their supervising faculty to create teaching portfolios. Share your "work in progress" with peers, both within and outside your department.
Seek teaching opportunities.
Think broadly about teaching experiences. If you are not offered a teaching position in your department, seek out other opportunities in after school programs and local community colleges. Or get involved in your department's undergraduate research efforts. Many departments participate in Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU), a program that provides opportunities for graduate student involvement as mentors.


Take a course in the responsible conduct of research.
Participate in UNL's Research Fair.
Research grant opportunities.
Attend a grant writing workshop sponsored by the Office of Research.
The ability to write a successful grant proposal will be an important component of your job search as you approach the end of your graduate career. The Office of Research provides several resources for grant writers, including workshops.
Apply for dissertation fellowships.
At the dissertation stage of your graduate program, a fellowship can be a critical resource, especially if your research requires money for travel, equipment, supplies, and time to collect data and write. But aside from the money, there are several reasons for going through the process of preparing a fellowship application.
  • First, it gives you experience with a professional activity integral to any researcher's career.
  • Second, it tells future search committees that your research ideas are marketable.
  • Finally, the mere fact that you were funded once will make you more competitive for the next fellowship or grant.


Join a professional association in your field.
Present at a professional conference.

This allows you to be seen and heard by professionals in your field and may provide networking situations that will be beneficial as you search for a position after graduation.

Continue building your curriculum vita.
Doctoral granting institutions are looking for future faculty members who publish as graduate students. Continue seeking out publication opportunities to add to your curriculum vita as you work your way through your graduate program.

Candidates seeking faculty positions at non doctoral degree granting institution will need to provide evidence of teaching experience on their curriculum vita.
Participate in the Preparing Future Faculty program.
The PFF program is part of the effort in the Office of Graduate Studies to enrich graduate education at UNL, providing doctoral students with opportunities to observe and experience faculty responsibilities at a variety of academic institutions with varying missions, diverse student bodies and different expectations for faculty.

PFF fellows are advanced doctoral students selected by procedures internal to each participating department.

Students should contact their department graduate chairs to express interest in the PFF program.

Stage 3: Advancing Beyond Graduate School

For advanced graduate students preparing for the transition to professional roles.



Establish or join a dissertation support group.

As you write your dissertation, some of the best support will come from students who are in the middle of their dissertation as well. If your department does not offer a dissertation support group, start one.

Serve on the UNL Graduate Student Association executive committee.


Refine your teaching portfolio.
Mentor new graduate students.


Write a grant proposal.
Apply for postdoc fellowships.

Postdoctoral opportunities provide beneficial experience for recent graduates. Postdocs have the opportunity to participate in collaborative, funded research which often leads to publication. The Office of Postdoctoral Studies provides valuable resources for students seeking a postdoc position at UNL.



Begin to finalize your application packet.

As you begin seeking post graduate school employment, you will be required to submit and application typically including: cover letter, curriculum vita, sealed letters of recommendation, transcripts and other materials that will vary depending on the position. At this stage, you should be contacting your recommenders and finalizing your cover letter and curriculum vita.

Participate in the Preparing Future Faculty program.

PFF fellows are advanced doctoral students selected by each participating department. The first part of the program is a five-week, on-campus summer seminar. The second part takes place over the fall semester, as students make two to four visits to a partner campus and participate in various mentoring activities. Fellows may opt for a spring mentoring activity at a second campus.

Organize and practice job talks and arrange for a mock job interview.

During the interview process, every encounter you have with faculty should be a quality encounter. You may have ten minutes to talk to a faculty member and you may have twenty. Use practice job talks and mock interviews as a way to practice talking about your research and teaching experiences in variety of different time frames.

Before your mock interview, meet with your advisor to discuss which questions are most common for your field and the type of institutions that have asked you for an interview.

Volunteer to serve on your department's faculty search committee.