4 tips for excelling in graduate school and getting your time’s worth


You may have breezed your way through your undergraduate life and topped the cohort. Yet unlike undergraduate studies, graduate studies are on another level. For instance, you may find it easy to complete a final paper in a day or two as an undergrad. Yet the same thing cannot be said for graduate school, where a paper may take days, if not weeks, to complete. Indeed, graduate training and education is an all-encompassing and time-consuming journey. In order to survive and thrive in graduate school, we explore 4 ways to help you get through this journey more easily and excel.

#1: Read smarter, not harder

Graduate level-courses are more rigorous and substantial than undergraduate ones. Unlike undergraduate studies that may focus more on memorisation, graduate studies will focus on your capability to synthesise what you learn in class and critically evaluate these materials with good research and well-supported arguments. You may have to absorb new concepts that may be challenging to comprehend, especially during your initial few graduate classes. Thus, you also may feel overwhelmed at the sheer amount of information required to understand a particular topic.

In order to weather through potentially challenging and huge amounts of reading within a short time frame, rely on useful summaries and bullet points to provide a bird’s eye view of a certain topic before delving into the reading details. Learn how to read with purpose by glancing at the structure of a reading material, such as the title, chapter headings and any summary points.

Reflect on the raison d’etre of the article and how it should fit into your research and your coursework. When possible, pen down your personal reflections once you have read the article and how this article relates to or contrasts with other prior articles you have read. This is because course readings are usually not assigned in isolation but usually build up on prior knowledge. Also, if a piece of reading material does not fit your research or coursework objective, stop reading it and move on to other, more relevant materials.

(Read smarter, not harder.)

#2: Enhance Your Writing Skills

If you’ve already been accepted to graduate school, that means that your writing skills were somehow good enough to pass the admissions process. However, that does not mean you can rest on your laurels. What worked during your undergraduate studies may not necessarily apply for your graduate school classes.

If you still struggle in writing logical and coherent arguments to substantiate your research, you have to pull up your socks and work on your writing skills, lest your lackluster writing affects your overall grades. Take advantage of the writing resources offered by many graduate schools. If you are pursuing an online graduate programme, find out how to improve your writing skills and know where to seek help.

As a graduate student, you are training to be a specialist in your field. Thus, your writing needs to showcase your specialisation by being clear, well-researched, confident and authoritative to ensure that you are credible with your readers. Use the third person tense unless otherwise instructed and focus on structuring your sentences properly. Know what information to include or ditch in your papers. Remember the useful writing adage: Quantity does not mean quality.

Be familiar with the requirements of graduate school papers before mastering the art of writing them well. The case is especially so for humanities and social science majors. You would need to integrate information and construct well-supported arguments that are more analytical than descriptive. Leverage on in-class writing assignments during the semester to explore ideas for your final term paper or even your graduate dissertation.

#3: Learn Proper Time Management

The pace and frequency of classes in a graduate school programme can appear deceivingly relaxing to the uninitiated. Some graduate courses offer only one or two courses every five or six weeks, fewer than the average of three to four courses within one or two weeks for an undergraduate programme. Therefore, you may be tempted to procrastinate due to the relative freedom you enjoy as a graduate student.

Avoid procrastination at all costs. As mentioned in the beginning of this article, it is far more challenging to write a quality graduate research paper than an undergraduate one within a short time frame of say, one or two days. Producing quality and substantiated graduate papers takes time, effort and research. Therefore proper time management is vital to excelling in graduate school as you may have other commitments to attend to during the course of your studies.

At the start of each semester, create a study timetable and adhere to it. Under a time crunch, you would be grateful for having stuck to your study schedule as you may not need to burn the midnight oil to finish a term paper or your dissertation. Allocate time for everything you have to do to excel in graduate school, from conducting fieldwork, library research, typing out initial writing drafts of your dissertation to compiling bibliography lists. Use planner tools like Google Calendar to help you visualize your schedule. Hard copy paper planners are also reliable time planners.

Additionally, avoid spending way too much time on a particular assignment. It is tempting to spend all weekend on a class response paper while ignoring other tasks, such as your fieldwork for your dissertation. Getting too occupied with one task because of your perfectionism results in less time for other tasks. You may feel highly stressed as a result when deadlines loom.

(Planning your tasks is essential to avoid burnout in graduate school.)

4. Network With Professors And Classmates

One major perk about graduate school is that most people, if not all, are there because they are extremely passionate about a subject matter. During the course of your studies, you would meet professors and classmates with years of work and research experience. Tap into the life experiences of your professors and classmates and ask them thought-provoking questions about their fields and areas of interest. For instance, when I was a graduate student, the conversations I gained the most insights from were the ones I had in the cafeteria with my classmates and professors outside of class.

Even if you are pursuing your graduate studies online, do not be hesitant to foster these relationships. Make good use of student forums and discussion groups. Seize the opportunity to improve your writing skills when you express and exchange ideas online. Whether you attend in-person or online classes, your fellow graduate school classmates can even help edit or proofread your research papers. Remember that you are fostering friendships with people who may become lifelong colleagues, useful business connections and even best friends.

(Some of the people you will meet in graduate school may become lifelong friends.)

Enjoy your graduate studies

All in all, when you embark on something new like a master’s or doctorate degree in graduate school, do not place too much pressure on yourself. You would need some time to adapt to the rigor, pace and subject matter of your graduate studies. Knowing what you are in for before you start graduate school is also paramount to determine if a graduate degree can fit into your life story.


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