3 Tips for Success in Graduate School

DR. WILLIAM SAYS: Expect lots of reading and writing

You may read a book per week per class, and have to discuss it in depth, or even turn in a paper each week.

Learn the basics of how to dissect a book’s content and get a quick overview of its thesis.

My history professor wheeled a cart full of books into class one day, a different book for each student in class. He handed out the books and announced, “At the end of this hour, I want you to turn in a one page book report on this book!”

Talk about a crash course in how to get into the content of a book without actually reading it.

This is what I learned from that experience:

  • Read the basics first
  • Start with the summary on the back cover
  • Peruse the table of contents and chapter titles
  • Scan chapter titles and subheads
  • Read the forward and introduction
  • Then move into reading chapter one or the first page of each chapter.

You’ll be amazed how much you can learn about a book and its thesis from these basics.

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DR. DAN SAYS:  There’s a veritable litany of suggestions people will give:

  • Work hard
  • Make good use of your time
  • Socialize
  • Find a balance
  • Find a really good coffee shop/Indian restaurant that delivers, etc. etc. etc.

These are all excellent pieces of advice, and I encourage you to take them all to heart.

That said, though, I would recommend treating grad school like college (unless you had one of those “Four-year-house-party-with-a-$50,000-cover-charge” kind of experiences) in that you should get involved.

It can be tempting to see grad school as your first entry into the ivory tower, calling you to countless hours in the library/lab, but your experience will be richer if you embrace the fullness of where you study.

Depending on your role, you will be a teacher, a student, and a researcher. In this trinity, recognize that your identity and the expectations leveled at you will be fragmented.

Sequestering yourself in one role alone can result in a soul-sucking experience.

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DR. SANDY SAYS: Just Do It!

I have yet to meet any person thrilled with the dissertation process. It is one of the most frustrating endeavors we go through to earn our credentials. And to some extent, it is designed that way! The best way to handle it is to just do it!

My dissertation topic was on professional development for educators, a relatively new specialization at that time. I was the coordinator for such programs in my school district and hoped to use my dissertation to help my colleagues throughout the state benefit more from the new state requirements for professional development.

As with many new things in one’s field, most of my professors, including my advisor, didn’t really understand what I was trying to do. The old notions of what constituted professional development were too embedded.  No matter how much research I presented on the various theories and principles that formed the basis for effective professional development, that old concept of the speaker on the first day of school and workshops on nothing particularly related to the classroom needs of teachers colored his understanding of my design.

I had reached the point of deciding to be an ABD when my superintendent came to my office for a chat. “It’s an exercise,” he reminded me. “Forget trying to break new ground. Forget everything except meeting the expectations of your advisor and committee and just do it!”

I ruminated on that for a few days before acknowledging the truth of his statements.  Then I resubmitted my original proposal, tweaked the way my advisor wanted it, and within two weeks it was approved and I was on my way.  Six months later, I received that coveted letter from the dean’s office acknowledging that I had fulfilled all requirements for my doctorate.

So when you’re frustrated with rewriting your proposal for the umpteenth time, when you can’t make your advisor understand what you’re trying to do, when your desire to make breakthrough contributions to your field get the better of you, remember that this is all an academic exercise. It is your admission ticket so that you can do what you really want to do in your chosen field. It is the beginning of the next phase of your career, not your ultimate contribution.

If you decide to seek help, find a good dissertation editing service to advise you.

Then, take a deep breath, refocus on the goal—earning your doctorate—and JUST DO IT!