20 Tips to Survive Graduate School

Blog post

The Ph.D. journey is full of twists and turns that are easier to navigate with guidance from those who have already walked the path. We asked DSP scholars and Institute attendees to submit graduate school survival tips for those who are still on the journey. 

Set goals and balance your time

1. Begin with the end in mind. Have a sense of where you want to be when you graduate and  take steps to make sure you are properly prepared when you reach that goal.

2. Set measurable and attainable goals. This helps you feel like you are moving forward and can help keep you motivated.

3. Be extremely organized. Schedule when you will read, write, eat, sleep, go to class and work.

4. Seek allies outside of your program of study and offer to get together for non-academic events like potlucks, or bowling. Taking a break with others can help to refresh your mind.

5. Find an accountability partner and set small tasks for yourself to complete often. This makes your dissertation not as daunting.

Develop mentor and peer relationships 

6. Form the right mentoring ties with scholars and nurture those relationships.

7. Research all the professors in your department and across colleges at your institution and then contact the ones you think will help you advance your career goals.

8. Collaborate with faculty outside of your primary advisor to advance your career and establish good relationships with a faculty member who can serve as a mentor, committee member or just a good connection.

Become familiar with the doctoral processes at your campus

9. Exercise as many professional development opportunities that are available on campus.

10. Reach out early and often if you are having challenges. Self-advocacy is crucial for success, especially during the first semester.

11. Ask for what you need to succeed: knowledge, assistance and resources. You deserve them and people like offering them when asked.

12. Expect the journey to be difficult. When you hit a roadblock, know that it is not always because of something you did. It may just be a part of the process. When this happens, resolve to do whatever it takes to get through.

13. Ask questions. Seek the advice and support of fellow graduate students and those who have completed the same graduate program. They can guide you through courses, provide information about professors, and give invaluable tips on funding, employment, and surviving administration regulations.

Get to know your committee early

14. Maintain constant communication with your committee, and do not get discouraged when you must submit dissertation revisions for the 20th time. Eventually you and your committee will come to a consensus about your work.

15. Do not attempt to write a dissertation chapter without getting the concept approved by your committee first. You do not want to waste a week or two being proactive by writing only to have your committee shut you down because you did not develop your ideas properly.

Stay grounded and motivated

16. Stick with it, especially when the road seems like you will never reach the finish line. Then you can enjoy your mountain top.

17. Your worth and intelligence are not dependent on successful experiments.

18. Remember why you started.

19. Do not let rejections or failures keep you down. Mourn and let off steam for 24 hours, and then attack the criticism head on and resubmit. 

Finally breathe and …

20. Don’t stress. Everything will be OK.