8 Tips on Getting Through Graduate School: A Research Student’s Perspective

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The road to a Masters or a PhD is definitely not an easy one. Many times than not, you will feel like you are in a rut working on the same problem over and over again. You may even feel like your world solely consists of your lab, your office and your bed.

These past 3 years of my graduate life, I spent endless hours on my research. When not on research fields, you could find me in labs or in the office writing applications for funding or marking papers. Though it may seem like much, I managed to tread through successfully by keeping in mind a few important strategies.

Here are my 8 tips to surviving graduate school:

1) BE OPEN TO CRITICISM.

You may have been a straight A student all your life. However, when you’re coming into the research world, you will be MAJORLY criticized in all aspects of your work. Accept all criticisms as constructive feedback; it will only strengthen your research.

2) NETWORK WITHIN YOUR DEPARTMENT, INDUSTRY AND PUBLIC GROUPS

Network with people that may help you with your research. Sometimes it may require extra effort on your part such as finding funding to attend conferences or volunteering your time with public organizations to ensure your work is recognized.

3) DON’T WORK TOO HARD

Try to limit the number of projects you undertake. As a researcher, you will be excited to partake and collaborate with every project that comes your way but this may distract you from your thesis. Make sure you incorporate breaks into your study to restore your mental alertness. Go to the gym to work off a sweat or join intramural sport teams on campus. Take some time off to travel when things are less busy. However, know when to put that extra effort closer to major deadlines and presentations.

4) DON’T DEPEND ON YOUR SUPERVISORS

Take leadership and don’t depend on your supervisors. It’s easy to fall behind in graduate school especially since many supervisors are not always there to watch your progress. The best way to make sure you stay on top of your work is to find a routine that works for you. I treat my PhD as a 9 to 5 job so that I have some time to myself in the evenings. Seek help from colleagues or your network. Don’t be afraid to set deadlines for your supervisors to respond to your requests. Usually, professors are busy and when they have no deadline they tend to prioritize other work before getting to you.

5) MAKE TIME FOR YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS

It’s easy to let the important people in your life slip when you get so busy with your work. In the end, they are your support system and rooting for your success. It is important to show your appreciation by making some time for them.

6) TEACH AND SUPERVISE OTHER STUDENTS

I find teaching and supervising undergraduate students very rewarding. It is a way for yourself to regain a broader perspective outside your own research. Be willing to offer guest lectures in classes, seek out teaching assistant positions and partake in teaching workshops to build your teaching dossier.

7) MANAGE YOUR FINANCES

Be mindful of your spending habits and learn to budget with your stipend. Find extra income by seeking out teaching assistant positions or consulting projects through networking. Try to have a small fund saved in case of unexpected emergencies.

8) REMEMBER WHY YOU STARTED

At times, when you feel like giving up and start questioning your decision of pursuing graduate school, remember why you started it in the first place. Remember all those countless hours you have already invested in your research and refuel your passion.

Despite all these struggles, the one thing I know for sure is: I do not have any regrets. Graduate school has enabled me to widen my network and relationships with faculty members, fuelled my passion, created opportunities for career advancement and has trained me to become a proud professional within my field.

Contributed by Janani Sivarajah

jananisJanani Sivarajah is an urban forest and photobiology researcher, educator and consultant. She holds an Honours Bachelor of Science specializing in Integrative Biology and French from the University of Toronto at Scarborough (UTSC). She also holds a Master of Forest Conservation (MFC) from the University of Toronto (UofT). For her doctoral research at UofT, she focuses on tree shade benefits, including educational outcomes, mediation of ultraviolet exposure and skin cancer risks in urban environments. As a consultant, she has worked on several urban forest and pest management plans for the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). She remains an active member of the Toronto Cancer Prevention Coalition, Shade Policy Steering Committee and various other community groups.

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