The end of the calendar year is often a time of reflection. During these tough economic times, for many the focus of that reflection is how furthering their education might possibly also further their professional success. If you’re one of these folks, and are currently struggling with whether or not you should apply to graduate school and/or complete your degree, this newsletter is for you!
Should you or shouldn’t you? Like any important life decision, it’s important to find out everything you can about the advantages and disadvantages of making a particular decision, and which route would best serve you and your current situation. It’s essential to do a requisite amount of research prior to making the leap into graduate school, so that you have a strong sense of exactly what to expect and can eliminate the potential for any devastating “surprises” that might trip you up along the way.
So let’s get started with your research right now! Following are some key circumstances that can torpedo your success in graduate school … and, more importantly, some information that can help you to avoid them.
“Grad School Is Not What I Expected”
There are a great many students whose “pie-in-the-sky” expectations of graduate school never quite come to fruition. While a variety of reasons exist for this, one of the more common causes is a failure to adequately research a program before entering it.
A campus visit can actually be quite helpful in reducing stress regarding the unknown elements of graduate school, and can also help pinpoint the program and/or university that will best match your needs and expectations. For example, some departments have a collegial working environment, while others are more competitive. Some allow collaboration across the board, while others reflect a more autocratic style.
During your visit to the campus, be prepared to ask direct questions regarding all of the issues that are important to you. How many women and/or minority students are in the department? What level and type of funding is available for students? Is funding guaranteed beyond the first year? What is the average time it takes students to earn their degree? Do the faculty co-author papers with their students? Are there funding opportunities for travel to conferences? Are there on-campus opportunities for students to present their research? Where are most students employed after they graduate, in academia or industry? If these types of issues are important to you, it is critical that you complete appropriate due diligence prior to applying. And don’t just talk to the faculty or administrators; it’s very important to talk to as many students as possible about their school experience, and to include students at varying stages of completion.
“I Feel so Alone and Isolated”
The demands of graduate school are so extreme that it’s quite easy to become isolated in your work. Many students do … but you can’t afford to do so! While it’s true that you didn’t come to graduate school to make friends, you did come to build a solid reputation and a firm foundation for success. The professors and fellow students in your department will become your most important allies in the near future: as experts in your chosen field, they will serve as your co-authors, colleagues, reviewers, experts and references. Many will also serve as your “inside connection” to jobs, article opportunities, conference participation and sound professional advice.
Your success in graduate school and beyond depends a great deal upon your ability to build and maintain interpersonal relationships with your advisor, committee members, fellow students, and administrative staff. To do so, it may be necessary to step beyond your social comfort zone. Treat graduate school as a place to practice socializing and networking outside your racial and ethnic group. Introduce yourself to people you don’t know. Assert yourself in the classroom. Engage discussions. Be seen and heard! Organize a study group for the midterm or final (and do it on the first day of class, not right before the exam!). When you get to know people on a personal level, you may find that you have more in common that you realize!
It’s important to know what’s going on outside the classroom, as well! Which faculty member didn’t get tenure? (Was it your advisor?!?) Who’s going on sabbatical next year? Which faculty member is thinking about leaving? Who just secured a million dollar grant? Choosing the right dissertation advisor, securing funding, and participating in key high-visibility project work can all be the happy results of immersing yourself in department culture and knowing the answers to these type of questions. Since no one person—not even your advisor-- has access to all information and resources in your department, networking with a wide variety of people provides you with multiple avenues to get the information and resources you need to get things done. Strong networking skills will serve you well in the future, as well!
“I Feel Like There Is No End In Sight”
Many grad students end up giving up and dropping out because they don’t see themselves making any progress. In truth, it wasn’t progress they were lacking but, rather, a plan.
If you’re a regular subscriber, you know I believe in planning for success. You cannot achieve anything unless you set specific goals, and mark out appropriate plans to achieve them. And don’t wait until January 1 to make a plan; start now! To successfully finish your thesis or dissertation, it’s important to pinpoint a specific date by which you want the project completed. Setting a deadline will help you to remain focused on your goal and all of the rewards that go with it. Break down your project into easily manageable tasks, and be sure to complete at least one element of your plan every single day.
If mapping out a plan for a successful graduate career seems too overwhelming, I encourage you to let TADA! On-line do it for you. TADA! will walk you step-by-step through everything you need to do to finish your thesis or dissertation. It can provide you with tips and guidelines to make your journey easier, show you how to organize and plan your time and actions, ensure that you make progress every day, and help you overcome any obstacles that you may face.
It’s important to be realistic about setting a completion date. Most students aren’t able to dedicate themselves 24/7 to their studies; don’t underestimate the amount of time you will need to fulfill work responsibilities as well as familial and social obligations. Are there upcoming events that will detract from your study time, such as an anniversary, family reunion or birthday? Don’t ignore these type of events; plan around them!
“I Chose the Wrong Advisor”
Graduate school is based on an apprenticeship model, which means that you are the apprentice to your advisor. To that end, it is critical that you find a mentor not only that you admire, but who can truly propel you to greater success during your school experience. Not all mentors are equally enthusiastic or effective about advising students. Find out everything you can about a particular mentor before making your final selection. How long does it typically take his/her students to finish their degrees? What do her advisees say she is like to work with? How supportive and helpful has he been? How extensively does she involve her students in her own research? Moreover, is she an expert in the topic or area that you have selected to write your thesis or dissertation on?
Your advisor should serve as your primary advocate and, as such, should also have tenure and the respect of his/her peers. These elements will be invaluable when your advisor is supervising your research, other committee members and facilitating your defense hearing.
If you are assigned an advisor, don’t just accept it at face value and assume it’s the perfect match. The decision to match you with that particular mentor could have been based on as arbitrary an element as the first letter of your last name, or a phrase from the personal statement you wrote on the graduate school’s application.
So how do you choose the perfect advisor? The TADA!-CD or TADA!Online provides a considerable amount of information on how to “choose and effectively work with your advisor.” Check it out today!!!
Question of the Month:
Should I purchase TaDa when I am ready to write the disseration?
Thank you for contacting us at TADA. Generally we recommend that students not wait until they are ready to write their dissertation to purchase TADA. We think that students should think about their master's thesis or dissertation topic well before they are finish with their qualifying/prelim exams. Because we also have information about how to select an good advisor, we recommend that students purchase TADA at the beginning of graduate school to get an overview of what to expect.
I hope this answers your question about TADA.
The defense was a success. Minor revisions. Everything was submitted by November 22nd. I get hooded this Sunday. Can you believe it? Hauled it and finished it. Now I have to get some publications done. Thanks for your direction, support, and and honest and frank counsel at the diss. house.
Happy Holidays, I. L.
I would like to thank you for all of your help; I have finished my dissertation. Thanks!!!!!!!
Hi Dr. Carter,
I hope that this message finds you well. I wanted to let you know that I successfully defended my proposal yesterday (it expanded from 12-40 pages) and the defense went extremely well. The questioning/discussion lasted for approximately 30 minutes at most. Thanks for all of the work/help that you did with me earlier this summer and Happy Holidays!
Dr. Carter... I wanted to let you know that I successfully defended last Friday. Phew!!!! I have a handful of edits to make but I am done and will be at graduation! Thank you so much for all your support.
Hi Dr. Carter, I just wanted you to know that I successfully defended my thesis on Wednesday and I the only changes I have to make are adding some more statistical info to some of my data. I just wanted to personally thank you for all of your assistance, it really helped me. I do hope that you can make it to the party on Sunday, but if not, maybe I will see you at fall harvest?
Wendy Y. Carter, Ph.D.
About the Author: As a single mother, professor
Wendy Y. Carter, Ph.D., completed three masters' degrees and a
PhD. Her motto is a Good Thesis/Dissertation is a Done Thesis/Dissertation.
She is the creator of a new innovative interactive resource tool
on CD—TADA! Thesis and Dissertation Accomplished. To learn
more, contact us.
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