First off, Congratulations on being accepted into the graduate program at your school! That’s an awesome achievement! These 15 tips will help you survive graduate school without going crazy! Let’s jump on in!
Personally, I was accepted and graduated from a MA Program in History. So this article will probably lean more towards that discipline, but I think many of these tips can be applied to any MA Program.
1. Make friends in your department.
Having friends in your department is so, so important. They know what you’re going through and can relate. They’re also there to help if you get stuck or are confused about a concept.
I had a friend who helped me learn how to write a good historiography paper. We would email back and forth and then meet up to work on projects together. This was a life saver for me. My grades began improving on papers after they explained the process in a different more understandable way to me.
It is also important to have friends outside of your department! People from different disciplines offer unique perspectives and research ideas. I had friends in English, Physics, Pre-Med, Business, and more! I loved talking with all of these people about their projects! Friends are so valuable!
It also helps to find an older, more experienced graduate student to look up to. The PhD students in my department were always so kind and willing to offer great advice. Make sure to sit and listen when these people are speaking – you don’t want to miss out on some great wisdom.
2. Schedule regular meetings with your advisor.
It’s important to check in with your advisor to make sure that you are on the right track for your graduation plan and thesis project. They often have great advice to give and are good people to bounce ideas around with. They can be your biggest advocate in the department which can be important. The meetings with my advisor were always productive!
3. Make sure to take care of your body, mentally and physically.
Taking care of yourself must be a priority. This is so important for you! Personally, I liked going to the gym or taking a walk to move my body. This was so good for me to unplug mentally from my work. But you do whatever makes you feel good, mentally and physically.
4. Schedule time off into your weeks.
This is something that I wish someone would have told me early on. Taking time away from studying, reading, or writing all of the time is so important for you as a human. So take it from me, DO NOT STUDY ALL OF THE TIME. Hang out with friends, explore the city/state that you’re in, and try new things. There are so many things that I wish I would have done differently in hindsight.
5. Time management is crucial to success in graduate school.
One thing that is crucial to success in graduate school is time management. You will need to schedule time to do your readings, writing assignments, and discussions. You will also need to work on writing your thesis as well. Setting a schedule each semester really helped me to manage my time. Understand, that schedules can change and that is OKAY!
6. Come up with a note-taking system that works for you. This will save your life while reading hundreds of books, literally.
You will want to have a good note-taking system figured out by the end of your first semester of graduate school. You can try multiple styles and see what works best for you and your needs. Personally, I liked pen and paper for notes during class! Then while I was reading the books for class or taking notes for my thesis I would type them on a computer. Taking notes on a computer allows you to search the document for key words later on.
7. Start looking at secondary literature for your project as soon as possible.
Once you identify what topic you want to study – start reading the secondary literature as soon as possible. This allows you to get a solid grounding in the topic area that you want to contribute to. You can even start writing the historiography section of your paper and refine it as you go through the program.
8. Network, network, network!
Networking is so, so important in the professional world. You can connect with people through conferences, personal contacts, and social media. Many professionals are now using social media platforms as a way to network with like-minded individuals around the world. Some good websites for networking include LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram!
*Historians and history lovers should check out the networking post on my Instagram account: @the_active_historian
9. Attend and present at conferences.
Going to conferences and presenting your work is very important. It helps you build public speaking skills and write clear, concise arguments. The professionals who chair the panels and attend sessions provide valuable feedback on your presentations. This can help you grow as a scholar! I always received great feedback at conferences!
BONUS TIP: Conferences are great for your CV. Some conferences even have paper prizes you can win which look especially good on your CV!
10. Build your CV.
Building your CV is an important aspect of the MA Program (especially if you intend to apply for PhD programs). A CV is like your academic resume. Future employers and PhD programs want to see what you did as a MA student to see if you would be a good fit for their position.
Things to include on your CV:
- Languages Spoken/Read
- Relevant Employment Experience
- Organizations you are a member of
Make sure to check out this article about CVs next!
11. Get involved in graduate student organizations on campus.
Graduate student organizations are a great campus resource for graduate students! There are many professional development opportunities and ways to network with people all around campus. I was involved in two graduate student organizations on campus and learned a lot from both opportunities. Being involved in the Graduate and Professional Student Government Association on my campus taught me many skills that I still use today!
12. Set short-term and long-term goals. Refine these goals regularly.
Make sure to set goals for your project and professional career. This includes both short-term and long-term goals! Don’t be afraid to refine these goals as time goes on either!
Having a clear “Why” can help you on the days that you feel down – at least this helped me!
13. Understand that criticism makes you a better scholar and is a part of the process. Failure is a part of graduate school and it is OKAY TO FAIL as long as you make sure to get back up.
It’s important to understand that constructive criticism will make you a better scholar. Sometimes you might feel like a failure, but just know that learning, editing, and re-writing are all just a part of the process. It’s not always fun in the moment, but you will look back on it later and be thankful for the process. If you fall down, just remember to get back up or ask for help to get back up.
14. Learn that finished is good, and that anything you write will never be perfect.
It is important to learn early that perfection is not achievable. I have often heard that a finished paper/project is a good paper/project. In hindsight, I totally believe that this is true. I would spend days agonizing over a paper trying with all my might to make it perfect, but it would just never get there… A finished paper is a good paper!
15. Reach out for help when you need it!
Most importantly – Please, reach out for help when you need it. It doesn’t matter what the problem is – just ask for help. Sometimes meeting up with friends to have a vent session can really help.
Please, don’t ever try to struggle through it alone. You don’t have to. There are so many great resources for mental and physical health on college/university campuses so please utilize them! People want to help you!
There you have it, Y’all! These are 15 tips to surviving graduate school. Make sure to take care of yourself and surround yourself with a loving community! Also, get ready to celebrate big time when you finish that degree or program! You deserve it!
I’ll talk to ya soon! 🙂