If you have ever seen the 400-meter hurdle dash on the Olympics, then you already have a pretty good sense of what it will take to graduate from graduate school. You will start out going as fast as you can, and every so often you will jump, sometimes praying that you will make it over your next obstacle and not eventually drop out of graduate school. The good news is that if you are reading this, then you have likely already jumped your first hurdle: getting into graduate school. The bad news is that there are plenty of more hurdles ahead of you before you graduate from graduate school.
During your course as a graduate student, you will likely have to complete a thesis and/or a dissertation, to serve on a research team, to pass comprehensive exams, to teach classes, to publish and present your own research, and to publish and present faculty research. Of course, all of this will be in addition to a rigorous course load. This may all seem very daunting, and it is; however, it is possible to finish the grad school dash and graduate from graduate school.
The following are a few tips to help you through the race of graduate school.
Prioritizing is Not Procrastinating
The one thing that is true of all graduate programs in all fields is that you will always have something that you need to get done at any given point, guaranteed. An essential skill to graduate from graduate school is learning how to prioritize what needs to get done. Now, let me be very clear here—prioritizing is not procrastinating. Procrastinating is putting something off because you do not feel like doing it at that moment. In contrast, prioritizing is doing what needs to get done first. When you prioritize, you may sometimes find yourself completing tasks at the last minute, which is an almost inevitable reality in graduate school.
Your Absolute Best vs. Your Best Given the Circumstances
Many graduate students often struggle with the gift and the curse of perfectionism. It’s true that many graduate students were likely the head of their undergraduate classes, some even boasting 4.0 GPAs; if you had not been one of these students, you probably would not have gotten into graduate school. There are times, however, when it’s ok not to be perfect. That’s not to say that now that you are in graduate school, you can start to slack off; it’s actually quite the opposite. However, it will be vital for your success—and for your sanity—in graduate school to learn how to be comfortable doing your best given the circumstance rather than doing your absolute best all the time. Over the course of your graduate program, you will get a feel for the standards of various faculty members, and you will be able to use this to your advantage. This will come in handy, particularly at 2:00 AM when you decide to proof your paper only one time instead of three times.