Standing Out in Graduate School

Facing the Challenges of Graduate School

It’s very easy to become overwhelmed by various academic pressures during graduate school, especially if you isolate yourself from potential sources of support. Yes, there are sources of support out there for graduate students. Though it’s easy to forget sometimes, you do not have to face the challenges of graduate school alone. The following are some suggested sources of academic, personal and practical, and financial support for graduate students who feel like they are struggling. What types of graduate student support are out there? Here are some places where you can turn to for help.

Keep in mind that there are several different sources you can find at your university at your disposal. Your tuition bill does not only cover you sitting in class! The amount you pay most schools covers several other benefits as well; help from the medical and psychological doctors on campus, access to the gym, free admission to athletic and concert events, and free advice from lawyers and job placements professionals can be found in the fine print of your tuition and fees.

Graduate Student Support: Academic

Graduate students can seek academic support from the following sources:

• Academic advisors

• Study groups

• Supportive faculty

• Postgraduates

• Community leaders

Graduate Student Support: Personal and Practical

Graduate students can seek personal and practical support from the following sources:

• Support groups

• University counseling center

• Relationships with friends and family members

• Environments, particularly well-chosen living spaces, that promote relaxation and comfort

• Hotlines specifically for graduate students

• Comics, blogs, and other sources of graduate humor and perspective (i.e., there is an end to graduate school)

• Social events

• Vacations or breaks from school

Graduate Student Support: Financial

Graduate students can seek financial support from the following sources:

• Scholarships

• Assistantships

• Grants

• Internships

• Fellowships

• Loans and other forms of financial aid

• Employers (in special circumstances)

• Nonacademic jobs

Different Types of Research Presentations

There are many different types of research presentations, but the different types of presentations can be divided into two general categories: written presentations and oral presentations. Written research presentations include dissertations and theses, posters, grant and project proposals, blogs, websites, PowerPoint slides, etc. Oral research presentations include lectures, conference presentations, job talks, etc. Often, oral and written methods of presentation are combined to effectively convey information about research. For example, posters or PowerPoint slides may be used to support oral presentations of research, or information on posters may be supplemented with oral explanations. Whichever type of research presentation you choose for your research, you should remember the following about the similarities and differences between oral and written presentations.

Similarities Between Oral and Written Presentations

The fundamental elements of successfully presenting research apply to both oral and written presentations. Whether you choose to present your research orally or in written form, you should know and actively engage your audience in the presentation of your research to effectively deliver your ideas. Organization is also important in both written and oral presentations. You can create outlines of your research that you can use to help you organize information for both oral and written presentations.

Differences Between Oral and Written Presentations

The most important difference between oral and written presentations is the time that is available for your audience to process what you have presented about your research. In written presentations, your audience has an unlimited amount of time to read, re-read, and analyze your research; if your audience does not understand particularly dense elements of your research, your audience has plenty of time to mull over your research until it becomes more understandable. In oral presentations, however, you generally have a limited amount of time to present your research, and your audience has even less time to understand what you have said. In both oral and written presentations (but particularly in oral presentations), you can help your audience understand your research by defining important key terms. After you have defined the key terms for your written or oral presentation, you must use them and any other jargon consistently throughout your entire presentation to help your audience avoid confusion.


How to be Effective in Networking

Many reclusive graduate students are terrified of the concept of networking, and desperately seek any networking tips that they can get. Even though they know and understand that networking is crucial to their success as academics, many graduate students avoid opportunities to network with other professionals in their fields, perhaps because they don’t understand what networking is or how to go about it. We can eliminate confusion about, as well as offer you networking tips about what networking is by defining networking as a process of developing a web of professional and academic relationships and contacts that are mutually beneficial to all parties and that can be used to further various types of agendas (e.g., academic, professional, personal, etc.). We would like to emphasize that networking is a constantly evolving process that requires time, effort, and forethought; you cannot network effectively if you only attend one academic function in your entire career as a graduate student. Rather, networking is a process in which you will engage not only in your academic career as a graduate student but also in your postgraduate career as a professional, whether or not that career is in academia. If you are unsure how to go about the process of networking, the following are some networking tips to help you get started:

Learn about people.

Remember people’s names, and google them to familiarize yourself with their work. Be polite and courteous when you meet someone new, and invest time in developing relationships with people you meet.

Develop your interpersonal communication skills.

Remember to shut up and listen sometimes. Do not interrupt someone when he or she is talking. Learn and practice active listening, and demonstrate that you have actively listened to someone else’s conversation by asking intelligent questions.

Do not expect to get something for nothing. Be willing to give something in return if you have asked someone else for a favor.

Prepare for networking opportunities.

Choose some talking points in advance of networking opportunities. Practice those talking points as well as greetings and farewells, which are often the most difficult parts of conversations. Engage in rituals to calm yourself and to boost your self-esteem (e.g., taking several slow, deep breaths, talking positively to yourself in your mirror, etc.).

These networking tips are sometimes the hard to do because graduate students have very little time; they don’t have the time to reciprocate favors or do additional research on people or companies. Unfortunately you will have to make the time and improve your own time management skills if you want to make the connections that are so critical for success.

How to Hone Your Presentation Skills

Knowing how to give a good presentation and present your ideas effectively is crucial to your success as a graduate student. You should take advantage of any opportunity to present your work because presenting your work (a) helps you cohere your ideas, (b) helps you develop and improve the methods you use to communicate your ideas, (c) allows you to receive feedback about your ideas, and (d) allows you to network with people who are interested in your ideas. When you have an opportunity to present your ideas, you can use the following tips to hone your presentation skills.

Know your audience and your communication goals.

When giving a research presentation, you are not presenting your ideas to show off to your audience; you are presenting your ideas to advertise your work, to enlighten your audience about a particular topic, and to further academic discussion about that topic. To do this effectively, you must tailor your presentation to your audience’s lowest level of knowledge about your topic. After considering your audience’s level of knowledge about your topic, you must determine the most essential piece of information that your audience needs to glean from your presentation, and you should organize your presentation around that information. To give a good presentation you should use specific examples to emphasize the underlying, essential information that you want your audience to remember from your presentation.

Engage your audience.

You have approximately 2 minutes to engage your audience in your presentation before your audience starts to lose interest. You should cut to the chase about your topic and eliminate any fluff that you might be tempted to use as filler to bulk up your presentation.

Practice your presentation.

You should practice and polish your presentation the night before the main event so that your presentation is fresh in your mind. If there is a time limit for your presentation, you should practice your presentation so that you stay within your time limit; going over time limits can make audiences lose interest and forget what they have already heard. Additionally, you should attend other presentations and take note both of what the presenters did that was good and of what the presenters did that you would do differently to improve your own presentation skills.

Prepare for questions.

Questions about your presentation are a good thing; questions indicate that your audience was paying attention during your presentation and was engaged in your topic. Make sure that you have backup information ready for the question-and-answer portion of your presentation. If you notice that you are getting short on time during your presentation, truncate the material that you are presenting to save time for questions and answers because you should take advantage of any opportunity to interact with your audience about your topic.

Present your topic enthusiastically.

The more enthusiastic you are during your presentation, the more your audience will take interest in and will be engaged with your topic. If you are presenting orally, you should speak loudly and clearly; you should try to project your voice to the back of the room so that everyone can hear you. Record your presentation so that you can listen to it later; this will help you hear if you need to speak more loudly, clearly, or enthusiastically.

How to Improve Your Chance of Beating the Competition

What is one piece of advice for graduate students that we are most commonly asked for? How to stand out from other students and make themselves the most marketable of the group. There is no doubt about it: competition is intense and stakes are high in graduate school. Increased competition and stakes will follow you after graduate school as you apply for jobs, especially because you will have to compete not only with your own peers and classmates but also with other recent graduates who may not have found jobs yet. So what advice for graduate students do we suggest? Well, you cannot avoid the competition even if you would like to, but you can use the following suggestions to improve your chances of beating the competition before, during, and after graduate school:

Don’t let perfectionism hinder you.

Being a perfectionist has probably helped you accomplish your goals thus far. However, being a perfectionist can become a liability if you allow it to take up too much of your valuable time. That’s not to say that you should abandon all of your attention to detail and desire to do things correctly, but you should learn to create balance between the things that you can and cannot change in your life.

Keep pace with trends.

It is important that you keep track of trends before, during, and after graduate school to remain competitive. To be as competitive as possible, you will need to follow several different kinds of trends, including (but not limited to) the following: employment trends, industry trends, research trends, university and academic trends, etc. To keep up with these trends, you can research career placement statistics and university fact sheets, and you can read trade publications and talk with other people in your field.

Don’t rely on high grades and test scores.

Relying on high grades and test scores to beat your competition is unwise because high scores do not always make you a shoo-in for college admissions or postgraduate employment. Instead of relying on high grades and test scores, you should first evaluate yourself for your own strengths and weaknesses. You can ask willing undergraduate professors who know you well to help you identify your strengths and weaknesses. You should learn how to highlight your strengths on resumes, statements of purpose, etc. You should work on improving weaknesses that you can improve and discover tools to help you compensate for weaknesses that you can’t improve. You can use your strengths and weaknesses to help you determine a clear sense of direction, which can distinguish you from other students or recent graduates who don’t know which way to go next.

Apply early.

Whether you are applying for college admission or postgraduate employment in an academic job [link to article “Cardinal sins of interviewing for academic jobs”] or other, you should submit your application as early as possible. Whoever is reading applications is more likely to respond positively to applications at the top of a giant pile than to applications at the bottom.

Ultimately, our advice for graduate students is that your success in beating the competition depends both on your motivation to develop necessary skills to beat your competition and on your enthusiasm for the path that you have chosen.

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