Succeeding in Graduate School

From your very first day in graduate school, you'll find yourself surrounded by talented people who share an interest in the very same subjects you hold near to your heart. In this way, graduate school is a unique opportunity to "nerd out," whether you're sharing a lab bench with a world leader in your field, debating the finer points of Foucault's Panopticon over drinks with classmates, exploring your most burning questions and making new discoveries, or imparting your knowledge to undergraduates. You will also have to develop savvy skills in terms of balancing an intense workload, managing your time well as you progress towards your thesis or dissertation, and completing your research and teaching responsibilities -- all while you still may be holding down a full-time outside job. Succeeding in graduate school takes discipline, a strong support network, and all that is suggested in the resources below.


  1. How to Succeed in Graduate School: A Guide to Students and Advisers
    There's a reason this classic paper, written by University of Maryland professor, Marie desJardins, is continually cited as a must-read for graduate students, despite its 1994 publication date. Formatted from the Abstract to the Conclusion like a scientific paper, this is an insider, comprehensive, in-depth guide to overcoming obstacles and thriving throughout your graduate school career and beyond. desJardins challenges the reader into thinking deeply about their motivations and expectations, provides tips on staying motivated throughout the daily grind of research and thesis work, finding the right adviser and thesis topic, learning to take good feedback and reject unwarranted criticism, and integrating yourself into the research community.
  2. What Predicts Grad School Success?
    Who better to break down the psychology of a successful graduate student than the American Psychological Association? Based on a number of top tier studies and surveys, the APA lists independent thinking, creativity and persistence as key traits, along with intelligence. While this resource is focused on psychology graduate students, the findings are widely applicable across disciplines, and should provide a moment of self-examination for all graduate students, whether in their first or last year.
  3. Ten Simple Rules for Graduate Students
    If you're looking for an inside look into graduate school life before you enrol, this is it. Ten Simple Rules for Graduate Students was written by a former PhD student and her professor mentor, and therefore provides both a unique personal perspective and that of an expert who has watched many graduate students succeed and fail. Though personal in nature, these thoughts are well-organized into ten simple takeaways, with deeper explanations provided for each one. While you may already know some of this advice, much of it focuses on navigating the unexpected roadblocks on your route to success, and therefore it should prove apt and relevant.
  4. Publishing Advice for Graduate Students
    If you plan on continuing your career in academia past graduate school, the old "publish or perish" maxim holds true. And yet many graduate students receive very little insight into the many ways they can publish, relying heavily instead on graduate advisers who may or may not be invested in the successful publication of their students' work. Professor Thom Brooks' 31-page guide to publication suggests a number of different traditional and creative avenues for publication in a competitive market. He offers a format for book proposals, and explores just about every issue there is to cover when it comes to publication, including the debate over vanity presses. This is as in-depth as it gets.
  5. Your First Year in a PhD Program
    The Chronicle of Higher Education is the go-to source for insider knowledge about academia, and this resource is no exception to the rule. Penned by two graduate school career counselors, this article emphasizes the importance of early planning, learning coping skills for dealing with the grind, getting involved in the life of the department, and so much more. You might also want to consider giving the following linked articles a read: What I Learned About Surviving Graduate School, An Open Letter to New Graduate Students, and How New Graduate Students Should Spend Their Summers.
  6. Graduate School Survival Guide
    Just because you're going back to school, doesn't mean that graduate school will closely resemble college. In fact, graduate school relies far more on self-structuring and self-motivation, and the most successful graduate students are most often those who are the drivers of their experience. Wanda Pratt, a professor in the the University of Washington's Information School, demonstrates what this means in real terms in this Graduate School Survival Guide. Pratt offers tips on getting the most out of your advising relationship as well as the (many) books and papers you'll be reading, progressing in your research, picking your all-important thesis topic, and selecting a thesis or dissertation committee members that will understand what you're doing at a deep level. This is essential, structured guidance at its no-nonsense best.
  7. Completing Your Dissertation: Strategies for Success
    Completing a dissertation is an exercise in discipline and emotional rigor. We've all heard the stories of students carrying on for years with ABD (All But Dissertation) status, and it's a challenge not every student will ultimately overcome. This guide created by three Family Studies professors at the University of Maryland, will give you a significant leg up. The professors offer tips on starting planning early, structuring your project so that you don't get off track, managing your time effectively, getting down to the dirty business of writing your dissertation, and staying motivated throughout what is often years of work and possible setbacks. Of course, there are also tips for the defense itself, and an exploration of the many possible support resources available both on and off-campus.
  8. The Effective Teaching Assistant
    While this extensive guide may have been written specifically for Drexel University, the breadth and the depth of the advice here will be relevant to graduate teaching assistantships throughout the country -- especially if you've never taught before. The full seventy pages cover the broader principles and philosophies of teaching as well as how to structure your classes, assist different kinds of learners, prepare riveting presentations and lectures, and provide motivating feedback. If you find this resource helpful and are looking for more, you might also enjoy this similar guide out of UNC Charlotte, as well as this inside look into the life of a teaching assistant.
  9. The Successful Graduate Student: A Review of Factors for Success
    For a more academic look at the deeper causes of graduate student success, we highly recommend reading this study conducted by three researchers at Texas A&M University. Graduate student attrition rates have long proven difficult to track and research, and are all the more so in this age of non-traditional, online learning. This paper reviews the previous literature on this subject, describes the current survey methodology, and offers a number of interesting results to confirm what previous guides in this list have suggested. Namely, that faculty-student interaction really matters, as do financial aid and a community of connectedness. In this way, this papers provides an excellent analytical backing for the softer skills emphasized so far.
  10. PhD Comics
    This section just wouldn't be complete without a link to PhD Comics, the single best take on graduate school life available on the web today. Unlike the other resources, this site won't provide you with any actionable tips -- just a good laugh, that feeling of being known, and a whole lot of catharsis. Trust us: when it comes to graduate school, you're going to need every single one of those things.