20 Key Habits of Successful Graduate Students

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As with any other major life decision, attending graduate school will embark on new challenges that will lead to lifestyle changes. These alterations will significantly affect the student’s priorities, time, personal life, employment, and even financial status.

As per the Council of Graduate Schools and the Graduate Record Examinations Survey of Graduate Enrollment and Degrees, in Fall 2019, there were roughly a total of 1,811,832 enrolments for graduate-level certificate and education specialist programs.

So why do many people still pursue graduate studies? Why not settle for college degrees and get fastened on establishing a career after graduation? Well, for some, it may be investing in their future like increasing earning potential, reaching more than a qualification, contributing to the world’s knowledge, and expanding their networks or connections. At the same time, some want to tailor their interests in a more in-depth approach or pursue their personal or career growth. 

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Whatever reasons people may have, applying to graduate school is a decision not to be made lightly. It is essential to expect more imperative demands from graduate schools. They will take several years to complete and require hard work, not to mention the expensive pressure that could add to your debts. So even if you have a great embodiment of preparedness for what’s to come, the first year of grad school will feel more challenging than you grasped it to be. Even for those directly engaged in graduate studies after graduating, the personal shifts can be drastic since graduate school is a whole new level and quite different from the undergraduate experience. 

You need to stand out to make it through grad school! And to do that, you need to develop more pronounced academic or personal habits than you already established during your college years. Practicing these habits can:

  • increase confidence, competence, and self-esteem
  • reduce anxiety brought about by tests and deadlines
  • prevent cramming
  • significantly reduce the hours spent studying and instead give more room for the other facets of life.

Here are the 20 most recommended habits:

Stay motivated!

Your overriding reasons to pursue graduate study must be firmly founded. The decision-making is the easiest part, but anyone considering enrolling in a graduate school program must be motivated; you need to maintain it, as this is the driving force that will keep you hustling through the pressure and exhaustion.

“Motivation is what sets you in motion; habit is what keeps you going” -Jim Ryun.

Motivation is especially significant for students attending an online graduate school since communication with classmates and professors requires patience, self-discipline, and the ability to ask critical questions as needed. 

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How do you get motivated?

  • Set one specific, achievable goal. A goal can lead you to a direction you can focus on – set one that’s considerable and has an endpoint. This can lend you a hand in staying motivated.
  • Integrate your goal into your day-to-day life. Think about an objective that you can quickly and frequently do or choose goals that interest you so that it wouldn’t seem like an obligation; instead, it will be like a routine. Then set a timeframe on it. 
    • Break down large goals into digestible micro-goals and easy tasks. When faced with a big overwhelming task, it dramatically helps divide the task into more manageable parts and steps. The strategy will help you rid of stress and procrastination. And achieving these smaller steps can build confidence too.
    • Acknowledge your wins. Don’t forget to plot your progress. Create a visual representation like a timeframe or ‘Things To Do List’ and check every accomplished task. The list will greatly show how you’re coming closer to achieving the goal you’ve set. It can be motivating and inspiring if you can see evidence or reflection that you’re making progress and build self-esteem.
    • Use the Reward System. Establish some kind of reward each time you complete a step/task. Based on a recent study from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, people who received frequent rewards upon completing a task will stay “intrinsically motivated” to perform well. Added to that, they will continue completing tasks, even when the reward is no longer available. For example, you are treating yourself with things that you wanted.
    • Stay on track. Create reminders, documentations, or day planners of your goals. Such materials will gear you up to stay focused on what’s essential in reaching your goal. It also identifies potential obstacles and aids in making strategies for how to overcome them. It will also allow you to set more realistic goals and stay positive along the way.
    • Pay attention to the details that matter. Remember that in grad school, not everything requires your attention!
    • List the benefits of your chosen goal. Writing down all the benefits of your goal will constantly remind you why you are putting in so much effort towards your ambitions. This is especially important during moments of doubt.
    • Continue to set new goals. Setting new goals after achieving one. Keep on progressing! Tackle one new job at a time, so you don’t feel overwhelmed.

What do you do if you lose your motivation?

Setbacks are pretty normal, especially if you are feeling stagnant and unproductive. Here are tips to help you find your motivation again:

  • Take a break and start fresh. Taking regular breaks can prevent study fatigue and burnout. These rests will allow you to replenish your mind, improve ingenuity, keep your attention in line, and regain your motivation. Go on a quick trip to parks or beaches to be relaxed and happy.
  • Be inspired by others. Feel motivated by reading books, watching motivational shows/videos, and talking with your mentors or friends or family that you look up to.
  • Seek social and emotional support. Open up to your family and friends about your struggles and plans. If you have a mental illness, there are mental health care plans available that can aid with the cost of counseling. All these can help you manage the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  • Be with positive people. Being surrounded by positive colleagues, friends and family can boost your positive self-talk. Look for support groups with the same interest and endeavors as you.
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Be organized.

There is nothing quite more fulfilling than completing a task without having to undergo cramming and incoherent thoughts. Being organized is the enjoyable difference between a smooth sailing experience and a stressful one for graduate school programs. This is achievable through organizing what you’re going to do and when you’re going to do it. Try to keep in mind that organized thoughts are one of the best weapons during pivotal times. 

Here’s how you can become organized as a grad student:

1. Adopt an effective system of organization. Remember that a messy environment can be stress-inducing, so be sure to:

  • Clean your room.
  • Use shelves, binders and label your stuff.
  • Keep unnecessary things away from your work/study area.
  • Keep your keys, coins in a bowl or billing in a designated box. 

2. Create and consistently adhere to a schedule. Organization and time management have a reciprocal relationship. Here are some common things to remember:

  • Schedule of your classes and work hours
  • Project deadlines 
  • Meetings
  • Researches
  • Reading your materials
  • Paper works
  • Household chores
  • Errands
  • Bonding time with family and friends
  • And of course, your day-offs

3. Use tech tools.

Fortunately, today’s technology had made it possible for us to have accessible and portable tools that greatly help us keep tabs on our day-to-day tasks. So here are some popular applications that can help you stay on top of your appointments, exam schedules, research deadlines, and other tools that may be useful with your readings and thesis.

  • Google Calendar is for your digital calendar and schedule/meeting organizer
  • Microsoft To-Do doubles as a planner
  • Trello is good for project management and team collaborations
  • Evernote is for taking notes and customize them to a style you like
  • Microsoft OneNote is your private journal where you can digitally scribble notes
  • Dropbox and Google Drive for storing and sharing files
  • Meetup for networking opportunities
  • Pocket for bookmarking web pages and online articles for later reading
  • Mendeley to make bibliographies and manage references

4. Set up a Document Management System. As you proceed to your graduate programs, you will accumulate numerous documents, such as research materials, readings, assignments, essay papers, and manuscripts. Here are ways to keep your documents well-organized:

  • Use binders, shelves, filing cabinets, and folders.
  • Label your documents accordingly and keep them within reach.
  • Sort them periodically and keep away what’s no longer necessary.
  • Categorize and store your electronic documents like research ideas, professional credentials, articles, and study materials in separate folders named accordingly for easy tracking and retrieval. Store and share bigger files using Dropbox, Box, or Google Drive.
  • Organize your emails. If possible, create an email exclusively for your graduate school work, create labeled folders, delete spam, and unsubscribe from emails that are no longer useful.
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Master time management.

It is of principal importance that graduate students should have the ability to divide time efficiently. Unlike during your undergraduate career, graduate students are busy bees expected to participate in teaching classes, do an internship, contribute to a research group, present at conferences, or join a student organization. Then there are external activities with personal life. So how does one commit to these demands? 

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Below are time management tips for thriving in graduate school:

  • Use a  calendar system.
  • Devise a monthly schedule highlighting your major papers, assignments, exams, readings/handouts, and meetings.
  • Create a weekly schedule to sort out your specific task completion schedules.
  • Use a daily to-do list that captures the tasks you plan to complete that day.
  • Know your best working times. Are you a morning person? Do you do well in the afternoon? Or are you an expert in pulling an all-nighter? Think about when you are in your most enthusiastic and productive state and schedule those hours as your thinking and analysis time. Then pick out your most inoperative hours and allocate that for lighter tasks.
  • Learn to delegate. Delegation is a handy tool to lessen a graduate student’s workload. Like any other habit, it needs to be worked on, and once perfected, it will multiply your success a hundredfold. Here are some tips for effective delegation:
  • Plan your delegation. Carefully select people you think are capable of doing the job and are willing to take the task—a lot of time for teaching or training them if necessary.
  • Be a leader, not a boss: respect other people’s time and abilities. Develop and nurture a strong team with no weak links as much as possible.
  • Learn to ask for help. Devoting all your time to one task can hinder your efficiency. Acknowledge that someone else can do these pet tasks just as well as you can.
  • Turn your waiting time into productive time.
  • While waiting for a bus/train or class/meeting, try getting a hold of your notes or start on simple tasks. You will be amazed at the simple accomplishment you can get from this simple deed. 
  • Practice your reading with comprehension skills in your leisure time.
  • Record and listen to your notes while driving. You can watch/listen to videos relating to your studies even when on your chores. 
  • Take random notes on global points of the readings and write down controversial concepts or questions for discussion in class.
  • Learn to say “NO.” 
  • Graduate schools present a vast sea of life-changing career opportunities. It’s tempting to take on every challenge, but heed Chinese philosopher Confucius’ words: “He who chases two rabbits, catches neither.”
  • Turn down some opportunities so you can perform on tasks that truly matter to you and your long-term goals. Before leaping into something big, always ask yourself if this relates to your priorities. Don’t say yes to something that does nothing besides bloating your ego.
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Find your study spot.

Your study space is an excellent booster to your ability to study efficiently. As a grad student, it’s vital to this stage of your life to create a study environment that fosters productivity and minimizes distractions. So make an effort to manage your study space. After all, a comfortable space sharpens the mind and improves concentration. 

Create your designated space.

  • Decide between an open or closed environment. Customize this spot to your liking. 
  • Invest in materials that can make this area suitable for studying.
  • Keep away from loud areas or distractions like television.
  • Find a comfortable desk or table with ergonomic seats.
  • Commit to studying only in this space and always keep it clean.

Create a positive atmosphere and attitude.

  • Pick the wall colors, lighting, and temperature that inspire creativity and allow you to concentrate.
  • Find the spot that builds an uplifting ambiance and keeps you calm.
  • Add some houseplants for better air quality that reduces stress levels.
  • Stock up on healthy snacks and water.
  • Avoid studying on your bed and other areas that make dozing off easy.

Keep study tools within reach.

  • Keep a calendar/planner to keep track of your tasks and schedules. 
  • Make your study supplies readily available and easily accessible.
  • Keep your laptop and iPod/tablet in a safe place, and keep the cords and accessories neatly organized.
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Be proactive!

A research finding in psychology literature shows that being proactive or taking responsibility for your future path correlates positively with tremendous career success and satisfaction. Proactivity is a conveyable skill that students can develop through their academic courses.

Every grad student should take responsibility for their own grad school experience, especially developing their potential and knowledge. This is achievable by getting real-life experiences that can prepare a person for the real world. Many aspects of life can provide this kind of experience, such as a job, internship, charity work, and joining organizations. 

Here are some certain key points and tips on how to adopt a proactive mindset:

  • Take personal responsibility for your success. In this day and age, people use connections and sponsorships to advance their careers. There is nothing wrong with it, but keep in mind to never lose your self-drive or be dependent on what others can do for you. Focus on what you want to achieve from graduate school, and grab every opportunity to attain them!
  • Think of the bigger picture. There will always be minor hurdles to worry about along the way, and it is easy to be overwhelmed. Just keep moving forward. Isn’t it that the rearview mirror is smaller than the windshield?
  • Focus on what you CAN control. Avoid stressing over situations and things you have no control over. Instead, focus your energy on the circumstances you can change or improve.
  • Anticipate reroutes and devise backup plans. Think through possible outcomes and create a plan overseeing contingencies. Provide allowance for changes in your plans. It’s all about preparedness and remaining a step ahead in the game!
  • Prioritize! Limit bouncing from one task into another. Focusing on a few of your big goals will lead to better success than concentrating minimally on many goals.
  • Make things happen. Don’t just sit and wait on the sidelines. Initiate professional relationships with your mentors and fellow students whose skills are beneficial to you. You may fail, but you can also win. Or lose, and take the lessons with you.
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Be resilient!

Graduate school programs are great deals that require heaps of flexibility. One constant heads-up for potential graduate school students is, “Do you have what it takes to juggle up work, family, or personal obligations and study under pressure?”

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The ability to be resilient under pressure enables a person to generate new ways to adapt to changes in routines, solve problems, and adjust to the unexpected. Make adjustments, make room for mistakes, and be versatile!

Here are some helpful tips to become one:

  • Maintain a regular schedule. Sticking to a consistent schedule will condition your mind and body to follow a daily routine. Devote ourselves to a well-prepared timeline to prepare for your day.
  • Distinguish “real problems” from “hypothetical problems.”  A real problem can be addressed at the moment like you would resolve flooding in a home. A hypothetical worry essentially wastes your time because it hasn’t happened yet, like the flood causing problems on the wooden floor. According to Dr. Matthew Whalley and Dr. Hardeep Kaur of Psychology Tools, real-problem worries require that we look into them, while hypothetical worries will have to be dealt with in the future.
  • Try “postponing” your worry. It might sound like procrastinating, but it greatly helps when you give yourself a moment to reflect and take action. For example, you can tell yourself, “I will only let myself worry between 8 am to 10 am today.”
  • Choose the news you should be listening to. Try to read good and helpful news, and limit your overall news intake, such as reading the news once a day.
  • Avoid panicking and overthinking. According to Standford School of Business, it’s critical not to overthink the light decisions and underthink the big ones. In grad school, learn to decide on important matters and never over-analyze petty stuff!
  • Prioritize the things that you can manage. Using your energy for more important things is much worth doing than waste it on something unpredictable. There is a higher chance of accomplishing many productive things once you develop a habit of prioritizing things you have control over. 
  • Incorporate positive distractions. Instead of dwelling in sad problematic news, watch your go-to movies or series, go to wholesome blogs, and watch relaxing videos or interesting clips. You can also spend time with your people to calm yourself out. Use your downtime to focus and prioritize pleasant distractions.
  • Be kind to yourself. Treat yourself with loving-kindness and mind your health. Do simple tasks that give you the feeling of progressing. Making your bed first thing in the morning keeps you from getting back in!
  • Set realistic goals.  The best goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound. Divide your tasks into tiny chunks, and decide on one activity at a time. It helps to finish one chapter of your reading instead of skipping pages and rushing to the next.
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Be familiar with your program requirements and plan timelines

Nothing can prepare a person more than knowing what battle they are going to face. It is significantly advisable for a candidate grad student to understand the requirements and timelines of their chosen course. This is to prepare the student for the workloads and academic requirements they will be tasked to do. Here are some standard course requirements for graduate school programs:

Masters Degree

  • Coursework
  • Comprehensive or Qualifying Exams
  • Research Thesis or Major Project
  • Public Presentation and Defense of Thesis or Projects

Doctoral Programs

  • Coursework
  • Supervisory Committee
  • Research proposal approval
  • Comprehensive Exam
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Prepare and follow an annual plan

An annual plan and timeline will allow a grad student to set the overall direction throughout the education program. The following are standard guides to help you achieve this.

  • Track your specific program requirements such as subjects or courses taken, comprehensives, research, and thesis papers. 
  • Plan meetings with your committee and schedule consultations with your professors or advisors.
  • Be bold to publish articles and journals, produce patents, copyrights or exhibit your artistic works or performances.
  • Make time to attend conferences and participate as a presenter or panel.
  • Apply for scholarships, research grants, and fellowships.
  • Constantly develop an individual professional development plan for the future.
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Be consistent!

Consistency is a big factor in achieving success in grad school. However, there are various consistency strategies that grad students develop throughout their studies. The difference in consistency levels in people has a science behind it. 

We’re told that it usually takes 21 days for people to form a habit and that it entails consistently doing a certain task. However, psychologist Jeremy Dean conducted a study that debunked this popular notion. 

In his book, “Making Habits, Breaking Habits: Why We Do Things, Why We Don’t, and How to Make Any Change Stick,” he revealed that people have varying durations of when something can be transformed into a habit. It is not always 21 days that a person will develop a habit and stick with it. He explained that based on an influential study about habit-formation, people on average form a habit in 66 days – way longer than the 21-day expectation that we have always assumed. 

With this finding in mind, it would be best for graduate students to not focus on how fast they can be consistent with their requirements and schoolwork. The important thing to remember is how dedicated they are to finishing something and delivering a great quality output every time.

Here are suggestions on how to be consistent in grad school: 

  • Plan your goals and act on them one by one. Once you achieve your first goal, the reward and satisfaction you get will motivate you to act on your second goal and eventually tick all of your goals on your list. 
  • Stick to your big Why. Think of why you started grad school in the first place. Reliving your purpose will always put your mind into knowing why you are taking action towards your goals. 
  • Enjoy incremental progress but always aim to be better. Progress can’t be achieved by taking just one step. As soon as you reach your first objective, enjoy such an achievement before going for your next! 
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Be optimistic!

Optimism is a healthy habit that helps us become happier and calmer. It can save people from depression and anxieties. An optimistic mindset and outlook make people more resistant to unnecessary thoughts that lead to stress. It may even help people live longer.

Your success in grad school is closely dependent on how capable you think you are! If a graduate student is convinced that they can overcome everything, they will face challenges head-on and a strong positive outlook.

Here are some strategies to nurture optimism:

  • Be aware that you have other choices. An integral part of developing an optimistic perspective is realizing the different angles to view a situation. Avoid hasty conclusions without a full grasp of the situation and a full view of the possibilities.
  • Practice rephrasing pessimistic observations into optimistic narratives. Reframe your mindset. Look at the challenges as temporary, specific, and possible to overcome with effort.
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Embrace the concept of self-advocacy

What is self-advocacy? This is realizing your worth as a person, especially speaking up for yourself, making decisions about your life, finding out what things are of best interest to you, knowing your rights as a human being, knowing the essence of seeking help, and learning the concept of self-determination. 

A self-advocating student affirms their ability to communicate and asserts their needs effectively. In other words, this person is willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish the goal and uses all available resources to make sure she is successful in graduate school.

This student does not hesitate to:

  • Seek input and collaboration from professors or faculty members and colleagues.
  • Contact peers for extra help.
  • Communicate regularly with people around you.
  • Make time to attend optional seminars, pep talks, and lectures that can help further her knowledge of her course.
  • Participate in conferences.
  • Take an active part in academic organizations instead of isolating them from the crowd.  
  • Present dissertation and defense papers with confidence.
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Find the right balance.

“If you feel ‘burnout’ setting in, if you feel demoralized and exhausted, it is best, for the sake of everyone, to withdraw and restore yourself.” – Dalai Lama

This is the most important but frequently taken for granted practice, especially for ambitious graduate students and go-getters. Considering the numerous roles, piling commitments, and responsibilities other than their academic obligations, graduate school students find it difficult to juggle their student life and personal life. 

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According to a paper in Journal of College and Character titled Finding a Balanced Life: Factors That Contribute to Life Satisfaction in Graduate Students by Stratton et al. (2006), graduate students consistently indicated that “Social support, Optimism, Balance in life, and Spirituality were important contributors to life satisfaction.” 

More specifically, students emphasized the need to connect with other graduate students, receive support from faculty, focus on the favorable aspects of graduate school, and balance academics with free time. Students mentioned that they were more fulfilled in graduate school when they found their educational endeavors meaningful and furthered their ability to live with intention and purpose.

Critical Benefits of Maintaining a Balanced Lifestyle with a Support System:

  • Reduces stress

A stress-free mind creates mental wellbeing and gives way to creativity, calmness, and a sense of control

  • Having outlets

It can be a struggle and challenge to complete a graduate school program without the support and understanding of your family and friends. Some things to consider before starting your program include childcare, work obligations, financial aid or funding, home life responsibilities, coursework responsibilities, and scheduling. A successful student discusses her needs with family and friends and ensures their support as she completes her program.

  • Improves general health and well being

Decreases the chances for stress-related diseases such as Heart Disease and Alzheimers, decelerates aging and initiates the release of endorphins.

  • Boosts your energy

Eating smart and regular exercising help provide your body with the nutrients and care that it needs. It can also improve your energy levels. Remember that your body is your ultimate tool in living and that an unfueled car tank cannot drive a distance on its own

  • Improves your mood 

It’s not just exercise and a healthy diet that can lead to improvement of your mood. Healthy habits such as social connections and active spiritual life can give students outlets that can reassure them in times of doubt. Once in a while, take a break or a day off and enjoy a serene moment for yourself.

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Watch what you eat.

Graduate students often face the dilemma of eating for health or eating for pleasure. They often find themselves deciding on vending machine food or grabbing donuts from the lounge for a fast meal.

But nutrition is critical to school performance—grad school performance included. In the busy life of a grad student where emotional upheavals are commonplace, it pays to understand the close relationship between diet and mood swings. 

Perhaps eating healthy, according to a study in 2016, requires a low-glycemic diet to reduce depression and fatigue. And because a healthy diet can maintain cognition and brain health, you may want to consider this research identifying the nutrients that prevent cognitive deterioration and dementia.

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Establish positive relationships.

The adage “No man is an island” is applicable to graduate students, too. You face pressure and demands and will need assistance and guidance from those who know best.

Positive relationships with your supervisors, university staff, and fellow students will make your tasks more bearable and fulfilling.

Here are ways to foster positive relationships within the academe:

  • Listen to one another and take time to hear out what the other person is trying to say. A great listener understands and empathizes as they realize the value of the conversation deeper. 
  • Have open communication without any hesitation and judgment from both sides. 
  • Respect each other’s opinions and have an open mind in interpreting what the others are trying to say.
  • Always make time to check on others and show your concern and appreciation to them.

What makes establishing positive relationships even better is that it can even add more years to your life. As stress and struggles from school works take a toll on your body, engaging in positive social interactions will help improve your physical state. According to the Association for Psychological Science, happy and positive relationships within your workplace, personal life, and overall environment lead to greater longevity. 

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Join a study group.

A wide array of study groups are always present in graduate schools and universities. Study groups promote a lot of different benefits. Here are some ways how study groups are helpful for you as a graduate student: 

  • They keep you accountable. Study groups mostly have a regular meet-up session where members undergo in-depth discussions about lessons and topics. It establishes a sense of routine wherein you can always follow how the discussions are going and stay up to date with the topics being discussed. 
  • They keep you sane. Your mental health would need a slight pause to make sure you are still focused on your tasks. The social interaction you get from such a set-up can help you ease up and realize your thoughts and priorities without being too hard on yourself. 
  • Your different senses are at play – Studying and working on your reports alone can only stimulate a few parts of your body. However, discussing with a group and having a meet-up session is more interactive, thus, can stimulate more of your physical and psychological senses. This interaction can result in more positive momentum-building and making your work a lot more enjoyable too. 
  • Other people’s perspectives can be useful – Relying on your understanding of a particular topic might limit a given context. A study group can help you open your mind to other perspectives and lead to new learnings useful for you and your schoolwork. 

Decide on your online platform for grad study! The popular tools at your disposal are Google Hangouts, Zoom, Skype, and Workplace. All these are lauded for their online learning and video conferencing features.

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Get enough sleep!

Coffee might be a graduate student’s best friend, but nothing beats getting enough sleep. Demands in grad school can be endless but make sure that you get adequate rest to help your mind and body recover. According to the American Psychological Association, not getting enough rest and sleep might trigger depression, hopelessness, and even suicide. Specifically, Psychology graduate students only get an average of 4 hours of sleep every night. 

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To make sure you manage your sleep well in graduate school, here are ten tips that can maximize your sleep schedule: 

  • Have a regular exercise routine but not within 2 and 3 hours of your sleeping time.
  • Reduce your caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco intake because they interfere with your sleeping cycle.
  • Eat a light dinner 3 to 4 hours before bedtime.
  • Declutter your bed.
  • Have a nighttime routine for sleeping, such as stretching, meditation, or listening to soothing sounds.
  • Sleep at the same hour every night to promote a consistent sleep pattern.
  • Accustom yourself to sleep with the lights off or with a little pin light on. Bright lights can activate your brain and affect your sleep. 
  • If it suits you, listen to white noise. Download a white noise generator that can block other background noises in a busy environment. 
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Ask questions.

Learning things in grad school would always require asking questions. It may not be enjoyable to some, but this is one of the most effective ways to know certain things you are curious about. 

The perfect time to ask questions in the university or school is once you get accepted. Your entrance to such a new journey would require you to list some essential questions that you need to ask certain people. This will eventually prepare you for what to face for graduate school. 

Here are some helpful questions that you can ask the school faculty upon acceptance: 

  • What are your expectations for the new students? 
  • Is a student’s academic performance important in first-year classes or the prelim when deciding to work with them? 
  • What are your everyday interactions with your students? In what format do these interactions take place (1:1, group meetings, online sessions) 
  • How do you classify the mentoring structure in your group? 
  • What have your past students gone on to do after they graduated? 
  • Do you send students or representatives to conferences? At what particular stage in their research? 
  • Do you motivate your students to seek external support, like fellowship seminars, travel programs, or career development?
  • What is the average number of years for the students to finish their studies?
  • Do new students work on projects or research that have already been developed, or will they come up with their own? 

You can also ask other graduate students about their opinions about grad school. Here are some questions that you can take note of: 

  • What was unexpected about graduate school when you started your first year? Can you give any personal advice or recommendations on how to prepare for such a situation? 
  • What keeps you motivated in graduate school? 
  • How do you cope with your work-life balance while being a graduate student? Is it hard to manage your time?
  • What has been your most fulfilling and rewarding experience in graduate school? What inspired you from such an experience?
  • Do you have a mentor or academic coach that you can recommend? 
  • Can you share your preliminary exam experience? What’s the takeaway from the whole thing? 
  • Why did you choose such a department? 
  • Do you have outside work hours being spent with the same people in your department? 
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Take notes the right way!

A graduate student must always be diligent in taking notes. Discussions, lectures, and never-ending presentations might all be overwhelming, but as soon as you establish an effective strategy in notetaking, your success rate will be way higher. There are a lot of ways that students take notes in class. With the changing times, online notes and digital planners have evolved the way people take notes.

Here are some ways for effectively taking notes in grad school: 

1. The Cornell Method, for many, helps them take notes in class efficiently. It has three main areas for notetaking. They are explained below:

  • Note-Taking usually covers most of the space in your sheet of paper. You write any information or details from your teacher or professor from his presentation or discussion. Sample cases with solutions can also be included in this portion. 
  • The Self-test Column is suitable for writing keywords or main points in the presentation. Brief but concise phrases are recommended. Add test questions that you can use for practice, especially in familiarizing the subject or topic. The right words and points in this area ultimately help you to understand the lesson given. 
  • The Summary is placed at the bottom of the sheet, about 2 inches high. It is used to present a summarized version of the notes in your own words. This helps you evaluate the topic, critically analyze the lesson and identify the areas where you want clarity.

2. Traditional notetaking is the most commonly used way for students to take notes. All you need is your notebook and pen. It features lists, diagrams, tables, charts, highlights, and drawings.

3. Digital notetaking is convenient, quick, and user-friendly in this age of phones, laptops, and other gadgets. Take a look at the common digital notetaking strategies by grad students: 

  • Screenshots/taking photos using mobile phones
  • Online recording tools, such as these applications:
    • Loom – A screen recording software that screen-captures and records any device, especially laptops and personal computers. This is best to use when recording online discussions, where you will be redirected to a link that you can save and share.
    • Quicktime is a Mac app that is ideal for recording and sharing high-definition videos.
    • Vidyard – Same with Loom, this app is also a screen recording app where you can add your camera option to record presentations. Professors are the common users of this app.
  • Tablet and digital pens allow for quick and easy notetaking and document saving. The digital files are stored in the gadget and shareable, too.
Most Recommended Key Habits of Successful Graduate Students - Divider

Be original!

Graduate students’ one major ticket into surviving grad school is to have an excellent research paper. But what makes other students stand out from the rest is that they have uniquely crafted research that reflects their specialty in their chosen field. 

A research paper is a comprehensive paperwork that emphasizes interpreting a chosen topic or argument and supporting references to validate your point. You can gather and use four types of research data when doing your research paper for grad school. Make sure to choose the best one that can make your research interesting and impressive. Here are the ways on how you can be original in making your research paper in grad school: 

  • Choose a topic that will reflect your passion and interest. Passion is the very same reason that Marie Curie got a Nobel prize for her study about radioactivity. Her story clearly emphasizes that drive and passion can take you to success, especially in grad school. 
  • Get inspiration from challenges in your field. Canva, the successful online graphic design giant, was co-founded by Melanie Perkins and Cameron Adams. The idea all started when in 2007, Perkins was tutoring university students and wanted to design graphics online easily.
  • Find a research process that is doable and feasible. There are lots of research methods that one can use to gather data for evaluation and analysis. Some of these common types include: 
  • Interviews
  • Surveys
  • Experimentations
  • Case studies
  • Questionnaires
  • Focus groups 
Most Recommended Key Habits of Successful Graduate Students - Divider

Treat failure as a learning curve.

With the pressures from academia to balancing personal and work life, graduate students would always have their fair share of struggles. One absolute point that we have to face is that failure is always a potential endpoint. However, a successful graduate student knows how to treat a failure as a chance to improve and be better.

Here are three main points to consider on how you shape failure as your learning curve: 

  • Give yourself time to grieve. Let your disappointment pass by taking a nap, meditating, or taking a break from school work to refresh your emotional cues.
  • Realize how all struggles lead to growth. As yourself, “Is this struggle going to make me a better person?”
  • Understand that success doesn’t reflect your value as a person. A high-grade salary or outstanding job promotion are badges of success, but these are irrelevant to who you truly are.

Key Take-Aways

  • Being motivated in graduate school will keep you going. Maximizing this habit will be the ultimate game-changer for you in achieving success.
  • Organizing will help you keep your priorities straight.
  • Time management helps you make conscious decisions as a graduate student. 
  • Keeping a designated spot for study can increase your productivity.
  • Staying proactive can lead you to the right solutions to your challenges and improve your overall grad school life.
  • Resiliency will help you develop a stronger mindset.
  • Surviving graduate school means you have to know all of your program requirements and follow a plan. Consistency pays!
  • Indulge in good food (to reward yourself), but don’t forget about nutrition!
  • Don’t skimp on sleep. Be well-rested so your mind and body can take on new challenges.
  • Take notes and never hesitate to ask questions to find the answers you need.
  • Failure and disappointments are inevitable in graduate school. Learn from them.

Graduate school is a challenging journey, but with the right habits, success will always follow you!

Dr. Jared Goff
Chief Editor