8 Ways to Be Productive in Grad School

Are you looking for ways to be productive in grad school? We’ve got you covered! We understand that many graduate students must also be employed, either part-time or full-time, in a wide range of jobs. The constant push-and-pull between work and studies, not to mention the personal commitments, will eventually result in one being sacrificed for the other!

You may, for example, start slacking off on your graduate school commitments in favor of your work commitments. Your productivity in graduate school becomes compromised, and it isn’t a good thing considering the high academic standards and strict deadlines on the milestones. Indeed, maintaining consistent productivity in your academics is a must if you want to earn your degree within your expected timeline!

Graduate School Productivity - fact

Keep in mind, too, that masters and doctorate (Ph.D.) students, also known as graduate students, focus on both the creation and conscientious conduct of substantial research in study programs. They work toward reaching their goals in areas of study that help people understand the human environment and navigate its uniqueness, complexities, and challenges.

The dissertation, or research paper, is undoubtedly the most demanding aspect of your graduate studies. You’re not just contributing to the existing body of knowledge about your chosen area of study. You’re also offering solutions to improve the human experience, and the research will take up most of your time outside of your other personal and professional responsibilities. 

In seeking to contribute to their field, graduate students also broaden their understanding and knowledge. As such, they are highly competent professionals whom society expects to hold remarkable credentials and exhibit expertise. Businesses and organizations across all industries consider them assets in the workplace. Similarly, graduate students also excel in setting up their independent practice. With such high expectations, being productive is a must! Here then is our feature on how you can be 100% productive as a graduate student yet still be able to enjoy life.

Need more help? Check out these links for important tips:

Here’s our feature on how you can be productive as a grad student:

Graduate School Statistics
Skills for Graduate Study
How to be Productive in Graduate School
* Determine your niche early on.
* Practice time management.
* Set up a routine that works.
* Look to your mentors and accountability partners.
* Get published.
* Join professional groups and organizations.
** Repeat: Health first.
** Balance your lifestyle and academics.


Graduate School Statistics

Who are America’s graduate students? In terms of gender, females outnumber males in most areas of study. The ratio was more than 2:1 (female-to-male) in the areas of public administration, health and medical sciences, and education for the doctorate degrees. 

This is also the case for the master’s degrees, particularly in the health and medical sciences where females outnumbered males 4:1! Females also dominated the fields of public administration and education. 

Females also outnumber males, although in a less significant number, in the areas of social and behavioral sciences, biological and agricultural sciences, and arts and humanities. The areas of study where more males earned graduate degrees are in business, engineering, mathematics and computer sciences, and physical and earth sciences. 

These 2020 numbers are far from the 1950s when males outnumbered females (more than 2:1) in master’s degrees earned. 

In a Council of Graduate Schools survey, applications for graduate school increased by 7.3% while a 1.8% increase was noted for first-time graduate enrollment (Fall 2020). These gains were partly due to the rise in enrollment from underrepresented minority groups. 

Of the total number of graduate students, about 43.4% are enrolled part-time. Women and individuals from underrepresented groups make up the majority of the part-time students, too. The highest increase in first-time graduate enrollment came from  Latinx (20.4%), Asian (16.7%) and Black/African American (16%) students.


Skills for Graduate Study

Being a productive graduate student is never easy! It takes dedication and commitment, and demands hard work, time management and focus from students! If you’re considering graduate study, here are the personal traits that we believe are vital for your success. 

  • Good academic standing, particularly your undergraduate cumulative GPA, which will qualify you for admission into a competitive graduate program 
  • Commitment to comprehensive research in your chosen area of study, both as part of a team and as an independent researcher  
  • Optimism and a keen interest in learning
  • Curiosity and open-mindedness
  • Excellent work ethics
  • Honesty in your work
  • Patience and perseverance
  • Reliability and maturity
  • Critical and analytical thinking
  • Effective written and verbal communication skills
  • Willingness to work with instruments and equipment
  • Ability to organize tasks or co-supervise others
  • Able to work independently and with others

If you have these traits, then you’re more likely to be a productive graduate student! But you will also find that the following eight tips will boost your efficiency and, thus, your productivity level. Think of it as spending less time, energy and effort while still achieving your desired results! 


How to be Productive in Graduate School

Determine your niche early on.

You must decide on your specialized field or niche in graduate school even before you enroll – or at least, before the end of your first term. This is crucial to your productivity since you can focus your readings and research on your chosen area of study. 

You will be able to shut out the noise, so to speak, because you know what you should concentrate your time, energy and effort on. The greater your focus on your area of study, the more productive you will become!

Keep these tips in mind when choosing and establishing your niche: 

  • During your first year, gain as much experience as you can in research and writing. You may even be required to choose a faculty advisor, participate in their research projects, and develop your research skills along the way. 
  • Keep up with the relevant and latest trends in your specialization. Your dissertation will be more current, too, meaning it will have greater relevance and reliability for scholars and researchers. By keeping up with the trends, you may even be able to offer solutions to a current issue or resolve a long-standing question. 

As you move closer to the completion of your graduate study, you’ll become increasingly laser-focused on this niche.

Practice time management.

At the undergraduate level, one may have thought that time management is quite tricky. Graduate school is a next-level complex! You need to write, research, and study most of the time, keep a job (to keep you financially afloat) and go through the stages of early adulthood all at the same time.

A fundamental rule in graduate school is time management and these strategies have been proven effective.

  • Create a daily, weekly and monthly calendar – and stick to it! A daily calendar is for the most pressing to-do activities of the day while a monthly calendar is for major exams, meetings and assignments. These calendars are also an excellent way of breaking up big goals into smaller – and more manageable – objectives. 
  • Study smart, and we mean use the SMART acronym – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. You must set a specific, achievable and relevant goal that can be measured and timed. For example, you will study five chapters on Saturday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a noon break. Your day will be more productive because you set a SMART goal for it.  
  • Read more efficiently. Skimming your notes might work for some instances, such as quick quizzes and aptitude tests. Just quickly move your eyes over a page while using visual features, such as headings and bold texts, in getting the information you’re looking for. 
  • Treat your notes like living documents. Update them, when necessary, even write comments on the side. 
  • Use waiting times, such as during your public commute or doing the laundry, more efficiently. Even a fast review of your notes or writing a few paragraphs of your dissertation during the 30-minute wait is productive! 

Set up a routine that works.

Whether you’re doing basic research or writing your thesis, make it a habit to record the number of words you used, and the time spent on these tasks. Set a word count target, and give yourself a short break or call it a day as soon as you reach this goal. You can choose to take it a step further every time you feel like you can do more.

Trying more routines to help you achieve your academic writing goals for the rest of the calendar year won’t hurt. Map out the steps you need to make it to that goal and set your completion timeline. A seven-year plan, for one, may sound complicated, but it’s a surefire way to cope with the unexpected circumstances in your graduate school journey.

Look to your mentors and accountability partners.

Graduate students must focus on regular accountability. This isn’t about rewards and punishments either! Instead, your mentors and accountability partners will inspire and motivate, perhaps remind and reprimand, you when you’re lagging behind in your desired accomplishments. You will grow from their constructive criticism, if you’re willing to see it that way. 

How can you start with an accountability plan? 

  • Talk to someone regarding your plans. This is fairly easy if you already have supportive family and friends with whom you have already talked about your graduate study plans. You will also be provided with an opportunity to choose a faculty advisor whose job will include choosing your program of study, planning your milestones, and providing mentorship for your research. 
  • Look for committed mentors or coaches who are genuinely interested in your success. Mentors should be able to help you be accountable, plan what needs to be done, develop strategies, and resolve issues. They can provide practical advice on your project and boost your confidence.
  • Become your own accountability partner by making regular assessments of your progress. Use applications like Grid Diary to make the assessments faster.  

Get published.

By writing and publishing articles frequently, graduate students make themselves stand out in the job market. Being a published author of academic journals is always a plus to your credentials.

Write daily! Research indicates that if graduate students commit at least 30 minutes a day to writing, they make steady progress towards a writing target and finish the project quickly. 

Aside from writing daily, particularly on your assignments and dissertation, you should also read for pleasure! Doing so not only relaxes your mind and body by giving it time out from the intellectual demands of graduate studies, but it also enhances brain activity, critical thinking and communication skills.  

Keep a type of “Ph.D. journal” to help you conceptualize and explore ideas. Record your achievements, big and small, as well as reminders for your areas for improvement. This journal should get you back on track when you feel like you’ve reached a dead-end.

Journal writing is a bit more personal, so you can freely use your creativity in it.

Join professional groups and organizations.

Spend quality time with colleagues, friends, and family. It is a must for your mental, emotional, and physical health. In school, communicate with your fellow graduate students. Be part of a system of support and social network that will have you sharing insights or giving and receiving opinions.

Joining an organization in your field of graduate study widens your professional network. These networks can send you to academic conferences, or keep you in exclusive groups that help you in your academic writing. You can constantly get in touch with them online or better yet, set up a regular time to meet with them!

Beyond boosting productivity in your academic writing and graduate school work, these tips help you thrive in graduate school:

Repeat: Health first.

The importance of sleep, exercise, nutrition cannot be overstated! These three can significantly and positively impact your health in the long run. Do you enjoy ice skating, rollerskating, dancing, playing video games, or hiking? Take the time out to do what will relax you and take your mind off the pressure of being in graduate school.

For graduate students, pulling an all-nighter to squeeze in more time for studying isn’t uncommon. Remember, however, that lack of sleep may cause all types of health problems, just like inadequate exercise and food can be damaging to your health. Take occasional naps during study breaks to regain your strength.

Balance your lifestyle and academics.

Graduate students deal with a plethora of obligations beyond graduate school. It can be extremely difficult to meet them all while engaging in other rewarding areas of living! Achieving this balance may well be one of the biggest challenges but it’s possible with these tips!

  • Set realistic expectations about graduate school. Remember that even high achievers will have challenges with their work-life-studies balance in graduate school. Some days are rough, some days are rewarding and that’s okay. 
  • Aim not for perfection but for satisfaction! Perfectionism is unhealthy because it’s based on unrealistic standards and on seeking the approval of others. Satisfaction, on the other hand, is based on your own standards and your sense of accomplishment. 
  • Get a hobby, establish a social life and meet with your family and friends on a regular basis. The quality of your support network including family, friends and faculty advisors will be instrumental in your success as a graduate student. 

Acknowledging the different hats you wear as a student, an employee, a family member, or a friend is crucial to finding that balance. Set your priorities right and avoid conflicting school, work, or family schedules.

Dr. Jared Goff
Chief Editor