Perhaps the single greatest difference between an undergraduate educational experience and the pursuit of a graduate degree is the importance of the latter’s specialized and focused training you’ll receive and demanded by your profession. In effect, your success as a graduate student, as measured by your future accomplishments as a career professional, depends intimately upon the proactive facilitation of your education. Much of the knowledge and experience you acquire will be self-driven and depend upon the collaborative relationships you develop with your professors, mentors, and fellow students. Below is a collection of 10 strategies that should promote that facilitation and help you navigate your way toward a productive graduate education at FGCU.
1. Take control of your education. As an undergraduate, it was easy to sit back and let the prescriptive curriculum and requirements carry you through graduation. But as an undergraduate, at least in most circumstances, you acquire a generalized education, one meant to provide a foundation upon which later graduate education or on-the-job training builds. Graduate students, however, need customized skills and knowledge bases. Your student colleagues, though in the same program, may need very different skills. It’s prudent to know what you need and ensure you receive it.
2. Build mentorship relationships with your faculty and supervisors. Your faculty and employers are much more than instructors or advisors. They also serve as mentors: the role models and gatekeepers for your profession. Mentors provide professional development, guidance from experience, scholarly expertise, and networking opportunities. Perhaps the most important attribute that correlates with graduate school success is having strong mentorship. In some graduate programs, mentors are formerly assigned or mentor/protégé relationships are encouraged; in others, no such formality exists, but the value is no less significant. Find a person you trust, someone whose experience you value, and ask that person (or persons) to serve in this capacity.
3. Make effective use of the library. As an undergraduate student, you relied principally upon textbooks, but as a graduate student the primary and secondary scholarly literature will be of great importance. The ease with which you find pertinent literature depends upon your comfort level with navigating the library (both its hardbound and digital venues). Get to know FGCU’s library and its facilities. Each discipline has its own “reference librarian” and those persons are members of our faculty. Get to know your librarian as well. Please see the library website for more information: http://library.fgcu.edu
4. Manage your time well. I don’t believe I became effective at managing my time until long after graduate school and well into my tenure as a professor. I wished I had these skills earlier in my career. Time is your most precious resource, and it’s easily squandered. There are workshops and online materials available. Merely keeping track and effectively budgeting your time will help immensely. Please visit http://fgcu.edu/iog for workshops and resources.
5. Build scholarly groups with your fellow students. Your fellow students will be among your most important educational resources. The collaboration on assignments, sharing of information, and delegation of workload will broaden your educational experience while easing the burden.
6. Attend and present at a professional meeting. Your mentor should be encouraging you to attend or present your scholarly work at some professional conference for your discipline. Professional meetings are the best places to network, learn of career or educational opportunities, and to be socialized into your profession’s culture. Your faculty members, departments, and the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs (ORSP) may/should have funds available to defray the cost of travel. Please see the ORSP website for more information: http://www.fgcu.edu/ORSP/InternalPrograms.html
7. Publish your scholarly work. The majority of our graduate programs require that each student conduct some independent study (e.g., thesis, dissertation, capstone paper, case study, etc.). For some programs, this is the seminal purpose of the educational experience. Research or creative products must be shared for them to have societal value. They should be communicated either through presentation at a professional society meeting or through peer-reviewed publication. Another responsibility of a mentor is to help prepare you for such endeavors.
8. Represent yourself well for future employment. Another aspect of your graduate experience and another role of a faculty mentor is learning how to best sell yourself for employment. Your program’s faculty should help you: prepare a resume, vita, or portfolio; develop interview skills; acquire contacts and leads; and by providing recommendations.
9. Don’t neglect your other responsibilities. Most of our graduate students are much more than students. Many are employed, have families, or have other interests above and beyond their professional development. These other responsibilities should not be neglected. It’s best to understand your limitations. Your graduate education does not have to be completed in record pace. In fact, the vast majority of our students are part-time.
10. Have fun. Graduate school should be enjoyable. Your curriculum and scholarly work are customized for your interests and career needs; you’re on your way to a career of your own choosing; and you’re interacting with colleagues and peers both inside and outside the university community. These are essential ingredients for a rewarding and productive experience.