Success and Survival at Graduate School

Written by: Julie Jacobs,
“The more prepared a student is, the sooner that student’s anxiety fades away and the better and more productive his or her graduate school experience will be.”

“Graduate courses are much more intensive than undergraduate ones. As a result, students cannot afford any unnecessary anxiety,” said Sotirios Ziavras, associate provost for graduate studies and dean of the graduate faculty at NJIT.

Indeed, the number of courses taken each semester by full-time graduate students is small, typically three to four. And for master’s studies, total coursework is normally compressed into just one to two years. Couple this rigorous schedule with having to choose a concentration/specialization, pursue teaching and/or research opportunities, and budget accordingly for tuition, fees, books, housing and food, and graduate students usually find themselves with a full plate from the get-go.

Fortunately, by planning ahead, studying smartly, staying abreast of university news, and accessing helpful campus-based resources, graduate students can make a smooth transition to their advanced education and flourish.  

The Value of the Academic Adviser

One key resource for graduate students is their academic adviser, who can assist with scheduling courses, selecting a concentration and landing a research project. It’s best for students to meet with their advisers before beginning their graduate studies to address their strengths and weaknesses, discuss expectations and map out a realistic study plan.

“Meeting with the academic adviser early on can facilitate a smoother transition for many reasons,” Dr. Ziavras noted. “The student may start registering for elective courses in a preferable concentration early in the program, and receive guidance in approaching faculty in that concentration for possible participation in research projects. Additionally, the adviser can identify if the student needs to take bridge courses to help build and reinforce the required background for his or her graduate study.”

For master’s-degree students, Dr. Ziavras recommended pursuing concentrations or elective courses that involve practical aspects relevant to industry, such as employing industrial processes and tools. Doctoral students, on the other hand, should focus more on classes that emphasize the theoretical aspects of their master’s program. 

Campus and Classroom Engagement

To further acclimate to the graduate academic environment, students should engage with their fellow students, particularly those taking the same classes. Getting to know other students can lead to valued friendships, participation in study groups and opportunities for teamwork.

In the classroom, students are advised to always take good notes and ask questions during lectures if they do not fully understand the topic. “These are especially important practices for graduate-level study, which deals with advanced subjects in well-defined disciplines and fields that often undergo dramatic changes in short periods of time,” Dr. Ziavras stressed.

With regard to financing their graduate studies, students have options apart from grants, scholarships and loans. Federal work-study opportunities, part-time jobs at the university and funded research projects may provide students with additional income. 

“Overall, graduate students are expected to be more mature in their academic dealings, and any procrastination cannot be afforded,” said Dr. Ziavras. “The more prepared a student is, the sooner that student’s anxiety fades away and the better and more productive his or her graduate school experience will be.”