Dr. Steadman Upham
Claremont Graduate University
Former Chair of the Council of Graduate Schools
As the spring semester progresses, many graduate students find themselves racing against departmental or university deadlines either to finish theses or dissertations, schedule committee meetings, complete significant assignments in conjunction with course work, get the attention of key faculty, find the dissertation editor, or submit the required paper work for graduation. This is the period of the year when STRESS builds and frustrations seem magnified. I have found that many graduate students become discouraged in April, May, and June because of these and other issues they face in their graduate programs. I have no panacea for these problems, but I offer the following advice in the hope that it will help you keep things in perspective during this challenging time of year.
1. Know what your research and writing schedules are, and do your best to stick to them.
2. Even though if may feel like it, your faculty members are not purposefully ignoring you. Remember, they are busy too.
3. Plan well in advance, and make sure that your major professor and committee members know what your plans for completion are at least one-year in advance of your expected graduation.
4. Schedule two or three meetings with your major professor or committee members at once. Get on their calendars early, and then keep to your planned schedule.
5. If you are forced to change your plans because of unforeseen problems, unexpected research results, writer's block, or the like, notify your major professor and committee members immediately. Then, rethink your schedule and repeat steps 1 through 4.
6. Try to remember the reason that everybody doesn't have a master's degree or Ph.D. is because graduate school is hard. What you are doing is not easy, and things that are hard to do generally take time. Be realistic about your progress, and be patient as your work is evaluated.
7. One of the hardest things about earning a graduate degree is receiving intense, vigorous, and direct criticism from faculty about your research and writing. Yet, this is also one of the most important components of your graduate education. The ability to receive instruction and advice often sets graduate students apart from one another. And remember, the criticism you are getting now in your graduate program will pale in comparison to that which will be delivered to you after you have earned your degree and are advancing in the world of professional practice.
8. Try not to isolate yourself during the writing of your thesis or dissertation. During this phase of your program, it is important to have frequent conversations about your work with your major professor, your committee, and, especially, with your fellow graduate students.
9. If your Graduate School office has specific formatting requirements for your thesis or dissertation, learn what they are before you start writing. It is much easier to begin correctly than to have to return to old work (especially data tables!!) and reformat it to conform to Graduate School guidelines.
10. Learn to breathe slowly through your nose with your eyes closed. Seriously, this can be the most effective way to relax when the going gets tough.
I hope my suggestions are of some use to you. I send you my very best wishes for success in your graduate programs and beyond into your professional careers.