As a graduate student you must meet higher standards than you did as an undergraduate. A graduate education isn't the best choice for everyone: it implies a strong commitment to study of the subject and necessarily involves sacrifices. Your class work should have top priority in your work schedule. In graduate school, your own education comes first. You don't set it aside to attend to the needs of your own students or whatever.
You should come to every class. You should prepare for every class. These are obvious guidelines. But you may not be aware that your professors expect you to take an active part in class, especially in seminars. If a professor asks whether you have any questions or comments, learn to speak up thoughtfully. Outside of the classroom, seek out the other students for conversation about the subject matter and the professor for advice on your work. When you take a seminar, you should begin the class having read some, if not all, of the material and you should be prepared to work independently and to present the results of your research.
Many students find it useful to read the published work of their professors. That reading provides you with a sense of how a particular professor approaches intellectual problems and what he or she considers important. In class when a professor suggests a book or article that might be helpful, take a look at it. And look on your own for helpful studies that will complement the class work.
Any written work that you submit ought to be typed, proofread, and polished. Learning the correct documentation style is easy enough; think of it as one of the initiation rites of the profession. In your essays, no matter how brief, you'll need to push beyond what has been said in class, to demonstrate your reading of both primary and secondary material, and to put your ideas most effectively. If a professor suggests that an essay is publishable or could be a conference paper, follow up that suggestion.
Often students lament their ignorance of a subject, saying, "Until I got to grad school, I never knew how much I didn't know!" That's a completely natural feeling. But once you figure out what you don't know, do something about it. You mustn't be afraid of new ideas, after all. A major skill that you should learn in graduate school is how to teach yourself about new areas through library work and discussion with others. Attend lectures and readings; read on your own.
In a sense, there are no shortcuts to education, no substitutes for reading, thinking, and writing. But there are some ways to orient yourself more efficiently. The more criticism you read, the easier you'll find it is to pick out the key points, to detect flaws in the argument, and to recognize important and new ideas. As in most human activities, practice will help you. Don't be afraid to make a judicious use of handbooks, abstracts, and summaries of work to guide your work into the most productive areas. And never forget the joys of reading: novels may provide a pleasant way of picking up history and ideas.
- When you hear a term you don't recognize, write it down and look it up.
- Before each class, try to think about why a professor has asked you do a particular reading assignment. Don't ask the professor to gloss words or allusions, since you're supposed to do that on your own; do ask the professor about difficult ideas or the connections between one work and another.
- Read carefully any written instructions on an assignment.
- Learn to use a computer.
- When you give a class report, make eye contact around the room. Avoid running over by practicing ahead of time.
- Reading is less effective than is talking from notes. (If you must read something, remember to allow two minutes for each typed double-spaced page.)
- Look for study groups to join. If you can't find one that will help you, form one.
- Praise is more memorable than complaining. Praise other students who have good ideas, good teaching when you find it, good books that you've read.
- You will never receive anything you haven't requested. That includes fellowships, extra help, and publications.
- Sometimes the answer to your request will be no. A negative answer is no reason to quit asking.
- If you have a chance to attend a professional meeting, do so. The first time, you'll feel awkward and out of place, but if you listen and ask questions, you may find yourself having fun and learning a lot.
- If you said you would do something, do it.
Taken from "Going to Graduate School" by Fran Teague