Monday, August 31st, 2020...2:26 pm

4 Helpful Approaches to Succeed in Grad School

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By: Michelle Bancroft, Summer 2020 GradLife Ambassador

As I come to the end of my first year as a graduate student, I realize there has been some really great ways in which I have approached my academic career that have been helpful to my success. Though every individual student needs to find their own groove and way of excelling, these 4 approaches have worked for me and might be something worth trying as a new or returning graduate student.

  1. Being curious
  2. Being prepared
  3. Asking ‘why’
  4. Participating in discussions
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  • Being Curious – I am the type of person who is never satisfied by a simple answer or statement. I find it very rewarding to question the background of the authors who write articles I find fascinating. Looking up other work that authors have produced, both in and out of the direct field your researching can help you understand the personal lens they use when writing their research. I like to use the website to learn more about authors, and to find links to their other publications. Depending on the level of ubiquitous presence of the author, you can often do a regular google search to find out more about their backgrounds and areas of expertise. Additionally, researching your professors/supervisor’s research in-depth can be a great way to have an idea how they are going to teach the class and could aid you to asking more detailed questions.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels
  • Be Prepared – Though it might feel daunting and overwhelming to do all the pre-readings for classes, even just having a brief glance and understanding of the main objectives and arguments of each class pre-reading can be extremely helpful. I often found myself running out of time to do all my weekly readings, however I made it point to at least read the abstract of all assigned readings and make a once sentence note about it’s premise. All of my professors have been understanding when it comes to occasionally not being able to finish all assigned readings, but I know it has been in my best interest to have made sure that I knew the basics before a class. Additionally, having assignments done before the due date has been my life-saver, as it gave me a chance to attend one-on-one appointments with peer counselors from the  Graduate Centre for Academic Communication (GCAC). However, if your in the following programs note that you have writing center support in your own faculties – Architecture, OISE, Dentistry, Nursing, Pharmacy, Kinesiology and Physical Education, Social Work. I personally used the OISE writing center many times, just make sure you find out when assignments are due as early as possible so you can secure a spot with them as early as possible – because, spots fill up quickly!
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  • Asking ‘Why’ – In one of my very first courses, I learned about an approach to community development that is called the “5 Whys” approach. This approach is simple, yet very effective to help you think more critically about any topic. When you are struggling to understand a difficult concept ask yourself a why question about that topic. Then ask another why question about your answer, and then keep going until you have asked why at least 5 times. This technique helps you think more deeply about what is the deeper reason behind a concept, and how can you tackle it at a foundational level to make real change. The Harvard Business Review has even created a video that outlines how this process can be used to help in the business world when investigating problems. Check out that video here. Furthermore, is an organization focused on providing resources to help improve the quality of workplaces and has a free worksheet on the 5 whys, as well they incorporate the “5 Hows” to help you find solutions to your why questions. You can find that resource here
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  • Participating in Discussions – Graduate school can be intimidating, I know I was nervous by all of the incredibly talented and intelligent people in my program when I started. However, I realized that my course material understanding and experience of the class was drastically improved the more I participated in discussions. Not only did I realized that I knew more about the topics than I had previously thought, I found out that my unique lived experiences contributed to the discussions and many other people could relate or were enlightened from my different experiences with the topic to them. By participating in discussions I was able to open up and connect with my professors, classmates, and the material in more concrete and intimate ways! Especially in my virtual classes, it was important for me to ask questions in the chatbox, speak up when the professor paused for questions, and in breakout rooms and open discussions throughout the lecture. Though the class delivery methods might be a little different for all of us next semester, I would still highly recommend participating in class discussions!
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I have been inspired to reflect on and describe the things that have helped me be successful in my first year of graduate school from an article posted on (American Psychological Association) written by Ali Mattu (2011) entitled “Secrets for grad school success”. This article goes through Mattu’s top 5, not so secret, secret success tips. They are as follow’s…

  1. Overcome procrastination
  2. Invest in your health
  3. Build a community
  4. Get involved
  5. Build a professional online identity

If you would like to read more about their experiences in these areas check out the article link here. I hope their tips for success as well as mine, will be helpful for you on your journey as a graduate student. If you have any additional tips, tricks or comments about this post please leave a comment below

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