Many graduate and professional school students find that managing the academic demands at U-M can be stressful, and that balancing work, courses and personal needs can be very challenging.
- Time management: Graduate school is full of competing priorities: classes, teaching, research, theses and dissertations, lab responsibilities, funding applications, and professional demands (such as interacting with patients or clients). As any graduate student will tell you, effective time management is crucial to success and to maintaining good mental health. It is also something that many--perhaps most--graduate students (not to mention faculty members) struggle with from time to time. Practicing time management skills can help you to get your schedule under control, stay on task, and reduce stress. See the MiTalk website and our self-care strategies for some helpful time management tips.
- Academic support: Because graduate programs are typically small and specialized, you are likely to be able to receive individualized guidance and support from instructors if you begin to have trouble with any of your coursework. Second-year graduate students can also be a good source of support because they have completed many of the courses you will be taking. U-M also has many free academic resources developed specifically for graduate students.
- Working with Academic Advisors: Developing a strong working relationship with your faculty advisor(s) might be the most critical step toward success in graduate school. Most graduate students work closely with their faculty advisors and rely on them for career guidance, research opportunities, and professional recommendations. It is wise to schedule regular meetings with your academic advisor(s) to discuss your progress, plan/revise your goals, and get help if you need it. Faculty advisors take very different approaches to mentoring; some expect their students to work on specific projects and provide much guidance, while others expect their students to develop and work on their own projects with little guidance. It is best to meet with your faculty advisor(s) as early as possible so you can understand their expectations, and help them understand the ways in which they can be most helpful to you. The Rackham Graduate School provides a helpful guide, “How to Get the Mentoring You Want.”
- Working with Department Administrators: The requirements of graduate programs can be complex, and can change during the course of your academic career. Many students are surprised to find that they have not met certain requirements, that they are not on pace to finish their dissertation on time, or that they have misunderstood the parameters of their funding package. Conversely, other students become convinced that they are falling behind when in reality they are right on course. It is likely that your academic advisor will not be up-to-date on every aspect of your particular situation (e.g., changes in funding packages or academic requirements). That’s why we recommend meeting with your program administrators at least once during the academic year. Rackham doctoral students can use the GradTools site to monitor their progress toward a doctoral degree, communicate with dissertation committee members, and learn about program policies & procedures.
- Balancing Course Work with Professional Responsibilities: Getting admitted to graduate school is a clear indication that you are an outstanding student who is skilled in successfully managing coursework. In many graduate programs, however, course grades are neither the top priority nor the best indicator of success. More focus is often placed on research, teaching or other professional activities. This does not mean that course work is unimportant; just that it must be balanced with other responsibilities. Many graduate students find it difficult to make this adjustment, spending either too much or not enough time on their course work. It can be helpful to talk to your academic advisor, other faculty members, or older graduate students to help get a sense of what percentage of your time should be devoted to course work.
- Stress management: Grades are often determined much differently in graduate or professional school than in undergraduate courses. Graduate classes may not even have set due dates for assignments/exams, which means that you need to work independently and structure your own study schedule. Keeping up with work throughout the semester, getting enough sleep, and practicing stress reduction and relaxation techniques can help make your academic schedule more manageable. See the Mitalk website <mitalk.org> for information on everything from managing stress to tackling test anxiety to avoiding perfectionism.
- Imposter Syndrome: Many graduate and professional school students find themselves filled with doubt about whether they belong in graduate school. Known as “Imposter Syndrome,” this phenomenon is particularly common in first-year graduate students. This doubt can lead to anxiety, procrastination, lack of confidence, and impaired performance. Through the Health and Wellness Initiative, Rackham offers workshops each year on stress management and Imposter Syndrome.