Here are some tips for maintaining the connections that will prove vital to your success in graduate school and building a network that will pay off throughout your career.
Mentors: The Rock Stars of the Graduate World
Graduate mentors are often seen as the most valuable resource at a student's disposal—and for good reason. They act as friends and role models, giving advice and encouragement, sharing expertise, providing feedback, and relaying career opportunities. Your graduate mentor may change several times as you advance, and it is not uncommon to work with more than one mentor at a time.
On the flip-side of this critical relationship, your responsibilities will be to:
- Maintain regular, candid discourse with your mentor, giving updates as your goals change.
- Heed your mentor's advice and share it with others.
- Seek advice from people other than your mentor, and switch mentors when doing so becomes necessary to your success.
Remember that the ultimate purpose of the student-mentor relationship is for you to outgrow its usefulness.
All Hail the Graduate Instructor
It may be hard to see, but beneath that tweed jacket beats the heart of a warrior, one whose passion for their discipline prompts them to lead others to their potential. Most graduate instructors strive—and are obligated by their employer—to create a classroom environment that is relaxed and conducive to open communication and intellectual growth.
That said, the relationship between grad students and their instructors is often delicate and not always rosy. Ask yourself these questions if a misunderstanding arises between you and your professor:
- Have their expectations for each assignment been adequately outlined?
- Are there areas of your own academic performance that could be improved?
- Have other students in the course expressed similar concerns?
When students are unable to resolve a conflict directly, they are entitled to seek redress through the department. However, filing a grievance should be the last resort, as doing so could mean permanently damaging valuable relationships with instructors.
Be a Team Player
Not surprisingly, your relationships with fellow students will be a major source of support throughout your graduate degree pursuit, but there's far more to be gained from your peers than commiseration over coffee (although that will come in handy, too). Your classmates—especially those further along in the program—can aid you in the immediate sense by saving a spot for you in their study groups, telling you which instructors to avoid, and giving you research tips and feedback. Later, you'll be glad to know them when they're occupying seats on journal review boards or providing that much-needed professional reference.
Second only to your desire to achieve is the importance of establishing contacts during grad school, so do your best to be deserving of those relationships every step of the way.