Tip #1 Set a deadline
You should not start graduate school unless you plan to finish. If you plan on completing your degree you should have some idea when you plan to complete your degree. Will that be in 4 years, 7 years? Plan it out. How many courses do you need? When are these courses offered? A plan helps you to keep the goal as a priority. You can always adjust the plan if and when you need to. You need a “I will finish no matter what attitude” to start & finish graduate school.
Tip #2. Use the coursework for your own benefit not just to get a grade.
Based possibly on your Statement of Purpose, you should have an idea of your thesis or dissertation topic prior to enrolling in graduate school. For example, pursuing a PhD in sociology, my broad area was Race and Ethnicity. Thus, every course/seminar paper that I had to write for a grade dealt with some aspect of Race & Ethnicity. By the end of my coursework I had become knowledgeable enough in the topic to take one of my qualifying/prelim/comprehensive exams in the same area and eventually write a dissertation focusing on race. In graduate school the coursework is connected to the comprehensive exams which are then connected to the dissertation. Do wait until you get to the dissertation to immerse yourself in that broad area.
Tip #3 Network the faculty & other students in your department
Because you cannot get a degree just by taking courses, you need to get to know the faculty on a more personal level. The interpersonal relationship between you and your advisor is critical to your success. If you have a topic in mind, you need to find a faculty member in your department who is an expert in that same area. If you don’t have a topic, but you have an advisor then you need find out what your advisor’s expertise is and match your topic to your advisor’s expertise, or you can find a new advisor. You advisor is not going to become an expert in your topic if he or she has no prior interest in your topic.
Looking for and advisor from among the faculty you need to find out:
- Their working styles, habits,
- The last time they had a student graduate,
- What is their research area of expertise
- What type of methodology are they an expert in
- What papers did they recently get published
Getting to know other students in the department will help you with some of the information about the faculty in the department
More of these tips can be found in my book, PhD Completion.
And the companion PhD Completion Methods Journal, used with the book or separately, can give you some useful tools to help you complete your degree. Your Ph.D. Completion Methods Journal is a notebook for you to keep a written record of EVERY formula and calculation that you use to developyour proposal, your thesis or dissertation.