To Begin With…
Having a moment of self-doubt about going to grad school? Are you wondering whether you have the student qualities needed for the graduate school program? Join the club. You’re certainly not the first person to have the jitters as you face the long journey through the obstacle course called graduate school. Most postgraduate students will admit to periods of angst when they were sure they wouldn’t be able to earn the prized degree. You must remember, though that most graduate students do get through with their sanity intact.
As you go down the list of qualities I outline below, remember that they are not special or hard to find. We all have them in some measure. The thing you need to do if you want to succeed is to find them within yourself and bring them to the surface, You need to redefine yourself through them. You need to keep them with you and make them work for you.
Quality #1: Passion for your Work
Most grad students are just like you and me–imperfect, ordinary beings with an extraordinary passion. This is the time to bring that passion to the forefront and desire that postgraduate degree with an intensity that will give you the impetus to surmount every hurdle in your way.
Quality #2: Critical Thinking
You have it. You just have to make it an automatic part of everything you do. The quality of analytical reasoning and problem solving will need to be sharpened to the point where it becomes an essential part of your character–as natural as breathing. This ability will make you sail through the coursework and literature review and give you the power to construct your thesis from the bottom up. Improving your lateral thinking capabilities will also help you see the extant research in new ways and identify the areas where you can make your mark.
Quality #3: Determination
Sometimes I think that graduate school should be renamed “perseverance school”.
Remember the times in the past when you struggled to master something–cycling or swimming for instance–and you thought it was too difficult. You wanted to give up and thought that you’d never get it. Then something made you grit your teeth and keep on trying until suddenly, you did it! You’re going to have to find that grit and determination again in spades!
Quality #4: Focus
The big secret about succeeding in graduate school is that intelligence is not enough. I’ve seen many really clever people flounder because they lost their concentration and became distracted from their studies. You’ve got to keep your eye firmly on the target to the exclusion of everything else. Focus on the big prize. Get yourself in the zone and stay there until you’re done.
Quality #5: Maturity
There’s nothing you can’t do if you find that well of emotional stability in your core. It will give you patience and allow you to negotiate the difficulties of graduate school with equanimity. It will keep you tethered during the upheavals of immense heights and dismal lows. It will make you stand up every time you fall. You need to summon up all your maturity because you are, without doubt, going to make great use of it!
Besides the above–and above all–you should just believe in yourself. Don’t dwell on your flaws and imperfections. Accept your limitations and showcase your strengths. Become self-regulatory and self-upgrading and stop looking for guidance and supervision. Assert yourself and learn how to say “no” when you’re uncomfortable with something that is asked of you.
I guess what I’m really trying to say here is that the student qualities needed when going to grad school are all characteristics that you will naturally find if you listen to yourself and discover who you really are. Once you make the effort to map your inner landscape, graduate school is territory you’ll be able to conquer without too much sweat.
This post is part of the series: Graduate School Guide
Articles in this guide include information on how to apply to a graduate program, a timeline of the application process, a timeline of the steps you will need to take before finishing grad school, the challenges you will face in grad school and the personal qualities you will require to succeed.