Dealing with Criticism: Processing Peer Reviews

As an undergraduate, you've certainly received feedback and criticism - and it doesn't end with graduation. Receiving feedback, criticism of your work, goes hand-in-hand with graduate study and academic careers.

Feedback might take the form of scrawl on the margins of your manuscript or strikeouts, additions, and comments in a tracked document. If it’s a peer-reviewed manuscript, you’ll probably receive a lengthy single-spaced letter and accompanying 2 or 3 single-spaced reports. No matter the form, you’ll likely feel at least a little apprehensive and nervous about what lies within. Criticism often (usually?) stings but it ultimately leads to a better product. If you plan on an academic career (or any career), you’ll have to learn how to deal with criticism. Learning how to read and act on feedback is a skill and essential to your productivity and, ultimately, your success.

So, what do you do when you receive feedback?

Read the reviews and comments, then put the paper aside.
Take a deep breath and open the document. Skim over the comments. Then, if you’re brave, read it all in depth. Then put it aside to give yourself space to wrestle with your mangled pride. Time makes it easier to step back from critical comments and analyze your work objectively. Put the paper aside for at least a day, but ideally much longer. A week, even two or more, can help you gain perspective and realize that you’re not an impostor.

Don’t fret over reviewers’ tone.
Try not to let the tone and wording of reviews and comments sting. Frequently written comments may seem harsh and blunt, but terse comments often reflect the reviewer’s haste and desire to use time effectively by communicating clearly and concisely. Concise communication can often come across as terse. Try to look at the message itself.

Organize comments and suggestions.
Once you have read the review once or twice, read again while taking notes. List comments and organize them into meaningful categories. One list might consist of easy suggestions to address. Another will likely include suggestions that you need to think about. A third might be suggestions that you are inclined to ignore. You might later break the list down by content, for example, listing items regarding data analyses and interpretation, or the literature review.

Don’t ignore comments.
As you plan your revisions, be sure to address all comments. Remember that your mentor, dissertation committee, or reviewers have spent time reading, evaluating, and attempting to improve your work. They will expect to see that their advice is considered and their comments addressed. The more comments you receive, the more time your reader has spent considering your work. Ignoring a reviewer’s comments sends the message that you don’t value his or her work. While you don’t have to act on each suggestion, you should acknowledge and comment on each. If you don’t take a piece of advice, be prepared to explain why, which brings us to the next item.

Prepare a revision memo.
When you receive a recommendation to revise-and-resubmit a manuscript to a journal, it is customary and expected that a revision letter or memo will accompany your resubmission. An effective revision memo lists the substantive comments and suggestions made by reviewers and then notes how each is addressed in the revision. A revision memo is a useful preparation tool as it encourages you to consider and address all comments. Such a memo can be an important communication tool in your conversations with your advisor and dissertation committee. Even if not required, writing a revision memo can help you frame your work and ensure that you use feedback constructively. Consider writing revision memos in response to comments on your dissertation, even if you don’t share them with your committee. The process of writing a memo can help clarify your thinking – and it provides a record of your revisions that can help you document the evolution of your dissertation.

I’m not going to lie, receiving criticism is always challenging, but it gets easier. Devise a system that works for you so that you can take advantage of feedback and use it to improve your work

Time Management Tips for Students

Learn how to effectively manage your time and you'll be one step closer to being a successful academic and professional. New graduate students are often surprised at how much is on their plate -- even students who worked and juggled classes in college. As a graduate student, you'll spend time in class, conducting your own research, working on faculty research, in study groups, in meetings with professors, reading, writing, and attempting a social life.  Many students believe that it will get better after they graduate, but, unfortunately, most people report being even busier as new professors, researchers, and professionals. Start developing good time management habits now to avoid feeling rushed and every day.

The first and most important time management habit to develop is to keep track of your time: how you plan to spend and how you actually spend it. Record your goals, plan how to spend your day, and record the daily progress you make toward your goals.

Maintain a Calendar System
By now, you probably use a calendar to keep track of weekly appointments and meetings. Grad school and a career in academia require taking a long-term perspective on time. Use a yearly, monthly, and weekly calendar.

Year Scale. It's difficult to keep track of today and remember what needs to be done in 6 months. Long term deadlines for financial aid, conference submission, and grant proposals creep up quickly. Don't find yourself surprised to realize that your comprehensive exams are in a few weeks. Plan at least 2 years ahead with a yearly calendar, divided into months. Add all long term deadlines on this calendar.

Month Scale. Your monthly calendar should include all paper deadlines, test dates, and appointments so that you can plan ahead. Add self-imposed deadlines for completing long-term projects like papers. At the beginning of the semester, lay out the semester-long deadlines for the coming months.

Week Scale.  Your weekly calendar includes your day-to-day appointments and deadlines. Have a study group on Thursday afternoon? Record it here. Carry your weekly calendar everywhere.

Create and use a to-do list
Create a long-term to-do list of stuff that needs to happen over the semester. Then organize it by month and week - and topic. The most important trick to keeping a to-do list is to actually use it --update it, add to it, and work from it. Take 10 minutes every night and make a to-do list for the next day. Look at your calendar for the next couple of weeks to remember tasks that need to be planned in advance: searching for literature for that term paper,  buying and sending birthday cards, and preparing submissions to conferences and grants. Your to-do list is your friend; never leave home without it. Your to-do list will keep you moving towards your goals daily.

Prioritize your to-do list. Rank each item by importance and attack your list accordingly so that you don't waste time on non-essential tasks.

Schedule time to work on classes and research each day, even if it is just a few 20-minute blocks. Think you can't get much done in 20 minutes? You'd be surprised. What's more important is when you work in frequent short blocks is that the material will stay fresh in your mind, enabling you to reflect on it at unexpected times (like on your ride to school or walk to the library) and have eureka moments of insight.

Be flexible. Allow time for interruptions and distractions. Aim to plan just 50 percent or less of your time so that you'll have the flexibility to handle unexpected events.

Stick with it.  Contrary to my "be flexible" advice above, try not to be easily distracted. When you're distracted by a new task or something that you need to remember, write it down and get back to work. Don't let a flight of ideas keep you from completing the task at hand. When you're interrupted by others or seemingly urgent tasks, ask yourself, "What is the most important thing I can do right now? What's most urgent?" Use your answer to plan your time and get back on track.

These habits are simple but effective. That said, they're not always easy to implement. It takes practice and patience. Moreover, you may find yourself revisiting and relearning these over the years.

Read the SQ3R Way

The most efficient students read with purpose and set goals. The SQ3R method can help you read faster and retain more information than reading cover-to-cover or start-to-end.

SQ3R stands for the steps in reading: survey, question, read, recite, review. It might seem like it takes more time to use the SQ3R method, but you'll find that you remember more and have to reread less often. Let's take a look at the steps:

Before reading, survey the material. Glance through the topic headings and try to get an overview of the reading. Skim the sections and read the final summary paragraph to get an idea of where the chapter is going. Survey - don't read. Survey with purpose, to get a background knowledge, an initial orientation that will help you to organize the material as you read it. The surveying step eases you into the reading assignment

Next, look at the first heading in the chapter. Turn it into a question. Create a series of questions to be answered in your reading. This step requires conscious effort but is worth it as it leads to active reading, the best way to retain written material.

Asking questions focuses your concentration on what you need to learn or get out of your reading - it provides a sense of purpose.

Read with purpose. Use the questions as a guide. Read the first section of your reading assignment to answer your question. Actively search for the answers. If you finish the section and have not found an answer to the question, reread it.

Read reflectively. Consider what the author is trying to say, and think about how you can use that information.

Once you have read a section, look away and try to recite the answer to your question, using your own words and examples. If you can do this, it means that you understand the material. If you cannot, glance over the section again. Once you have the answers to your questions, write them down.

After reading the entire assignment, test your memory by reviewing your list of questions. Ask each one and review your notes. You've created a set of notes that provide an overview the chapter.  You likely will not have to reread the chapter again. If you've taken good notes, you can use them to study for exams.

As you review your notes, consider how the material fits with what you know from the course, experience, and other classes. What is the information's significance? What are the implications or applications of this material? What questions are you left with? Thinking about these bigger questions help to place what you've read within the context of the course and your education—and is likely to lead to better retention.

The extra steps of the SQ3R method may seem time-consuming, but they lead to a better understanding of the material so you'll get more out of the reading with fewer passes.  How many of the steps you follow is up to you. As you become more efficient you may find that you can read more - and retain more - with less effort. Regardless, if an assignment is important,

What to Look for in a Grad School or Dissertation Mentor

Every graduate student hopes for a mentor who will offer guidance throughout graduate school and beyond. The ideal advisor becomes a mentor. He or she supervises your research, provides insightful feedback and direction, helps you assemble a fantastic dissertation committee, gets you funding, gets you involved in research at a level that earns publications and conference publications, shows you how to review articles and publish, invites you to dinner, becomes a friend, helps you get a job, and mentors you throughout your career. This is a very tall order.

I have a friend from graduate school who is still in contact with her mentor (about two decades later) and they see each other at conferences. Her mentor still offers advice and helps her with career decisions and job searches, if asked. This is pretty close to the ideal, at least my ideal. And yes – I’m super jealous. I don’t know many students with close relationships like this - who became friends with their advisors. The ideal is something to strive for, but most advising relationships fall somewhat short of this ideal.

So, what do you look for in a mentor? Someone who
  • provides support and encouragement
  • helps you to learn from your mistakes
  • offers opportunities for collaboration, joint presentations, and departmental talks
  • helps you to learn about writing and submitting manuscripts for publication
  • is interested in your career area
  • is able to provide support and training in your area
  • models a successful academic career and training in your area
  • is committed to help mentees make the next move in their career development
  • demonstrates personal integrity
  • introduces you to colleagues
  • helps you to identify and work with your strengths and weaknesses
  • provides opportunities for you to develop autonomy
Not every mentor ticks all of these boxes. Look for someone who hits enough of the points that you deem important.

One of the important things to remember about mentoring relationships is that they develop over time. During your first year of grad school you may have an inkling, a gut feeling of who will be a good mentor, but the relationship develops over time and by way of your interactions. Open honest communication is key. Meeting deadlines and thereby supporting your advisor’s research is also important. We often think of mentoring as a one-way street in the sense that the mentor provides benefits to the student, but mentors also get something out of the deal. Mentors get competent help, the satisfaction of having a hand in a student’s success, and leaving a legacy, or more simply, being able to brag about a mentee’s success – even many years later.

Finally, no one person will fulfill all of your mentoring needs. In grad school you may find that your primary mentor, your dissertation advisor, may not be the best person to turn to with questions about teaching or an internship, for example. Seek relationships with multiple faculty who can provide you with advice on various areas of academia. Most of us have several mentors over the course of our careers: mentors for different areas (e.g., teaching and research) and at different times in our professional development (e.g., grad student, post-doc, junior faculty).

Tips for Choosing a Dissertation Committee

Graduate study culminates with the completion of a lengthy project known as the dissertation. In psychology, the dissertation most often entails conducting and writing up a research study that is a novel contribution to the field. Many master’s degrees require a similar document, a thesis, which is much smaller in scope, but still a challenge. Universities require that dissertations (and often theses) be supervised and judged by a committee of faculty. The student and advisor/mentor usually assemble the dissertation committee. How do you choose the professors who will determine your fate? Carefully, with these tips.

Consult your mentor about local norms.
How are committees assembled? How are they comprised? For example, most dissertation committees must include a specialist in methodology and statistics.

Get folks your advisor likes.
When it comes to which faculty to invite to sit on your committee, seek your mentor's advice because you need someone who you mentor feels he or she can work with. Also, your mentor will have info about the professor’s personality and history as well as how the faculty you select get along. Dissertations are not just about a student completing a degree - they're about politics too. Select a faculty member who doesn't get along with your advisor and you may have a committee member who is difficult and just plain hard to work with -- and who finds fault with your work simply to get under your advisor's skin. It happens and these interactions can slow down your dissertation and keep you in grad school longer than you want or deserve to be.

Learn from other students.
Seek input from other students as to how they secured a committee, what kinds of things they looked for, and their experience with particular faculty. For example, some professors are notoriously flaky. They miss meetings, forget to read your work and run behind. They may be very nice, helpful, and easy to get along with, but they can interfere with your progress.

Trust your instincts.
Make it a point to get to know faculty throughout your grad school years. As you take classes, talk with faculty, and watch faculty interact, keep the dissertation in mind. Trust your gut. If someone seems like a terrible choice, even if he or she is a very successful professional, you should trust your gut and think twice before asking him or her to sit on your committee. This doesn't mean that you should exclude successful, but difficult, people. It simply means that you should go in with your eyes wide open.

Knowing who to choose for your committee really comes down to communication. It’s about getting to know faculty, communicating with your mentor about your needs, his or her needs, and potential candidates, and communicating with other students about their observations, experiences, and history. Also, recognize that some dissent among dissertation committee members is part of the process. Some debate and disagreement can improve your project. The goal, however, is a healthy and constructive debate.

How to Ask Professors to Sit on Your Dissertation Committee

The dissertation is clearly the most challenging part of graduate school as it is the ultimate determinant of whether you earn the doctoral degree. It’s how you show that you’re an independent scholar capable of generating new knowledge. Your mentor is critical to this process, but don’t underestimate the role your dissertation committee plays in your success. The dissertation committee serves a consulting role, serving a checks and balance function that can boost objectivity and ensure that university guidelines are adhered to and that the product is of high quality.

Members of the dissertation committee offer guidance in their areas of expertise and supplement the student and mentor’s competencies. For example, a committee member with expertise in specific research methods or statistics can serve as a sounding board and offer guidance that is beyond the mentor’s expertise.

Who should you choose?
Choosing a helpful dissertation committee isn’t easy. The best committee is composed of faculty who share an interest in the topic, offer diverse and useful areas of expertise, and are collegial. Committee members should be carefully selected based on what they can contribute, but also how well they get along with the student and mentor. It’s a delicate balance because you don’t want to argue over every detail yet you need objective advice and insightful, tough, critiques of your work. You should trust each committee member and feel that he or she has your best interests in mind. Choose committee members whose work you respect, who you respect, and who you like. This is a tall order and finding a handful of faculty who meet these criteria and also have the time to participate on your dissertation committee is a daunting task. It’s likely that not all of your dissertation members will fulfill all of your professional and personal needs but each committee member should serve at least one need.

How do you ask professors to serve on your dissertation committee?

Seek your mentor’s input 

As you select potential members, ask your mentor if he or she thinks the professor is a good match for the project. Use your mentor’s reaction as an indicator of whether to move forward and approach the potential committee member. Professors talk to each other. If you discuss each choice with your mentor, he is she is likely to mention it to the other professor. You may find that the professor is already aware and may have already implicitly agreed.

Make your intentions known
At the same time, don’t assume that each professor knows that you’d like them as a committee member. When it comes time to ask, visit each professor with that as your purpose. Explain that the reason you’ve asked to meet is to ask the professor to serve on your dissertation committee.

Be prepared to explain your project
No prof will agree to participate in a dissertation committee without knowing something about the project. What are your research questions? How will you study them? Discuss your methods. How does this fit with prior work? How does it extend prior work? What will your study contribute to the literature? Pay attention to the professor’s demeanor. How much does he or she want to know? Sometimes a professor might want to know less – pay attention and consider what this might mean for his or her participation.

Explain their role
In addition to discussing your project, be prepared to explain why you are approaching the professor. What drew you to them? How do you think they will fit? For example, does the professor offer expertise in statistics? What guidance do you seek? Why do you think that the professor is the best choice? What are your expectations? Busy faculty will want to determine whether your needs outstrip their time and energy.

Don’t take rejection personally

If a professor declines your invitation to sit on your dissertation committee, don’t take it personally. Easier said than done but there are many reasons people decide to sit on committees. Try to take the professor’s perspective. Sometimes it’s really a matter of being too busy. Participating on a dissertation committee is a lot of work. Sometimes it’s simply too much work given other responsibilities. Other times they may not be interested in the project or may have issues with other committee members. It’s not always about you. If they are not able to meet your expectations be grateful that they’re honest. A successful dissertation is the result of a great deal of work on your part but also the support of a helpful committee that has your interests in mind. Be sure that the dissertation committee you build can meet these needs by asking the right questions from the start.

Pausing Intentionally vs Procrastination

Got a paper to write, a stack of papers to grade, or class to plan? Scrolling through Instagram, Twitter, and random sites? Procrastination at its best. Nearly every article on time management includes a warning to avoid procrastination. Sure, waiting until the last minute to start a task is a bad idea, but postponing tasks is not always procrastination. But is it really all that bad? Sure procrastination can stall your progress, but sometimes what looks like procrastination is really a productive pause.

An Active Pause
Intentionally delaying work on a task while keeping it in mind is sometimes referred to active procrastination, intentional delay, or a mindful, productive pause. Whatever you call it, pausing can lead to productivity. When faced with a problem, decision, or a paper assignment, we sometimes act too quickly, impulsively, and make mistakes. An intentional delay is incubation time, an opportunity to be mindful of the task and consider approaches. For example, I’m working on a presentation on a topic that is a bit of a stretch from my other work. So far I’ve taken some notes but I’ve delayed work on the talk. I’ve been thinking about it, reflecting on approaches while I go about other tasks. I’ve considered the topic for a while and feel like I have a handle on it and know what I’d like to do. I’m ready. I consider this a mindful, productive, delay – not procrastination.

Productive pause – is that simple word play? Maybe, but keeping a task in mind while fooling around on other activities is sometimes helpful. It’s incubation time, a chance to reflect on the paper, talk, or whatever, to be mindful. I don’t think we’re usually aware of this. We often procrastinate on stuff that we’re not quite sure how to begin. My writing flows – once I finally begin. I think this pause is helpful if it doesn’t last too long.

Intentionally pausing, waiting to begin, can be useful. 
Many students jump straight to work when given an assignment. We usually praise this, but it’s possible to act too quickly. For example, a student may learn of an unexpected/forgotten exam. Panicked, he or she might immediately begin making flash cards. Intentionally pausing, even for a few hours, can prevent impulsive and potentially wasteful activity. If the student pauses to think about the content of the exam he or she might realize that flash cards aren’t the way to go (as is often the case).  During a reflective pause a student might consider the semester as a whole and the items that compose a final course grade, feel less panicked about the new assignment and conclude that work for other classes is more important. Often what seems important changes over time, sometimes even over the course of a day. Waiting is not always such a bad idea.

But be careful.
I'm a big fan of pausing before beginning a project and taking the time to let ideas ferment. It gives me a moment to breathe and think. Of course, there’s a dangerous flip side. Sometimes we pause in ways that feel productive because we are getting things done. The problem is that we may be getting the wrong things done. Ever get obsessed with your to-do list? I find that playing with my to-do list – trying out new apps, reorganizing, and such, can eat up a ton of time. I’m drawn to fiddling with my list when I’m overwhelmed and stressed – those times when I really need to act rather than pause. How do you know if your pause is productive or simply procrastination? I don’t really have the answer other than to be mindful. Periodically stop and quiz yourself: What are you getting out of the pause?

Sometimes procrastination is a sign. Putting off something might mean that it isn't right for you. If you find yourself having extreme difficulty working on a task, consider why. Are you truly invested in it? How can you use this knowledge in the future?

Tips for Tackling Scholarly Reading More Efficiently and in Less Time

Freaked out by a super-long reading list? Check the syllabus for any upper-level undergraduate course or graduate course and you'll likely find a long list of required or suggested readings. Realistically a graduate student can expect to read multiple articles and, depending on the field, even a book each week. Plowing through those readings will take time, but you can learn how to read more efficiently. Here are a few tips to help you get more out of your reading in less time.

Scholarly reading - empirical articles and academic texts - require a different approach than leisure reading
The biggest mistake that students make is approaching their school assignments as if they were magazines or novels. Academic reading requires more work, specifically, an active approach. Read prepared to take notes, reread paragraphs, or look up related material. It's not simply a matter of kicking back and reading.

Read in multiple passes
Sounds counter-intuitive, but the efficient reading of academic articles and texts requires multiple passes. Don't start at the beginning and finish at the end. Instead, scan the document multiple times. Take a piecemeal approach wherein you skim for the big picture and fill in the details with each pass.

Don't Highlight
If you underline text, do so minimally and stay focused on the important details. Avoid the temptation to highlight every line. Heavy highlighting is a procrastination tool because usually you're marking what you should learn instead of focusing on learning it.

Start with the abstract then scan for relevance
Begin reading an article by reviewing the abstract and then the first couple of paragraphs. Scan the headings and read the last couple of paragraphs. Is the article relevant? If you're reading potential sources for a paper, a quick scan will help you determine an article's value. You might find that there is no need to read further as the article may not suit your needs.

Dive deep
If you deem that the material is necessary for your project, after your quick scan, read it for depth, but not from beginning to end. If an article, read the introduction (especially the end where the purpose and hypotheses are outlined) and conclusion sections to determine what the authors believe they studied and learned.

Then look at the method sections to determine how they addressed their question. Then the results section to examine how they analyzed their data. Finally, re-examine the discussion section to learn about how they interpret their results, especially within the context of the discipline.

You don't have to finish
You can stop reading at any time if you decide that the article isn't important - or if you think you have all the information that you need. You're not committed to reading the entire article.  Sometimes a detailed skim is all that you need. You can always reread the article later if needed.

Take a problem-solving approach
Approach an article as you would a jigsaw puzzle, working from the edges, the outside, in. Locate the corner pieces that establish the overall framework for the article, then fill in the details, the centerpieces. Remember that sometimes you won't need those inside pieces to grasp the material. Sure, this is a metaphor, but it means that you should learn what you can by reviewing the edges - the beginning and end, then fill in the details by reviewing headings and chapters, then, if needed, seek further details by reading the full text.

Once you step away from the one reading one-pass mindset you'll find that scholarly reading is not as hard as it looks. It requires a planful, active approach. Consider each reading strategically as one size does not fit all. Decide how much you need to know about it -- and stop once you've reached that point.

Be honest
This multiple-pass and drop-if-deemed-unnecessary approach requires honesty on your part. It's easy to quickly conclude that an article isn't useful or that you have learned all that you can -- when you really haven't. Be careful. Before dropping an article, quiz yourself on its content. If you can explain why an article isn't needed or articulate its main points and relevance to your project or course, you can move on to another reading. If you can't explain the reading and its relevance, then dive deeper and read it again.

Brainstorm & Incubate Ideas in Your Research Notebook

Successful academics conduct research - period. How do you get started? Where do you find research ideas?

 How to Find Research Ideas
Research ideas can come out of nowhere -- but don't count on yours to just flash on like a light bulb. Look for ideas systematically and at all times. Must you constantly rack your brain looking for topics? No. Just be open to new ideas.

 The most important thing to do when you discover an idea is to record it. Don't count on remembering it later. Instead, capture ideas quickly - without judgment. Then consider each at your convenience later. Keep a record of your ideas and activities as an ongoing log of your thoughts about your research. That is, maintain a research notebook. Your notebook might be a physical book or digital - whatever is most convenient and whatever you will actually use.

What to Write in Your Research Notebook

  • Notes on your research activities and any questions that arise
  • Problems in your research: What's not working?
  • Possible solutions to research problems
  • Alternative solutions or explanations for problems
  • Articles to read and researchers to follow
  • Student and faculty contacts and comments on their work
  • Notes on articles and papers you've read
  • Ideas and comments on your term papers and class assignments

Begin your log early in your graduate school career, long before you're pressed to find a dissertation topic. Write freely. Don't judge. Just write. Evaluate later. Your log is for your eyes only.

Keep Notes on Interesting Articles 
This is perhaps most important: When you read an interesting article, record it in your log (even if you don't think it's an area of research for you -- you never know what you'll decide years from now). Record the following:

  • The topic
  • How the authors studied it
  • What did they find
  • Ideas the authors suggest for further research
  •  What was striking? Why did you record it?
  • Your own ideas

Review Your Notebook Regularly 
Every now and then, read your notebook. Over time you may notice themes, thoughts that seem to connect, and patterns. Recurring themes may suggest avenues for research that might form your dissertation. Sure, not everything that you capture in your notebook will become a study, but a written record is an important way of learning about your research interests, defining them, and crafting workable ideas.

Regularly Update Your Notebook 
Keep your notebook up to date, even once you have found a dissertation topic. In fact, your notebook will be especially important once you start your own research. As you find potential dissertation ideas, thoroughly read the related literature, noting your thoughts. You'll never complete your review of the literature as new articles are constantly published. Be aware of the literature in your area and note how your work is different from others.

When you begin your research, note its progress in your notebook. Write down questions, problems that emerge, and notes on your methodology and results. Your research notebook is a record of what you hypothesized, did, and found, as well as a place to consider the implications of your work. Continue to read current articles about your topic and record your comments. You'll find your research record invaluable as you write your dissertation.

What to Expect in Grad School

Thinking about grad school - pursing a PhD? Beginning a doctoral program? Prepare yourself for several years of intense research, studying, and professional growth. Like anything else in life, realistic expectations will be critical to your success. What should you know?

Successful Graduate Students are Autonomous 
Expect much less structure. Grad school requires independent thinking and initiative as you'll be responsible for guiding your own professional development. You may have to choose your own advisor, and you definitely will have to have to figure out a way to get along and work with him or her. It will be up to you, with a little guidance, to carve out an area of research and find a dissertation topic, as well as make the professional contacts that are essential to advancing in your field and getting a job after graduation.

Accustomed to undergrad, new grad students often wait for someone to tell them what to do. Many wait without answers or direction and become fearful about their futures, which can lead to paralysis. For success in graduate school, be prepared to take control of your own education.

Graduate School is Not Like Undergrad 
I've said it before but it's worth repeating. Doctoral programs are nothing like college. If you're considering graduate school because you're doing well in college and like school, be aware that grad school will likely be very different than the last 16 or more years of school you've experienced. Graduate study, especially at the doctoral level, is an apprenticeship. Instead of sitting in class for a couple of hours a day and then being free to play, grad school is more like a job that occupies all of your time. You'll spend a great deal of your time working on research in your advisor or mentor's lab, as a formal research assistant or simply to get experience.

Research Rules in Graduate School
The purpose of doctoral education is to learn to do research. The emphasis is on learning how to gather information and construct knowledge independently. As a researcher or professor, much of your job will consist of gathering materials, reading it, thinking about it, and designing studies to test your ideas about it. Grad school, especially doctoral education, is preparation for a career in research.

Don't Expect a Speedy Finish
Typically a doctoral program is a five to eight-year commitment. Usually the first year is the most structured year, entailing classes and lots of reading. Most students are required to pass a set of comprehensive exams at various points in the program in order to continue. For example, in my graduate program, students took a set of comprehensive exams at the end of the first year to receive their master's degrees and then another set after completing all coursework (at the end of the third year) to progress to doctoral candidate status (often informally referred to as ABD - all-but-dissertation status).

The Dissertation Determines Your Fate 
The doctoral dissertation is the basis for earning a PhD. You'll spend a great deal of time searching for a thesis topic and advisor, and then reading up on your topic to prepare your dissertation proposal. Once the proposal is accepted by your dissertation committee (typically composed of 5 professors who you and your advisor have chosen based on their knowledge of the field), you're free to begin your research study. You'll plug away for months or often years until you've conducted your research, made some conclusions, and written it all up. Then comes your dissertation defense: you'll present your research to your dissertation committee, answer questions, and defend the validity of your work. When your presentation is complete you'll be asked to leave the room while your dissertation discusses your candidacy. Who knows? They might really be gossiping or dissecting Game of Thrones. Finally, your mentor will emerge and, hopefully, say, "Congratulations, doctor!"

How Grad School is Different From Undergrad

The first days of the semester are always busy, but the first days of grad school will likely pass in a blur of classes, orientations, and meetings. I remember little of my first day of grad school a couple of decades ago. What stands out is an orientation speech by the chair of the department who explained that grad school entails a critical transition from consumer of knowledge to producer of knowledge. That’s what it’s all about, but I had never thought of it that way. I was to become a producer of knowledge? I went through the rest of the day in a daze.

Totally overwhelmed, I got home, changed into comfortable clothes, and discovered that I put my shirt on inside out and backward. Stressed? Those first few weeks of school I learned that graduate school was way different than I expected. In the coming years, I would put in intellectual sweat, emotional equity, and much more time than I ever expected. Despite this, I wouldn't trade my time in graduate school for anything. And, if grad school is right for you, I suspect that you will feel the same way.

So, how do you make a smooth transition to graduate school? Here are four major differences between college and grad school.

It's Not Just Classes 
Classes are a big part of master's programs and the first couple of years of doctoral programs. But grad school entails more than completing a series of classes. You will take courses during the first couple of years of your PhD program, but your later years will emphasize research (and you probably won't take any courses during those later years). The purpose of grad school is to develop a professional understanding of your discipline through independent reading and study.

Apprenticeship Model
Most of what you learn in grad school will not come from classes, but from other activities, like doing research and attending conferences. You'll choose and work closely with a faculty member on his or her research. As an apprentice of sorts, you'll learn how to define research problems, design and carry out research projects to test your hypotheses and disseminate your results. The end goal is to become an independent scholar and design your own research program.

It’s a Job
Approach grad school as a full-time job; it's not "school" in the undergraduate sense. If you soared through college with little studying, you're in for a big culture shock. The reading lists will be longer and more extensive than you've encountered in college. More importantly, you'll be expected to read and be prepared to critically evaluate and discuss it all. Most grad programs require that you take initiative for your learning and demonstrate a commitment to your career. Remember that no one will hold your hand and walk you through. You must provide your own motivation. Also note that if you’re receiving funding from your department or program, you’re probably expected to put in full-time hours – and are probably forbidden from outside work.

You'll Become Socialized to Your Field 
Why is graduate school so different from undergrad? Graduate training teaches you the information and skills that you need to be a professional. However, being a professional requires more than coursework and experiences. You'll be socialized into your profession. In other words, you will learn the norms and values of your field and you will learn to think like a professional in your field. Are you ready?