Life as a graduate student is closer to being employed than it is to being an undergraduate student, only in this case, your job is to learn not only a lot about your chosen field of study but also the skills of your discipline (area of study).
In general, your relationships with your professors will be more equal than you may have had as an undergraduate; that is, your professors will expect you to become more like a colleague, and by the end of your program, your professors will be learning from you as well as teaching you.
Successful students in graduate programs are those who are eager to learn the knowledge and skills of their academic disciplines, not merely to earn the degree but because they love the field.
Graduate students spend at least a 40-hour week (often longer) learning and exploring their field in formal courses and in courses in which they practice professional skills while being observed and supervised by professors.
Graduate students are expected to be independent learners who can not only master facts and theories but also apply that information as they develop the required professional skills.
Although graduate training begins at a level appropriate to those who have completed a bachelor's program, it moves more quickly than undergraduate training often does. As a result, you may have to develop new study strategies to be successful as a graduate student.
Because it is expected that graduate students have a strong interest in learning more about their fields of study, they are expected to be highly motivated. "Undergraduate behavior," such as complaining about the level of detail expected for an exam or the amount of material that must be read, or asking to have a class cancelled or be dismissed early, is simply not acceptable in graduate students. Nor is it customary to miss classes for anything but extraordinary circumstances (death of parent, spouse, or child; serious personal illness).
Some programs allow part-time graduate study, but others expect a full-time commitment. The full-time commitment is necessary because the nature of what is being studied requires your full attention in order to perform at a professional level.
Most graduate schools provide some form of funding or in-house work for their graduate students, called a graduate assistantship. The student might help collect data, aid in teaching a class, or work with on individual faculty member on other tasks. For further comments on finances and graduate school: Financial Concerns.
Although there may be a few lecture courses in a graduate program, most courses are seminars, with the students as active participants. This means that students must come fully prepared for all class meetings, having read the assigned materials and prepared to discuss them. Often students take turns leading the discussion. In other courses students will be expected to do a lot of outside research (in the library or lab).
Because so much of a graduate student's learning is supposed to be independent, he or she generally has a fair amount of control over his or her individual schedule, especially after the first year. While this is a welcome change for most students, it can present problems for students who procrastinate or who are not self-starters.
For the student who has done an outstanding job as an undergraduate, the adjustment to graduate school can be a surprise. You will likely find yourself in a group of people with the same level of ability as your own. Students who are used to being the top student in every class are sometimes dismayed to find that every other student in the program is used to the same thing!
However, it helps to realize that your being admitted to a graduate program means that the faculty are confident of your ability to succeed if you will put forth the necessary effort.
Graduate school is for those interested in developing their abilities to the fullest extent possible, in expanding their understanding of their chosen field, and in learning to behave with professionalism.
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Presented by the M.A. - Clinical Psychology (http://edtech.tph.wku.edu/~psych/areas/clinic/) and Ed. S. - School Psychology (http://edtech.tph.wku.edu/~psych/areas/school/) Graduate Programs of Western Kentucky University
10/4/00; Last modified: 10/30/00
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