Working with your dissertation
The professors on your dissertation committee can help
you immensely. The interactions that graduate students
have with their committees might differ from school to
school; however, my personal feeling is that many graduate students don’t realize the kind of support that they
can get from their committee members, whom they often
see only at their exams or committee meetings.
Of course, professors are very busy — but it falls on
you, the graduate student, to frequently update your
committee members about your research progress and seek
their advice when you encounter major difficulties with your
projects. Ask your advisor about the feasibility of setting up
a meeting at least once every three months. The committee
members and your advisor can definitely provide the right
direction. This way, you won’t have unpleasant surprises at
either your committee meetings or exams. Also, you will
have to depend on these professors for letters of recommendation at the end of the degree. The better your professors
know you, the stronger their letters will be.
Preparing an exit strategy
Determining when the research has reached an appropriate point for you to graduate and having an exit strategy
after finishing your research are very important. This is
another place where your advisor can play a major role.
It will help if you and your advisor talk throughout your
graduate school tenure about what research you need to
do and your various career
options after finishing
your Ph.D. If your advisor
doesn’t start this conversa-
tion, you should. After all,
your advisor is your prima-
ry point of contact with the
rest of the scientific world.
Some advisors may say
that you are on your own
after finishing your degree.
Others might want you to stay at the institution longer,
because you are a good student who does good research.
So, be careful while selecting your advisor. When researching graduate programs, ask other graduate students about
the kind of assistance their advisor provides. Networking at
conferences and other venues is an excellent way to glean
These are a few of my thoughts about surviving graduate school. Hopefully, everything will go well for you — but
chances are, you will encounter a few roadblocks along your
graduate school journey. Your motivation, focus, balance,
community, hard work, and perseverance are the tools you
will need to get through graduate school. iC
NARESH SUNKARA received his Ph.D. from the
University of Maryland Baltimore County in December
2008. He is presently teaching at Montgomery
College in Maryland and will be taking up a postdoctoral position at The University of California, Berkeley,
in the fall.