The Graduate College

Fall 2012

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Words to the Wise
Dan Domogala

Structuring Your Early Career as a Graduate Student in the Sciences


As the school year begins, and many new graduate students begin their arduous journey towards their respective doctorate or master’s degrees at Northern Arizona University, I’d like to offer some helpful tips. These hints for having a successful first year of graduate school have been passed down from seasoned professors to fledgling students (such as myself) year after year.

Let’s start with a comparison between being a graduate student with being an undergraduate student.

  • Graduate school is more focused on a specific field in the sciences
  • Fellow graduate students are in different stages of life as opposed to undergraduate students
  • Completion of a graduate degree is not dictated solely by coursework
  • Staying organized is more challenging because you will be responsible for more than just yourself
  • Summer and winter breaks are time for work on your graduate project
  • There are less credits taken up by coursework and more time expected for studying
  • More time in courses is devoted to reading and discussing publications
  • “Put your pleasure books in storage and get rid of your television. Banish it to the attic or give it to an enemy.” – Getting What You Came For: The Smart Student’s Guide to Earning an M.A. or a Ph.D.
  • Remember that advisors, professors and other professionals in your chosen field know your goals, and most will try to help you get there.
  • You want to be in a position to ask for recommendation letters when the time comes.

Teaching in the sciences sometimes seems a daunting task. Here are tips to address your fears and concerns about the demands of teaching:

  • The main challenge with your students may not be related to the scientific subject being taught; some students may need to adjust to university life.
  • You should be strict with students at first, then ease up as the semester goes on.

Looking towards your career post-graduation is necessary in the first year of being a graduate student. Here are some tips to getting a head start:

  • Join professional organizations in your discipline
  • Attend a minimum of two conferences a year
  • Publish your work! A master’s student should try to publish one paper prior to graduation, and a doctoral student should publish at least three papers before graduation!

Graduate school can sometimes be overwhelming and stressful. Finding a hobby to relieve stress can be key to getting through those stressful times:

  • Participating in an extracurricular group activity is a great way to relieve stress and have fun.
  • Flagstaff has great opportunities for hiking, biking, and running year round!
  • Flagstaff has many ways to support the arts such as community theater and the First Friday Art Walk

Joining graduate student organizations can also be a great way to improve life for graduate students at NAU:

  • The graduate student government advocates for graduate students within the university and at a local, state, and national level

The Graduate College is always there to help with your challenges as a graduate student:

In conclusion, being a first-year graduate student can be challenging for anybody. The key is to use the great resources available at NAU to your advantage in order not to become overwhelmed.

Have a great first year!

Sincerely,
Dan Domogala, MS student in Biology