Most often, you’ll need the help of others to succeed.

One of the benefits of the PhD at IU is the requirement across campus to obtain a minor. This requirement forces doctoral students to gain competency in a discipline tangentially related to their own primary program discipline. It is very useful to mix foci in this way to increase in breadth and depth of understanding with respect to your particular research interests.


Another aspect of cross-department work is the networking that takes place as a result. Some of my favorite professors have been those from other programs–both from my minor and from methods courses.  Additionally, at the level of students, working with students of other departments and disciplines has been beneficial if not enjoyable. Comparing programs and experiences is one way to gain insight as well as stay sane. For me, it has been very healthy to hear what is working for my peers in other programs and disciplines.  I highly recommend cross-pollinating your studies and work experiences in this way.

(Also, as a side logistical note, there are IU-sponsored technologies available if you would like to collaborate electronically.)

So you need a fixer?

In ABC’s Scandal, the occupation of the main character–who is based on an individual and her experiences real-life in Washington DC–is that of a fixer.  As a fixer, her role is to “fix” bad situations for politicians, private citizens, and sometimes for those within her own team.  Unfortunately, at IU we do not have any fixers. Sad, I know.


However, IU does provide a website (“IU Protect“) to assist in the assurance of public safety and technological protection for its students and staff. But you want the good stuff, right? For all intents and purposes, each department has an unofficial fixer.  Sometimes these take the form of department secretary, a faculty member, a very advanced doctoral student, or some other person with knowledge of the inner workings of the department but to whom you can turn for help and advice should you ever need it. The most important thing is to identify who this person is and gain their trust.

Organizations for Graduate Students

So what are you into?  Ok great, that’s exactly what you should look into.  Chances are, at IU there is an organization or club that touches on that exact thing that you like.  For me, I like salsa dancing  Yes, there is a club for that.  I have competed in a couple triathlons.  Check, there is a running club, biking club, and swimming club (and team).  Professionally, there are so many options. I am part of a student organization for those within my field of study. I am part of the Emissaries for Graduate Diversity.  The opportunities to join an organization or almost limitless. Outside of the university there is a professional organization for just about every field in existence.  I have yet to hear of a field that does not have a national or international organization for said field.

From personal experience, you will not have enough time to participate in every organization pertaining to your interests. They key is to select a couple and be active in those. Balance is important: you don’t want to pick to many and experience burn-out or exhaustion; you don’t want to pick to few and not have many experiences outside of coursework.  2-3 organizational affiliations seems to be healthy for any grad student…from what i can tell.  For me, that has seemed to work pretty well.

What the…whaaaaat?

So everything seemed to be going well but there is now an enormous boulder in your way that you were completing not expecting. So grad school threw you a curve ball. Well welcome to the club. Know that you are joining some elite company. Let me guess, you’ve always been an excellent student?  You’ve always gotten along well with all of your professors and just about all of your colleagues? For the most part, you achieve all of your goals? Does that sounds familiar?  Well if that accurately describes you then know that you are the rule, not the exception. So what happens when things don’t go quite as planned?


The nature of grad school is one in which challenge is a common occurrence. Grad school is meant to be difficult.  It is designed to stretch you. It is not intended to be like the undergrad experience. Arriving at that realization can be difficult, even painful.  I know making the transition from undergrad to grad school was very difficult for me.  Could how I handled a challenge as an undergrad work to handle an obstacle or challenge in grad school?  Nope.

So what to do then? Regardless of the type of obstacle or the depth of the challenge, it is really important to know that you are NOT ALONE in facing an unexpected situation. I can count 4 or 5 times between the MS and PhD where I felt like I had been punched in the gut: some outcome had gone 180 degrees from what I was expecting.  As a God-fearing person I am a strong believer in doing all that you can within your control and then not stressing the rest. I believe strongly that how you respond to difficulty is revelatory: you reveal yourself to yourself through adversity.  So what has experience taught me? I truly believe that hard work and smart work can overcome a lot of the challenges and curve balls that arise in grad school. I truly believe that a humble attitude is 100% to maintain a level of peace and sanity during grad school.  I believe in you-get-what-you-give or what-goes-around-comes-around. In fact, every single person (including myself) that reacted positively to adversity or challenge had a positive experience down the road.  Every single time. There are so many other grad students who likely have had a similar challenge that talking to one (or three) you trust can only be helpful.  The same goes for a faculty member or two that you trust.  I’ve mentioned in a previous post that surrounding yourself with a core of people that you have high amounts of trust is very very important during grad school.  This is one of the reasons why.  Work hard, work smart, rely on those you really trust, and you will likely be just fine and have an equal or even better outcome then what you originally planned. That seems to have worked well for me.

What Relationships are Most Important in Grad School?

  • Personal relationships: family and/or dating

First, make no mistake: graduate school is all about relationships.  Some of them are life-long brotherhood (or sisterhood) type relationships.  Some of them are difficult.  All of them, however, are a part of grad school.  Now the most important relationships are those with the highest levels of trust. With the stresses and rigor required by grad studies, it is imperative that you surround yourself with those that have your best interests at heart.  That cannot be understated.  That means family and loved ones are an essential part of a healthy grad-student support system.  Vital.

imagesNow the next most important relationships are those friends that are likely new but you still have a lot of trust in them. Peers of students can provide a wonderful support as well.  In fact these can ultimately be lifelong friends.  Think about it: you are studying together, grinding hours upon hours for entire semesters in the same situation.  You understand what the graduate experience is…like no other.  A true friend is priceless as a graduate student.  And the more you have–no its not cliche–the merrier.

To illustrate, let me share an experience.  One semester in my doctoral program I experienced a major roadblock.  Without sharing details, it was extremely difficult for me. My trust in certain administrators was at an all-time low.  But one of the fortunate things for me was that I had a small network of upper level doctoral students with whom we shared an extremely high level of trust.  In this difficult tie I was able to turn to these friends and hear their perspectives and rely on their experience.  At one point, I spoke to some of them almost daily simply to give them updates and hear their take on the situation. I was able to survive and progress in my program in time…but one crutch that I was able to lean on were those friends that shared much trust.  I suggest any grad student who is serious about their long-term success try to cultivate sincere, highly trustworthy relationships while a doctoral student because you will likely rely on them–and certainly them on you–at different points of your program.  Make no mistake: the relationships cultivated as a grad student will be a huge predictor of your success.


Getting Involved

I can’t believe a month of the semester is already in the books.  (Time flies when you are having fun?)  In all honesty, one of the things that helps make the academic calendar speed up is the prevalence of guest lectures, seminars, and conferences to attend. As a grad student there are several roles to fill with respect to such opportunities.


A the most basic level you can simply attend a relevant guest lecture to soak in all the information a visiting lecturer can share.  Or, if there is not one any time soon, you can arrange for one to come.  Most departments have a small pocket of available $$ funds to be used for academic purposes.  It is possible to arrange for housing and food for a visitor.  With this, you can offer to have a professor or other expert come for 2-3 days. Lastly, you can volunteer to help run a conference. I’ve had the opportunity to co-chair two conferences hosted in the School of Education.  These student-led opportunities are invaluable for for both lessons learned and experiences gained. Every conference (both student-led and professional) that I’ve ever been associated with or heard of has always had the opportunity to volunteer and help for several hours during the conference proceedings.  So even serving as a volunteer at a professional conference is possible.  In totality, the key to these opportunities is to learn, develop, and network with and from those who share the same interests.

Finding the Niche

There are several things you need to know: First, DO what you like.  Second, do what YOU like.  Third, do what you LIKE.

1)  Do. The key is that your niche will involve doing something.  It requires leaving your comfort one and acting.  Make no mistake: finding your niche will not fall in your lap nor be presented on a platter.  Instead, it will be discovered. You have to be about doing.

2) You. To be frank, finding your niche requires knowing YOURSELF first and foremost.  While the undergrad years are fundamentally about learning, growth, and development, the graduate school years are about refining that self-awareness.  There is too much at stake and too much demanded of you as a grad student to waste on excess.  What do you like?  What do you enjoy?  What activities have meaning to you?  What motivates you? However you answer these questions are a good starting point.

3) Like. Your niche will undoubtedly be discovered in something that you have enjoyed in the past.  What is fun? What is rewarding? How do you like using your leisure time? Who do you enjoy working with?  What causes do you champion?

So remember, you will find your niche by getting out and doing. what. you. like.


Technology Options – My 1st hand Account

As a graduate student at IU you have access to a wide variety of technology options to assist in making your experience as a student a more efficient one. IU does a fantastic job of making access to expensive software and printing options as cheap (if not free) and accessible as possible.  For that I am VERY grateful.


Free Software.  There are two options for accessing free software at IU: 1) software to download to your personal computer/device (“IUware”); 2) software to access remotely and stream for single-use or short-term basis (“IUanywhere”).  Both options are extremely helpful as a student. I have used both and have saved over a thousand dollars…easy. First, I have downloaded an Adobe Suite of programs to my PC.  This is huge!  Next, I have used IUanywhere to stream SPSS–a statistical program that is absolutely essential as a doctoral student.  Without question, the inventory of free software programs available to graduate students is the most important heads-up I can share.  Take advantage of it. You really won’t need to purchase a program while you are here.  Over a thousand dollars saved…easy.

Printing. As a graduate student at IU the mandatory “technology fees” account for 1000 pages of printing.  This means that whether you like it or not you have 1000 pages of printing to your name.  Again, this is a very helpful feature to be aware of and take advantage of.  USE IT!

Email. As a student you will obviously have your IU account.  I would suggest incorporating your IU email account into your MS Outlook or iMail account….it makes everything so easy and simple.

For Help. You can access the University’s Technology Services division UITS which is designed to answer specific questions.  This is a very helpful service to get anything technology-related resolved or answered.

Get off to a fast start!


Your first month at IU will come and go before you realize what happened. The most important thing is to not get left behind!

First, make sure all of your schooling questions are answered as soon as they arise.  It is not wise to assume anything as a new graduate student.  Your colleagues, the department secretary, and your adviser are all in positions to help.  Personally, I have found great wisdom to be gained by peers who are a year or two older in the program.  A fellow student who is slightly more experienced that you can trust is an invaluable ally and source of information and mentoring.  Ask questions!  Your first month at IU will be a much happier experience if you ask questions at every turn.

Second, explore! Check out a football game which is $5 for students.  Or, check out a performance from the music or drama schools.  The Lotus festival is another event to attend. Brown County State Park looks beautiful in the Fall.  Lake Monroe is always close by.  McCormick’s Creek is another state park to hike…if you do be sure to bring a camera! There really are plenty of options.

Last, and probably most important, do things with your new friends.  While you may feel like the only “new” person…the truth is you are not.  GO out of your way to introduce yourself.  I did this and found that many others felt similar to me that first month at IU. Invite them to join you.  Invite them to your house.  The best thing you can do the first month to ensure you are accomplishing what you need to is to make friends with as many of your peers as possible and socialize with them — then, through simple conversation you can resolve a whole host of issues and answer a myriad of questions that you will certainly have in a new environment.  The best thing you can do is to enjoy the first month!