How To Prepare for Transitioning to Grad School

As many of you prepare to end your last semester in undergrad and transition to graduate level in the fall, I offer some jewels of advice to ease the transition.

Assuming you start your graduate program some time in the fall, you have about 5 and a half months as of the date to prepare for your new journey. And in that time, you can do A LOT to aid in your transition to grad school.

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Contacting students at your prospective graduate program: Any questions off-limits?

A current graduate student in a program you are considering can be your inside guide to what it is like to be in that research group. With them also being your potential colleague, you also do not want to start off on the wrong foot. Questions to avoid asking are gossip questions which include but are not limited to: who “has beef” with who, if someone is single or confirming/denying rumors of their advisor.  Also, remember graduate students are very busy so if there are questions that can be answered via the group website or the schools website, make sure to use these resources first before asking them.



Problem-Solving Resources: Finding an independent study

I really enjoy the content and skills that I am learning in my Higher Education and Student Affairs grad program.  However, one of my research interests lies in Asian American issues and there was no specific concentration in my grad program.  So, how did I work my magic to find a mentor and discover my research interests?  Continue reading

Piecing Together the Puzzle

Finding time for your research around your class, teaching, and work schedules may seem daunting by itself – but what about fitting your schooling and research into your long term plan, applying for jobs, figuring out a place to live, and finally starting your career?  It can all be overwhelming – but like a puzzle, once you find the corners, build the edges, and sort the pieces, everything starts to fall into place and the middle begins to fill in.


Sometimes getting through school, job applications, moving, etc. can feel like one big puzzle. Photo by Ren-Jay S.

So don’t despair – there is hope!  No matter how despondent you may feel at times, hold the line and keep plugging along, because you will piece your puzzle together and reach your goals. Continue reading

You’re Old Now

As you walk around campus today, pass through buildings, and try to figure out the panini line in the IMU, you may have had a weird feeling in the depths of your soul—that’s right you’re officially old and you may want to blame an undergrad or seven hundred for that feeling.  While the undergraduate experience may still be fresh on a few of your minds, for those of us over twenty-five, four years out of college is a light-year in fashion, music, nostalgia (seriously what the heck is a One Direction).  You’re confused, maybe even a little tired because the coffee line is too long, but stay strong comrade, stay strong.

courtesy of

Now before you go grabbing your cane and lecturing these young bucks about the good old days when MTV played music videos, eating dunkaroos, and long forgotten dance moves courtesy of D4L remember one very important thing; your parents, their parents, and their parent’s parents did the same exact thing to the generation that followed them.  No young person wants to be lectured, but they do want someone who will reach out to them as a mentor and ally.  Your undergraduate experience was transformative to your being and so will Indiana University be for theirs, don’t gripe if they seem apathetic or don’t immediately know how to network.  Don’t judge too harshly; reach out to a few of them especially if they share similar academic and career interests.  Learning is a reciprocal experience where as you provide guidance, the appreciation will come back two fold and hopefully they’ll be able to explain to you who the heck One Direction is.


Finding a Mentor


Clip art taken from

Clip art taken from

I’ve always envisioned a mentor as someone I would meet with on a regular basis; discuss what was going on in my academic and personal life. They would offer me their experience, serve as a sounding board and help me accomplish my goals. Sound a little too perfect? Maybe…maybe not. My experience has been that one person cannot always accomplish all of the above.

Finding the right mentor(s) can be an amazing asset as you navigate the complex world of graduate school; but what exactly should a mentor do for you, and how and where do you get one? While the following advice is not extensive, it will hopefully get you thinking about how to proceed.
First, what is a mentor? A mentor is someone who will be available to work with you to develop your potential, inspire and challenge you. Because you will need different people for different things, a mentor is not always a one-size-fits all. Finding multiple mentors for the various parts of your career or personal life is important; the key is asking yourself:

  • What can I learn from this person?
  • How can they help me maximize on my graduate school experience?
  • Does their mentoring style fit me?
  • Where to find one?

Mentors can be found in faculty, staff, and other graduate students. Again, the fit will depend on your interest and goals in maximizing your graduate school experience. Be aware of the different mentoring styles, and that some mentors will want to keep their communication strictly professional and not personal.

In short, create a network of mentors that fit your needs and goals, along with clear and realistic expectations.
For more on mentorship, check out the following presentation from Dr. Patrick Dickerson, “How to get the Mentoring You Need?” PLD GLASS 2013 Mentoring

Finding a mentor

Finding a mentor may initially seem like a difficult task. Approaching someone you don’t know, someone you imagine is very busy, someone you view as a professional while you perceive yourself to be a novice–seems daunting. I offer you this suggestion, approach finding a mentor the same way you do finding someone to follow on Twitter.
I’m pursuing someone currently to be my mentor and possibly a member of my dissertation committee, so I can expound on my process, or better yet, let me give you a checklist:

*Identify someone who is relevant in the field/discipline you’re pursuing, and has characteristics with quick you may be able to connect.
*Begin reading some of this person’s work: conference presentation transcripts, published articles, books/book chapters, stories on this person in the periodicals and websites
*Now that you’ve gotten to know this person on paper, you may begin looking for their social media presence–is this person on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, WordPress, have their own personal or professional website? If so, friend them, follow them, subscribe to their website(s) and YouTube channel(s).
*At this point you should either be reaffirmed that you want this person to be your mentor, or you have let this person go from your possibly mentors list and gone back to bullet one of this checklist.

*If you are reaffirmed you want this person as your mentor, you are more than likely so familiar with their work that you can send them an email informing them that you’ve read some of their work, that the _____ argument/topic/theme really spoke to you, and then ask an informed question about that topic/theme.

*If the person responds, reply back soon with signs of gratification and another question.  If they respond to your second email.

*Then ask if there is a time you all can meet or speak more over the phone.

*If you get the “call back”, you are basically being interviewed at that point to be that person’s mentor. You have read all a lot of their work at this point, and you should have some idea of the things your are interested in (it does not have to be a dissertation or thesis topic, just simply state what you’re interested in at this point in your matriculation or career) that you can share with this perspective mentor.

*From there it is history, butter, a slice of cake, and you have yourself a bonafide mentor.


Faculty mentors are critical to success in grad school

Mentorship is important to being successful in all that we do.  It is no different in graduate school.  It is important to find good and compatible faculty mentors to help you succeed and progress through graduate school.  I have been very fortunate.  Both of my mentors have been very involved in my academic work and development to enter the professoriate.  I have been able to collaborate on scholarly research with my professors, and I have been introduced to academic and scholarly conferences through them also.  While attending a conference where I presented, my professor was very gracious to introduce me to other colleagues, get me involved in the association’s activities, and she helped me feel welcome. These activities and opportunities have helped me get closer to the professoriate, and I attribute it to my faculty mentors!

Undergraduate mentoring

Now that I’m out of class I have started to do some mentoring and tutoring. Helping others is important to me and sometimes it gets pushed to the side burner when I get bogged down with things. However, I have a good handle on my lab work and I don’t have to worry about classes, so I asked for and received an undergraduate student to mentor in lab. My student is a sophomore bio. major who is interested in graduate school and its my job to not only teach her how to perform experiments but to shape her thinking to that of an independent scientist. I look forward to seeing her grow over these next few years. My other undergraduate mentee was appointed to me through a mentoring program. The focus of this program is to pair undergraduates with graduate students so that they can help them get into graduate school. The approach is one on one and should be very effective. I look forward to seeing how that young lady will advance in her academic career. Finally I began tutoring high school AP biology for some spare cash on the side. I really like it, Ive never tutored before but it’s very interesting. My student seems to be benefiting from our sessions so I can’t wait to see how he does on his upcoming final. This post isn’t really about getting into graduate school, its my personal post to say:  “Never forget where you came from. No matter how self reliant you are, at some point someone helped you. As you grow it is your duty to help those behind you. Reach as you climb.”

Choosing an advisor

How important is choosing an advisor? “In 2009, the US Council of Graduate Schools in Washington DC reported survey results showing that 65% of the 1,856 doctoral students who responded identified mentoring or advising as a main factor in PhD completion”, refer to Kearns and Gardiner for further details (link below). Viridiana stated on her post, “Choosing an advisor is like choosing a partner” and I strongly agree with her. In my case, I first identified several potential advisors that shared my research interests. Next, I talked to some current grad students in order to get some feedback. Then, I took a course or independent study with each one of them such that we could get to know each other in an academic setting. Finally, once I narrowed the candidates list to a few, I scheduled one-to-one meetings in order to make my goals and adviser expectations known, as well as get to know their plans and advisee expectations. For instance, I expected my advisor to 1) get the equipment/resources I need, 2) meet with me, face-to-face, at least four times a month to talk about my project/thesis. (Ideally, they would be regularly scheduled meetings but that rarely happens), and 3) provide the type of feedback that I need. In summary, as expressed by Kearns and Gardiner, “If you’re not getting feedback, clear direction or the necessary resources, then you must do something about it.”

I strongly recommend readers to check out Hugh Kearns and Maria Gardiner column: “The care and maintenance of your advisor”. Here is the link: