Read Part 1 here.
The answer can be quite simple and inexpensive. My remedy revolves around the role of the mentor. Here’s why. At the beginning of every semester, professors generally meet with their graduate students either one-on-one or in a group as a type of informal orientation exercise. In my experience, most students were eager to get their semesters off to a good start. Individually and collectively, these bright-eyed learners often filled our discussions with overly ambitious goals that, inevitably, led to extended Q&A sessions. But since their questions were always asked in random order, my answers sometimes added confusion rather than providing clarity.
Try as I might to underscore the fact that, for instance, course 601 must be completed with no less than a grade of B+ before a student will be allowed to enroll in courses 603, 604, and 605, or books Alpha and Beta should be read before trying to understand the themes presented in books Delta and Foxtrot, students would sometimes appear more frustrated than relieved with my recommendations. Whether or not my words were not what my students were expecting or really wanted to hear, I always tried my best to steer them through the maze of potential pitfalls graduate school can become.
To augment my advice and to hopefully add clarity to their graduate school experience, I would use these initial meetings to advise my students to keep their eyes open for a suitable mentor. This person could be a teaching assistant, a part-time faculty member, a department advisor, an advanced student, or even someone who had already traversed the program. In most departments, locating and developing a mentor is not that difficult since it involves one of the most fundamental and necessary of all human behaviors: socialization. Encouraging young graduate students to attend all department mixers, program discussions, debates, presentations, meetings, new faculty introductions, town hall assemblies, and informal gatherings is of utmost importance. At first, it may be seen as wasted time away from a student’s primary academic focus, but it is not. Why? As a new student, you will get to witness the performances of many people somehow connected to your department. You will see their dispositions and hear their opinions while automatically comparing them to your own. Plus, these are activities that are either free of cost or very inexpensive.
When you feel a meeting of the minds could be possible, I urge you to reach out to that person, politely introduce yourself and begin a conversation. It could be the most important first conversation you will ever have in graduate school.
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