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Building Your Roadmap Through Graduate School

The Graduate Student Equity & Excellence (GSEE) program invited Core Programs to facilitate a Power Hour event called Building Your Roadmap Through Graduate School. We knew the students were the ones who really had the insight here, and we worked with several outstanding GSEE graduate students including Priya Patel, Osa Igbinosun, Greg Diggs and Juan Gallegos, to plan and facilitate the discussion. So many great insights were shared during the panel and small group discussions that we wanted to share out some of the insights with our broader UW grad student community.

Here are just a few:

Define success on your terms. It may not feel like it at times, but you can influence your pathway through graduate school. Periodically check in with yourself by asking the following questions: First, how are your research interests, courses, labs, or professional work meaningful to you? We know you won’t like every course, theory, lab work, or practicum—but overall, how is being in your grad program meeting your needs?  Second—and this is related to the first point—are you setting personal, academic and career goals that are realistic and achievable? An individual development plan can help you keep track of your goals. Finally, how can you utilize feedback from faculty, peers and professional colleagues to enhance or strengthen your knowledge and skills? When people in your field give you feedback with constructive value, take it as a compliment that they have faith in you to grow in your work and career.

Be proactive and reach out for support. Taking the initiative to build relationships in graduate school is crucial to your success. Yes people are busy in and outside of academia, but more often than not they will make time to connect with you if you are consistent, proactive and prepared to meet with them. Which people do you need to connect with to get the support you need to thrive in grad school? Who do you need to network with outside campus to achieve your career goals, and how will you find them? What meeting agenda items and questions do you need to have ready to schedule that meeting via e-mail or phone? For example, the UW College of Education offers an excellent resource (revise and adapt as needed) that will help you prepare for your faculty advisor meetings.

Remain open to possibilities. Many of you already have a specific research and career focus upon starting graduate school at the UW. This is excellent, because you have a vision of what you want to achieve for yourself. At the same time, any of the following scenarios can happen: you read a text that a sparks a different trajectory for your thesis or dissertation, a conversation with someone inside or outside of the university inspires you to think about diverse career paths, or maybe after a few meetings with your advisor you realize you’re not a match. Any or all of these can be anxiety provoking (totally normal, btw) and be viewed as opportunities for you to think expansively about your educational, professional and interpersonal goals. What lessons can you learn from those situations about your interests, strengths and passions?  Are you allowing yourself to be curious to explore different goals?  What steps would you need to take to accomplish those goals? Remaining open to possibilities can help you see goal setting as a process rather than an end result.

Many thanks to Priya, Osa, Greg and Juan for their permission to adapt these insights for the Core Programs newsletter and for collaborating with us for the Power Hour event, held on October 20, 2015.  Thanks also goes out to GSEE staff Vanessa Alvarez and Cynthia Morales for the initial ask to collaborate!