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Welcome All Graduate Students

Welcome all new and returning graduate students across the University of Washington tri-campus! You bring rich and unique experiences to the university, whether you have recently moved to Washington state from another part of the U.S. or the world, have just completed an internship, fieldwork, a fellowship, or are further along in your capstone or research project. And your lives are not just about your studies or putting in lab or teaching hours—many of you also have families and strong connections with your communities, work off and on campus, and enjoy varied hobbies and interests. You are all a vital part of the university ecosystem. As you enter the new quarter, consider the following strategies to help you get started on the right foot.

What you’re feeling is normal. Graduate school can bring up feelings of excitement, anxiety, fear, or homesickness. You are definitely not alone in this, as many of your peers have experienced similar feelings. Academia can also make you feel like you are not smart enough or capable enough (aka imposter syndrome). This is simply not true. Whenever you’re in doubt, remember that you do belong at the University of Washington. You are in graduate school to enhance or change your career, provide for your family, or make important contributions to your discipline or industry. 

Find your people. Graduate school can open up positive opportunities for your intellectual, professional, and interpersonal growth, yet it can also be challenging, stressful and isolating at times. With this in mind, we encourage you to seek out ways to connect with peers in a variety of settings. Network with peers at departmental and campus events. Join or start a local meetup group based on shared interests and connect with peers on the UW Graduate Students facebook page. Consider co-organizing a potluck with members of your cohort—you end up saving money and food always brings people together.

Take it one step at a time. For the past few weeks, you have participated in orientations, received lots of information about student resources and program requirements—and if you’re new to the Puget Sound region—navigated finding a place to live, while managing any number of daily living errands. When you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, pause for a moment to take a few deep breaths. Get in the habit of reminding yourself that it’s neither sustainable nor realistic to do it all right now. To organize your days and weeks, use a time management tool such as a paper planner, app, or online calendar. Break down big projects into smaller, more manageable tasks. And remember to reward yourself when you finish a task.

We hope you find these tips useful, and let us know what has worked for you!

Best Regards,

Core Programs—Office of Graduate Student Affairs

The Graduate School

Networking is Relationship-Building

In past newsletters, we have encouraged you to build your network of support. This includes growing mentorship connections with peers, faculty and university staff, as well as developing your network of professional, social and community support off campus. Yet we often hear from graduate students and postdocs that although they know that building networks is crucial to success, the “how” isn’t readily apparent at times.

Below are some ways for you to consider networking as a process of relationship-building:

Relationship-building. Networking is about cultivating relationships (short- and long-term); it’s not just a means to an end so you can land an internship, job or access information about upcoming research or professional opportunities. If you approach networking solely as a means to fulfill your own goals, the connections are less meaningful and they will be harder to sustain. Focus on connecting with people you are genuinely curious about, and let the conversations unfold.

Mutuality. Approach each networking relationship through the lens of reciprocity. For example, just as you hope to learn wisdom and insights from individuals who work in fields that pique your interests, individuals within your network can be inspired by your passion and curiosity. If you have questions, you can trust that others do as well. Even experienced mentors need to think through intellectual or work-related questions, and they can arrive at new understandings by learning from your talents and capacities as a mentee.

Cohort mindset. Think of networking as a lifelong process, where you increasingly make connections within a social web of intellectual, professional and community-based relationships. Growing your network decreases your isolation while optimizing your peer and mentor support. For example, depending on where you are now, you may form a writing group, or career exploration group, so you do not have to pursue these typically solo activities in isolation. Over time, opportunities for you to pay-it-forward will undoubtedly open up.

Adaptability. When you’re in the thick of setting and completing immediate goals, it can be difficult to think about where you plan to be in the next five years. Building and sustaining quality networking relationships can increase your chances of responding to future changes (stressful or otherwise) in your field or industry with flexibility, while decreasing your likelihood of making reactive professional decisions. If there is a tough problem you need to solve, individuals in your network can support you by offering multiple perspectives, lend you a compassionate ear so you can weather the storm, and keep you grounded by reminding you of your purpose.

Many thanks to Kemp Battle, Michaela Duffy, and Julia Freeland Fisher for consulting with Core Programs on ideas related to networking.

As always, we hope these strategies are helpful, and let us know what works for you!


Core Programs—Office of Graduate Student Affairs
UW Graduate School

Lauren Fine: Talking politics with family (and not losing your cool)

Lauren Fine“Listen, and listen more than you talk,” says Lauren Fine, a doctoral student studying political communication at the interpersonal level. It’s good advice, generally, but it’s especially prudent if you’re struggling to discuss politics with family or friends at holiday gatherings.

If you’re engaged in political discussion with close others in close spaces, “try to ask questions to understand not just what your family members think, but why they think that,” and understand the core values motivating their beliefs, Lauren says.

“We like to think we’re these very rational creatures, but we’re not,” she explains. “We have emotional, value-based reasons behind our beliefs. I’ve found if you can get someone to tell you about their values, it’s a lot easier to understand their beliefs.”

Another strategy for communicating with family in political discussion is to use “I” language instead of “you” language.

“In my research about political communication on Facebook, the conversations that are the most volatile are the ones where people say things like, ‘How could you think this?!’ And, ‘You’re so wrong!’,” Lauren says. Conversations tend to be more civil when people focus on telling their story, instead of telling the other person why they’re wrong. “It’s a less conflict-based approach, and more about having a conversation, because you’re family, or you’re friends, and you care about each other,” she says.

Finally, Lauren reminds you to keep some perspective. “Your family’s and friend’s political beliefs are not the only thing about them,” she says. “I think it’s easy for us to get caught up in the moment and let political disagreements ruin our holiday because we’re just so frustrated with someone.” This doesn’t mean to avoid politics all together — it can be constructive to engage in these discussions — but don’t let political conversation dominate your holiday.

Even if you don’t convince anyone to believe as you do, these conversations can still be constructive. That’s because “once your friends and family know you think differently than they do, chances are they’re going to be more open to seeing that somebody who believes differently from them is not necessarily a bad person,” Lauren says.

She relates this to the theory in political communication of “the spiral of silence,” which occurs when people think everyone else believes a certain way, so they don’t express their view, even if they think differently from the perceived-norm. There may be other people who hold the same dissenting view, but that view is never aired.

“I think this is a natural human tendency,” Lauren says, “but I think it’s something we should try to combat.” By expressing your political view — even if it may be unpopular among your family and friends — you can help break the spiral of silence, and that can make people more open to sharing and hearing different opinions in the future, she says.

Professors on Pedestals – Updated

Is there a place on campus where I can learn how to address/talk to professors? I have been in the US for about six years now, but I am originally from a culture where one is supposed to show respect to people older than you. I therefore still cannot bring myself to address a professor by name (as my other fellow graduate students do), or write an email to them without putting in multiple “Thank you for your time!” and “Sorry to bother you…”.

When I read my own emails that I send out to professors, it’s cringeworthy, since I’m so deferential. It’s worse when the professors I address are just a couple of years older than me. I want to learn to get over this. My friend recently pointed out that calling someone “Prof. X”, and writing so many Thank Yous and Sorrys in email skews the power dynamic a bit too much, and that I should treat professors as colleagues if I want them to treat me as one.

How do I learn this? I hang out with a lot of American friends but somehow this is something I’m unable to learn. —Anonymous

This question was originally published in November 2016. The responses have been slightly updated for accuracy as of January 2019. 

Hi, there. In order to address your question, I reached out to several campus partners. I hope their multiple perspectives and experiences are helpful.

Ziyan Bai is a graduate student assistant with the Graduate School’s Core Programs and Office of Postdoctoral Affairs:

“For the past couple years, I have organized a workshop on “Communicating with Faculty” for international grad students. At the workshop, a panel of three faculty members and four advanced international graduate students from social science, science, engineering, and humanities shared communication tips and strategies including communicating in person or via email. We have a summary of notes from the panel.

I also get this question many times during my one-on-one mentoring with new international grad students. This is not an uncommon situation. The bottom line: find a middle ground that you find comfortable with the degree of reverence you show in the email or talking in-person. Usually international students find it uncomfortable if they try to “get rid of” their home culture in order to fit in. There is no universal standard in communication, so staying connected with home culture and being open to learn new culture at the same time is recommended.”

Note: The “Communicating with Faculty” Workshop is being offered this May. Details will be announced in the Graduate School Digest and on the Graduate School’s events calendar.

Era Schrepfer is the executive director of the Foundation for International Understanding Through Students (FIUTS), which offers a wealth of support and programs for international students at UW:

“We hear this question pretty frequently. I usually suggest visiting the professor during office hours and being totally honest about this with them directly. Just say, ‘I’m from XXX and in my country we are taught from an early age to treat teachers much more formally, so the culture in the classroom here is hard for me to get used to. I want to be successful in your class and for you to feel comfortable. What do you suggest to help me with this?’ Usually, they really don’t mind being treated more formally by international students, but it helps to start off the quarter with a conversation.

Sometimes, it’s easier to feel comfortable with a professor when you know them a little bit on a personal level, and it’s meaningful to the professor as well. So ask them questions about themselves. Have they ever been to your country? How long have they been teaching? Where did they go to school? It’s helpful to find some common ground with them and see them as people just like you. Power distance is one of the most challenging cultural elements! I know a lot of alumni who still struggle with it many years after coming to the US!”

Elloise Kim is the president of the Graduate and Professional Student Senate, and an international student herself:

“As someone who is from a similar culture, I totally understand why you are hesitant to freely communicate with people like faculty members. In my home culture, a respectful manner for people who are older or hold a higher position is obligatory. Yet, if people here can interpret your attitude not necessarily as carefulness but as cultural clumsiness, you may want to question for whom you insist to keep such manners.

I’d like to suggest to learn American cultural manners in the way you have learned English. In other words, think of it as a foreign language. Its syntax and phonetics would be very different from those of your original language. But, you have to learn and practice it in the way the language is spoken by native speakers. You do not become a totally different person while speaking English – rather, you are speaking another language still being yourself. Likewise, ways of communication need to be learned and adjusted. You can be very polite in a different way!”

Katie Malcolm is an instructional consultant for the Center for Teaching and Learning and specializes in working with international, multilingual and first-generation college teachers and students:

“This is a great question, and one that many grad students have. The resource ‘Communication Strategies for International Graduate Students’ has some specific strategies for students about communicating with advisors.”

Ask the Grad School Guide is an advice column for all y’all graduate and professional students. Real questions from real students, answered by real people. If the Guide doesn’t know the answer, the Guide will seek out experts all across campus to address the issue. (Please note: The Guide is not a medical doctor, therapist, lawyer or academic advisor, and all advice offered here is for informational purposes only.) Submit a question for the column →

Advice on an advisor

I am a second-year doctoral student, and have not been able to build a positive relationship with my advisor. My emails go unanswered and our meetings are infrequent, short, and brisk. I feel that this person is unhelpful and even detrimental to my progress. I have tried communicating my discomfort with this relationship to my advisor, yet nothing has changed. I am wondering, how do I know when it’s time to find a new advisor? And, if I decide to break up with my advisor, how can I do so amicably? – Sincerely, Unsupported   

This answer has been published after consultation with the Office of the Ombud. 

Hi Unsupported,

I’m so sorry you’ve been struggling with this. Having a strong advising relationship can play an important role in your success in grad school, so I hope you can find an advising situation that meets your needs.

For anyone starting off in an advising relationship or struggling to develop a constructive relationship with their advisor, I strongly recommend the Graduate School’s resources on “Managing Up.” Managing Up, in the context of an advising relationship, refers to actively and thoughtfully defining and shaping your relationship with your advisor. It may involve reflecting on your goals for the relationship, setting clear expectations about what you are looking for in the relationship, and setting the tone and agenda for your meetings with said person.

That being said, if you’ve already tried to address some of your concerns about feeling unsupported to your advisor and haven’t had any results, it may be time to seek a third-party intervention. The Office of the Ombud is a great place for you to explain your situation in full detail, and create a plan for how to proceed. This plan may or may not involve breaking up with your advisor. The Ombud service is confidential, so approaching this service will allow you discuss your situation in full detail, and to share the information with someone who has institutional knowledge and experience helping people navigate challenging situations.

No matter what happens with your current advisor, I strongly encourage you to start cultivating additional supports now. At the Graduate School, we advocate for students to develop “mentoring teams:” a network of support that may include advisors, PIs, professors from inside or outside your department, and more. A mentoring team can help you in personal, academic and professional goals, and can compensate for some of the deficiencies in your advising relationship.

Best of luck,

The Grad School Guru

Engaging in Effective Conversations When the Stakes Are High

When you have important issues to discuss with faculty or colleagues, do you choose email? Text? Phone? Or do you schedule an in-person meeting?

It depends, right? How safe do you feel? How much detail needs to be conveyed and confirmed? Is it a small clarification or a bigger conceptual issue? Is there likely to be disagreement? As a society, we are having fewer and fewer in-person conversations and perhaps over-relying on electronics, opening ourselves up to further conflicts or misunderstandings, and perhaps missing an opportunity to practice professional dialogue.

As graduate students, you know that much of your success in your program is dependent upon the relationships that you build, and we appreciate that much can be at stake.
Generally speaking, in-person communication is key where you want to improve communication or build an ongoing relationship. Where there is a power dynamic, as there may be with your advisor, it can often feel intimidating or uncertain to engage in conversation, so we asked the UW Ombud Office for a few ideas to help get you started:

Tip 1.  Prior to the conversation, focus on your goals. Figure out what it is that you’d like to see happen. I encourage broad goals for many conversations. A goal as narrow as, “Convince my advisor to allow me to take my research in a specific direction” may not be as useful as, “Discuss a potential area of interest with my advisor, and determine opportunities for me to pursue that interest in the near term.”

Tip 2.  While in conversation, be mindful of unproductive behaviors from you or the other person. These can include passive behaviors like withdrawing from the conversation, masking your opinions or ideas, or avoiding sensitive subjects. These behaviors can also look more confrontational like controlling the conversation, labeling the other person, or verbally attacking them. If you or the other person is engaging in these behaviors, it’s time to pause and consider ways to move forward. Once you have identified the behavior, you have two basic choices: attempt to redirect the conversation in a more productive manner, or end the conversation and return to it at a future time (and see our past blogpost on preparing for conflicts).

Tip 3.  If you decide to stay in the conversation, S.A.I.L.Share that you are looking for a mutual goal, Ask them to share their goals, Invent a mutual goal, and Look for new strategies to achieve your goals. A mutual goal can also be broad, sometimes even as broad as “finish the research project”—and even that can be enough to get a conversation back on track.

Deciding to have an in-person conversation can sometimes be the hardest step, even harder than the conversation itself. The Ombud Office can be a confidential resource for making that decision, working through your preparation for a conversation, and to help you be successful in conversations to improve your relationships, communication, and long-term success – both in graduate school and beyond.

This week’s Core Programs newsletter is written in collaboration with Emma Phan, Associate Ombud for the University of Washington. Emma handles both graduate student and postdoc concerns at a tri-campus level, and enjoys collaborating with students to help them raise concerns and work through academic or professional challenges. Whenever she gets the chance, rain or shine, Emma heads to the beach to surf.

Finding Your People

At Core Programs, we often talk about the importance of finding your people—of making those intellectual, professional, and social connections that will nurture your whole self, not just your identity as a graduate student. Fall is a great time to remind yourself, whether you are just beginning your graduate school journey or you have been away working on your research or just straight up working, that developing a wider network of peer support is important to your overall well-being.

Here are some strategies to help get you started:

Connect with peers. Many of you have had the opportunity to make important connections with new and seasoned peers during your grad orientations and university-wide receptions. We also encourage you to make connections with peers outside of your program—who share similar and diverse identities, academic interests, and career goals. If you are in the research or writing phase of your work, reach out to peers at a similar stage and consider forming a writing accountability group or form a group for fun, social activities. Overall, connecting with peers within and outside of your department can help you sustain the motivation to continue your work and to feel like your whole self.

Grow your off-campus community. One insight we hear from grad students repeatedly is the importance of developing your community off campus. This might look like joining a hiking club, volunteering with your faith-based community, taking dance classes, or having potlucks in or dinners out with new and old friends and family. Growing your off campus community can help you stay grounded, expand your personal networks, and fuel your interests and values.

Build your professional networks. Whether your grad program is nine 9 months long or several years out, it is always a great idea to cultivate and grow your professional networks. Professional networks can include people already working in fields you are interested in and individuals who are working in careers you are curious about. Think of creating your professional network in terms of relationship-building and as part of intentional career planning—rather than just a means to getting a job. Join social media groups relating to your professional interests or find a local/regional meet up.

We hope these strategies help you find your people, and let us know what has worked for you!


Core Programs Team

Fostering Inclusive Classrooms as a TA

How do we, as TAs or RAs, work to include all students we work with, given the difficult times the nation is in? — Anonymous 

This week’s answer is courtesy of Gonzalo Guzman, pre-doctoral instructor in American Ethnic Studies and the College of Education. 

To say we live in “difficult times” would be an understatement. This is why it is our duty as TAs, RAs, or Instructors of Record to make sure that our students feel included in our classrooms. By “inclusion” I mean building and fostering a community in your class that validates and respects students. In difficult times, the community you build in your classroom can be a refuge, where students focus on learning and know that their experiences matter to you and their colleagues in the class.

Simply put, inclusion and validation of your students should be central to your philosophy of education/teaching. Students know when TAs/RAs/Instructors care about them, are accessible, and make efforts to include them. This is not content bound, but is a philosophy of work. For instance, a TA can teach content from a discipline or field that focuses on topics such as social history and identity constructions, and still develop a working relationship or classroom where their students don’t necessarily feel included or welcome. Even if the content reflects most of the students’ realities, if the teaching style and the overall classroom environment do not, then students will not feel a part of the learning environment.

Including all the students we work with is relational, continuous work, and it doesn’t need to be a  drastic transformation. It can simply start with check-ins with your students. Other ways to do this are to make assignments more accessible and responsive, adapt student input into your work, and make a collaborative space where your students know you are working together in a shared classroom. How you do this is up to you; it is dependent on the community you make and the relationship you have with your students. How do we include all of our students in these difficult times? We do the work. We teach and work to the benefit and developing lives of our students.

From an Overworked TA

The class I am a TA for requires 12 hours of student interaction and about half a day of preparing materials. Every week. This is way more than the 20 hours/week that I am paid to do. The instructor knows this and had originally requested twice as many TAs as we have, but the department, being broke, only assigned two of us for this awful job. This particular class is known to be this way, as I have learned from talking to past sufferers. I have been TA-ing for two years now and have noticed a wild disparity in the workload for different classes. My question is: how is this fair? The department pays everyone the same amount, still how is it that some TAs get away with just 4 hours of work while others have to do upwards of 20? Since this is an issue of the department, I don’t know how to proceed. The officials in the department get very defensive when asked this. I don’t want to risk not being considered for future TA positions and am therefore not going to pursue the topic with them, but isn’t this just exploitation of us students by those in power? If the department has no money, they should figure out a better way to do this than exploit two students every 
quarter (yes, this class is taught every quarter). I am at a loss here and am losing my sanity not finding time to do anything else that actually matters for my Ph.D. Please help. –Anonymous 

This week’s answer is provided after consultation from the Labor Relation’s Office

Yikes. I’m sorry this TA-ship has been such a negative experience for you. Fortunately, you have resources at your disposal to help you resolve some of these issues.

You’ve said you do not wish to pursue these issues with your department. But you should know all academic staff employees are covered under a collective bargaining agreement by UAW Local Union 4121. If you do want to file a grievance against your department, the Union will help you do that. A Union representative urges Academic Student Employees to remember that addressing workplace concerns is time-sensitive under the Union contract.

Another resource available to you is the Office of the Ombud, which provides a space for members of the UW community to voice their concerns and develop plans for addressing difficult situations. The Ombud is easily accessible, with offices on all three campuses. Students contact the Ombud to discuss a range of issues including TA appointments. They are your go-to for addressing problems with the department’s culture. They’ll advise you on your situation without starting a formal complaint or grievance, and they won’t contact your department about the matter unless you ask them to do so.

Best of luck!

Ask the Grad School Guide is an advice column for all y’all graduate and professional students. Real questions from real students, answered by real people. If the guide doesn’t know the answer, the guide will seek out experts all across campus to address the issue. (Please note: The guide is not a medical doctor, therapist, lawyer or academic advisor, and all advice offered here is for informational purposes only.) Submit a question for the column →

Friends Wanted

How do you make friends in grad school? I feel like I missed a crucial seminar where everyone else got paired up. I hear about things that happened on the weekend in passing and the middle schooler in me that followed me all the way up to graduate education is so hurt. Part of what I’m worried about is that I’m pretty outspoken, and I look pretty different from a lot of my classmates. I feel like I’m missing out on the camaraderie and networking connections that are half the point of grad school. What should I do? Arrive to class early and try and chat people up?

Hi there,

Thanks for reaching out. I’m sorry that you’re struggling to make friends, but please know you’re not alone. About a year ago we fielded a similar question about struggling with isolation, and studies have shown graduate students are more likely than the general population to experience depression – in part due to a lack of social support.

The fact that you’ve committed yourself to making connections in grad school is a great first step. While chatting with fellow students in class (maybe even forming a study group) can be a great way to make friends, there are on-campus resources that might help you branch out and meet new people:

Best of luck!

Ask Your Grad School Guide is an advice column for all y’all graduate and professional students. Real questions from real students, answered by real people. If your Guide doesn’t know the answer, the guru will seek out experts all across campus to address the issue. (Please note: Your Guide is not a medical doctor, therapist, lawyer or academic advisor, and all advice offered here is for informational purposes only.) Submit a question for the column →

Published: March 2017 // Updated: February 2019