How to be a successful graduate student


I had been working professionally for 6 years when I decided to go back to school. I was excited, this was a lifelong dream, and I was finally shaping the future I wanted to live. To be honest, I didn’t excel in my undergraduate degree. I was working between 2 to 3 jobs the entire time, I participated in student radio and television, and I was being social. My grades slipped a little. But, I told myself, this time was going to be different.

I had been working 9-5, sometimes 7-10:30, sometimes 10-3AM, and several weekends for years. I could get up, prep myself, and sit down in front of my laptop for eight straight hours. I would be so motivated and organized, and my butt would probably look so good too from all the yoga I was going to do.

1. Make a Kanban boardPaperbeau

Kanban is a methodology that was originally developed as a project management methodology. It’s a great visual way to keep track of everything you need to do by organizing everything in three columns: to do, in process and done. This way you can keep track of your weekly workload for all of your courses (use coloured labels to keep track of courses). Visualizing your workload can help you stay organized, meet your deadlines, and acknowledge the work you’ve already done.

You can make a cute kanban board on a mirror, wall, window, in your journal, or use a free online portal like Trello. While I am both a visual and a digital girl, I love trello’s easy to use, drag-and-drop interface that allows you to create checklists, and deadlines, and colour everything.

2. Pomodoro technique


If you are anything like me, you will find the internet is a deep and beautiful distraction. Some days I do sit down to work at 8:00, only to find myself googling Bianca Jagger. Though it is almost always worth it, many of my assignments have suffered. Pomodoro helps you work more efficiently AND STILL GOOGLE BIANCA JAGGER. The future is amazing. Here’s how it works:

  1. Set a timer for 25 minutes. Just work, turn your phone on silent, no facebook, no twitter, no instagram, no pinterest, no — you get the picture
  2. Once your 25 minutes are up, set a timer for 5 minutes (DO THIS! 5 minutes goes much quicker than you think), and relax. Text your mom back, eat a peanut butter cup. Be free!
  3. Start again with a 25 minute cycle, followed by a 5 minute break. Once you have completed 3 or 4 cycles, give yourself a 15-20 minute break. Just 3 segments is an hour and a half, and you will have completed a noticeable amount of work.

3. Smart financial management

Everyone’s university experience is funded differently. You may supplement the bills bar tending, as an assistant teacher, by scholarships, savings, loans, grants, or the banco di boyfriend. However you do it, financing education is stressful.

There are two seriously key elements that are essential for financial management in school: 1) track your finances with an app like mint 2) STAY ON TOP OF YOUR DEADLINES

Mint is so easy to use, allows you to set spending goals, and monitors them for you with little effort. It will allow you to ensure you have enough money for rent, utilities, food and the occasional night out, however you finance your way through school this is a real life saver.

DEADLINES. I am (almost) not joking when I say get these tattooed on you. There are 19,000 balls in the air you have to juggle when managing your finances — tuition is due far too often, rent is due monthly, insurance every year or six months, scholarships have varying deadlines (you should  apply to all of them), you cannot get financial aid without promptly filing your taxes and/or FAFSA, this is also a crucial juncture in your life for your credit score, stay on top of those payments! Okay, so maybe don’t get them tattooed, but do create a financial kanban 😉


4. Ask for help


Master’s seeking students tend to fall through the cracks a little bit — a lot of time and effort is focused on successfully integrating undergraduates into academia, since undergrads are the most significant population on most campuses there are more resources directed at them, including social activities and financial aid. PhD candidates are fully integrated as working members of their department. Masters students seem to be the odd men out.

However, almost all universities have resources available to you:

  1. Live in your library — most universities have writing centers, digital centers and research assistants just waiting to help you! Use them.
  2. Ask for counseling when you need it — some weeks are great, you nail it, and your future’s so bright you have third degree burns, and some weeks you wonder how such a failure could even make it this far in life because you are surrounded by big L’s everywhere and you haven’t changed your clothes in 72 hours. When you need help, ask. If your university doesn’t offer student counseling, use resources like 7 cups of tea

5. Get involved


Find a mentor, work on publishing your work — you’re in grad school now, you shouldn’t be writing for free! See what social groups your college has, go to seminars, thesis presentations, workshops, and anything with free food. More likely than not, there is at least one community garden on campus. Go! Find what events they’re having and how you can get involved, that’s right girl, get some veggies and find someone who knows how to cook them!

6. Treat yo self


Okay, so you’re not rich, but you’re still a person doing something amazing that should absolutely be recognized! Create a grad school bingo for yourself (assignment completed early, 100% on a quiz, washed hair before class) and pick a small treat for when you have 5 in a row.

And always keep an Amazon wishlist, let your mom know when you need a pick me up, or you’re feeling proud. Keep another list full of gifts to send to friends who help you edit your work, or who have supported you. Gratitude is a two way street.

Be proud of yourself. It is easy to get discouraged, but the truth is no one wants to see you fail. So work hard! And when you need help, always ask for it.

Happy studying,


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