International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

Student Perspectives

Posted 27 May 2015 in StressPoints by Crosby A. Modrowski, BA

This summer, many ISTSS student members are preparing to begin graduate school. Congratulations! This is an exciting, but sometimes stressful time. The next few months will include transitions, challenges and expectations. Few graduate programs provide new student orientation sessions like those many of us attended as undergraduates, so thorough self-preparation is key to your success.

But how does one figure out what they should be doing? One important task is arranging an interview with your advisor, so that you can establish a basic understanding of how your advisor likes to work with students and to help you begin planning your first year.

Here is a handy list of questions I made sure to have answered early in my first semester, so that I could set goals for what I wanted to accomplish in my first year of graduate school:
•    How often will you (my advisor) and I meet? How will these meetings be structured?
•    Are there other meetings (e.g., lab meetings, brown bag lunches) I should plan to attend?
•    What am I responsible for in the lab?
•    What upcoming conferences is the lab attending?
•    How can I get funding to attend conferences?
•    What professional development activities should I be involved in?
•    How do I go about getting involved in other activities that would further my professional development?
•    What types of professional organizations should I explore joining?
•    What milestones should I try to achieve by the end of the academic year?
•    How much time should I dedicate to my coursework? To professional development? To writing manuscripts or grants? To teaching or being a teaching assistant? To clinical work?
•    Do you (my advisor) want to see work from my courses?
•    If I would like feedback on a writing project, how far in advance do I need to send it to you? 

After getting answers to these questions from my advisor, I had a better sense of what my immediately focus should be and what I should try to accomplish in my first semester.

For example, my advisor recommended that getting to know my lab’s data collection procedure and the types of data we collect would be a better use of my time than allocating the majority of my free time to grant-writing during my first year. We also decided that it would be best for me set to help analyze data during the second semester, which would give me time to form my own research questions.

During this meeting, my advisor gave me another valuable piece of advice: treat graduate school like a full-time job. For me, that meant getting to campus early, whether I had class or not, and staying 8 or 9 hours (or more!) per day. Knowing that I was going to be on campus for extended periods made it easier to assign blocks of time towards specific short-term (e.g., coursework) and long-term (data analysis) tasks.

Although the list of questions above helped me, it is by no means exhaustive; your program will likely have specific requirements or expectations that you will need to take into account when planning your first year. However, discussing these detail-oriented and long-term topics with your advisor will allow you to plan your year and, ultimately, meet your goals.

Congratulations again and good luck in graduate school!

About the Author
Crosby A, Modrowski, BA, is a third-year graduate student in the Clinical Psychology program at the University of Utah. She was recently awarded a fellowship from the National Science Foundation to fund her doctoral research devoted to understanding the emotional and psychophysiological processes underlying the association between childhood trauma and adolescent delinquency.