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31 Tips for Thriving in Graduate School

Virginia Tech President Tim Sands and Graduate School Dean Karen DePauw talk with students during a welcome back barbecue

Vice President and Dean for Graduate Education Karen P. DePauw published 31 tips for thriving (not just surviving) in Graduate School on Twitter in March 2016. The posts were captured on the Storify social media platform, and shared widely on Twitter and Facebook. We are sharing them here, too.


1: Begin by accepting that thriving is possible.

Dean DePauw included a link to this blog post with this tip.

2: Find a rhythm of graduate school, work, and life outside graduate school.

3: Seek and find supportive colleagues and take time to be with them.

4: Know that you can say no.

5: Guard your time. See below:

Linked post from Twitter user @TonyBrainstorms: “Guard your time. The Wildly Successful do not have more of it. They just use it better.”

6: Communication is key: communicate clearly, directly, and honestly.

7: Working hard is integral, but being tired should not be worn as a badge of honor.

8: Making progress should be the goal, and steps celebrated.

Linked post from Twitter user @Tony Brainstorms: "Create your vision, write it down, and review each morning. Vision gives inspiration and provides guard rails."

9: Don’t give up the power you have over your life. Make choices and exercise control (agency).

10: Know that you are not alone, and reach out to others.

Dean Karen DePauw greets new students at an orientation event

11: Carve out time daily just for you.

12: There will be tough days. Hard work and perseverance are needed. You can do it!

13: Three important things: sleep, eat well, and exercise. Especially sleep. Don’t sacrifice here.

14: Mental health is as important as physical health. Take care of oneself.

15: Sometimes it might be helpful to “vent.” So, vent in a safe place, and then move on.

16: Know where to find your community, and find them regularly

(thank you to Nicole Johnson, Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Education).

17: Failure is an important part of life and success. When it happens, don’t take it personally.

18: Graduate student journeys are individual. Don’t compare, and follow your path.

19: Value critique and advice. Hear what colleagues and mentors have to say.

20: It is your education. It is your degree. Be actively engaged and own the process.

Graduate School Dean Karen DePauw poses with the Hokiebird

21: Believe in yourself. You can do this! Yes, you can.

22: Take a moment – breathe.

23: Take time to “fiddle with ideas” – explore, engage, and enjoy!

24: Embrace community as safe and brave space. Silence is the voice of complicity.

25: Laughter is good for you. And so is keeping a good sense of humor.

26: Goals are important for progress. Set long term and short term goals. Review regularly.

27: Don’t write a script about things to come. Be attentive as the journey unfolds and follow.

28: You might not have all the information you need or want. It is OK to ask questions. Ask!

29: Learn through active listening and observing. Also, look for the “unobvious.”

Dean DePauw included a link to this blog post

30 (originally the last one): Change rhetoric and reality from surviving to thriving in graduate school. Shared responsibility. Please join.

31: It’s hard to thrive without a mentor. Find at least one, maybe more than one.