Getting the Support You Need in Grad School
I remember when I first started my Masters program, I would search “support in grad school” on Google or Pinterest to glean some advice. Random results about literature reviews or fellowships would pop up, but I didn’t know what that meant. Looking back, I had no idea what I was expecting to find, but I knew grad school was becoming overwhelming and I needed help figuring it out. Reflecting now, I still get overwhelmed, but the difference is that I am better at knowing what I actually need support in and where to get it from.
From my experience I would argue that support, in the various ways it manifests, is the number one factor both facilitating and inhibiting graduate student success. Support can come in the form of relationships, resource sharing, structures and systems that are in place, storytelling, as well as in taking time to feed your spirit. In this post I describe 5 ways to get the support you need throughout your graduate studies.
1. From peers and colleagues
In both of my graduate programs, I have been blessed with peers and colleagues who continuously push me to be a *strong researcher and person. From peer editing my writings or posters, to sending me journal or news articles, to sharing hotel rooms with me at conferences, to checking my biases, my peers and colleagues have supported my personal and academic growth.
Whether it be the people in our programs or the people we meet at conferences or through fellowship programs, each have different skills sets that support us in different ways. They may help us process our readings, deepen our research perspectives, or share information and resources with us, inside and outside of class. Some are problematic. Some are culturally different than us. Some you form immediate bonds with, but most all have something to offer you in terms of what to do and what not to do. Advanced graduate students, in particular, have success and failure stories to share that can help us prepare for similar dilemmas.
When I originally wrote this post, I was in an online course. I think it's important to remember that sometimes our peers and colleagues are in different locations, so it’s important to build inclusive support networks in these situations too. I forget sometimes but, upload profile pictures to your email accounts and/or learning management systems (Moodle, D2L, Blackboard) to make them more personable and try to connect with your peers outside of forum posts.
2. From advisors and mentors
My all time advisor is the G.O.A.T. If you know him, you know him. He has his quirks but he cares about his students beyond our research. He wants to know about our personal well-being and aspirations.
Unfortunately, not every student is paired with academic advisors that care as deeply. It’s not fine, but there are workarounds. My general advice is that graduate students should not be exclusively working with or seeking support from one advisor or mentor -- academic related and not -- anyway.
There are two points I want to make here:
Good advisors and mentors know and are honest about their strengths and weaknesses. They will point you in the direction of appropriate people, handbooks, conferences, etc.
An advisor-student or mentorship relationship is bi-directional. Part of your grad school journey is being able to identify what your own needs are and giving your mentors a place to meet you. You will also have to identify what are your pain points and where you need support. Is it with literature or methods? It is with getting connected to the community? Is it funding or more leadership opportunities? Is it having someone to vent to?
3. From blogs, podcasts and social media
I am often asked what podcasts I listen to or social media accounts I follow to stay motivated or inspired in grad school. To keep this post brief, here are the links to a few blogs and podcasts I really enjoy.
Social Media Accounts:
As far as social media, Instagram and Twitter, in my case, I get the most support from people’s authentic lives as graduate students. I have found a powerful sense of affirmation in grad school from people not only sharing resources and advice, but expressing in pictures, words and gifs their frustrations, their strategies, their lives.
My highest intention is for In Her Lane to be added to your list for blogs you can gain support from. If you don’t already, follow me on IG and Twitter (@_inherlane), where I repost or retweet content from different grad support platforms.
4. From your institution
I love my alma mater - The North Carolina State University. Over my seven years there, I grew to love it not only because of the resources they had to offer, but because I learned to use them. I learned to create and maintain connections with centers, organizations and individuals across campus that could support me and even advocate for me, even in my absence.
To name a few: the library, the graduate school, minority centers, on-campus outreach centers, undergraduate and graduate research programs, graduate student associations, deans and administrative offices are all institutional ways of viewing institutional support. The main objective of many of these entities are to support you while at their institutions.
Due to some of the resources listed above, there have been times I have been introduced to paid opportunities because the “right people” knew my skill sets, as well as times I’ve attended amazing workshops because I was simply familiar with my university’s libraries website.
Lastly, in graduate school it is worth joining your university’s institutional efforts, such as student government or decision committees. This semester I’ve joined an intercultural dialogues program to learn how to have difficult conversations about race and hopefully facilitate these discussions. Similarly, consider joining minority support organizations and graduate student associations. These are interdisciplinary which allows me to meet people across programs, and more likely than not, with similar values despite coming from different backgrounds.
5. From the places and people that bring peace
When I began my master's program I did not expect grad school to take a toll on my confidence and how I would view the world. It was a huge awakening that I still struggle with. Almost daily grad school makes me wonder: "Who are you? What purpose were you created for? Why do you believe you are not everything you need to be?" Grad school has forced me to turn inward and ask myself what are the things I need to be grounded, to stay confident when imposter syndrome sneaks in, and who and what do I need to be progressing in peace.
The last way I recommend garnering support is through knowing the places, people or things that bring you peace. These days my peace comes from journaling, hanging out with new people I am meeting, and learning tarot. My peace comes from watching sermons on Youtube and dancing to Tonight by Summer Walker. My peace comes from funny texts in class and having amazing meetings over tea with new mentors.
Grad school is hard, but it doesn’t have to be isolating and a total detriment to our psyche. While we should be our own #1 supporter, we don’t have to be our only source of support through grad school.
I hope this post helps you clarify and go after the support you need. In the comments below or on social media (@_inherlane), let me know other ways you find support on this journey.
Until next time,