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Top 10 Questions Current Grad School Students Ask
Dr. Donald C. Martin -- Graduate Study Expert Dr. Donald C. Martin -- Graduate Study Expert
Chicago, IL
Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Top 10 Questions Current Grad School Students Ask

Chicago, IL -- Top 10 Questions Current Grad School Students Ask

Question 1:  What if my program of study is not what I thought it would be and I am losing interest?

Response:  Is this just a temporary feeling?  If so, this can happen from time to time.  I would not worry too much about it.  However, if the feeling persists and you are having some strong reservations about the program, I suggest the following:  1) Speak with your academic advisor and/or a trusted faculty or staff member.  Also speak with a trusted friend and/or loved one.  Get their thoughts and insights.  Perhaps you will decide to stick with it for a bit longer.  Or, perhaps there is another program at the institution that has caught your attention and you want to consider transferring.  I did that in the first year of my master's program and it worked out very well.  2) Consider taking a break from your studies to re-assess things.  This may be hard to do.  You may be concerned that others will view this as some sort of failure.  Or, you may believe you are failing in some way.  Quite the contrary.  If you are fairly certain that this is just not working out, you could be wasting time, energy and money pursuing something that is not going to be useful to you down the road.  Taking a "time out" will allow you to sort things through.  You can always return (in a reasonable time frame), pursue another graduate degree option or choose not to continue your studies.


Question 2:  What if I am enjoying the subject matter, but find the faculty or students to be less impressive than I expected?

Response:  Are you sure this is a general feeling?  Or is it just a class or two that does not meet your expectations?  If you have serious concerns about a faculty member, you do have the option of speaking with your academic advisor or with the head administrator of the academic division.  Some students are concerned about doing this for fear that somehow they will be found out and "punished" in some way.  If you ask that your comments remain confidential, they will.  You may be doing a service to the institution by sharing your concerns.  As for your fellow students, perhaps you have not yet met any with whom you are compatible.  One way to meet like-minded students is to join a student organization; another is to attend a special event, such as a symposium or lecture.  You may even consider helping to start a student organization.  The student affairs staff can help you in that regard.  Most students  eventually meet classmates with whom they connect.


Question 3:  What if I observe a fellow student cheating?

Response:  Whatever you do is a personal decision.  Does your institution have some sort of student conduct code?  If so, you have the right to follow the guidelines spelled out therein.  If not, you need to decide what you believe is best.  Should you decide to come forward with your claim, I suggest you do so in person to the appropriate member of the administration.  If you decide to provide your claim in writing, be sure to put your name on the document. Your privacy will be maintained.  While some students choose to make their claim anonymously, this is generally viewed by the administration as less credible.


Question 4:  What if I start to feel depressed, discouraged, overly stressed and under incredible pressure?

Response:  You are not alone.  You are not weak.  You are not inferior.  Many students experience feelings of depression, discouragement and anxiety, or become stressed out.  If these feelings last a day or two and then return to normal you should be okay. However, if these feelings persist, you need to acknowledge to yourself that you are having difficulty and reach out for help.  Most institutions have a trained counselor on staff or can recommend one to you.  While there may have been a time when depression, anxiety, or emotional turmoil was viewed less sympathetically, it is rarely the case now.  Do not ignore these feelings until they are out of control.   Reach out for help.  You are demonstrating a great degree of strength in doing so.  Help is available and your communication with a counselor or therapist will be kept in the strictest of confidence.  You should be able to continue with your studies if you act immediately and address whatever issues you are experiencing. Remember:  It is the strong who face difficulties and try to work them out.


Question 5:  What if the program in which I am enrolled is discontinued?

Response:  Unfortunately, this does happen from time to time.  Soon after I enrolled in my Ph.D. program (Higher Education Administration), I learned that it was going to be discontinued. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to continue taking classes in the program, and get most of what I needed before completing my coursework.  Rarely is a program completely discontinued when students are still enrolled and taking classes.  Most likely, courses will be kept in the curriculum until all students who wish to have registered for them.  Discontinuing a program generally does not affect current students in that program.


Question 6:  What if I reach the place where I am depleted of financial resources and am not sure I can continue?

Response:  Once again, you are not alone.  Speak with your academic advisor and the financial aid office.  Find out if there are any additional scholarship or loan opportunities.  If there are, you may be able to work something out and stay enrolled.  If not, you may need to take a break for one or two terms to get your finances in order.  You can return and finish provided you do so in a reasonable time frame. Many students take a break for various reasons, finances being one of the major precipitators.

If you have been enrolled full-time, you may consider finishing your degree on a part-time basis, and work full-time.  Or, you may consider working at the institution you are attending, which almost always carries with it a tuition exemption.  In both my masters and doctoral programs I worked full-time where I was attending.  I did this in the final year of coursework for both programs.  It was a tremendous help.


Question 7:  What if I have an extremely negative employment interview experience?

Response:  As we discussed earlier regarding a negative experience during the application process, wait 24 hours before doing anything.  If you believe you are the innocent party, contact your career services staff and ask for guidance on how to proceed.  These individuals will have great insight and can provide you with very helpful input.  This will not be the first time they have dealt with a situation like this.  By all means, let them help you.

If you are the offender, contact the person with whom the incident occurred and apologize.  The best way to do this is in person or by telephone, not in writing. You should also check in with the career services office to apprise them of the situation, as they have an ongoing relationship to maintain with employers. Remember, this is another opportunity to demonstrate your skills in handling difficult and possibly embarrassing situations.  One last thing:  Do not let yourself be the offender more than once.  Word travels fast; you could hurt yourself far beyond the immediate situation if you become labeled a troublemaker.


Question 8:  What if I repeatedly observe rude or inappropriate behavior by one or more of the student service offices?  By the faculty?  By the administration?

Response:  Depending upon the exact nature of the behavior, you do have options.  If the issue is poor service, go to the director/supervisor/manager of the respective department and let her/him know what happened.  If what you have observed is a regular occurrence, you have spoken with the director, and it seems that nothing is being done about it, contact the respective dean/vice president in charge of that area.  If your concerns are for something other than poor service, most institutions have very clear policies regarding harassment and other forms of inappropriate behavior.  You have every right to follow those policies.  Most institutions also employ a student ombudsman, whose sole responsibility is to meet with students, hear their concerns and help find a resolution. Meetings with the student ombudsperson are strictly confidential.  You should feel free to request a meeting with this individual at any time.


Question 9:  What if I have an idea that I believe, if implemented, would make a positive difference in my student experience?

Response:  By all means, share it!  Most managers/directors welcome helpful feedback.  I know I did.  Many of the programming changes my staff and I implemented came as the result of student feedback.  I remember a student coming to my office one fall afternoon to suggest that I add a short but personal note to the notification letter for admitted students.  I started doing so and continued that practice for the remainder of my full-time work in higher ed.  The positive feedback regarding this inititiave was amazing.


Question 10:  What if I do not find the courses I need to take available or there is little or absolutely no academic advising available?

Response:  This can be extremely frustrating and is a matter that must be addressed. It is very possible that the administration is not aware of the problem.  I suggest meeting with the head of your academic department as a first step.  If you have already done so, or if you have concerns about meeting with this person, then arrange a meeting with the person to whom the department head reports.  Also, you have the right to speak with the student ombudsman.  If you believe your concerns are not being taken seriously or that the response you have received is not acceptable, I suggest putting your concerns in writing to the president.  I do not usually recommend contacting the president – in many cases students do this as a first, rather than as a last step.  However, your course of study is one of the primary reasons you chose the institution you did.  You have the right to expect that your academic needs will be reasonably accommodated.  If this is not happening and you have tried unsuccessfully to resolve the problem, this is one time the president needs to hear about it.

News Media Interview Contact
Name: Dr. Donald C. Martin
Group: Grad School Road Map
Dateline: Chicago, IL United States
Direct Phone: 773-549-7639
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