Advice to Doctoral Students: If Only I Had Known

Take a minute to gain advice from those who have traveled the doctoral path before you. Whether you are embarking on your first semester, completing the last few months, or are somewhere in between, know that you are not alone and that the wisdom of those who have been on this path might lend a sense of ease and clarity as you carry on. The advice shared below is from a wide range of doctoral students and has been curated between 2014 and 2021. Interestingly, the advice from 2014 remains as true today as then.

If only I had known I would have…

  • taken advantage of campus resources before I needed them.
  • attended everything that the Writing Center had to offer to support my writing.
  • gotten comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.
  • connected with people outside of my department.
  • pursued more opportunities outside of my academic work.
  • not focused on perfection.
  • spent more time in the Graduate Student Lounge in the Student Union.
  • gotten out of my building…ignorance isn’t bliss, it’s oblivion.
  • noted the patterns in what I was complaining about and then I would have DONE SOMETHING ABOUT IT!
  • recognized that my self-confidence would likely be shaken somewhere along the way.
  • re-framed, “I have no time,” and restated it as, “I am choosing not to make time.”
  • continuously explored options for employment instead of waiting until I was nearly done with my studies.
  • spent more time with my family.
  • asked more people to be part of my network.
  • prepared to improve my reading efficiency.
  • understood that my advisor was not going to spend a ton of time with me.
  • focused on perseverance and not perfectionism.
  • realized that I am my own worst critic.
  • attended more department gatherings.
  • asked for help through my challenges.
  • recognized that failure often leads to success.
  • realized that this journey is about doing my best and not measuring myself against others.
  • found mentors to guide me through all that was unfamiliar.
  • applied for more opportunities and funding.
  • joined affinity groups to feel more at home.
  • recognized that I can’t run a marathon every day and that breaks are both necessary and good.
  • interacted with campus leaders to participate in change.
  • been strategic in gaining experience outside of my field.
  • explored diverse careers and gained skills to position me as a strong candidate.
  • permitted myself to have more fun, yes, fun!

Which advice resonates for you?

You can’t go back in time but you can adopt new perspectives, ask for guidance, and incorporate the advice of others who realize that taking some intentional actions would have improved their doctoral degree journey.

By Kay Kimball Gruder
Kay Kimball Gruder Assistant Director of Graduate Student Career Programs and Services