We all know the unfortunate cliché about college students and graduate students: They stay up late and sleep late, they work as little as possible, many stay in school for far too long. In graduate school we tend to see 2, possibly 3 types of graduate students. Some of the students are incredibly lazy and do almost nothing. They enjoy their scholarships, drink beer and smoke, and they hardly work. The students rarely graduate. A step up from the students are the students that do the bare minimum in order to move along in their programs. They spend time in the lab or at the computer but only to do what is necessary and nothing more. These students graduate and then move to obscurity. Most graduate students, I would argue, are incredibly hard workers and find themselves working constantly. Unfortunately, the students spend a lot of time working on things that are not necessary.
I have one piece of advice that will help you graduate faster, smarter, and with better research and job prospects: focus on what counts. The number one thing you have to do as a graduate student is graduate. To do this you need to have a plan, you need to stay focused, and you need to work tirelessly and what is going to get you closer to graduation. If you are asked to work on a project outside of your dissertation research, I suggest you ask your chair, “will this help me graduate and should I do it.” If it helps you build skills necessary for your dissertation then do it. If it does not help you advance in your degree program I do not suggest you do it and instead put your energies into something that is fun as well is useful.
Tip 1: have a plan for the length of your graduate program by year and by semester. Follow it.
Tip 2: ask your advisor what your final take dissertation will look like, and if possible have him or her list it by chapter. This is important, as you will then began writing pieces in your coursework that would build up and provide content for your dissertation. Be sure to also keep updated citations for your work.
Tip 3: find out what is necessary financially to graduate in the timetable you have chosen and find funding to match that timetable. Actually, it can’t hurt to find funding for that timetable plus the equivalent amount of funding for 2 more years. I’m not saying you need two more years of time. Rather, by adding two additional years of funding over the same period of time you will live a more comfortable life. Remember the 1 in 5 Rule when applying for grants.
Tip 4: pick a hobby that would help you finish your dissertation. This is your fun activity. It can be anything as long as it will help you make progress. For example, I learned web-design and photography. Both are used in my dissertation.
Tip 5: have fun and make it a game.