Grad school is stuffed with opportunities: courses to take, projects to do, internships to pursue, organizations to join, and more. But it is also a fast-paced experience where you will need to balance complex and competing priorities in order to make the most of those opportunities. All of this requires growing independence and careful planning. So how can you keep track of everything? Create a roadmap!
A roadmap for your graduate studies shows the big picture of your graduate experience, including coursework and degree requirements, research and co-curricular activities, career experiences, and personal projects. Identifying what you will do—and when you will do it—helps you take ownership of your educational experience.
This blog will help you start creating your roadmap in 4 simple steps!
Step 1: Create a plan
Think about the best way to keep track of your roadmap. You can write it out on a piece of paper, create a poster and use sticky notes, plot it out in a journal, use an online tracker like Trello or Microsoft Planner, or make a spreadsheet. You can also download our handout to help you get started. Whichever system you use, make sure that it is easily accessible and something that you will remember to check periodically.
Step 2: Make a list of academic milestones
Use your departmental handbook and website to make a list of the requirements that you need to complete for your program. This may include classes, exams, and presentations. If you have questions about these requirements and expectations, the Graduate Contact, Director of Graduate Study, and your adviser can help!
Step 3: Add career, professional, and personal goals
Success in graduate school isn’t just about academic milestones—you also need to consider other needs and expectations that will shape your graduate school experience. To help you identify these goals, consider the following:
- Think about your motivations for attending graduate school. Was there a particular topic you wanted to learn more about or a skillset you wanted to develop? For instance, do you want to attend a conference, practice grant-writing, take an internship, publish, perform outreach activities, or mentor undergraduates? Write down your goals and incorporate them into your roadmap.
- Your adviser and program may have advice for you to consider. To learn more, talk with your adviser and others in your program about what experiences can help you succeed.
- Think ahead to your career goals. What are some expectations employers might have? To learn more, you might connect with people who have jobs that you are interested in. Campus career services offices can also be a great resource.
- Don’t forget to include your personal goals in your roadmap. For instance, are you learning to knit or training for a marathon? These might not be part of your academic program, but they are important components of your personal growth.
Step 4: Fill out your roadmap
Now you’re ready to start filling out your roadmap! Enter each requirement at the appropriate point in the timeline. This should be a high-level view that looks at a semester or a year at a time. This will allow you to anticipate milestones and develop appropriate skills in advance.
As you enter tasks into the timeline, think carefully about sequencing and alignment. Would one experience help prepare you for another, such as presenting your work in a campus setting before doing so at a national conference? Are there opportunities that would be maximized if you did them at the same time, such as teaching a course and pursuing a certificate in teaching? One of the benefits of creating this roadmap is being able to plan for overlapping and intertwined experiences.
What’s next?: Putting your roadmap to work
Congratulations on creating your roadmap! You’ve now got a plan for completing academic milestones and your professional goals. So what now? Here are some next steps to consider.
Get feedback. This is the perfect opportunity to get feedback on your plan from your advisor, other mentors, and your friends and colleagues. Their perspectives can help you edit and refine your plan to incorporate broader ideas.
Identify opportunities to learn and campus resources to help. As you look through your roadmap, you will likely see places where you need to develop new skills. For instance, maybe you need to learn new software to complete your lab work, to practice public speaking in order to present at a conference or boost your leadership skills. Identify areas in which you can grow and look for campus resources to support you.
Use your map as a guide. Let the map guide your decisions about classes to take and opportunities to pursue. When presented with an opportunity, ask yourself, would this help me achieve my plan? This type of reflection can help you have the confidence to say yes to opportunities that fit with your larger goals and say no to experiences that, while potentially interesting, move you in a different direction.
Be flexible! Your plan will change, so be prepared to adapt it along the way. As you learn more about your field, be willing to add or remove ideas to match your goals and interests. You will need to adjust timing along the way—for instance, if a class isn’t offered that semester or if life events change the schedule. Think about where you have more flexibility in timing and how the goals connect with each other as you make adjustments.
The Graduate College and your department are here to support you throughout your time at the University of Illinois. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us if you have questions or would like to discuss your roadmap!
Emily Wuchner is the Associate Director for Student Experience at the Graduate College. She holds a PhD in musicology from the University of Illinois, and her work focuses on music and social welfare in eighteenth-century Austria. In her free time, she enjoys boxing, reading, and knitting and crochet.