Starting graduate school at Illinois is an exciting experience! You’ll find new opportunities and challenges, learn a lot about your discipline and yourself, and meet many fascinating people. As you settle in, it’s a good idea to start learning more about your program and thinking about what goals you want to accomplish while at Illinois. One of the best ways to understand departmental and professional expectations is to connect with your academic support network.
- Your Director of Graduate Studies (DGS)
- Your Graduate Program Contact
- Your adviser
- Faculty and students in your program
- Campus resources
To help you get started, we’ve identified five questions to discuss with your support network. We encourage you to reach out to others in your department—whether it be through email, a phone call, or even a Zoom coffee meeting—to learn more and start making a plan for your time at Illinois.
1. What strategies do you recommend for being successful in my program?
Graduate School is different than undergraduate study. Graduate students are expected to work with more complex, analytical projects and literature, and much of their work is done independently. In addition to the written expectations that you find in your departmental handbook, there are often unwritten expectations of what you should be aware of.
2. How can I find mentors in my field?
Mentors are a key part of your support team and provide guidance in academic, career, and professional development. For instance, you might reach out to mentors for advice about program requirements, for expertise on research approaches, or career guidance. Your adviser may be one of your mentors, but it is a good idea to cultivate multiple mentoring relationships—such as with faculty, advanced graduate students, and professionals working in your field—so you can benefit from a variety of perspectives and expertise.
3. How do I learn more about disciplinary and professional expectations?
Part of earning a graduate degree is understanding how to become a professional in your field. It’s a good idea to start learning about the expectations and culture of your discipline, which can span from ethical standards and licensing requirements to terminology and ways of communication. In addition to speaking with your support team, you might look for resources provided by professional organizations in your discipline.
4. How can I get engaged in my program and profession?
A great way to learn more about your program and profession is to get involved! Some opportunities include:
- Participating in departmental activities such as lectures or other gatherings.
- Joining student organizations in your program and professional societies. Considering a leadership role in these organizations at an appropriate time.
- Attending conferences to meet others in your field.
- Look for listservs to join or event calendars you can subscribe to or bookmark. Ask about departmental student organizations or search for campus Registered Student Organizations that you can join.
5. How should I prioritize my time in my first year?
There are a lot of things to be thinking about during your first year of graduate school. But keep in mind, not everything needs to be done now! Work with your adviser and mentoring team to create a plan for your studies and professional development. They can help you identify what activities and opportunities you should prioritize.
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.