Perfectionist. High achiever. Competitive. Sound familiar? Graduate students often share these double edged qualities. A strong drive to achieve can fuel your success in college and improve your odds of admission to graduate school. Not surprisingly, graduate students tend to be very competitive.   It can also be self-defeating while a sense of competitiveness can keep you on the ball. Why? Other graduate students are an important resource during graduate school – and long after you graduate. Both junior and senior, are a source of support, advice, and opportunities, friendships and good working relationships with other students. Tips about the professor can help you decide if it’s right for you when you’re considering taking a class, particularly an elective that you can choose to skip. What is the class like? Lots of discussion? Lecture? What are the assignments like? Is he or she an easy grader? Challenging? Do you really need to do all the reading? Does the professor encourage students to attend office hours to discuss papers, exams, and overall performance? Does the professor have personal qualities and a teaching style that appeals to you? This information can help you decide whether to take a particular course. Of course, there are often required courses that you simply must take, regardless of the professor.

Reasons to make friends in graduate school

Knowing something about the professor and class is still useful as it can establish expectations for your role and workload that can get you off to a good start in this case. Your choice of mentor can make or break your grad school experience. Input from other students can be invaluable when you’re considering a mentor or thinking about joining a professor’s lab. A lab insider can provide insight on details like the workflow, team’s progress, and typical student roles. How diligent is the professor in ensuring that research is high quality, publication-worthy, and timely? What roles do students take? Are all students involved – and do they get appropriate credit and authorship? Does the professor encourage students to create their own independent studies? How are the professor’s interaction skills? Is he or she good at managing students, communicating needs, and dealing with crises? Dissertation success – whether you finish it quickly, efficiently, and with publication-worthy results – is not just up to you. Many students underestimate the importance of their dissertation committee. The committee’s role is to oversee your work. Your choice of faculty will determine your success and feedback from your peers can help. Which professor provides the best advice on research methodology? Which excels at theory? Converse with other students to compose a dream dissertation team. A second aspect of choosing a dissertation committee, apart from expertise is selecting faculty who get along.  Grad student peers can share their knowledge of department politics.  A dissertation committee comprised of faculty who dislike each other can hamper your success. Ultimately your mentor must approve your choices, but student input can help you make good choices. No one can provide better emotional support than another student who knows that you’re going through. Peers are an important sounding board.