How to Survive Grad School

How to Survive Grad School
Pedro A. Alviola IV, PhD
Program Associate
Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness
University of Arkansas
Topical Outline
A. Academic Preparation
B. Qualifier and Prelim Exams
C. Picking an Adviser and Forming
your Committee
D. Finishing the Dissertation/Thesis
E. References
A. Academic Preparation
• Math pre-requisites: Take calculus, linear algebra
and others or sit in the lectures.
• Statistics preparation: Take theory of inference
and estimation courses and other stat topics that
interest you like multivariate analysis, nonparametric estimation, time series analysis and
• Economics: aside from the usual Graduate
Microeconomics load of 2-3 courses, go deeper on
theory by taking advanced economics courses.
B. Qualifier and Prelim Exams
 Talk to the exam chair about the exam coverage and
then take a look at the old exams to get an idea of the
questions being asked.
 Take advantage of a study group (3-4 persons/group)
approach. This is usually formed during the first year
and by the time you take the field exams, you are
more or less familiar with your groupmates.
 Graduate students are masters of applying the Folk
theorem…roughly stated… If you deviate from
expected behavior (like not doing your part in carrying
the load) you are going to be penalized.
B. Qualifier and Prelim Exams
 Do your work before going to study groups. If
you cannot contribute then you’ll find yourself
being left behind the discussion. If you do this
repeatedly, your classmates will likely not
invite you to future sessions.
 Prepare early…When the spring semester
opens, start reviewing by allotting at least 30
minutes/day for review of core topics (Pearson,
B. Qualifier and Prelim Exams
 If you study hard…rest hard too…That means
for example spending time with family, friends
and loved ones -your support structure
(Pearson, 2005).
 Successful examinees usually plan ahead in
terms of executing their study schedule so that
when the big day is fast approaching, they start
to slowly stand down from studying.
B. Qualifier and Prelim Exams
 If a particular topic is relatively difficult to grasp,
kindly ask a faculty member/advance graduate
student to lecture on this topic. Maybe the GSA
can organize a one day session so that other
students can attend.
 Get enough sleep and read the questions
carefully before taking on the offensive…
Spending a few minutes understanding what a
question requires saves a lot of time and
effort…no joke..really…
C. Picking an Adviser
 It’s always good practice to get top grades from
professors in your chosen field. That way you get
to familiarize yourself with the faculty and vice
 Choose an adviser who’s actively publishing in
your chosen field.
 Pick an adviser who would motivate and push
you to break new ground and cause you to
deepen your understanding of your topic and field
of expertise (McCarl, 2003).
C. Picking an Adviser
 Choose committee members who would
actively encourage you to develop rigor and
depth. Actively involve them in your research
and bear in mind that each of them is a likely
collaborator in your future researches.
 Remember that your Major Professor/Adviser
is your ALLY. Maintain a good, healthy and
professional working relationship with your
Adviser. Extend this to your committee and to
the faculty as well.
D. Finishing the Dissertation/Thesis
 The dissertation usually concludes your PhD
journey and will likely involve all the skills,
techniques and material you have learned in grad
 If you and your adviser have already decided what
dissertation topic you are going to pursue, take
advantage of advanced courses that require you
to present a research paper in class.
 This way you’ll be forced to start researching on
your topic and of course you get to receive
feedback from your professor and classmates.
D. Finishing the Dissertation/Thesis
 Start talking to your Seminar Chair for the
possibility of presenting your work so that you’ll
get comments from the faculty and students
(especially the advance students).
 Also, present your paper in meetings and
conferences to get additional feedback.
 Then if your adviser gives the go signal, go ahead
and submit your paper for publication (Shively,
Woodward and Stanley, 1999).
D. Finishing the Dissertation/Thesis
 Of course implicit in writing your research
paper is the requirement that you are at least
familiar with the requisite theoretical and
quantitative tools.
 And most likely you have learned this from the
courses you have taken in the past. DO NOT
THESE TOOLS….If you do and if you let your
group mates do the work, you will pay a heavy
price in the end.
D. Finishing the Dissertation/Thesis
 If you get stuck, do not suffer in silence, talk to
your adviser so that he/she may give you an
advice on coming up with a potential solution.
 Reward yourself for every breakthrough that
you’ve accomplished… Take a break for
example by spending time with your family
(play catch or go fishing with that precocious
eldest son of yours), loved ones and friends.
 McCarl, B.A. 2003. Preparing yourself for PhD
Level Employment. Research Paper. Dept. of
Agricultural Economics, Texas A & M University.
 Shively, G., R. Woodward, and D. Stanley. 1999.
Strategy and Etiquette for Graduate Students
Entering the Academic Market. Applied Economic
Perspective and Policy, Volume 21 (2): 513-526.
 Pearson, M. 2005. How to Survive your First Year
of Graduate School in Economics. Paper
Developed for the Mentor program for first year
graduate students in UC Davis.
And Remember to Keep
Moving Forward!!!

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