Print Page   |   Contact Us   |   Sign In   |   Register
Eye on Psi Chi: Fall 2017

You're Not in Kansas Anymore: More Ways that Grad School Is Different From Undergrad

Amanda Kraha, PhD, Indiana University East; Stephanie D. Freis, PhD, Presbyterian College; and Morgan E. Longstreth, Wyoming University
View this issue in
Digital and PDF formats.

In our first discussion of this topic, we reviewed several ways that graduate school is different from undergraduate studies. We suggested following a schedule, setting goals, forming friendships, and remembering to take care of yourself, among others (see Freis & Kraha, 2016). In the present article, we’ll provide additional considerations for how graduate school is different, and suggestions to help you succeed.
Expectations and Structure
Managing the workload. In your undergraduate studies, you likely covered one or perhaps two chapters per week in each of your courses. In graduate school, you may encounter a much heavier workload—sometimes several chapters per week on top of various writing assignments and article reviews. Knowing your resources and strategically planning ahead will help you successfully complete this work.
One suggestion is to see your peers as a resource and form study groups. Depending on faculty and program rules, you may be able to split the readings between your group members. Each group member is assigned a section of the readings, and reports back to the full group with a written summary and short presentation of the material. These study groups can also be discussion based, which will help you to think critically about the material—and remember it better. Agree on a format, find a way to hold members accountable, and you’ll be able to learn the material much faster. Again, though, check with your faculty to make sure that they are OK with this—some faculty may view this as academic misconduct.
Another strategy is to carefully plan your course load. Some faculty recommend frontloading classes to get them out of the way, making more time later to focus solely on research and/or internship. Others, however, recommend spreading courses out over time and mixing with practicum and/or research courses. Talk with students in the program who have finished their courses—how did they manage it? If they could do it all over, how would they do it differently? Ask what to expect from different courses—if two courses are particularly brutal, you won’t want to take them at the same time. With this information in hand, decide what strategy works best with your personality and work style.
Keep in mind that, although you do have to take classes, you are no longer chasing that perfect grade point average. You should be presenting and publishing your work. Always keep an eye open to use your course assignments to further your research or clinical interests. Maybe you have to write a research proposal for your social psychology class—choose a topic that you might end up researching, and then you have your proposal started! You may also be able to present course papers at conventions. Presenting at regional conventions is highly encouraged because it helps give you practice for the job market—public speaking/communication is the most desirable skill employers want to see (AAC&U, 2013).
Professionalism. You should always put your best foot forward and exhibit professionalism. This applies in all aspects of graduate school—from how you dress to how you write e-mails. Impressions are important and can make or break opportunities for you, so treat graduate school like your career and work regular hours (i.e., 9 to 5). Professors need to see you as a colleague, and acting the part will help cement this image.  
You’ll also need to speak up in class. You may be used to lecture heavy courses where students have very little input. But in graduate school, you can expect less lecture and more discussion and/or class presentations. You will need to ask questions and participate thoughtfully in discussion. To do so, you’ll need to come prepared. This means not only completing the readings ahead of time, but also making notes and coming up with questions ahead of time. Some classes will not allow computers in class and will reduce your grade if you don’t come with already prepared notes and questions! The days of reading articles in class while the professor is lecturing are behind you. Remember to think critically and speak mindfully. Again, you’ll need instructors to see you as a participating scholar—they may end up on your dissertation committee and can offer you additional research opportunities.
Professional relationships. In our last article, we spoke about the importance of advisors (see Freis & Kraha, 2016). Mentoring in general can be a tremendous help in navigating the ambiguousness of graduate school. Your advisor is a big part of this, but don’t be afraid to cultivate a network of mentors who you can turn to for a variety of issues. This includes finding friends in the administrative office who can help with financial aid questions, teaching assignments, course registration, etc. Mentors may be within your department, but they certainly don’t have to be. You may have the opportunity to have mentors from various departments, academic disciplines, and universities. You’ll have to seek them out, though, they will not come to you!
Be open to mentoring others, as well! Once you’re in the program, remember what it was like to be starting out, and do your best to help new students in the program. It is likely that they’ll need your advice and support more than they need you to share the notes you took a few years ago.
Personal relationships. Graduate school can be a huge drain on your time, energy, and mood. Unsurprisingly, this can cause difficulties in personal and romantic relationships. It can be difficult for individuals not in graduate school to understand the culture and pressure of this type of academic study. As a result, graduate students should give forethought as to what their priorities are and remind themselves of this frequently. Have frank discussions with those close to you—are they willing and able to deal with you being busy, stressed, and pressured? Have they seen you under such pressure in the past? Are they supportive of your willingness and desire to work so hard, or do they think you’re a workaholic? Do they feel like you don’t give them enough of your time, before you even start your program? Remember to decide on your priorities, and keep them straight.
Last Bits of Advice
Plan ahead. As we’ve discussed, graduate school is another step toward your career. If you came into graduate school undecided on your career, start asking questions early and seek out opportunities for networking and job shadowing. (e.g., professional panels, Preparing Future Faculty; PFF). Identify your dream job and start looking at those job ads. Take note of skills these jobs want, but that you lack. From there, use your time in graduate school to get these skills. Make an aspirational CV with headings regardless of whether you have anything to put under those headings. These gaps will help you to identify where you need experience, and you can focus on filling these holes.
Teach. If you’re able, get experience teaching a course. This is particularly important if you plan to stay in academia. Unless you’re heading for a career at a research focused university (and these are difficult to get!), teaching experience is essential for landing a faculty job. Beyond making you more competitive on the job market, teaching is a great way to cement your knowledge of the material and can serve as a confidence boost as well. Further, teaching improves public speaking skills and keeps you connected with the practical applications of your research. If you are a graduate assistant who does mostly course-related work (e.g., grading, holding office hours, etc.), offer to cover a course for that professor if, for example, they need to go out of town for a conference. Such opportunities will give you that teaching experience you may desire, as well as show faculty that you are willing to go above and beyond your outlined duties.
Personal health. It bears repeating that self-care is the most important way to succeed in graduate school. As you have read above, there will be many facets of your life to balance including your professional development, your personal relationships, and the personal growth that goes along with this time of life. Find a hobby, and make time for it—for yourself. It may be watching TV, running, gardening—whatever it is, be sure to take time for yourself. Though counterintuitive, this will actually help you be more productive, and will help protect against burnout.
In summary, be strategic in how you manage your expectations and structure your work-life balance. Give forethought to the type of relationships that will be most important to you during graduate school, and above all, treat graduate school like a career— professionalism is best.
Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). (2013). It takes more than a major: Employer priorities for college learning and student success. LEAP employer-educator compact. Washington DC: Hart Research Associates.
Freis, S. D., & Kraha, A. (2016, Fall). You’re not in Kansas anymore: How grad school is different from undergrad.  Eye on Psi Chi, 21(1), 4–5. Retrieved from

Amanda Kraha, PhD, received her doctorate in experimental psychology from the University of North Texas, and her undergraduate degree from Arkansas Tech University. While in graduate school, Dr. Kraha served on several committees for the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students (APAGS). She helped launch the new APA journal Translational Issues in Psychological Science while serving on the APAGS committee. Dr. Kraha is currently an assistant professor of psychology at Indiana University East, serving as the University Psi Chi advisor. She teaches undergraduate research methods, statistics, and cognitive psychology. Dr. Kraha’s research centers on memory, statistical techniques, and professional issues in psychology. Her most recent publication examines the amount of debt students take on in the course of earning a graduate degree in psychology, and what salaries these degree holders can expect upon entering the psychology workforce.

Stephanie D. Freis, PhD, received her doctorate in social psychology from The Ohio State University. She is currently an assistant professor of psychology at Presbyterian College. Her research primarily investigates attributes of the self and motivation, particularly focused on the similarities and differences between grandiose and vulnerable narcissism. Current projects explore how both narcissistic subtypes have a high need for distinctiveness but differ in how they regulate that need, either through a promotion- or prevention-focused orientation.

Morgan E. Longstreth is currently a first-year doctoral student in the clinical psychology program at the University of Wyoming. She possesses a bachelor of science in psychology and neuroscience from The Ohio State University and has completed her master’s level coursework at the University of Dayton. While finishing her master’s thesis on the psychosocial effects of chronic illness stigma on college students, she is beginning her doctoral coursework at the University of Wyoming. Her doctoral dissertation will focus on mental health and aging, specifically in regard to individuals with age-related neurodegenerative disorders including Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.



Copyright 2017 (Vol. 22, Iss. 1) Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology


Eye on Psi Chi is a magazine designed to keep members and alumni up-to-date with all the latest information about Psi Chi’s programs, awards, and chapter activities. It features informative articles about careers, graduate school admission, chapter ideas, personal development, the various fields of psychology, and important issues related to our discipline.

Eye on Psi Chi is published quarterly:
Spring (February)
Summer (April)
Fall (September)
Winter (November)







Phone: (423) 756-2044 | Fax: (423) 265-1529 | Certified member of the Association of College Honor Societies
Membership Software Powered by YourMembership  ::  Legal