The Graduate Student Experience

We have been in session for some allied health programs since the first week of July and for a few others since August. Thus students have already experienced triumph and failure and developed bonds with their cohort. Students have passed from the disbelief stage of graduate school to the wary acceptance of their new reality. Graduate level education presents huge challenges with more material, more reading, difficult vocabulary and increased expectations for time in and out of class. Success has to be redefined on the graduate level. The baggage that some entered with has now interfered with academics. Some students report struggle with debt, loneliness, balancing family demands and unanticipated academic struggles.

Graduate students tend to forget that just because they had good grades before in a large undergraduate university, now they are in smaller pool and everyone has good grades. Thus naturally there will be top performers and lower performers. It is very unsettling for students to not get A’s anymore. They ask, “What is wrong with me? How come I can’t do as well as the others do?” Graduate school requires honest self-reflection and understanding about their changed circumstances. Often my colleague and I can do nothing to help except to listen and offer suggestions. Sometimes our approach has to be tough love. Now they are little fish in a little pool with lots of big fish jostling ahead of them. It doesn’t mean that they have substantially changed but that there are others even smarter. There is always a lot of dubious advice given to students usually by well-meaning faculty or acquaintances. Students don’t want to be told that learning is individual, and studying is a personal internal process that depends on background knowledge, processing speed and procedural knowledge. Students have strengths and weaknesses that are invisible. There are plenty of strategies and methods to learn new and more complex material, however there are no silver bullets or magic wands. Assisting students with academics and general success requires patience, creativity and empathy.

Submitted by Anne Poliquin, NASPA Region V Administrators in Graduate and Professional Programs Knowledge Community Representative and Director of the Oasis Learning Center at Touro University of Nevada

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