Aim for Success

To be successful in completing a graduate degree, students need to develop a number of essential skills. Here are some basic guidelines to assist you as you create a personal plan for graduate school success.


Be proactive – take responsibility for your own grad school experience

Think about what you really want from graduate school, and identify opportunities to attain those goals.

Continue the mental transition from being told what to do, to deciding what to do.

Don't wait for faculty members to come to find you – take the initiative to build relationships.

Establish a positive relationship with your advisor/supervisor and the members of your supervisory committee

Schedule regular meetings with your entire supervisory committee – at least once a year.

Recognize the opportunities provided by your full committee for obtaining valuable feedback on your evolving research.

Have a clear purpose for each meeting, and communicate the agenda in advance to your supervisor/committee.

Follow up on items discussed in meetings – keep your supervisor informed of your progress and challenges.

Act as a "junior colleague" – ask questions, advance ideas, show interest and support for shared goals.

Create and follow an annual plan

Track your specific program requirements (e.g., courses taken, comprehensives, research, thesis, etc.)

Schedule periodic meetings with your supervisor and committee.

Take professional development courses.

Embrace your academic community

Seek input and collaboration from faculty members and your peers – don't isolate yourself.

Attend optional seminars and lectures within and beyond your program or department.

Recognize that some of the graduate students in your program who are further along may have experience and insights in situations you may be encountering.

Attend and present at conferences.Begin thinking of yourself as a member of your profession and academic field.

Be aware of other research in your lab and department. If possible, actively participate.

Seek out ways to participate in your department such as volunteering to join department committees that call for graduate representation.

Know your program requirements and timelines

Masters students

Your program may require any or all of the following:

  • Coursework
  • Comprehensive or qualifying exams
  • A research thesis or major project
  • A practicum or internship
  • Public presentation and/or defense of thesis or project

UBC Graduate Policy states that:

Masters students must complete all degree requirements within 5 years of enrolment.

Doctoral Students

Your program may require that you do coursework and an internship.

Doctoral programs will require that you:

  • Develop and gain approval for a research proposal
  • Pass a comprehensive exam
  • Complete a research dissertation
  • Defend the thesis at a Doctoral Oral Examination

UBC Policy states that Doctoral Students:

  • Should advance to candidacy within 2 years, and must within 3 years
  • Should complete all degree requirements within 5 years of enrolment and must within 6 years

View the Graduate Guides page for more information.

Bring a professional approach to your work and your interactions

Aim for mastery of skills in organization, preparedness, collegiality.

Take workshops through the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies' Graduate Pathways to Success or UBC centres including the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology (CTLT) and more (Writing, Career, Library)

Learn about research ethics and scholarly integrity. All UBC researchers are required to:

  • Give proper recognition to those who have made intellectual contributions to the content of your publication; refrain from representing others' academic work as one's own (this is plagiarism)
  • Conform to UBC requirements for working with humans, animals, biohazards, radioisotopes, and the environment (these need Research Ethics Board approval)
  • Use scholarly and scientific rigor in obtaining, recording, and analyzing data, and in reporting results

Seek balance and support in your life

Remember that you have friends and family outside grad school who can be important for building your support system.

Seek out the many resources at UBC that can help you through the tough times.

Review the Graduate Game Plan tips on Stress and Depression

Remember that this will be among the most inspiring and satisfying times in your life.

And, because your mother isn't here: "Get enough sleep, make time for physical exercise, and eat your veggies!"

Adapted from "Being a Successful Graduate Student", a PowerPoint presentation by Jenny Phelps, sponsored by the University of British Columbia Faculty of Graduate Studies.