Wisdom for Graduates: How to Thrive in Grad School
Increasingly, a bachelor’s degree is only one stage in the college journey, not the final destination. Millions of students will continue their education in graduate school, some seeking a professional degree (e.g., law, education, medicine, business) and others beginning a Ph.D. program.
What advice do we have for students heading to graduate school?
1. Develop a faithful perspective.
The habits of heart and mind you develop during graduate school will shape the direction of your personal and professional life. Many graduate students have found Daniel in Scripture to be a valuable role model. You might commit to doing the Bible study Faithfulness at the U. of Babylon this summer. Based on Daniel 1, the study examines how Daniel and his friends remained faithful to God in a pagan culture while still receiving praise for their accomplishments.
If you’ve been involved with an InterVarsity chapter as an undergraduate, you know the benefits of Christian community. Gathering regularly with the people of God is a central element of discipleship. Where can you find Christian community during graduate school?
A local church: Don’t let the transience and busyness of student life stop you from finding a church. A local church can provide spiritual nourishment and community, as well as a chance to form relationships outside your grad school cadre.
InterVarsity Graduate & Faculty Ministries: InterVarsity has 180 graduate and professional student chapters at more than 80 of the largest graduate schools in the country. These chapters are shaped to fit the spiritual needs and rhythms of life as a graduate student. Many schools also offer specific ministries for particular disciplines, such as law, healthcare, or business.
Christian professional and academic societies: In many fields, Christians have formed groups to support each other. These groups can provide resources for integrating your faith with your professional life. The Emerging Scholars Network (ESN) has created a directory of Christian professional and academic societies to help you connect with them.
3. Pursue excellence.
Graduate school is a time of apprenticeship, when you will be “learning the ropes” of your chosen discipline. If you desire to have a Christian influence in your profession, you first need to master the subject as a student.
Strong mentors will both help and challenge you to achieve excellence. You’ll probably need to find several mentors for different areas of your life: faculty to guide your studies, a Christian in your field to help you integrate your faith and work, older members of your local church as models of a faithful life. To get started, consider reading through the “Dear Mentor”columns published on The Well by InterVarsity’s Women in the Academy and Professions.
4. Be open to God calling you in new directions.
Finally, graduate school is a time when God can speak deeply to you if you’re listening. While some students enter grad school with compelling visions for whole lives, many others discover God’s vision for them in the midst of their graduate studies. Your studies will introduce you to problems, challenges, and opportunities that you never knew existed.
In his book Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, pastor and novelist Frederick Buechner has famously written, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” May your graduate studies lead you to that place.
Micheal Hickerson is a regular contributor to the Emerging Scholars Blog. He lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, with his wife, Elizabeth, and their three children.