Houston Baptist University serves more than 1,000 graduate students – both master’s and doctoral students. Graduate students experience a new set of challenges and questions, smaller classes, more specific programs, and a higher academic standard than undergraduate students face. I asked some of our HBU faculty and staff to give advice to first-time graduate students, and their answers, which come from personal experience and years of working with students, are insightful.

Recognize the higher standard.

The expectations are that you will complete the readings/assignments on time and at a quality level that is much higher than that expected of an undergraduate. Get yourself organized before the semester begins. – Dr. Vickey Giles, College of Education and Behavioral Sciences

Be a professional. Think of what you need to do to be a good professional in your chosen field. At this level grades are secondary. Use your courses (but not your courses only) to develop that professionalism. – Dr. Anthony Joseph, School of Humanities

Keep your eyes on the prize.

Establish your purpose even before your journey begins! Always be mindful of why you are doing what you are doing! Counsel your heart with this purpose through your greatest victories as well as your most difficult days. Few things worth having come easily. – Dr. Katie Alaniz, College of Education and Behavioral Sciences

It’s not over until you finish. Don’t stop until you have reached your goal. Even if life interrupts, step back into it. Explore your true learning capabilities in this time of knowledge gaining. Speak up on what you think, why you think that, and how it affects the topic you are working on. Become an expert by increasing your desire and love for whatever subject you are studying. – Mon’Sher Spencer

Be disciplined with your time.

In graduate school, you’re potentially on a less structured day-to-day schedule so you’ll have stay disciplined in your studies and completion of assignments. – Dr. Lisa Ellis, College of Science and Mathematics

Cancel your Netflix subscription. Seriously. – Dr. Collin Garbarino, School of Humanities

Become an expert.

Earning your master’s or doctorate is about becoming an expert in your field. You have the opportunity to specialize in topics that you are interested in, so embrace this time of your education. Have confidence in yourself that you can become that expert. – Dr. Lisa Ellis

Graduate school is the time for you to study and extend your knowledge about the topic that you are most interested.  Enjoy the extension of knowledge and find your path to being the expert in your field! – Dr. Angie Durand, College of Education and Behavioral Sciences

Build your network.

Seek out someone who can serve as a mentor for learning how to work more independently and think critically on bigger projects. – Dr. Saul Trevino, College of Science and Mathematics

Whether you are taking online classes or residential courses, I would suggest you first take the time to develop positive working relationships. It is like getting a second set of eyes and ears right away. You can check for understanding with this colleague, challenge each other to do better, and engage in additional conversations that will help to enrich your learning experience. – Dr. Dawn Wilson, College of Education and Behavioral Sciences

Embrace independent work.

It is not too early to begin outlining your proposed research, collecting references and writing introductory material for your thesis or dissertation. Cultivate the habit of daily writing. Write before you check your emails in the morning. – Dr. James Claycomb, College of Science and Mathematics

Most of our master’s and doctoral students are coming back to higher education after a short or long break from higher education, so they must recognize that the way they achieve the requirements of a graduate student could look very different from how they accomplished their undergraduate degree. Not only might you be managing a spouse, children, and a full-time job that were not a part of your life as an undergraduate, there is also a whole set of new skills that you didn’t need to utilize in the past.  It’s important to master these new skill sets (Examples: how to do research, how to write professionally, how to submit articles for publication, how to prepare a presentation for a conference or symposium, or how to prepare for a leadership role in your chosen field).  You will certainly receive instruction and feedback from your professors, but your independent work in these areas will be crucial. – Dr. Kaye Busiek, College of Education and Behavioral Sciences

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Dr. Robert B. Sloan is president of Houston Baptist University in Houston, Texas. The Graduate School at HBU offers both traditional and online programs.

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