Share your wisdom with new communication graduate students!

Water Cooler GossipIt’s back to school time and very soon many budding communication scholars will embark on their graduate studies.  I asked a favorite professor of mine from my Penn State days when I was about to begin my doctoral studies at the University of Oklahoma if he had any advice for me.  Without hesitation he offered this, “Stay away from the water cooler and read.” Wise advice for sure – but certainly not the only advice one might offer new graduate students.

Let’s fire up the comment feature on this blog – please share your most sage advice you’ve heard or offered to beginning graduate students.

Update: The Tenured Radical at The Chronicle of Higher Education recently offered the Ten Commandments for New Graduate Students–more good advice. Here’s a link.


  1. Seek out opportunities for teaching experience, as well as training and development opportunities for how to teach. Many of you may be advised away from this advice upon arrival — but the reality is that most academic jobs involve teaching, and most graduate programs don’t devote the resources they might to developing high quality teachers (incidentally, I believe mine did!). When it comes to the job hunt one day, having a CV with concrete teaching experience as an instructor of record can be a huge advantage, and being able to provide concrete illustrations of effective pedagogy in teaching philosophy statements and job interviews (versus vague future speculation) will set you apart. Besides, teaching is fun.

    • I agree 100% with Stephen. Experiment with pedagogy. Try civic engagement and service learning. And consider that, according to the American Association of Community Colleges, nearly half of undergraduates are at community colleges (CC). What does this mean for you? It means that you might want to work for a CC one day. Search committees will review your application more closely if you have had teaching experience and a philosophy of teaching. When you have a Master’s degree, you can apply for jobs at CCs. As a graduate student teacher of record, I taught at 2 major research universities, was an adjunct at a women’s college and a CC. I then served as a Visiting Assistant at a private college and a full time lecturer and adjunct at a research university. While I learned important things teaching at each one, my current college (where I am full time, tenure track) is tremendously fulfilling. Especially for people who consider social justice an important part of what they want to do, if one loves teaching, working at a CC fits the bill. I absolutely love my job. Had I not had that diversity of work experience, I would not be able to judge the different kinds appropriately.

  2. First, get to know the people in your cohort as well as fellow graduate students at your institution. Be careful not to burn bridges. These people could end up being your co-authors, friends, and even colleagues someday. Second, take full advantage of professional development opportunities like conferences, Preparing Future Faculty classes, and the NCA Doctoral Honors Seminar. The knowledge and most importantly the relationships you gain there will help you as you enter the job market. Third, get involved at the departmental, campus, and/or association level. Getting involved with service early on will equip you well for faculty life where you’ll need to successfully balance research, teaching, and service to earn tenure and promotion.

  3. Grad students, especially those who are on teaching assistantships, have to walk the fine line between being a student in the department and being a faculty member. Take the first few months in your position as a TA to identify what the relational boundary lines for different faculty in the department. Some will treat will as a colleague, while others will expect you to interact them with them on the traditional “teacher-student” level. While you’re trying to navigate the relationship waters with fellow faculty members, you must manage relationships with your students. Remember that you are in charge in your classroom. Students should treat you with the same level of respect as they do full professors. For example, students should not refer to you by your first name. A simple Ms. or Mr. will suffice (although you’ll have some who will want to refer to you as Dr. – feel free to tackle that one with a simple correction, or let it go and treat it as a compliment). You’ve earned the right to be in front of those students. Demand respect and you’ll get it.

    The other obstacle is time management. Set specific hours for research work related to your grad classes and thesis/dissertation. But set different hours for grading work in the classes you teach. These hours should be different than your office hours. Remember that office hours are for meeting with students. There are some days when you’ll be able to sneak in a few papers to grade, or finish some work on an assignment for a class you’re taking. But most days will be occupied with meetings with students.

    Good luck! If you have any direct questions or have any concerns, feel free to DM me on Twitter at @adamearn or email at

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