Cover Story

Cultivating a close bond with her classmates was vital to Lehigh University graduate student Tiffany O'Shaughnessy's success at school.

"We are a tight-knit group and it has made this arduous process fun and exciting," says the fifth-year counseling psychology student.

Collaborating instead of competing helps O'Shaughnessy and her classmates stay sane, she says, and they accomplish more working together than by working alone: The five classmates have written a scholarly article and a book chapter, co-presented at two conferences and still found time to work on their individual dissertations.

To jump-start their bonding process, early in grad school the group road-tripped to Boston to attend a psychology conference. After 10 hours in the car discussing psychology, sharing meals and sleeping on the floor of a classmate's sister's apartment, the students grew close.

"If you like your classmates and enjoy being with them, staying at the computer lab until one in the morning isn't going to be such a bummer," adds O'Shaughnessy.

And if you can't stand your cohort members?

"Find or make your own cohort," says O'Shaughnessy. "We adopt people into our cohort at times."

Here's some more advice from O'Shaughnessy's cohort--and others--on making the most of the grad school experience:

Clyde Beverly III

Counseling psychology graduate student, Lehigh University

"Pick a program that matches who you are and what you value. For example, if you value diversity, choose a program that values diversity. If you are interested in racial identity research, go somewhere that has at least one faculty member doing that kind of research."

Matt Buckman

School psychology graduate student, University of Kentucky

"Join listservs related to your discipline or specialty. And don't be afraid to take on a professional role. Although you are a graduate student, you still come with unique experiences and useful information that can benefit others in the field. Step up when professional opportunities arise that call for your specific knowledge and skill set."

Sharon Elise Gingola

Forensic psychology graduate student, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

"Find balance. Sit, think and decide what is most important in your life. Then make sure you give yourself time to enjoy those things. As a nontraditional student with kids and a house and commute, it's easy to lose sight of why I'm in graduate school in the first place. Don't neglect the things that you enjoyed before starting school-you want to continue doing those things even on a limited basis. Try to find relaxation and time to spend with family and kids and occasionally see a movie."

Kenya Malcolm

Clinical psychology graduate student, University of Arkansas

"Form study groups, especially for those really hairy classes! Not only will it help you learn the material, but it also helps you solidify your togetherness as a class. But beware the lurker-those people who come to the study group unprepared and rarely contribute anything but negativity."

Anju Kaduvettoor

Counseling psychology graduate student, Lehigh University

"People always talk about the importance of not procrastinating, but that's hard to do when there is so much we have to accomplish. So [when you are faced with a major project] do a little bit every day or break it up into smaller parts. Go to the computer lab with someone to help motivate you. Having someone else there keeps me going and talking with my cohort and bouncing ideas off them really helped narrow my paper and research ideas."

J. Richard Monroe

Clinical psychology graduate student, University of South Dakota

"Be mindful of who you vent or complain to, because the other people may have it worse than you. Inevitably, we will all feel the pressures of grad school and need to complain, but it's important to be aware of others' health, financial and family situations. We see kids whose parents pay their rent and living expenses, and yet they still complain to people who are in school with families and mortgage payments."

Yoko Mori

Counseling psychology graduate student, Lehigh University

"Attending conferences enriches your experience as a graduate student. Visiting different places, learning the latest information in the field and meeting people can open many doors for you. Most importantly, you can make a lot of great memories by visiting conferences with your peers."

Sean Moundas

Clinical school psychology graduate student, Yeshiva University

"Set aside time to reflect on your professional experiences. Journaling helps me formulate my thoughts and forces me to organize my experience in grad school. It's also cathartic to get any stress and confusion out into space."

Ryan Weatherford

Counseling psychology graduate student, Lehigh University

"Build a relationship with your adviser, one that gives you a chance to pop in their office or call or e-mail about questions, whether they are related to school or not. Keep that relationship even if it's a matter of scheduling weekly or monthly meetings. For example, I had to decide this year whether to increase my working hours as part of my graduate school assistantship, and I talked with my adviser about how that would fit in with the other things that are going on, such as research and practicum."