Graduate school can feel like an exercise in survival for any student. But it can be all the more challenging for minority students, who experience differential treatment or isolation more often than their majority peers, said student speakers at APA's 2001 Annual Convention.

Uncertainty over such graduate-school mysteries as how to select the right mentor, or when to disclose a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender identity, only adds to the stress, speakers said. Those aspects of the graduate school culture are "rarely discussed openly in the department," said Tamara Duckworth of the University of Florida.

But such aspects are key to a student's success, she said. To cast light on them, she and other psychology graduate students shared specific "dos" and "don'ts." For those with disabilities, student Monique Williams, of the Illinois School of Professional Psychology, advised the following:

  • Know yourself and your disability. Be sure of your goals and strengths, but also know the limits of your disability and be able to explain them. Learn your rights.

  • Plan ahead. Request accommodations well ahead of time from disability services and instructors. Find advocates within your school. Know your campus disability and grievance policies and procedures, and keep good records.

  • Give up the norm. "Be prepared to run a small business," said Williams, in terms of hiring readers and other aides, and stand up for yourself when others doubt you.

  • Pace yourself. Choose your battles, give yourself breaks, seek support and "don't let graduate school eat you."

For ethnic-minority students, Kamala Greene, a graduate student at Boston University, offered these recipes for success:

  • Seek strong mentoring. Choose several mentors with similar interests: one to nurture you, one to give objective criticism, others outside your school to offer perspective.

  • Connect with other ethnic-minority students. Join campus minority groups and get involved nationally with APAGS, APA's Committee on Ethnic Minority Affairs and Div. 45 (Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues) and student listservs.

  • Cultivate white allies. "Some are willing to fight battles for you," Greene said. "They can convey messages to their colleagues."

Added the University of Florida's Duckworth:

  • Select a balanced dissertation committee with attention to "chemistry" between personalities. Check whether your choices have all-but-dissertation students and why, but rely on facts, not rumors.

  • Put in face time. Attend departmental programs and social activities, because the more you reach out to people in your program, the more they will support you.

  • Engage in self-care. Sleep, eat, exercise and "have some fun."

But, whatever you do, warned Duckworth, avoid the following "don'ts":

  • Don't be a lone wolf. You don't have to do it all alone--work on joint research projects and form study groups.

  • Don't spread yourself too thin. Avoid letting jobs or relationships interfere with school and don't take on too much course or extra-departmental service work at a time.

"Remember, you don't get tenure as a grad student," said Duckworth. "Your dissertation will not be your magnum opus. You're there to get a doctoral degree."