6 Characteristics of a Good Graduate Student (part 1)

People are remarkably flexible and can adjust to a variety of situations given the right inclinations, with this in mind, I hope that the experiences shared herein will prove beneficial to prospective students as it would have to myself just a few years ago.


Whether you are considering graduate school or are just curious, a successful graduate student often has characteristics that others may not deem of the greatest importance. For example, intellect, while undoubtedly valuable, is far overrated. Instead an inquisitive nature needs to be combined with work ethic and sheer stubbornness. The fabled eureka moment often results from the tenacity to continue in the face of setbacks in order to draw success from the jaws of inevitable failure.

2-Work Ethic

Successful students are able to maximize their productivity. But using your time wisely is easier said than done. Working 12+ hours a day in the final semester of one’s studies will fail to make up for the skipped days, late mornings, and early afternoon activities indulged over the course of a multi-year program. The effect of this extra time spent in one semester is negligible when spread over a whole master’s degree…

If you treat graduate school as a job, and work a 9-5 shift daily, you will in my opinion have the time to complete all the allotted daily tasks. Why then do most graduate students complain of having to work evenings and weekends? Experimental obligations (such as working with animals or live cells), or personal obligations (ex. dropping off a significant other at work, picking a child up from daycare and so on) may be the reason…. But for the majority, this is not the case. On numerous occasions, I have seen (and been part of) groups of graduate students spending many minutes and hours in discussions wholly unrelated to the field of study. Moreover, many students tend to begin their days later than they would at a normal job. There is also the temptations to schedule activities (ex. dental appointments, gym sessions, etc.) during working day. After all, temporal flexibility is one of the advantages of being a graduate student and can be contrasted with the somewhat rigid expectations of undergraduate studies and even more so of a proper job. While taking these liberties and middle of the week vacations, seeing out of town friends, volunteering, working a second job and an endless list of other activities (from which I am personally not exempt), it is beyond the bounds of reason to complain about time based limitations.

These are a few of the characteristics that I believe to be key to success in graduate school. To be continued in “part 2”, four other traits will be discussed, which when ingrained or adapted by an individual will facilitate the successful navigation of the grad school landscape and serve one well as they transition to the so called “real world” job market.

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