5 Goals I Set to Get Through My First Year of Graduate School

5 Goals I Set to Get Through My First Year of Graduate School

As I embarked on the school year, I developed objectives to keep me sane, to help me optimize my time and resources, and to gain a clearer perspective on the goals I hoped to achieve. The following techniques have helped me thus far, and I hope they can also be of assistance to you.

1. Take a Break

Whether taking a break included indulging in my favorite hobby, plugging into a social outlet, or doing absolutely nothing, I knew it was important to make time for free time in my schedule.

Taking a break from work, school, and family responsibilities during school year is serving me well in multiple ways. It provides a chance to recharge my batteries, lift my mood, reduce my stress level, and most importantly, avoid burnout. Depending on what my schedule permits, time off can range from a few hours during the day to multiple days at a time.

2. Build a Professional Network

I went back to school to advance my skills and my career. That included building a strong professional network comprised of individuals in my field. I joined professional organizations and social media to connect with people from my degree program and industry.

Social media has provided an avenue to chat with my peers on a variety of school related subjects. For example, I can chat with other students in the program and ask for advice or feedback on classes they have taken prior to my taking them.

My degree program, while mostly online, also includes a week of on campus residency. This face-to-face residency provides an opportunity for me to network and meet my classmates from all over the country and who work in various areas of education.  I’ve jumped on my chance to converse one-on-one with my peers and connect with people who can provide inside knowledge from a firsthand perspective.

3. Ask Myself: Why Am I Doing This?

Doctoral work is often solitary, and it can be easy to get down on yourself when you have difficulty with a challenging course and assignments may take you away from outside activities.

To combat this, I periodically think about my long-term goals. I remind myself that I am pursuing this degree because I have a natural appetite for knowledge, I enjoy solving problems, I like to challenge myself to new heights, and I enjoy research and writing. I also truly believe my topic of inquiry warrants attention and hope that my research will be a valuable contribution to the field of education.

4. Be Passionate About My Research Topic

Because research can be like a treasure hunt, it can sometimes be daunting and overwhelming. My genuine love for my topic helps me to be persistent and sustain momentum during the research process. As I continue to conduct my research, I feel more confident about my argument and justification for my inquiry. I can talk about my topic of inquiry all day long.

The more effort I put into my work and the more progress I make, the greater my drive becomes. It has also increased my ability to think critically and independently, resolve problems, and communicate effectively. And I’ve found my new skills are transferable to the workplace as I approach problems through a new lens.

5. Ask for Guidance

Doctoral work can be arduous. Grasping various research methodologies and comprehending empirical literature can be a daunting undertaking.  I have sometimes felt lost, overwhelmed and frustrated.

I always remind myself that I am not alone, and that help is available if needed. Asking for assistance has allowed me to build relationships with peers because we share similar struggles. It has helped me build a rapport with my advisor who has helped with program requirements, faculty and course issues. It has also helped me to increase productivity as my professors have provided tools to become more efficient researcher.

What goals do you set to help you get through each school year? Share in the comments.

About Lisa Tison-Thomas

Lisa Tison-Thomas is a student in the Doctor of Education program at Northeastern University College of Professional Studies. She works as an administrative manager and adjunct instructor in higher education in Boston. Prior to higher education she spent ten years in the business sector. Her research interests include leadership and strategic planning and management in higher education.


  1. A goal I set each year, even for each class, is to try and make my studies relevant to my professional life. I have a passion for human services and for organizational leadership, so if I can somehow tie my coursework and research into my work then I am more passionate about my education. This, in turn, typically helps me to be even more interested in my career?

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