Three Magic Phrases for Graduate Students

What if I told you there were three magic phrases that can help you get what you need in graduate school (and work in general?)

These are all short, specific questions that can make your life easier if you know when and how to use them.


“I need some assistance with “X””. Be specific! By limiting your inquiry to a specific topic, it shows that you recognize the area where you need to improve and that you are actively pursuing getting better at that subject, whether it is writing, experimental design, or a specific hands-on technique. You are still a student and no reasonable person will expect you to know everything, so take advantage of the advice from the experienced professionals around you. Same goes if you are a new hire at a company and are still learning how they do things there, don’t be afraid to ask!

“Would you like to work together on this project?” I’ve said it before, collaboration is key! Learning how to work effectively with professionals is a major asset not just for graduate students, but anyone working in today’s business environment. The image of the lone scholar, researcher, or startup founder is both extremely common and extremely out of date; most major scientific breakthroughs are the result of the combined efforts of many individuals just like most businesses are the result of the combined efforts of the many employees.

“Can we clarify the expectations for this project?” Life will be so much easier in graduate school if you actually know what is expected of you. This is not always the easiest task, as requirements can be buried in out-of-date student handbooks or in unwritten expectations of the faculty. It is imperative that you understand what you need to accomplish and in what time frame.  It’s better to know upfront what you need to do rather than find out once you’ve poured your personal energy into the wrong experiments or data analysis, or even worse missed a major deadline that you were not aware of.

It can be hard to ask for help, especially if you are a perfectionist that believes asking for help means that you are incompetent. It does not! Impostor syndrome also makes it hard to ask for help , as you might feel that needing help means that you should not be there and are not cut out for the job you are currently in. Stop that kind of thinking, it will only hold you back.

Successful individuals are always learning and willing to admit that they don’t know everything. Proactively confronting your unknowns means that you will keep progressing and learning new skills. And, as we see just about every day, if you are not constantly learning and adapting in the modern workforce you will be obsolete before you know it.

What phrases have you used to make life in graduate school or your professional environment more streamlined? Share them in the comments section below!



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