Tip #1: Get by with a little help from your friends
It is important to find your community, both in class and outside of it. Remember that the other people in your program are not your competition, but that you are all working toward the same goal! Lean on each other, these people will be your peers in the future. Form study groups, organize activities together outside of class, and help each other along the way! In the infamous words of High School Musical, “we’re all in this together.”
Tip #2: Be proactive about getting the help you need
We touched on this in our tips for undergrad, but this is even more important in graduate school! Ask. For. Help. If you are struggling in a class, finding it difficult to find sources for a project, or just need a helping hand, reach out for help from your professors and your fellow students. There is less hand-holding in graduate school, so if you need something, you need to be an advocate for yourself.
Tip #3: Work smarter, not harder
This was my number one tip that I offered to incoming graduate students. Find ways to make the work your doing work for you. This may be using a class paper to test our themes for your larger thesis project, allowing you to get a head-start and develop sources and arguments ahead of time. Return to work you’ve written in the past as a starting point (we are not telling you to just re-submit old work!), but revisit topics you’re interested in and you’ve already got sources selected or some research done! I managed to write two final papers on the artist I wrote my thesis on before I even started my thesis, so by the time I started on thesis work, I had a bulk of my research done because I had done it for other classes! Many of the advisors in our graduate program encouraged us to use a paper we’d written for a class as the basis for our thesis because it gave us a headstart on the research and writing process!
Tip #4: Take time for yourself
Self Care. Seriously. Burnout is real and taking a few moments for yourself each day or each week makes a huge difference. Take a hot bath, put on some music, and just relax for an hour. Put your laptop away and go for a walk. Take a break from studying and call your best friend. Put on your favorite song and dance around your bedroom for a few minutes. Finding ways to release stress will make a huge difference in your life and your ability to survive school.
Tip #5: Be flexible
It can be easy to go into your program with a specific project in mind and then put your blinders on and stick with that one idea. But things change! New research comes out that might change your initial argument or challenge your conclusion. Time constraints or travel constraints might limit you from accessing materials that you wanted to use. Remember that things can change and be willing to be flexible and adaptable.
Tip #6: Go with your gut, stick to your guns
While it is important to be flexible, it is also important to go with your gut and stand up for yourself if you really believe in your project or idea. In the early stages of your project, it can be easy to be influenced by advisors or peers to change or abandon your initial idea. If you truly believe in it and it makes you excited, fight for it. Your project should be something you are passionate about and something you will be excited to work on for a long time. Don’t let yourself be influenced to settle for something else.
Tip #7: When it comes to your thesis, be specific
A thesis can be incredibly intimidating, but the number one tip we have for making the process easier for you is to be as specific as possible. It can be alluring to want to take on a huge project, but narrow down as much as you can. This allows you to go much deeper into one specific topic, it narrows down the scope of your research, and it also saves you so much time. For art history, choose one, maybe two, specific works of art, rather than attempting to address an artist’s whole career. Start specific, and then if you have the time and space, you can pull out to include broader information.
For all our graduate students, we wish all of you the best of luck with your winter finals and hope you all gained some insights for surviving the rest of your program! You’ve got this!