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Characteristics of Graduate School
SuperstarsGraduate school can be a traumatic experience. Some graduate
students spend their time complaining about a heavy work load, uncaring
attitudes of faculty, or constant pressure of being evaluated.
These students quickly begin to devalue their
graduate education, deny its relevance, and develop strategies that help them to
"beat the system" (i.e., merely satisfying degree requirements without engaging
in any actual learning). Graduate school for these people is an unpleasant
experience to be endured, survived, and forgotten as quickly as possible.
Another group seems to thrive on their
graduate education. According to Bloom and Bell (1979): "These are the few who
proceed through the program with the minimum amount of difficulty and a maximum
amount of quality performance. They are respected by the faculty, they receive
the best financial assistance, they receive accolades, and as a group, they end
up with the best employment" (p.231).
These are the graduate school superstars. But what makes them
so successful? Bloom and Bell identified four factors which were named
most often by graduate school faculty to identify superstars they had known:
- Visibility: The most often
mentioned behavioral characteristic was visibility. Superstars were observed
to be physically present in the department, during and often after working
- Willingness to Work Hard:
The next most often mentioned quality was that they were hard working. It is
important to point out that the superstars were perceived as hard working
because faculty actually saw them working hard. Other students may have worked
harder, but because they were working hard at home or in the library, they
were not perceived to be as hard working as the superstars.
- Reflection of Program
Values: A consistently mentioned quality was the faculty's perceptions of
their professional values. These values were concordant with program values of
research and scholarly excellence. Superstars also recognized the value of
having contact with broad areas of psychology, even though their own programs
might be highly specialized.
- True Interest in Research:
Superstars were engaged in ongoing research projects in addition to their MA
and PhD theses. (Non-superstars did research because it was a degree
requirement.) Superstars viewed research as an integral part of their
discipline and a desirable and worthwhile activity for any professional
psychologist. They were curious enough about a problem to want to see data on
- Development of Relationship
with a Mentor: From the time they entered graduate school almost all
superstars attached themselves to one or two faculty members with whom they
continued to work during the course of their training. Faculty reported that
they "were easy to teach," "picked up things quickly," "could receive and use
feedback well," "were not constant complainers," and "were able to grow into
colleague status without taking advantage."
Note that the above characteristics do not
include intelligence, excellent grades, or writing ability. Perhaps these
qualities are simply assumed to exist in superstars.
The lesson to be learned from these findings
is that success in graduate school is due to more than just raw brain power. It
is also strongly affected by dedication, hard work, seriousness of commitment,
clarity of goals, and a willingness to embrace the values of a program.
Adapted from Appleby, D.C. (1990). A Handbook of the Marian College Psychology Department.
Indianapolis, IN: Author.
APA-style reference for this page:
Appleby, D.C. (1990). Graduate school superstars. [From A Handbook
of the Marian College Psychology Department.]. Retrieved from:
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