Starting a Doctoral Program: Advice for Future Students

Jennie Kroeger

Starting a doctoral program can be daunting. But fear not there are lots of people who have been in your shoes with plenty of helpful tips to ease you into the transition. We asked current Higher Education doctoral student, Allison Peters, for her advice to future students looking to pursue a doctoral degree:  

Get to know the faculty in your department , . . It's totally okay to reach out to faculty members to set up meetings when you are looking at doctoral programs. It can help you learn more about the program, what the faculty members are working on, and what opportunities may be available. They also get to know you a bit before seeing your name on an application. After starting your program, take opportunities to get to know the faculty in your program and in the department as a whole. You will never know what kinds of ideas you will get from a quick conversation in the office or advice you will receive that pays off later. Getting to know the faculty is so important in understanding the culture of your program and department, as well as their expectations and hopes for you as a student. Be around and present ' you can pick up so much by just being around your program's office suite.  

Build relationships with other doctoral students so you can support each other. Doc life is tough. There is always this nagging feeling like you should be doing something always' probably writing. When things get heavy, having other students who understand the experience is so important. You need support inside your program and out. You need cheerleaders. You need people to celebrate milestones with you. You can learn so much from those ahead of you in study, and give so much to those behind you.  

Ease in. There are so many opportunities in graduate school: teaching classes, doing research with faculty on your own, serving as a graduate student leader on campus, etc. Before you say yes to every opportunity that comes your way, get used to doc life first. Figuring out how and when you work well, what you need to be successful in coursework and assistantship, and the time you need just for you will help you figure out what other opportunities you can add to your plate later. It's not about doing everything, it's about doing what you do really well.  

It's not about doing everything, it's about doing what you do really well.


Figure out when you work best. When do you write best? When do you read the best? Try to carve out those times in your schedule so these tasks aren't a chore. Maybe you can use that to build around as you determine office hours for work. For example, maybe you find you don't write well and retain little of what you read after 7:00pm. Honor that, and use daytime hours responsibly so you can do great work when you're at your best rather than struggling through projects.  

Ask about the format of milestone exams early in your study. Preparing for milestone examinations for your program can be daunting. It's a great idea to ask early about what diagnostic and qualifying/preliminary/comprehensive exams in your program look like when you start taking classes, even if they seem like very distant milestones. Knowing early can help you think about how to collect and gather materials throughout coursework so studying and preparation are much easier later on. Ask your fellow students how they prepared as well.  

It's on you. At the doctoral level, a lot of responsibility falls on you to make sure university paperwork is submitted correctly and on time, you're taking courses at the right time and in the recommended order, you're managing your time well, and you are prepared for benchmarks. Your advisor/major professor will support you, but you must be responsible for yourself. That being said, it's also okay to communicate what you need throughout the process to be successful. Don't be afraid to ask for advice and help along the way.  

Check out to learn more about getting started as a graduate student in the FSU College of Education.