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Research Tips & Tricks - For Graduate Students

Ok, so when you signed up for graduate school you knew that you had to complete a research project or custom dissertation, but where are you supposed to start? For many graduate students the act of having to conduct research in a graduate setting is beyond them. It really is a skill that must be acquired for a graduate student to successfully complete his or her degree. What exactly are you supposed to do on a daily basis to come out with a finished project?

Following you will find some helpful tips on how graduate students can tackle their research efforts. So are you ready? Here we go...

Research is made up of many different parts. It's not just about going to the library and checking out some books and it's not just about sitting at your computer and "Googling" something. Research for graduate school is about finding a topic or idea and then implementing it. Graduate students spend the majority of their time formulating these brilliant ideas by talking about them with their classmates and professors, reading other research papers and published articles, and writing and revising papers.


1. Journal. Graduate students find it helpful to journal or keep track of their ideas, thoughts, and research activities. Keep track of everything that you do or think about so that you can reference it later when you need it. You will start to notice that some of your of random thoughts and ideas actually start to form a pattern. This pattern often becomes a research project or your thesis topic for a paper.

2. Stay current. In our ever changing world things are always evolving. This is true with almost any industry that you may be interested in pursuing or any field that you may be studying. During the course of research it is important that you are as up-to-date and current as possible. As a graduate student you can accomplish this by reading trade journals and technical papers written by your colleagues. Talk with your advisor or fellow students to find out which journals are most useful.

3. Be choosy. Your advisor will or can provide you with a list of "must reads" when it comes to technical papers, journals, articles, etc. These are the resources that you should read and evaluate completely during your research. If you come across a paper that you are not sure about, read the abstract first to see if it is something that is of interest to you and your research. A good researcher is able to deduce whether or not something is related to his or topic and then is to apply the pertinent information in their overall research project.

Tips for Evaluating Papers

a. Understand what motivated the writer/researcher to pose the problem presented in their paper.

b. Understand how the researcher went about finding the solution to the problem and why he/she took the steps that they did to get to the solution.

c. Make sure the idea or topic of the paper really worked as opposed to being just a theory.

d. Understand what the actual accomplishment was when the research was completed.

e. Does the research allow for any future direction?

4. Keep everything. Keep files with all of the papers that you read and use during your research. You may need to access them later and you will want to be able to put your hands on them quickly. Also, be sure to notate on each paper the source from which you obtained it.

5. Stay Motivated. Sometimes when you become so engrossed in something you feel bogged down and maybe even bored, tired, and depressed. It is essential that you stay motivated and on track so that you can reach your goal. One way to stay focused and motivated is to organize your time and research activities by making daily, weekly, and monthly schedules. By doing this you are also setting daily weekly and monthly goals. Setting short-term and long-term goals also helps you to break big projects down into smaller segments. This tactic helps you to keep from becoming overwhelmed. It's much easier to have to complete one chapter today than it is to have to complete an entire research project in one day.

You can't just schedule work, work, work and no play, play, play. Schedule times when you can participate in leisure activities that you enjoy. Whether you love skiing or going to the movies, this will provide you with some downtime that you need to clear your head and return to your work refreshed.

6. Get a "study buddy." Having to bear the burden with someone else is always easier than having to go it alone. Try to find a research buddy that you can schedule time so that you can complete your research tasks together. If your research is related then you may even be able to divvy up some up the work, allowing you to cover more ground in less time. Even if you are doing totally different research at least you can head to the library or head to the lab together instead of having to do it all alone.

So while research can see overwhelming at times, there are ways that you can manage your research. These tips and tricks will help to keep you motivated and on the right path. Avoid the research blues, keep your head up, and keep moving forward.

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