Getting the most out of MSRE: Grad School Boot Camp

by Jenn Andersen, McNair Graduate Assistant

Graduate school is an eye-opening experience for all new graduate students (myself included). Grading policies are stricter, workloads are often intimidating, and then there is the ever-present imposter syndrome—the feeling that maybe you don’t belong in graduate school. But, guess what? MSRE is a great time to get the grad school experience without leaving the comforts of UNL.

Three challenges that are often reported by first year graduate students are (a) time management, (b) amount of reading due/understanding the reading, and (c) graduate level writing (Schramm-Possinger & Powers, 2015). In addition, first year graduate students have to learn how to motivate themselves without the undergraduate structure they are used to and with other duties like teaching or research. Sound familiar? It is pretty close to the day-to-day experience you are having right now, right? This is why my MSRE mentor called me and her other McNair scholar ‘grad-students-in-training.’

So how do you make the most of the MSRE experience so you won’t be as shocked when you jump in the grad school pool? I’m going to share five tips that might just help you out.

  1. Practice time management. Time management will save you in graduate school. I learned early on in MSRE to schedule due dates for draft reviews and revisions backwards from the final paper due date, the poster due date, and the PowerPoint due date. I do this with my grad classes, I did it when completing my master’s thesis, I’m currently doing this to get publications out for review, and I’m already scheduling things for my Ph.D. It is also helpful to schedule your writing time, as well as time to do the next tip…
  2. Read, read, read. Graduate school will require more reading than you have ever done before. EVER. Practice for the higher reading loads. Find the articles that pertain to your research interests. Read them, and then find a few from the reference list and read those too.
  3. Ask questions. I can’t stress this enough. You have to be able to understand what you are reading, as well as how best to read an article in your discipline, and the best time to learn this is before graduate school. Schedule meetings with your graduate student mentor to get clarifications on the new theories you are reading about. Ask them how they read an article. Ask them how many pages of readings they get a week and what they are expected to know.
  4. Practice discussing your research with your grad student mentor. This is a great way to practice for questions at Berkeley, at future grad school interviews, and for talking about your research interests when you start with your new cohort in graduate school. Talk about what you’re doing, what you plan on doing, and how you could extend your project. This process turned into a second study and a senior thesis because I talked to both my faculty mentor and my grad student mentor about the direction my research was headed (and it is published now!). Also, it can help you to ask for tip #5…
  5. Ask your mentor to give you feedback like you were his or her grad student. The best way to know how to write like a grad student is to have your faculty mentor give you feedback like you are already a grad student. My writing improved by leaps and bounds through the course of MSRE, through my senior thesis, and into the summer because my faculty mentor kept giving me feedback on my work like I was one of the grad students she worked with. Trust me, you want to be as prepared as possible to write like an academic when you land at your program!

These five tips are just some of the ways you can make the most out of MSRE to prepare you for graduate school! Good luck and enjoy your MSRE experience!


Schramm-Possinger, M. E., & Powers, D. E. (2015). The First Year of Graduate Study: Documenting Challenges and Informing Ways to Reduce Attrition.


Explore posts in the same categories: Graduate School, MSRE, Research & Internships, Study Skills

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