Prospective Graduate Students

If you are a prospective graduate student looking for a project in a similar area of work, feel free to email me or contact me at the address on my homepage. Selecting a graduate advisor is an important decision; one should carefully consider his/her options. You will find graduate school offers a whole new set of challenges and opportunities. Graduate school is where many professionals define and establish their career paths, so it is important to get a good start and continue along this path during your graduate and professional careers.


Necessary Traits of a Graduate Student


I will only take on graduate students that possess the following:

Good work ethic. Graduate studies take a lot of hard work. Without a good work ethic, a student will not succeed. I am not interested in taking on students who are not serious about success.

Positive attitude. Attitude goes a long way toward success in graduate school. A student must be willing to work, willing to learn, and able to take constructive criticism and learn from mistakes.

Maturity. As a graduate student, you are now a professional scientist. No one is going to nag you to do your homework. It is up to you to succeed. You are expected to develop and execute a thesis project, which will take about two years of work. It takes a great deal of discipline to do this. The difference in maturity between a graduate student and an undergraduate student will be far greater than the difference between an undergraduate student and a high school student.

Aptitude. Knowledge of your discipline is crucially important. Foremost, graduate students should know the fundamentals of their branch of biology (e.g., botany, zoology, anatomy, physiology, etc.). Scientists should also know what has been done previously in their field, and what has not been done. Repeating others' work is often a tremendous waste of time and money.


Becoming a Graduate Student


A good goal for your master's program is to develop the lab/field skills, leadership abilities, and cognitive skills to transition into a professional position, or to develop the independent scholarship abilities needed to pursue a doctoral degree. These skill sets are not achieved overnight, and they can only be gained through a great deal of personal determination and effort. This is the nature of a graduate program. No one should lead you through it step-by-step. This is where you will develop the ability to work independently. You will develop the ability to ask good questions, and you will develop the abilities to answer those questions through literature searches and original research.

In my mentorship, I try to provide plenty of freedom for the student to develop independently. Do not mistake this as a sign of laziness or indifference from me as your advisor. I want you to succeed. (My success directly relates to your success!) But more importantly, I want you to develop as a scientist. Thus, I will not assign thesis projects. I will provide advice and direction, but a developing scientist will benefit more from developing his/her own hypotheses compared to one who is supplied a rigid set of instructions. Therefore individual students will be able to attribute success to their individual effort and work ethic. My goal is to help produce an independent scientist. Can you ask the appropriate questions? Can you come up with ways to test your hypotheses? Can you design appropriate experiments? In science, as in life, nothing is perfect. You will undoubtedly try something that will not work. This happens to all scientists. But troubleshooting is an important skill as a scientist. Today's setbacks fuel the initiative for tomorrow's breakthroughs. Ideally a thesis project will involve a novel question, a novel test, and a novel way to measure it. Your advisor should be able to guide you along the way, but a thesis project is the chance for you to become an expert in a previously unexplored area.

Graduate school is a transition from being a student to being a professional. While you are still expected to play the role of a student, you will now also be asked to take on the role of a scientist. Be prepared to take on this responsibility. You will become knowledgeable in your subdiscipline. You will conduct original research, and therefore contribute to the knowledge base of your discipline. Thus, you should be prepared to make this transition. Graduate students who think or act like undergraduate students will not succeed. Those students who lack the maturity of a professional will not do well in graduate school. You are no longer here just to take classes. While you still need classes, you will now also contribute to the gathering of knowledge and communicating this knowledge to others. Thus, your responsibilities are threefold: taking courses, teaching (or other assistantship duties), and conducting thesis research. Each of these obligations will probably take at least 20 hours per week if you want to do them well. If you feel like you have nothing to do, then you have neglected something. You will be busy. Time management skills become very important in graduate school. Someone once told me, ″You know you have become a graduate student when you look forward to weekends and holidays for a chance to do your own work.″

While aptitude is important, much of the success in graduate school is attributable to work ethic and attitude. You should expect to be at work all day, every day. Interaction with faculty and other graduate students is crucial. If you come and go only for classes, you will not succeed. If you do not spend time reading on evenings and weekends, you will not succeed. If you take extensive time for leisure, you will not succeed. Remember you are not an undergraduate anymore. The transition from college into graduate school is probably bigger than the transition from high school into college. Some changes may be needed. Graduate school is a big commitment, and you will get out of it exactly what you put into it. Remember, I will be committing a great deal of time to you as well. As your advisor, I am making an investment too. Make the most of your time here. You will never have as much time for research and personal development as you have in graduate school. The sky is the limit!

You should be proud to be in this position. Science is prestigious work. Few careers allow someone the intellectual freedom and individual creativity that characterize science. You will be developing hypotheses and designing experiments to test them. Your results will be published for all posterity. If you think you might fit into my lab, please get in touch. The deadline for graduate applications to start in a fall semester is in March. Details on the application process can be found at


Text and photos by Brian R. Maricle, 2008, Fort Hays State University Department of Biological Sciences

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Last updated 29 December 2016

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