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Graduate Study Challenges and Strategies for Success

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Graduate Study Challenges and Strategies for Personal Success
“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” This famed quotation by one of the most influential American essayist and poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, inspired me toward my journey to pursue graduate study. Taking the first step toward this journey is the most difficult. I understood that challenges will be inevitable in this path and implementing strategies to face these challenges is crucial for my success. I gained significant experience in both my academic and professional career over the years. I realize that I have the determination to accomplish goals and the necessary means to envision success. I have a variety of reasons I chose to pursue graduate study, both personal, and professional. Personally, I want to teach my children the importance of education in one’s life and to inspire them to aim for academic excellence. Professionally, I am very passionate about Nursing and about improving the quality of care given to patients. My ultimate goal is to influence change in the health care field as an educator or as an administrator. I want to inspire others to be excited with Nursing and be more involved in creating best practices that affects health care. I also want to ensure that I am more marketable to advance in my career. Graduate study paves the way toward the realization of these aspirations.
Three Challenges that I will face in Meeting my Goals Just like any endeavor, the decision to attend a graduate program did not come without difficulty. Kramer L. (2007) mentioned the cost of higher education, time constraints, and acquiring skills necessary to succeed in graduate study, as challenges that students need to face.
Financial Aid Availability A study conducted by Bain, Fedynich, and Knight (2009), suggested that graduate students need more financial aid options to offset the cost of higher education. Students need to be more vigilant in looking for resources to support them financially. They need to be aware of the various offices and government institutions that offer loans, grants, and scholarships.
Acquiring the skills necessary for successful graduate study Going back to school is not an easy feat. A majority of adult learners realize that certain skills are necessary to obtain successful course completion. Computer skills and knowledge of commonly used software applications, to name a few, are essential proficiencies every graduate student should have upon entering the realm of higher learning. Woolcock (2006), urges graduate programs to create a design that will incorporate three core competencies for a graduate student; “the skills of ‘detectives’ (data collection, analysis and interpretation), ‘translators’ (reframing given ideas for diverse groups), and ‘diplomats’ (negotiation, conflict mediation, deal making)” (Woolcock, 2006, p. LV). Graduate students need to have strong analytical minds, powerful critical thinking skills, and efficiency in conflict resolution. These core competencies prepare graduate students to contend effectively with the demands of their profession at the commencement of the program.
Time Constraints
One of the initial concerns that a majority of adult learners recognize upon entering the academic arena is that there is never enough time in the day. Academic life is overwhelming. Graduate students have to balance work, family, personal, and academic obligations. Time is a precious commodity that everybody has. Learning how to use it wisely is essential to increase ones productivity in daily life. Time management does not only mean keeping a schedule. Time also demands an awareness of one’s responsibilities, delicately acknowledging their importance, and choosing the best way to use time. The next discussion elaborates the strategies of effective time management.

Steps to Follow to Attain Short and Long-Term Goals
Pursuing my master’s degree was something that I always wanted to do after finishing my Bachelor of Science in Nursing. My long-term goal is to finish graduate study in the next 18 to 20 months with a GPA of 3.5 or greater. I also aspire to advance in the clinical ladder in the future as an educator or as an administrator. I can accomplish these long-term goals through the completion of the following short- term goals: I plan to complete the tutorials in University of Phoenix website in the next six to eight weeks. I also want to be familiar and proficient in the use of the APA 6th edition guidelines within the next six to eight weeks. I plan to have an awareness of the different resources available at University of Phoenix.
Carter, Bishop, and Kravits (2007), outlined a few logical steps toward the achievement of one’s goals: Identifying ones goal-achievement strategy, setting a timetable, monitoring progress, accountability, and anticipating problems ("Chapter 1, Set the Stage for Success").
Identifying Goal-achievement Strategy This first step is an effective psychological motivator that fuels ones sense of purpose. In this, one defines specific, measureable, achievable behaviors, tasks, and events that will help reach ones goals.
Set a Timetable Time management is a powerful tool directly linked to goal achievement. The first step in effective time management is the identification of one’s time-related need and preferences. Self-awareness of individual time-related preference is the foundation that efficiently keeps individuals stay on track, and provides flexibility to unforeseen circumstances. Building a schedule is an important undertaking in time management. A few strategies for effective time management include using multiple to-do lists, breaking large tasks into small, more manageable parts, prioritizing, setting deadlines for one and using time-saving techniques.
Effective time management reduces stress and anxiety that seem to be inherent in graduate study. The use of stress-reducing strategy is very critical in achieving success. Fogg (2009), recommends keeping oneself balanced to help cope with the stress associated with graduate study. Students need to identify signs of emotional and physical stress, and develop healthy coping mechanisms to overcome. Maintaining physical and mental health and becoming aware of resources around them are strategies one can effectively use to reduce stress. They need to take advantage of the various programs that exist in the community, universities, and place of work to overcome stress.
Monitor Progress and Accountability Keeping track of progress toward the realization of a goal provides the individual the opportunity to compare achievements against a scheduled timetable. This allows one to oversee and adjust schedule accordingly to accomplish the set goal at the allotted time. Accountability renders individuals responsible for their own actions. It is a moral obligation that motivates individuals toward the completion of a pursuit.
Anticipate Problems Proper anticipation in the event that schedules do not go as planned is helpful in keeping one on track of objectives. Students need to develop a backup strategy, in case unforeseen circumstances arise. In other words, they need to permit some flexibility in their laid-out plan and be aware of the resources available to fulfill their plan toward the realization of their goals (Carter, Bishop, & Kravits, "Chapter 1, Set the Stage for Success," 2007).

Three Strategies for Improving Communication with Faculty and Students
Bain, Fedynich, and Knight (2009) suggest that students in graduate study yearn to be connected; because the feeling of isolation accompanies the graduate school experience. Connectedness extends to the faculty, fellow students, constituent background, and the course itself. Strategies for improving communication and collaboration between faculty and students are critical to have a successful learning community where adult learners have the opportunity to thrive. Palloff and Pratt (2007) believe that the relationship between collaborative activity and the creation of a learning community supports each other in a cyclical process. Students acquire a more comprehensive knowledge base in collaborative efforts that aid them in evolving from independent to becoming interdependent in the learning community. Some strategies that Palloff and Pratt (2007) suggest to improve communication and collaboration between faculty and students include formulating a shared goal, using dialogue as an inquiry and promoting feedback.
Formulating a Shared Goal Creating a shared goal in a learning community is the basic foundation for effective communication and collaboration. Faculty and students discuss the objectives and expectations in the beginning of the course and are evaluated at its commencement. Expectations should include ground rules and effective listening and communication techniques when using both verbal and nonverbal methods of communication.
Dialogue as Inquiry The opportunities for collaboration increases when students engage in discussions among themselves than with the instructor. The instructor serves as a facilitator who encourages this dialogue. Dialogue provides an avenue that develops and encourages respect for individual’s points of view. It also multiplies the knowledge that students gains through healthy dialogue.
Promoting Feedback Promoting constructive, meaningful, and thoughtful feedback is a critical element that needs to be built- in as an expectation in the learning community. It is an acquired skill that the instructor should actively advocate for. This is also something that needs to be included in the discussion at the beginning of the course when the participants formulate their shared goal. Providing substantive feedback not only enhances the students’ ability to think critically but also improves skills in effective communication and conflict resolution (Palloff & Pratt, “Chapter 8, Promoting Collaborative Learning," 2007).
Conclusion
Graduate study can be both challenging and rewarding. Academic learners should identify their reasons for pursuing higher education. Setting goals both short and long- term will aid them to develop their path to success. Financial aid availability, time constraints, and acquiring skills necessary to succeed in higher education are the challenges that students have to face in their pursuit of higher learning. Students are required to implement definable steps to accomplish their goals. These steps include identifying individualized goal-achievement strategy, using effective time management skills, monitoring success and accountability in the completion of specific tasks, and anticipating problems. Effective communication and collaboration techniques are essential in the learning community. Formulating a shared goal, using dialogue as inquiry, and promoting substantive feedback are strategies that academic community can utilize to improve communication and collaboration between faculty and fellow-students. Although challenges in graduate study are inevitable, employing the aforementioned steps and strategies can help students toward their journey to personal success.

References
Bain, S., Fedynich, L., & Knight, M. (2009). The successful graduate student: a review of the factors for success. Journal of Academic & Business Ethics, 3, 1-9. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Carter, C., Bishop, J., & Kravits, S. (2007). Keys to college studying: Becoming an active thinker. Retrieved from The University of Phoenix eBook Collection database.
Fogg, P. (2009). Grad-School Blues. Chronicle of Higher Education, 55(24), B12. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Kramer, L. W. (2007, July-August). A personal reflection: graduate study challenges and strategies for success. Dimensions of Critical Care Nursing, 29(4), 158-159. Retrieved from http://www.cinahl.com/cgi-bin/refsvc?jid=157&accno=2009616254
Palloff, R. M., & Pratt, K. (2007). Building online learning communities. Effective strategies for the virtual classroom (2nd ed.). Retrieved from The University of Phoenix eBook Collection database.
Woolcock, M. (2006, May). Higher education, policy schools, and development studies: what should master’s degree students be taught? Journal of International Development, 19(1), 55-73. doi:10.1002/jid.1300

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