Another Academic year starts – Are you ready for graduate school?

August is always an exciting month for me. For one, I get to celebrate my birthday and more importantly it is the start of an academic year. This means that new graduate students will be entering the program with excitement and some trepidation. As faculty, it should be our top priority to take a step back and help students adjust. These graduate students, whether at the Master’s level or PhD level will spend the next several years working through courses, research, and juggling their personal and professional lives. This blog is primarily for graduate students but faculty and advisers (especially those who are new) will benefit from these pointers.

Whether you have a graduate research assistantship or not, it is important that you position yourself for doing good research.

– Set up an appointment with your advisor to discuss course work.

– Ask for key research papers that you should be reading. Make sure that when your advisor sends you those papers – read and in some cases study them in detail.

– Maintain a journal. Keep good notes on research and other issues you encounter

– If you are PhD student and you have finished your M.S. degree elsewhere you need to ask your advisor if you can make a presentation to your group – 20 minutes including questions. This tells your advisor that you are proactive.

– Make a honest assessment of your strenghts and weaknesses and make sure that you begin to address these issues.

– If programming is a weakness, start to strenghten it now. Ask for resources to help you with this issue and get your hands ‘dirty’ by coding. There is nothing like a good research problem that requires coding and analysis.

– Change your mindset from undergraduate to graduate work. Graduate degrees are not merely academic, they are research oriented.

– Do not take courses just for the sake of…. Think about how it will benefit your research.

– This is the probably the best point in your graduate school to start getting ‘seriously organized and manage time and projects

– Remember to exercise, rest and above all get to know your peers.

– Read by book : Navigating Graduate school and Beyond : AGU Press


About Sundar Christopher

Dr. Christopher received his PhD in Atmospheric Sciences from Colorado State University in 1995. He also holds a Master's degree in Meteorology from South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (SDSMT) and a Master’s degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. After completing his PhD, Dr. Christopher joined the faculty at SDSMT in the Department of Meteorology. In 1997, he joined the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at UAH as an Assistant Professor. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 2001 and was awarded tenure in 2002. He became a Full Professor in 2007. From August 2007-May 2014, he served as Associate Director of the Earth System Science Center. He served as Chairman of the Department of Atmospheric Science from 2010-2014. He successfully designed a Master's level graduate program in Earth System Science that educates and trains graduate students in new paradigms involving research to decision making. In 2014 he was appointed as Dean of the College of Science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Dr. Christopher's research interests include satellite remote sensing of clouds and aerosols and their impact on air quality, environment, health, and global and regional climate. He works with numerous satellite data sets from polar orbiting and geostationary satellites, ground-based instruments, and aircraft data to study the earth-atmosphere system. He has published more than 100 peer reviewed papers in national and international journals including several review papers related to aerosols, air quality and the climate impacts of aerosols. He has served on numerous national and international committees including the Climate Change Science Panel and the GEWEX. Dr. Christopher enjoys teaching and has designed and developed undergraduate and graduate level courses with special emphasis on hands-on training using satellite data. He also designed a professional development course for graduate students and maintains a blog to help students navigate graduate school. In 2011 AGU published his book titled Navigating Graduate School and Beyond : A Career Guide for Graduate Students and a Must Read for every Advisor. Dr. Christopher has published extensively in national and international peer-reviewed journals and has also presented his work at major scientific conferences. He has been invited to speak at major venues including the World Federation of Scientists (Erice, Sicily), the United Nations Symposium in 2007 (Graz, Austria), the American Association for Aerosol Research, Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society (AMOS), the United Nations Symposium on Space Applications, 2008 (Graz, Austria), the Osher Institute of Higher Learning, American Geophysical Union, American Meteorological Society, and various national and international universities (Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, Purdue University, Texas A&M, University of Nebraska, University of Wisconsin, Goddard Space Flight Center, Colorado State University, and others). He has won several million dollars in numerous grants and contracts from NASA, NOAA, and other federal agencies for studying earth-atmosphere processes. He has won several awards including the University Award for Research and Creative Achievement in 2006 and NASA New Investigator Award. He has published more than 100 papers in peer-reviewed journals and has served as an expert reviewer for the Climate Change Science Program (CCSP). He is a citizen of the United States of America.
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