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Characteristics of Graduate School Superstars

Graduate school can be a traumatic experience. Some graduate students spend their time complaining about a heavy work load, uncaring attitudes of faculty, or constant pressure of being evaluated.

These students quickly begin to devalue their graduate education, deny its relevance, and develop strategies that help them to "beat the system" (i.e., merely satisfying degree requirements without engaging in any actual learning). Graduate school for these people is an unpleasant experience to be endured, survived, and forgotten as quickly as possible.

Another group seems to thrive on their graduate education. According to Bloom and Bell (1979): "These are the few who proceed through the program with the minimum amount of difficulty and a maximum amount of quality performance. They are respected by the faculty, they receive the best financial assistance, they receive accolades, and as a group, they end up with the best employment" (p.231).

These are the graduate school superstars. But what makes them so successful? Bloom and Bell identified four factors which were named most often by graduate school faculty to identify superstars they had known:

Note that the above characteristics do not include intelligence, excellent grades, or writing ability. Perhaps these qualities are simply assumed to exist in superstars.

The lesson to be learned from these findings is that success in graduate school is due to more than just raw brain power. It is also strongly affected by dedication, hard work, seriousness of commitment, clarity of goals, and a willingness to embrace the values of a program.

Adapted from Appleby, D.C. (1990). A Handbook of the Marian College Psychology Department. Indianapolis, IN: Author.

APA-style reference for this page:

Appleby, D.C. (1990). Graduate school superstars. [From A Handbook of the Marian College Psychology Department.]. Retrieved from: http://www/

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