🎙️ The Unspoken Laws Of Academic Success

3 Simple But Effective Practices

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) and Ethar Al-Saraf (PhD) | May 2024

In this episode of the Grad Coach Podcast, Derek and Ethar delve into the unwritten laws of academic success. In it, they share some of the secrets hidden in plain sight that separate the average from the excellent. Whether you’re an undergraduate just starting out or a doctoral candidate navigating the lonely road of independent research, these insights will help you optimise your approach and work smarter.

Law #1: Critical Thinking (And Writing) Trumps All

Naturally, reading vast amounts of literature is an important part of the academic journey, but it’s not just about amassing a large quantity of resources to bulk up your reference list. Instead, you’ll want to focus on understanding and critically analysing what you read.

In practical terms, this means that you need to engage deeply with the material, question its validity, and think about its relevance and applicability to your work and/or the specific problem you’re trying to solve. In your writing, you’ll need to show that you’ve taken the time to break apart arguments, understand their relevance, and apply them to your specific context. This sort of critical application is what earns marks – for more so than a lengthy reference list.

Law #2: Professors Are More Than Just Gatekeepers

It’s important to understand that professors are more than just academic gatekeepers; they’re fellow humans you can and should engage with.

Understandably, professors can sometimes seem unapproachable, but they are nevertheless valuable resources on your academic journey. Engaging with them can provide insights that textbooks can’t. Of course, some will be less friendly than you might like, but the reality is that they are often more willing to help than you might think, especially if you show genuine interest in their research.

To build rapport with your profs, read a few of their recent publications (you can look them up on Google Scholar) and ask them some thoughtful questions about their work. This act will show that you’re intellectually curious and can lead to more fruitful interactions. Even if they seem grumpy or unapproachable at first, demonstrating genuine interest can break down barriers and foster a positive relationship.

PS – The same applies to your research advisor/supervisor. Check out the video below if you want to avoid “supervisor hell” during your dissertation or thesis…

Law #3: Balance is BS – But Contrasts Matter

Contrary to the popular notion of work-life balance, sometimes life and work (in this case, study) are so intertwined that balancing them is simply impossible. Sometimes, burning the midnight oil is the only option – and that’s okay (at least in the short term).

A more practical approach is to seek out contrasts that allow your mind to refresh and approach problems from new angles. For example, stepping away from your computer and taking a 15-minute walk can oftentimes create the necessary space for you to breakthrough an intellectual knot. Similarly, a half hour on the treadmill or in the pool can work wonders.

Simply put, when dealing with complex intellectual challenges (understanding a theory, making sense of data, etc.), it often pays to take a momentary step away from the problem. Just because you’re not hunched over the laptop doesn’t mean that your mind isn’t still working on the problem – it’s just taking a different approach. So, give yourself some room to breath and enjoy some contrasts along the way.

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Key Takeaways

Academic success is a marathon, not a sprint. So, it pays to optimise your approach by focusing on quality thinking, engaging with mentors, and taking advantage of contrasts when tackling large intellectual “rocks”.

If you’d like hands-on help with your academic research project, be sure to check out our private coaching service, where we hold your hand every step of the way.

Psst... there’s more!

This post was based on one of our popular Research Bootcamps. If you're working on a research project, you'll definitely want to check this out...

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