Advice for Current Graduate Students by Dr. Lauren Schudde

Read a lot. And learn to read in a different way than you’re used to.

Early in your program, whether masters or doctorate, most of your time should be consumed by reading. This helps you get a lay of the land (what are scholars in the field of higher ed talking about? What is the latest evidence on topics that are of interest to you?), but it also teaches you what research look like, particularly research in peer-reviewed journals. Become familiar with the top journals in our field. The top generalist higher ed journals are: Journal of Higher Education, Review of Higher Education, Research in Higher Education, and Journal of College Student Development. You should also look for higher ed studies in generalist education journals like American Educational Research Journal, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis and Sociology of Education, then look at readings in more specialized journals of interest to you).


Reading research effectively requires a different skill set than regular reading. Students often struggle with how to summarize a study, so practice boiling it down to a few short bullet points (even better: can you tell me the elevator version—something that summarizes it in about 1-2 minutes—of what the study contributed to the field?). If you can develop a bunch of “elevator pitches” of studies on a given topic, you should start to see how they talk to one another. You’re on your way to developing an effective literature review!


Learn to write again. After reading a lot, you will become more familiar with the organization and language of peer-reviewed research. The goal is not to use a lot of jargon (though some scholars do), but to become the rare writer who produces clear and coherent literature reviews and—if you are producing your own research—succinct and transparent methods sections and cutting and appropriate discussions of your results. Becoming that writer does not happen in a day. It will not happen in a semester or two (it may not happen in two or four years, depending on your program length). This is a never-ending goal.


Hone your craft. Obsess over your sentences and paragraphs. Ask if you’ve told a story. Assess your narrative as you would the research you’ve read: is it persuasive and compelling? What was your contribution to the literature? Revisions to move toward these goals take time and effort. Initially, it should take you a long time to revise your papers, but gradually, you will be more efficient and effective writer/editor.


Listen to feedback and use it to make your work better.

It is really hard to get critical feedback, but you should relish the opportunity to have someone dedicate time to assessing your work. It is for your benefit. This isn’t to say it’s wrong to feel worn down by feedback (it happens, and it takes practice to bounce back from it). I recommend taking a day or two to absorb the feedback, brush off the part that feels crappy (s/he thinks I’m a bad writer?! How could they say my methods aren’t clear—they’re so clear!, etc.), then look at your product with a critical eye. If someone thinks it’s confusing or unclear, then it could be better.


Take initiative to build your skills, but be sure to pursue the supports available for you in this program/college/university.

There’s room for a lot of skill development as a grad student. Whether your goal is to be a scholar or a practitioner, or a hybrid of the two, all of the skills noted above will improve your value as an employee, colleague, and thinker (writing better ends up helping you think better!). There are resources to help you hone your craft, whether it be improving your written English, learning new methodological approaches, or finding peers to share your work with. We have a writing center that can review your work and offer writing coaching, a statistical consultant who can help you strategize and interpret methods, and a cohort of classmates who could become your new writing group or shoulder to lean on. Are you taking advantage?


About the Author

Lauren Schudde is an assistant professor in the Program in Higher Education Leadership. Prior to her role at UT, she earned her PhD in Sociology from the University of Wisconsin and held a postdoctoral fellowship with the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her research focuses on inequality in postsecondary educational outcomes and returns, particularly across socioeconomic status. For the most part, this means studying the mechanics of higher education—what interventions and policies can improve student success. In her spare time, she enjoys swimming and chasing after her two daughters.


Did I Make a Mistake?

After finishing my bachelors degree (and switching my career plans MANY times), I told myself that another degree was not on the horizon anytime soon. Well, after only being out a year and a half, I was back at it. While it was earlier than I anticipated, I could not be happier to be here at UT Austin!

During my time between undergrad in South Carolina and the masters program here at UT Austin, I was fortunate enough to work full time in Housing and Residence Life at a community college in Texas. For the first year, served as a Hall Director over two all-male buildings, as well as serve as an advisor for two student organizations. As my first year ended, the opportunity to serve as the Assistant Director presented itself and I was fortunate enough to serve in this capacity, opening my eyes to mid-level management that made Higher Education an even clearer career field than before.

As I made the transition back to being a full-time student, a lot of questions came to mind; What if I am not qualified for graduate-level classes? What if Student Affairs really isn’t my calling? Do I want to be this far away from family? DO I REALLY NEED MORE LOANS!? After a lot of discussions with family and friends, I knew I had made the right decision. The cohort of colleagues I would be working with, the strong academics, and Austin made it all a done deal for me. However, I did have some lingering concerns right before I started and as my first year got underway. Luckily, having my first year under my belt has given me some insight as well:

  • Was I going to be academically strong enough to keep up? Yes! My cohort has been there to lean on and give me words of encouragement along the way. And professors want you to succeed, so ask the questions when you have them!
  • What did I really have to contribute to this program…? Listen. Beth and Rich saw some great things in you and you need see them too. Your working experience and academic prowess
  • Did I make a mistake leaving a well-paying job to go back to school? This degree now is going to help so much for the long run. It’s also going to open so many doors where I never expected. I can’t wait to see what’s next!
  • Am I doing enough with my time here at UT? Do what makes you happy and get what you think you need. Don’t compare yourself against colleagues (it never ends well). If you think you need to do more, explore your options (internships, leadership within and outside GA, research, etc.).

I know wouldn’t trade any of the experiences I have had thus far and I can’t wait to see what the rest of my time at UT has to offer, as well as where it will take me long after as well! Hook ‘em!

About the Author

Ryan Wasilewski is a second-year masters student in the Program in Higher Education Leadership. Ryan has a bachelor’s degree from Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina. Currently, Ryan works as a Graduate Assistant Complex Coordinator for Housing & Food Service and an academic advising intern with the Vick Center for Strategic Advising & Career Counseling at UT-Austin. Ryan also serves as a Social Engagement Director for HEASPA. Ryan enjoys spending time with colleagues and friends around Austin, as well as lazy weekends at home with his dog, Zoey.

Designing Your Road Map by Dr. Hemlata Jhaveri

Hello, I am Hemlata Jhaveri, Executive Director of Housing and Food Service at UT-Austin. My department oversees 14 on-campus residence halls, university apartments, and 13 dining and retail venues. By engaging students in an inclusive community that fosters learning outside the classroom, my team encourages student success and well-being. I also serve as a Clinical Assistant Professor for the Program in Higher Education Leadership (PHEL) at The University of Texas at Austin.

My professional growth and success is in part a reflection of my life experiences growing up in India. I was born in and grew up in Mumbai, India and am the oldest of five siblings. My parents are successful entrepreneurs, and they instilled their drive, innovation and risk taking on us early in our lives. Neither of my parents had the opportunity to attend college yet understood the power of knowledge and information. They encouraged us (actually insisted) that we consider a college education. Being the eldest, I was a role model to my siblings, while also bearing the weight of my parents’ expectations. I had no choice but to work hard upholding the family standard of success. I am the first in my family to attend college as well as the first to get a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree and the only one to get a Ph.D. All of my siblings have terminal degrees in their field and are successful.


My story started in India and my higher education career unfolded in the United States. I would like to share some tips that has helped me along the way.


  • Follow your instincts, listen to trusted counsel and embrace “living in the gray.” At times, you will be asked to make critical choices with limited information. Lean on trusted counsel, then trust your instinct – make the call. It hasn’t failed me yet.


  • Take risks – embrace change – envision the future. I came to the United States from India 20 years ago without ever visiting. I had no relatives to rely on and no one met me at the airport. I took a bus to Motel 6 in Normal, Illinois and checked in. I knew I was seeking a new life with different experiences and opportunities, and a desire for success in another culture and country.


  • Take advantage of opportunities – don’t waste them. While at UT Austin, I had the opportunity to move from director of residence life to director of business services, which was a lateral move. While the learning curve was steep, it served me well when it came time to apply for the executive director position. It would have been much easier and less stressful not to make a lateral move but it proved to be an important factor in securing the executive director position.


Thank you for letting me share my some of my life experiences. After 20 years in higher education, I know I made the right career choice and am looking forward to the next 20!


Hemlata Jhaveri is the Executive Director of Housing and Food Service, part of the Division of Student Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin. She is shaping a vision for higher education through her leadership and management of this major auxiliary-based department. Hemlata oversees 14 on-campus residence halls that house over 7,400 students, university apartments and 13 dining and retail venues. With a strong background in residence life and business, she understands the importance of balancing business and student development needs for a higher education organization. Hemlata received her Ph.D. at Colorado State University, Fort Collins. She has had the opportunity to present on numerous occasions at ACPA, NASPA and ACUHO-I. Hemlata was inducted as a Diamond Honoree at ACPA 2013 for outstanding and sustained contributions to ACPA, higher education and student affairs.