Study Groups: The Thing to Do in Graduate School

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by Austin A. Deray

Since coming to Mason, I have been asked the same question repeatedly from other graduate students coming to our offices’ events: “What should I do as a graduate student?” I must confess it always takes me by surprise, and then I find myself propelled back in time to 2013 when I was working on my master’s. I remember being given two pieces of advice by my professor and mentor at the time, Dr. Jane Rago, both of which were ironically enough supported by research that she had no idea existed: lean on your cohort and connect with a study group. I have written about the importance of finding your cohort and community of support, and now it is time to write about study groups.

I remember thinking that Jane was pulling this advice out of thin air; however, like any good millennial, I went to the internet and found a graduate blog from Simmons University, where Amanda R. Armsby, a graduate student in Simmon’s MBA program, wrote about the importance of finding a study group; all her points still hold true and worked for me during my time at Armstrong State and here at Mason. Armsby listed five main points:

  1.  Study groups hold me accountable.
  2.  Study groups keep me sane.
  3.  Teaching others can be a great way to learn.
  4.  Study groups engage different senses to deepen your learning.
  5.  You can benefit from hearing other people’s questions and ways of looking at the material.[1]

While I am sure we can all agree that these points would apply to students in any program and degree level, I will only speak to my experiences as a humanities master’s and PhD student. In my two master’s programs, I did not have a large cohort of fellow students. As a result, I spent most of my time with my friends in the master’s of architecture program and we formed a pseudo-cohort, but what we really had that helped me was a working group or study group. They would be working on projects, both group and individual, and I would be writing my papers, doing translations, or just reading and taking notes. The point is, I was held accountable, got to have mental moments of well-being with friends, at times explained what I was working on and teaching it to the architects and being taught in turn. Their questions taught me to dive deeper and find how to explain what I was reading to an audience outside my discipline, which in turn made me a better teacher of Gender Studies and History.

While at Mason, I have had the pleasure of having a strong cohort my first and second year and a great writing group during my third year. I once again experienced Armsby’s five advantages of having a study group. My cohort of fellow Cultural Studies PhD students was there to work on our class assignments and papers together, sometimes writing until 2-3am at a hookah bar in Fairfax. My writing group, on the other hand, has been a pleasure because we are interdisciplinary, and we can get other perspectives on our projects: discussing the ideas in our research, answering the questions others may have, and finding the best way to articulate all our points.

So if you like what I said or found Armsby’s reasoning compelling, I encourage you to go out and form your own study and/or writing groups. If you are looking for already established groups at Mason, check with your department or with other students in your program. Mason’s Writing Center offer’s Weekly Write-Ins at both the Fairfax and Arlington Campuses. For more information, check out their info page. If you are looking for all-day events and a committed group of writers focusing on papers or projects, think about checking out Graduate Student Life’s Write-In Day. If you are not looking for day-long writing time or group writing, but are looking to work with others in a communal space, check out Grad Night In, a place and space where graduate students can get together monthly and work by themselves, in a communal space, or with a group. Food and beverages are provided by Graduate Student Life.

The point is: don’t work alone, graduate school is hard enough! Work with others and support both your academic and personal well-being. Have a great week, and I hope you enjoyed this week’s blog.

- Austin

[1] Armsby, Amanda Rush. “ Study Groups: A Key to Surviving Grad School.” Blog : School of Management : Simmons College, Simmons College, 10 Dec. 2013

This blog post has been edited to reflect updated information and web addresses.

Edited by Nikita Thadani, 2/9/2022.