Common Graduate Student Challenges

Common Graduate Student Challenges

As a graduate student, you may encounter a variety of challenges. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources to support you and help you overcome. Here is an introduction to some common graduate student challenges and the resources available to you. 

Struggling with Physical and Mental Health

Nothing works unless you do. Health issues can put a full stop on your progress and affect every part of your life. 

There are resources available at UC Davis to help you heal and provide support. 

Here are a few to start:

Feeling Isolated

Each graduate student is on their own journey. Making connections in graduate school can be intimidating, challenging, and feel like a lot of extra work. It’s normal for students to feel lonely and isolated, but you can take steps to connect with or create a community.


  • Make connections in your program - Many programs have dedicated student groups in-person or virtually. Form a study group with students in your courses. Slack channels or messages can be a low-key way to initiate.
  • Find (or create) a graduate student space - If your program doesn’t have a student space, check your UC Davis email. Groups and initiatives are often forwarded. The Graduate Student Association may be able to connect you with student groups. Take a stroll through the Graduate Center at Walker Hall or the Student Community Center. Many of the student clubs on campus are grad student inclusive. 
  • Attend a colloquium, brown bag, or workshop - Check your email or search UC Davis website and calendar for UC Davis colloquia, brown bags, and graduate student workshops. Sign up for a GradPathways workshop or scroll through the UC Davis events calendar.
  • Join a professional organization - Find out what organizations your faculty advisors belong to (this info is often available online if you don’t feel comfortable asking), or search for organizations in your field online. Your program website may point you towards relevant organizations.
  • Volunteer in your community - Visit the Internship and Career Center for volunteer ideas.
Managing Personal Life and Relationships

Being a graduate student is no easy feat. Juggling time between work, school, and family requires serious time management and organization skills—not to mention, tons of patience and willpower.

One important thing to remember is that you are more than just a graduate student. Your well-being is greatly affected by maintaining the important relationships in your life. 

Here are some tips to help you out during graduate school:

  • Engage in Open and Honest Communication and Planning To minimize problems and to enhance your relationship, communicate before and during challenging times. Communication, however, is not simply a matter of exchanging information (although that is an important part of a respectful relationship). Communication about one's feelings is also important. Let them know when you’re overwhelmed. Let them know this week is going to be challenging and you probably won’t be around much. Let them know if you can’t schedule a date this month because you have multiple deadlines to make.
  • Plan Ahead It is important to plan ahead and look at your schedule for each quarter. That means knowing when deadlines are coming and being sure that you can finish your work with time to spare.
  • Don’t Forget YOU Time: As important as it is to keep up your relationships, don’t forget to have YOU time as well. Because it’s impossible to please and take care of other people if you don’t take care of yourself first.
Food, Housing, and Financial Insecurity

The cost of graduate school adds up fast, and many students don’t have a source for financial support. If you’re struggling to secure basic needs, let your Graduate Program Coordinator know. Your Graduate Program Coordinator’s primary job is connecting you with the right resources. 

Here are some of the campus basic needs support resources:

Mentorship Issues

UC Davis Graduate Studies can help you navigate and overcome obstacles to your academic success, including conflicts with your advisors. We offer resources on how to navigate difficult conversations, develop strategies to help you improve communication between you and your advisor or mentor, and to point you to resources outside of your department to navigate these conversations. Visit our Problems and Dispute Resolution Page to learn more. 

Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome is the feeling or belief that you've been given something you didn't earn or don't deserve. It affects graduate students of all backgrounds and in different ways. Remember, you are in graduate school to enhance or find your career path, give back to your families and communities, or make important contributions to research and innovation.

For even more tips and strategies on how to counteract feelings that you don’t belong, check out these articles:

Too Much to Do!

One of the most challenging aspects of graduate school is finding a way to set priorities, create boundaries, and maintain balance. Most graduate students have multiple roles such as graduate school, additional jobs on or off campus, family and community commitments and self-care.

As a first-year student, your school responsibilities may consist of: taking graduate coursework, working as a TA or GSR, starting research and/or lab rotations, looking for an internship, building relationships with faculty and colleagues, navigating your program requirements, and the minutiae of being an enrolled student.

Graduate school will test your limits, and feeling overwhelmed is expected.

Here are some tips to help you when you feel overwhelmed: 

  1. Talk to your senior colleagues about their own experiences. What worked and what didn’t? 
  2. Find a student support group at UC Davis or online - Check with colleagues and your Graduate Program Coordinator, read through your UC Davis email, search the internet for groups on social media. 
  3. Seek help when you can manage - No one wants to admit they’re overwhelmed, but your advisors and GraduateProgram Coordinator will likely have suggestions you would not have found on your own.
In Conclusion:

Identify and build your support network - There are layers of support available to you, and accessible people who want you to succeed. There’s no need to wait until you’re struggling to meet and interact with your faculty and staff advisors. 

Don’t hesitate, communicate. Most issues are fixable, but reaching out early can significantly reduce the level of anxiety and process complications, as well as the risk of long-term impacts. 

Accept your limits - Do your best to manage, but be open to admitting when you’re not, take help when it’s offered, and ask for help when you need it. 

Take advantage of the campus resources, and ask the experts (your Graduate Coordinator and Graduate Studies SeniorAcademic Advisors) for referrals.