09/28/2012 04:35 pm ET Updated Nov 28, 2012

Graduate School Savvy Part II: Six Strategies to Make Graduate School a Successful Venture

Graduate school, far more intense than college, provides a direct pathway to developing your career. The last thing you want to do is wait until it's over and hope that your new degree alone will launch you-- it won't. You need a hidden curriculum to make graduate school worth it.

1. Transition from student to professional mode. You are done being a passive student taking any assignment. You have to focus on a career path that ignites you. If you know what that is, you can begin to develop the foundation, course by course. If you don't, begin to investigate what it will be.

2. Turn your professors into mentors. Look for those you admire and take advantage of the office hours that they offer. They expect you to come see them, ask questions, follow up with ideas, and develop your interests. You build rapport only by reporting back with what you've learned along the way and asking for further leads and advice. Building a relationship is a two-way street; you have to show interest in who they are and find ways to help them. Consider becoming a research assistant, or find other ways to become indispensible to them. When a particular professor inspires you, make an effort to take more courses with him or her. Only by becoming available to professors, discussing your interests along with theirs, can they help discover and direct your talents.

3. Use papers, theses, and dissertations to create your career. Gone are the quick and dirty days of college when you chose a topic from a list to complete an assignment without worrying about whether it interested you or not. Graduate school provides a critical time for creating a career through the careful choice of topics for these assignments. So, rather than choose from a list of topics that don't interest you, focus on an area that you might like to be known for. and that interests you. If you don't have a clue about what you think you want to do, use the assignment to help spark you. A single grad course can ignite your life course by finding a path that will let you contribute. Begin that career now by writing and publishing papers that serve a double agenda--meeting the requirements for the credit you need but at the same time awakening a passion for a subject that might turn into a career. Being brave enough to turn your schooling into a real right of passage might be your most revolutionary act.

4. Make time to connect with other students in your program. You will find that their support, both emotional and intellectual, will help you get through even the toughest programs. Forming study or strategy groups provides breakthroughs and creates bonds. Your fellow students may turn out to be colleagues in a career as well as life-long friends.

5. Get involved with significant people on campus. In addition to professors and other students, advisors, administrative staff, and guest speakers are important people to get to know. They are there in front of you if only you make the first move. The reason you're in graduate school is to advance your career, and you never know who will be the person to help you get your foot in the door or give you that glowing review that helps you to land a job.

6. Take the risk of "linking." Connecting with others is a vital career skill, one that will make you feel uncomfortable and sometimes even terrified. Often we avoid approaching those who could be of great help to us out of fear of being seen as a fool or fraud. Acknowledge that you are worthy of great things; don't let your vulnerability stop you.

At the end of graduate school, in addition to grades and a diploma, you'll need to have exposure to people who can open doors, insights and connections, examples of work you've done that relates to your field, references and leads. Graduate school is there for you to develop the essential skill of taking risks to connect yourself to real activities done by real people in the field you have chosen. Only by connecting can you begin to find out what compels you. The more active you are, the more you'll learn to develop your authentic self and your career opportunities.

Play the host, not the guest, to make your luck happen!