Working effectively in a team and managing teams are two of the most highly sought after skills across diverse career paths. These are a particularly important set of skills to develop intentionally, as graduate students often work independently. By participating in or leading complex group projects, whether this is research, teaching, or through other activities, you will be able to demonstrate to prospective employers that you are an effective and supportive team member.

Steps You Can Take

Pursue Training in Group Management, Conflict Resolution, and Managing Difference

There are many graduate courses offered across departments on campus that offer training relevant to a range of careers. Search the schedule of classes for courses that offer training in leadership, workplace diversity, and conflict resolution among other relevant issues. Organizations such as Science Leadership and Management (SLAM), MCB 295, and Beyond Academia host excellent lectures and workshops on leadership and management.

When navigating conflict as a graduate student, seek out and learn from the advice and resources offered by relevant campus offices. The Ombuds Office provides students with impartial and confidential feedback, offers communication coaching, and assists with de-escalation. The Student Advocate’s Office advocates for students experiencing a variety of conflicts or issues on campus. The Attorney for Students in Student Legal Services advises students regarding their legal questions, rights, and obligations. 


Develop Skills in Time Management

Effective leadership and collaboration often incorporates elements of time management. When you are leading others or managing a team or project, it is important both to develop a realistic sense of the time needed to accomplish goals and to track the progress of outcomes and teamwork over time. Similarly, when you are working with collaborators it is important to have a clear sense of what you can individually contribute to a project within a given time frame, and to ensure that your contributions are completed on time. This section elaborates on some of the most widely successful strategies and skills specific to developing effective time management habits, which will be of use to you now and in future careers:

Create and follow a schedule or calendar. Setting and following a schedule or calendar is an essential skill for success in most careers and projects. Keeping a regular schedule can help you ensure that you have made time for all of your professional commitments, as well as your personal goals and writing goals. Consider which scheduling format and timescale works best for you. Some prefer to do everything digitally using Google calendar or other scheduling programs, others like to keep everything in a physical calendar or planner. Try choosing one approach and sticking with it; if you opt to use multiple calendaring tools, be sure to have one master schedule or calendar. Many people also find it effective to schedule themselves a regular time to review and update their calendar. Consider putting some time aside at the end of each week to ensure that your calendar for the upcoming week is finalized. If you don’t find that schedules or calendars work for you, consider which other planning tools might, such as to-do lists or phone reminders.

It is often effective to have both a near-term calendar and long-term plan or calendar. To plan out long-term goals, some students opt to map out the major milestones they plan to complete over their entire graduate education, while others prefer to set a plan every year or semester. Consider using this template to set a one- or multi-year plan alongside your short-term calendaring format of choice. Watch the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity’s webinar “Every Semester Needs a Plan,” which graduate students can access by creating an account through Berkeley’s institutional membership.

Take stock of all of your deadlines and goals. Set aside time to make sure that you have all of your deadlines and goals for the upcoming year or semester written down in one place. Make sure that each of these deadlines is also added to your schedule or calendar. 

Set goals. Some of the key considerations for creating effective goals are setting priorities, breaking goals down into specific subgoals, making sure goals are realistic given your other responsibilities and constraints, and specifying a timeline or deadline. For setting priorities, consider adopting the quadrant system, which is summarized in the article “Time Management Strategies for Graduate Students” (Quinnipiac University). Also consider watching the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity’s webinar “Align Your Time with Your Priorities,” which graduate students can access by creating an account through Berkeley’s institutional membership.

Work in timed increments and take breaks. Working for fixed periods of time, and then taking a break, is often an effective way to manage your time. This is the basis of the Pomodoro Technique, often used for writing, where you work in 25-minute increments, followed by 5-minute breaks. You may find that other timed increments work better for your working style or schedule, such as 45-minute work sessions, followed by 15-minute breaks. Many apps and websites offer timers designed for working in timed increments, including the Tomato Timer website and the Forest app.

Set up an accountability structure. It can be valuable to have external sources of accountability for your goals. Consider joining a Check-in Group offered by GradPro, where graduate students meet weekly over a semester to set goals and reflect on their progress towards their goals. Also consider using other accountability tools, such as Focusmate, a website where you can schedule virtual work sessions with others so that you are both accountable for showing up and working for the intended amount of time.

For more on time management, the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity (for which graduate students have access to Berkeley’s institutional membership) offers a variety of resources, such as the “Every Semester Needs a Plan,” “Mastering Academic Time Management,” and “Align Your Time with Your Priorities” webinars.


Working Productively with Mentors and Faculty

Your relationship with mentors and faculty are among the most central relationships you will develop while in graduate school. Finding the right mentors can help you to move efficiently through your graduate program and to develop the necessary skills you will need to succeed in the career of your choice. While one of your mentors may be your dissertation chair or Principle Investigator (PI), recognize that it is important to seek out a variety of mentors to serve all of your needs.

Often, receiving effective mentorship may depend on you taking a leadership role in these relationships, which can include, for example, making specific requests of your advisors. Read through the GradNews articles “A Mentoring Network for Every Stage of Your Professional Career” (2022) or “Getting the Mentoring You Need” (2017). Also see the webinar “Cultivating Your Network of Mentors, Sponsors & Collaborators” from the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity (make an account or sign in with your Berkeley email to access the webinar).

One useful principle to have in mind regarding your relationships with faculty and mentors is “managing up”, which you can learn about in the Science Magazine article, “Managing Up: An Industry Skill You Can Learn in Academia” (2016) or in the Inside Higher Ed article “Managing Your Advisor” (2014). Managing up means being intentional and proactive in setting expectations for the relationship, and having an understanding of your mentor’s work style, and your own, so you can best work together. This can be especially important when asking for recommendations from faculty, which you can read about in this article, “How to Ask for a Recommendation,” Chronicle of Higher Education (2016). Make sure you are signed into The Chronicle with your Berkeley email to access this article.

The Graduate Council also has an approved list of best practices for the mentoring relationship between faculty and graduate students, or read the book Getting Mentored in Graduate School by Johnson and Huwe (2003). To additionally guide you in becoming a more effective mentee and mentor, take GSPDP301 Effective Mentoring in Higher Education, a course offered by the Graduate Student Professional Development Program (GSPDP) each spring. For more on how to develop your own skills as a mentor, see the Teaching & Mentoring page of this Guide.


Undertake a Team Project

While graduate school demands significant individual work, many graduate programs, research centers, and institutes on campus provide opportunities for students to work together in groups to carry out collaborative, team-based research. These offer you an opportunity to develop a range of skills relevant for many other contexts. These skills include the ability to guide and contribute to team work, the ability to coordinate the work of people with different skill levels and different backgrounds, and the ability to communicate effectively.