graduation cap icon Leadership and Collaboration

The ability to lead teams and work collaboratively with others is essential in careers both within and beyond the academy. Learn how to develop the relevant skills in a variety of ways through the resources listed below. The skills you develop in leadership and collaboration will support your success in the other core competencies found in this professional development guide.


Develop Leadership and Collaboration Skills *

Professional Ethics

In every career, you will be expected to uphold certain ethical standards and commitments. In many careers, you may be required to practice a careful attention to confidentiality, or to become an active participant in building inclusive work environments.

Steps You Can Take

Learn About Professional Ethics

Behaving and relating to others in an ethical manner underpins all effective leadership and collaboration, as well as your success in the other areas of competency discussed in this guide. For students in a specialized professional degree program, your profession might have a specific ethical code or standard that outlines responsibilities, values, or restrictions that should guide your conduct as a professional, such as the code of ethics for social workers developed by the National Association of Social Workers. Similarly, many academic disciplines also have a clear code of ethics, such as the American Sociological Association’s code of ethics for members. Researchers and teachers also often have clear ethical codes and responsibilities, which are discussed in the Research & Data Analysis and Teaching & Mentoring competencies of this guide. 

In areas of academic and professional life that do not have standardized ethical codes, ethical behavior remains important for building respectful and effective relationships with collaborators. At times, this might include following your own personal code of ethics, which might emphasize practicing certain behaviors, such as honesty, non-violent communication, or active listening. Other times, ethical behavior will be determined by the context. For example, if a research collaborator shares proprietary information, it would be ethical to assume such information was shared with an expectation of confidentiality and that you should seek their consent before sharing that information with anyone else. To develop your own personal or professional code of ethics, consider reviewing existing codes of ethics for ideas, or read the blog post by Skill Success, titled “How to Write Your Personal Code of Ethics.” It is important to familiarize yourself with and model ethical standards in order to be an effective leader and collaborator.  


Become a Leader in Fostering Inclusion

Across professional contexts, acting ethically includes fostering equitable and inclusive environments, relationships, and outcomes. Fostering equity and inclusion requires developing many important skills, which you can do by working through the Equity & Inclusion competency of this guide. With these skills, you will be ready to lead and collaborate across projects and teams effectively, including in your research and teaching. You can also take initiative to develop an environment of equity and inclusion by, for example, joining or starting a reading group for those in your discipline interested in diversifying the curriculum. Encourage your department to include content on anti-racist teaching practices and inclusive pedagogy in the departmental pedagogy course, if it doesn’t already. See if you can become one of your department’s delegates to the Graduate Assembly to support its mission of fostering a vibrant and inclusive graduate student community. 

Group Management and Team Work

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.

Research as Leadership and Collaboration

If your thesis or dissertation research does not explicitly include collaborative research, consider making the time to work on research as part of a team. The organizational and communication skills you develop while conducting collaborative research can be valuable for demonstrating your capacity to work with others, manage projects, and allocate resources effectively. To learn more about general research skills, visit the Research & Data Analysis competency in this guide.

Steps You Can Take

Participate in or Organize a Digital Research Project

Many digital research projects are collaborative, since they are often large-scale endeavors with interdisciplinary methodologies. Collaboration with future users is also part of the open-access ethos that informs the planning process for many digital research projects. For students whose research is typically individual in nature, digital projects can be opportunities to experiment with more collaborative research.


Participate in an Interdisciplinary Working Group

Participating in, or organizing, an interdisciplinary working group can help you develop your skills through collaborative work on event planning, grant applications, research, outreach, communications, and assessment. It is also an opportunity to diversify your knowledge of the intersections between different academic fields. Units on campus that often sponsor working groups include, but are not limited to:

  1. Townsend Center for the Humanities
  2. Center for Science, Technology, Medicine, & Society
  3. Berkeley Institute for Data Science
  4. Institute for the Study of Societal Issues
  5. Social Science Matrix


Co-Author an Article

While highly discipline-specific, co-authoring can be a useful opportunity to develop skills in collaboration while working with colleagues or a senior scholar, such as an advisor. Once mainly exclusive to the sciences, co-authorship is now increasingly common in the humanities and social sciences as well. Co-authoring requires close collaboration and strong communication among the participants to navigate challenges ranging from authorship credit to workflow procedures. As such, this experience develops teamwork and communication skills that are widely valued in a variety of careers. To learn more about some of the challenges and rewards of co-authoring, consider reading Inside Higher Ed’s article “Collaborating and Co-Authoring” (2009). 

Because disciplinary practices vary widely, it is important to ask your advisor or another mentor in your field whether co-authorship makes sense for you. You can also look out for co-authorship opportunities in calls for papers from your professional association.


Manage Your Personal and Research Finances

Learn to create budgets for grant proposals, fundraise as a conference or event organizer, and manage a grant while paying attention to your own finances as a graduate student.  Take a course like Financial Reporting and Decision Making for Real Life Success, a Haas course open to non-Haas undergrads and grad students (check the Haas page on Special Topics to check if it is being offered). 

See also these resources:

In addition to your research finances, there are many resources to assist you in practicing financial responsibility in your personal life. Check for workshops through student groups like Graduate Women of Engineering, whose “PhD 101” series sometimes includes a session on personal finance and financial wellness (find the slides and resources from this presentation on the GWE website). Utilize resources like the peer service Bears for Financial Success, who offer presentations and one-on-one appointments to answer money management questions and can help you create a personal spending plan.

Teaching and Mentoring as Leadership and Collaboration

Teaching and mentoring roles often involve significant leadership and collaborative responsibilities. In teaching positions, such as GSI positions, you will have the opportunity to collaborate with other GSIs and the instructor of record. Effective collaboration will enable you and your colleagues to work more efficiently and effectively by, for example, developing lesson plans together or splitting up lesson design responsibilities. In the classroom and in mentoring environments, you will also gain opportunities to lead students and mentees, and facilitate effective collaboration amongst students. Nearly every career involves some elements of collaboration and leadership, and teaching and mentoring experience is a valuable way to demonstrate those skills. To learn more about developing other skills in teaching and mentoring, see the Teaching & Mentoring competency in this guide.

Steps You Can Take

Teach, Team-Teach, or Serve as a GSI in a Multi-Section Course

Collaborative teaching as a graduate student can take different forms, such as serving as a Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) in a multi-section course, team-teaching a course with another GSI, or serving as the sole GSI in a course taught by a professor. Co-teaching entails coordinating with faculty members or other graduate students on subjects like curriculum planning, scheduling, course content, communication with students, and assessment.

Practices that can make you a more effective collaborator in a co-teaching context include taking on leadership responsibilities, practicing effective communication, reconciling differing approaches and perspectives, and “managing up.” These are all interpersonal skills that are highly valued across many career paths.

On co-teaching, also see “Grad Students Should Co-Teach,” Inside Higher Ed (2016), “Bringing Collaborative Teaching into Doctoral Programs,” The American Sociologist (2013), “What We Learned from Co-Teaching,” Chronicle of Higher Education (2016) and “Partner Up,” from Maricopa Community Colleges.


Serve as Head Graduate Student Instructor (GSI)

Managing a classroom involves many skills that are transferable to other contexts. These include public speaking, answering questions clearly and accurately, maintaining records, time management, assessing work and giving constructive feedback, creating objectives and goals for your work and the work of others, working with a supervisor, and assessing your own performance. Being a Head GSI gives you the added responsibility of coordinating the work of junior colleagues who make up the teaching team and exercising leadership skills such as negotiation, conflict management, and complex data management. Not all departments have Head GSIs, so ask the instructor of record for the course you are teaching if they will be selecting a Head GSI.


Serve as an Acting Instructor-Graduate Student (AI-GS) for a Course You Have Designed

As an Acting Instructor-Graduate Student you serve as the Instructor of Record for a particular upper division course. Although you are still under faculty supervision, you will be responsible for designing and running every aspect of the course. Consider speaking to the Graduate Student Affairs Officer (GSAO) in your department to learn about openings for teaching opportunities in your field. You can also learn more about this position in the GSI, GSR, Reader and Tutor Guide.


Incorporate Team-based Projects and Group Work into Teaching

Teaching affords you the opportunity to develop many leadership skills transferable to other settings while also employing activities that contribute significantly to student learning. Group work and team-based projects enable you to practice skills fundamental to leadership and management: designing and guiding group projects and activities, establishing clear expectations, responding appropriately to conflicts, assessing performance and the outcomes of work, and fostering a sense of community. To learn more about incorporating team-based projects into your class as a GSI, read through the “Teaching Discussion Sections” teaching guide created by the GSI Teaching & Resource Center. You can also request an appointment with a Teaching Consultant at the Center to receive feedback and guidance as you design these activities.


Serve as a Formal Mentor for an Undergraduate

Mentoring undergraduate students will help you develop skills that are transferable to mentoring junior colleagues, trainees, and students in other organizational settings. One aspect of mentoring is concerned with the substantive aspects of the tasks at hand. The other is about motivating people to do their best work, guiding them through challenging situations, and giving them constructive feedback. There are training programs and courses on campus that will help you develop these skills and give you an opportunity to apply them in practice. These include a graduate course GSPDP301 titled Effective Mentoring in Higher Education, the Graduate Division’s SMART initiative, Berkeley Connect, and Getting into Grad School (GiGS). You’ll find additional information on these programs on the Graduate Division’s page on Mentoring.

Disciplinary Leadership and Collaboration

Disciplinary conferences and associations provide another opportunity to develop and build experience in leadership and collaboration. By contributing to a conference, you can demonstrate to employers that you take initiative as a leader.

Steps You Can Take

Contribute to the Organization of a Conference

Conference planning is highly collaborative and can be an important professional skill, both in academic employment, and in other careers where the ability to run events, facilitate discussions, fundraise and budget, and coordinate schedules is valued. If you are interested in organizing a conference on campus, many research centers, institutes, and departments sponsor workshops and conferences initiated or organized by graduate students. Annual state, national, and international conferences provide regular opportunities to organize panels. Also take a look at the “Steps You Can Take” section in the Equity & Inclusion competency to learn more about being a leader for equity and inclusion in your discipline. 

On organizing a panel or a conference, see “So You Think You Want to Organize a Conference?” Inside Higher Ed (2012), and “Of Cannibals and Conferences,” Chronicle of Higher Education (2015).


Organize a Session at a Professional Conference

Organizing a session or panel at a professional conference demonstrates knowledge of your field and an interest and willingness to contribute to its further development. It also provides experience with logistics and team management, both of which are applicable to project leadership in many settings. The process of organizing a panel can start over a year before the conference itself, so keep abreast of the deadlines for your professional organization. Budget several months for coming up with a theme and assembling a roster of panel participants. For more, see “How to Organize a Panel for a Conference,” The Professor is In (2013).

On timekeeping and chairing, see “Best Practices for Timekeeping at Conference Panels,” Chronicle of Higher Education (2013), and “Conference Rules, Part 1,” Chronicle of Higher Education (2008).

Campus and Departmental Leadership and Collaboration

Across campus there are numerous opportunities for stepping into leadership and collaborative  roles. This might include participating in an existing organization, group, or committee, but it can also include creating a new student group or committee to improve or contribute to the campus community or your departmental community.

Steps You Can Take

Serve on a Campus Administrative or Academic Committee

The bodies that make university policy include committees under the purview of the Academic Senate (e.g., Diversity, Equity, and Campus Climate; Library; Teaching; Demonstrations and Student Actions; Academic Freedom); as well as committees appointed by campus administrators (e.g., Course Materials and Services Fees; Campus Advisory Committee on Creative Arts; Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on LGBTQ Communities at Cal; Police Review Board).

Serving on such committees is expected for tenure-track faculty at many universities, so sitting on committees as a student is a useful way to develop and exhibit the collaborative skills this work requires. It can also help you learn policy-making skills valued in many professions.

Some committees have special requirements for student members, while others are more open. To learn how to serve on a committee, which committees have openings, and what committee membership entails, contact the Graduate Assembly (GA) or join the GA as a departmental delegate. All faculty senate-level committees at Berkeley include at least one graduate student in their membership. The Graduate Assembly is responsible for forwarding the names of students who would like to serve in these capacities to the relevant committee chairs.


Organize Departmental Professional Development Activities

Departments and research centers on campus offer graduate students a variety of professional development activities. These include alumni panels, workshops, speaker series, and courses run by graduate students or co-run by graduate students and faculty members. Some units, such as the Center for Latin American Studies, provide funds to cover the costs of running these groups and events.

Taking the initiative to organize an event in your department gives you the opportunity to coordinate team work, create and execute a work plan, and build a sense of community, all hallmarks of effective leadership and collaboration. For ideas, peruse “Promising Practices: Steps Departments Can Take to Support the Professional and Career Development of Graduate Students,” developed by the Graduate Council’s Advisory Committee on Graduate Student and Postdoctoral Fellow Professional Development; or look at the programming offered by student-run professional development groups on campus.


Participate in Student Government

The Graduate Assembly (GA) is the official representative body of graduate and professional students at UC Berkeley. Its responsibilities include administering a budget, setting an advocacy agenda, and running a variety of important outreach projects (such as the Graduate Minority Student Project; the Graduate Social Club; and Graduate Student Parent Advocacy, among others). To get involved, become a delegate and represent your department or graduate student group as a voting member of the governing body. Details on the process of becoming a delegate can be found here.

Alternatively, you can undertake paid work on a GA initiative, where you will have valuable opportunities to hone your abilities to lead teams of varying sizes and collaborate with Berkeley stakeholders from a variety of backgrounds.


Contribute to Student Groups

Berkeley’s engaged student body offers myriad opportunities to work with and lead teams that carry out projects beyond individual academic research. Getting involved with student-run organizations or student government is a great way to develop and showcase leadership and collaboration skills, demonstrate an interest in campus affairs, and network with fellow students, faculty, and staff. Search through registered campus organizations here. Also take a look at the Equity & Inclusion competency to learn more about being a leader for equity and inclusion across campus and in your department. 

Develop Leadership and Collaboration Skills through Outreach and Community Engagement

Graduate students often focus their efforts on the immediate campus community, but contributing to broader communities in the Bay Area or elsewhere can be a valuable way to demonstrate your competencies in leadership and collaboration in non-academic environments.

Steps You Can Take

Explore Community Engagement or Public Scholarship and Teaching Opportunities

Community-engaged scholarship and public service are recognized as valuable parts of professional practice, collaboration, and leadership. Berkeley’s students have a long history of engagement with local communities, as scholars and as citizens. For example, you may consider teaching at Mount Tamalpais College, which offers higher education to people incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison, or help integrate community-based participatory learning activities into courses. Bringing your scholarship and teaching to bear on issues of local concern helps you develop valuable leadership, collaboration, and professional skills. To learn more about public service opportunities for graduate students, read this GradNews article “Public Service Opportunities for Graduate Students” (2022).

* Some skills serve in the development of more than one competency. Some skills may apply more to one discipline than to another. Keep in mind that the list of skills and steps you can take to develop these competencies is not exhaustive.


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This guide was created by GradPro: The Graduate Student Professional Development Resource Hub. Visit our website to learn more about what resources, service, and programs are offered by GradPro and other campus partners.