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Making Lemonade – Dealing With The Unknown, Unexpected, And Unwanted During Graduate Study

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2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

Graduate Student Experiences

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.879.1 - 9.879.7



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Paper Authors

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Carol Mullenax

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 3555

Making Lemonade – Dealing with the Unknown, Unexpected, and Unwanted During Graduate Study

Carol Mullenax Tulane University


Graduate study can be a risky endeavor. Typically, graduate students perform research work that has not been done before, so problems are not uncommon. In addition to the technical challenges of doctoral work, there are other potential problems, be they cultural, interpersonal, budgetary, or other.

When a problem arises, there are productive and unproductive ways of reacting. Based on the author’s experience and observation, this paper seeks to identify some common difficulties graduate students may encounter, and propose some possible actions to deal with them. As the old saying goes, when you’re handed a bunch of lemons, sometimes the best thing to do is to make lemonade.


In many ways, completing a graduate degree has many similarities to an old-time crossing of the North Atlantic Ocean. In both cases, the desired endpoint is known but the conditions along the way are not. Successful transit boils down to the art of applying “course corrections” in a smart and timely manner. For academic pursuits the key is to look ahead, see an obstacle coming, and devise a way around it.

Cultural issues

By cultural here I mean endemic to academia. Doctoral study, and sometimes Master’s thesis work, is an open-ended endeavor which requires a certain amount of flexibility on the student’s part. Areas of contention include establishing degree requirements, dealing with changing requirements, and defining the completion of your efforts.

Documentation Although degree requirements are commonly listed and available for BS & MS degrees, most schools do not document policies in detail regarding PhD degree requirements since these requirements encompass so much more than objective measures. On the positive side, this allows the school flexibility in dealing with individual circumstances. On the negative side, this can be used to impede progress as well if unanticipated tasks are repeatedly added to your degree requirements.

Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2004, American Society for Engineering Education

Mullenax, C. (2004, June), Making Lemonade – Dealing With The Unknown, Unexpected, And Unwanted During Graduate Study Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--13621

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