Academic Expectations & Ethics: Keys to Success for Graduate Students

Understanding the System in Graduate Education

  • Program Director: Oversees the graduate program of study in a department and may serve as an academic advisor
  • Academic Advisor or Mentor: Helps you choose the classes to take
  • Instructor or Professor: Tells you the requirements of each class
  • Administrative Staff: Secretaries and Coordinators help guide you through the system


Diversity of Students and Faculty
One of UAB’s greatest assets is the diversity of our faculty and student body, including diversity of age, gender, social and economic background, ethnicity, and countries of origin.


  • You will see very informal styles of dress and speech both in students and in faculty.
  • Most classes have a friendly, relaxed atmosphere.

However, none of this indicates that there are not very strict standards about assignments, class attendance, and the quality of students’ work

Tips for Interacting with Faculty

  • Listen very carefully to all instructions and ask questions when you do not understand.
  • Read and reread the syllabus and assignment schedule.
  • Take the initiative in building a solid foundation of support.
  • Ask for help when you need it - Do not expect faculty or other students to offer help you have not requested.
  • Remember that faculty members are busy professionals. Make an appointment.
  • Determine how – phone, by appointment, e-mail—and about what kinds of things your professor would like you to communicate with him or her.
  • Do not take negative comments as a personal attack.
  • Accept constructive criticism graciously and move on.
  • Learn from your mistakes.

Tips for Interacting in Class

  • Actively participate in class discussions
    • Professors expect responses from students in most classes
  • Express your own opinions
    • Professors and other students expect you to express opinions and ideas, even when they differ from their own.
  • Avoid being confrontational
    • Show respect to others by acknowledging and considering their point of view.
  • Ask questions
    • Most professors encourage student questions in class.
    • It is almost always acceptable to approach the professor immediately after class if you have a question you would rather not voice in front of the group or if there is something you do not understand.

Lack of participation may appear to the professor and other students as a lack of interest.

  • Graduate students, especially, are expected to
    • question established theories
    • develop research questions
    • interact with professors
  • Students are often expected to give presentations and lead discussions.
  • Be prepared to participate in small group activities such as conducting research and preparing presentations.
    • Offer to do what you feel most comfortable doing.
    • Be careful to fulfill these obligations.
    • Ask for help if you need it (proofreading – pronunciation). Group projects often receive group grades.

Reluctance to participate is almost always misinterpreted.

Testing and Grading

Be sure you understand the expectations for each class.
  • How will the grading be done?
  • What is graded and how much is each assignment worth? (tests, projects, participation)
  • Will there be pop tests, response journals, review for tests?
  • Is there a final project or exam?

All of these questions are usually explained on the syllabus

After an exam or project is graded

  • Talk with the instructor as soon as possible if there is anything you do not understand.
  • It is ok for you to ask the instructor for explanations
  • If you feel that a mistake has been made, ask that your grade be recalculated.
  • Be polite, not confrontational or accusatory
  • Avoid pointing out how unfair you feel the test was.
  • Learn from your mistakes

Academic Integrity


  • Using other people’s work and submitting it as your own without citing the source.
  • Borrowed words and ideas must always be clearly documented, whether they are published or not.


  • This includes tests, take-home exams, and papers submitted for credit.


  • Reporting false or inaccurate data.
  • Aiding dishonesty
  • Knowingly providing information to another student that would be used dishonestly
  • Falsification of records or documents
  • Knowingly presenting inaccurate data, forging signatures, or falsifying information on academic documents

Time Management

  • Graduate level courses are more time consuming and the level of academic expectation is higher when compared to undergraduate courses
  • Manage your time wisely in order to keep up in your graduate level courses

Communication Concerns for International Students

  • Potential Problem Areas
    • Linguistic differences in sounds, grammatical structures, and word meanings
    • Nonverbal aspects such as gestures and facial expressions
    • Preconceived ideas that make it difficult to understand a person

When someone doesn’t understand you…

  • Word the sentence in a different way
  • Try synonyms or descriptions
  • Give a general category or context
  • Demonstrate, point, draw a picture – communication is very visual
  • Write it down

When you don’t understand someone else…

  • Do not hesitate to say you do not understand and do not say you understand unless you do.
  • Help the person find a strategy:
    • Please say that again.
    • Please speak slowly.
    • Please define . . . .
  • Say what you do understand to avoid needless explanation.
  • Keep a list of terms and phrases and idioms you do not understand and ask someone to explain.
  • Remember that Americans almost always interpret silence as agreement and understanding.

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