There are few people more important to your life in graduate school than the graduate secretary of your department.
This person is more important than most of your professors, more important than your boyfriend or girlfriend, more important than your mother!
The graduate secretary can mean the difference between a successful and happy graduate school experience, and one riddled with trials and tribulations where you just don’t know what to do or where to turn.
Building a strong relationship now with the graduate secretary will benefit your studies, your stress level, and your degree.
In many departments, the graduate secretary, especially if s/he has years of experience, is a font of institutional knowledge. This person knows when you should apply for fellowships, when the department hires TAs, where students have found other funding opportunities, as well as the proper procedure for completing graduate exams, filing theses, and managing your committee.
The graduate secretary is an institutional guru.
In my department at the University of California, our graduate secretary had more than 30 years of experience and acquired knowledge about the ins and outs of departmental and university policy. She knew more than most professors and upper administrators about how to get things done effectively and efficiently. She also knew how to get things done in a way that would most help students.
When I needed the right form, I went to her. When I needed advice on how to time my program and plan my courses, I went to her. And when I ran into funding problems, I went to her. She solved every one of these issues.
She is also a warm, kind, and generous person who did everything she could to make graduate school a less stressful and more enjoyable experience.
Even before you arrive at grad school, you will already be in contact with the graduate secretary. Very likely, this is the person to whom you sent your application for admission, scholarship applications, and who will organize TA duties and office space. The graduate secretary will know all about you even before you’ve arrived in town.
So, when you do arrive in town, this is one of the first campus visits you must make. Just show up with a smile, a hello, and quick thanks for help already received. It is fundamentally important that you know who your graduate secretary is so that you are comfortable contacting him or her when the need arises.
Building a strong relationship now with the graduate secretary will benefit your studies, your stress level, and your degree. It may also foster one of the most important relationships at grad school, and leave you with a friendship that goes even beyond your degree.