Whether you are a new graduate student or completing your degree, strong leadership skills can help you translate disciplinary expertise and experiences into a rewarding career. Leadership is a skill that can be learned, and those that take the time to build their own leadership style in graduate school can develop confidence while learning to maximize their own effectiveness and that of others. Graduate students take up and aspire to leadership roles including: teacher, researcher, mentor, manager, team leader, advocate, innovator, and entrepreneur.

Accordion Items: 
Motivate Others

Effective leaders understand that everyone has their own motivations. When working with others, it can be helpful to understand why an individual is participating and what interests them. Furthermore, make sure that the people you work with are set up to succeed.

Utilize Your Strengths

The best leaders understand their own strengths and weaknesses. Acknowledging your strengths, as well as the strengths of those around you can help you can build trust and allows for complementary teamwork to occur. Strengths are not limited to only technical skills that you use in research.  Identifying trends and common themes across your academics, research, teaching, volunteering, hobbies, and personal life can help you identify core strengths that are adaptable across many settings.  Resources such as Science Careers myIDPImagine PhD, and those on this page’s “Resources” and “Request a Workshop” tabs can help guide your reflection and strategizing. 

Select Challenges

The experiences and leadership stories you collect are more important than the number of titles. Seek out opportunities that challenge you and promote growth, take risks that allow you to hone skills, and reflect on your experiences afterwards to learn from the experience.

Build a Cabinet of Advisors

You cannot be the best at everything, and neither can your mentors. Take some time to develop relationships with mentors and advisors with specialized perspectives. Schedule meetings, have meaningful conversations, and look broadly for people who are willing to share their expertise with you. Remember that this takes time and benefits from mutual trust and respect.

Be Resilient

Learning from these failures is often a prerequisite for success. Leadership requires risk taking and risks come had in hand with obstacles, setbacks, and failures. Learning from these failures is often prerequisite for success.

Campus Resources


Graduate Student Senate

Graduate Student Senate (GSS) is a collegiate association of the Graduate College that acts as the primary representative, administrative, and service organization for graduate students at the University. Graduate students organize the Jakobsen Conference—an event that gives graduate students experience presenting their research in conference format in a local environment. GSS Senators also assist the Graduate College officials with the New Graduate Student Welcome & Orientation.

Campaign to Organize Graduate Students (COGS)

COGS is a democratic, rank-and-file Union determined to fight for a voice in influencing graduate employee working conditions. Join the Union and have a voice by becoming a COGS member.

Critical MASS

The Critical Mentoring and Student Support program is a volunteer opportunity to serve as a mentor to undergraduate students who have violated the Code of Student Life. To participate, complete the online, interactive training and submit a mentor’s interest/preference form.

Women in Science and Engineering Program (WISE)

The WISE mission is to expand and improve educational and professional opportunities for women in all fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) by facilitating individual, institutional, and social change. WISE offers programs and initiatives that occur within the University.

Women's Resource and Action Center

The Women’s Resource and Action Center works to create greater equity for individuals and communities of all identities, with a particular focus on women, through activism, social justice initiatives, leadership training, advocacy, service, and personal and professional development. They offer the Iowa N.E.W. Leadership program as well as opportunities to get involved by volunteering at the Center. No experience is needed, as training is provided for most positions.

Accordion Items: 
Is leadership a learnable trait?

Yes! With a strengths-based leadership model, you can learn to use your own talents to develop a personal leadership style. You can also learn to understand your weaknesses and how to get support from others where you need it.

What sorts of activities count as leadership experience?

Serving as the leader of a student group, professional group, co-organizer of a conference panel, representing your peers at the state or nation level all count as leadership experience. The important thing is that you get something out of your work or service, and even more so that you are learning valuable skills along the way.

Am I taking on too much extra work?

Use your best judgement for taking on extra work beyond the requirements for your degree program, work responsibilities, and personal life. Achieving a work/life balance is not an easy task, so you will need to prioritize certain things like coursework, research, teaching, and professional activities (such as conference presentations) over volunteer work. These skills you learn now for effective time management will apply to you the rest of your career and work life beyond graduate school.

Request a Workshop

Unfortunately, the Graduate College will not be offering workshops on request during the fall 2018 semester. This service will be available again in the spring of 2019.

The Graduate College offers workshops that can be requested by student groups (formal organizations or informal groups of students), faculty, departments, or other campus organizations. You can review the offerings below. To request a workshop, complete the Workshop Request Form.

Please note all workshops:

  • are 60-90 minutes in length,
  • require at least 5 students to attend, and
  • room accommodations must be reserved by the requester

StrengthsFinder for Graduate Students (Prep 20 minutes + $20 per student)

This workshop draws on the StrengthFinder assessment tool to help students better understand their own unique strengths in an academic and/or work context. During the session, students will learn how to leverage their strengths for future roles in or out of academia. Students attending this workshop develop confidence in their approach to leadership and a deeper understanding of effective team collaboration.

Requester will: Pay for StrengthsFinder codes and distribute them to workshop attendees in advance of the workshop. Codes can be purchased direct from Gallup.
Pre-workshop (20 minutes): Students will need to complete the StrengthsFinder assessment.


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