Tips for Grads: Giving constructive feedback

By Olivia Gacka, PhD Student

The end of the semester is a big time for giving and getting feedback. Whether it’s through grading, presentation preparation, group work, or bouncing ideas off of your fellow graduate students, it’s an opportunity we are often given in graduate school to help others succeed. But it can be intimidating to figure out how best to give feedback in a way that feels truly helpful to the other person. Here are some tips for giving the most helpful and constructive feedback:

  • Think about it: If you can, take the time to fully articulate your thoughts to yourself before offering them to the other person. Off-the-cuff feedback isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but taking a moment to digest what you’re being asked to look at will make your feedback stronger and better contextualized for the person you’re talking or writing to. Just be sure to still give the person that feedback in a timely manner!
  • Balance it: Some people like the “sandwich method”, meaning you give positive feedback, a criticism or concern, and then wrap it up with another positive. Personally, I prefer the even distribution of a 1:1 positive and constructive feedback combination. That allows you to be as honest as you need to while staying as genuine as you can about what you liked and didn’t like, all while being considerate and supportive of the other person.
  • Support it: When giving feedback on how someone did on a paper, project, or presentation, it’s most helpful to be specific as possible. Cite examples from their work whenever you can so they’ll be able to apply your feedback in the areas you’re actually talking about, making the most out of the time you spent on it. General thoughts are nice and a great way to get things going, but the more you can link your feedback to exact parts of the other person’s work, the more likely they are to understand what you’re saying and to see where they can improve on their work in the future.

Tips for Grads is a professional and academic advice column written by graduate students for graduate students at UW­–Madison. It is published in the student newsletter, GradConnections Weekly.