Written by: Valerie Cummins 

Today’s post is concerning first-generation university students in graduate school and goes into resources and opportunities that are available to them from the UNT Libraries. 

First-generation students experience new challenges upon entering university, and many universities, including UNT, recognize this, and attempt to provide resource centers that are meant for their needs. Even with resources, first-generation students tend to experience less on-campus participation, use fewer university services, and graduate at lower rates compared to their peers from families with parents that already possess a bachelor’s degree (Tobolowsky et al., 2017). Continuing higher education beyond a bachelor’s can be especially challenging with many first-generation students coming from families that often expect them to “continue to live at home and carry out family duties,” while in school and then enter the workforce after finishing their bachelor’s (Martinez, 2018, p. 5). 

Students coming from first-generation backgrounds frequently meet situations that are outside of what they are used to or expect, which can lead to a loss of opportunities and academic challenges (Smolarek, 2019). Many of these resources are not intended for graduate students, who find themselves dealing with greater differences in socialization and dealing with the “hidden curriculum” and differing expectations that become issues at the graduate school level (Collins & Jehangir, 2021, p. 61). Combined, these aspects impact graduate school entrances and these rates drop significantly for first-generation students from lower income backgrounds (Willison & Gibson, 2011). 

Person holding their head in their hands in front of a computer
Photo by Elisa Ventur on Unsplash 

While the UNT Libraries cannot stop those hurdles from existing, many of the resources it has for assisting graduate students can be especially useful for first-generation students, who may still be learning how to navigate academia and graduate school by offering connections to library staff, other peers, events, and resources that can help. 

The UNT Libraries are a regular host to many events, and one of those events is the Eagle Thesis & Dissertation Boot Camp, which is run by the Toulouse Graduate School. This boot camp is meant to provide graduate students with a place and ability to focus on their thesis or dissertation without any external distractions. For graduate students desiring a less intense writing group for working on it, as of Fall 2022 the library is excited to host a weekly writing group that is likely to continue in Spring 2023. 

One useful resource the libraries provide is a variety of workshops every semester; some are specifically directed towards graduate-level students, such as the workshops the libraries held in October 2022: “What the Libraries Can Do for You” and “Academic Integrity”. The Spark hosts technology workshops throughout the year not just the equipment they provide— such as their 3D printers and cameras— but software such as Photoshop and InDesign.  

A valuable resource offered by the libraries is the research services offered not just through Ask us, but the libraries’ Subject Librarians. As we develop as students and progress through our education, we increasingly find ourselves met by different roadblocks: time, how to find specific materials, the required knowledge for using library resources or pursuing scholarly writing and achieving communication at a deeper level. While many of these things are possible to learn on our own, our Subject Librarians are here to help with these issues, especially at the graduate student level. 

The Interlibrary Loan system (ILL) offers many ways to gain access to books and articles needed as graduate students, whether the resource is located at another library or in Denton while you are working on your program online or finishing your thesis elsewhere. While the UNT Libraries do not have access to everything you might need, ILL is able to request many of those resources for you. ILL can additionally provide digital copies of journal articles and book chapters the library physically possesses if you only require specific portions of a journal or book.  

Through our Distance Learning services, ILL is additionally able to ship materials out to students at no charge. This can be especially useful for us as graduate students if you are doing your program remotely but need a physical book the library has or are working on your thesis or dissertation.  

The libraries additionally offer research fellowships; these fellowships are meant for faculty, graduate students, and independent researchers and are intended to assist in research with a preference for research that will lead to publication. These fellowships are related to items found in Special Collections or as part of the Portal to Texas History. The knowledge that these options exist is important, even if the specific form it takes is not necessarily something applicable to you at the time. 

One last resource from the library is this blog; Scholar Speak is an academics-oriented blog written and run by graduate students with an intended audience of other graduate students. While this entry is only able to cover a portion of the resources available, Scholar Speak has entries dating back to Spring 2019 that explain Interlibrary Loan in detail, locate free textbooks, how to understand the Library of Congress Call Number system or utilize TexShare, along with plenty of other resources and information regarding the libraries. 

As first-generation students, it is easy to feel disconnected from campus, and as a result, fall through the cracks; we are less likely to seek aid or use campus resources in our undergraduate studies, and much of this follows us through to our years as graduate students. Even if we succeed independently, this can still result in us encountering things we are not prepared for or know how to handle, especially at the master’s or doctoral level and changes in expectations. Though these are things we can usually struggle through or self-teach, the most vital lesson for us at the graduate level is learning when and how to seek assistance from not just our current peers, but our future colleagues.  

Did this blog help you learn about the resources available to you as a graduate student? Let us know your comments! Please contact Ask Us if you have any questions about library services. 


Ames, A. (2021, October 20). Understanding the library of congress call number system. Scholar Speak. Retrieved November 13, 2022, from https://blogs.library.unt.edu/scholar-speak/2021/10/15/understanding-the-library-of-congress-call-number-system/  

Brents, M. (2021, January 25). 6 (legal) ways to find free textbooks. Scholar Speak. Retrieved November 13, 2022, from https://blogs.library.unt.edu/scholar-speak/2021/01/31/6-legal-ways-to-find-free-textbooks/  

Collins, K., & Jehangir, R. (2021). Mapping a new frontier: Graduate student socialization for first-generation students. The Good Society, 30(1-2), 48–70. https://doi.org/10.5325/goodsociety.30.1-2.0048   

Dahl, S. (2022, April 29). Using TexShare to the fullest. Scholar Speak. Retrieved November 13, 2022, from https://blogs.library.unt.edu/scholar-speak/2022/04/29/using-texshare-to-the-fullest/   

Foster, J. (2019, November 24). A library without walls:  harnessing the power of interlibrary loan. Scholar Speak. Retrieved November 13, 2022, from https://blogs.library.unt.edu/scholar-speak/2019/02/24/a-library-without-walls-harnessing-the-power-of-interlibrary-loan/   

Martinez, A. (2018). Pathways to the professoriate: The experiences of first-generation Latino undergraduate students at Hispanic serving institutions applying to doctoral programs. Education Sciences, 8(1), 32. https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci8010032   

Smolarek, B. B. (2019, October 9). The Hidden Challenges for Successful First-Generation Ph.D.s. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved November 13, 2022, from https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2019/10/09/first-generation-phd-student-describes-her-struggles-opinion 

Tobolowsky, B. F., Cox, B. E., & Chunoo, V. S. (2017). Bridging the cultural gap: Relationships between programmatic offerings and first-generation student benchmarks. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice, 22(2), 273–297. https://doi.org/10.1177/1521025117742377  

Willison, S., & Gibson, E. (2011). Graduate School Learning Curves: Mcnair scholars’ postbaccalaureate transitions. Equity & Excellence in Education, 44(2), 153–168. https://doi.org/10.1080/10665684.2011.558416  

UNT Division of Student Affairs. (n.d.). First-Generation Success Center. Retrieved November 13, 2022, from https://studentaffairs.unt.edu/first-generation-success-center 

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