Some tips for MS / PHD students for being successful in their studies while at graduate school.
1. Be open minded. Do not fall in the trap of I want to stick to this specialization. This is an Indian mentality. Get out of it. It does not work in US. Explore and get exposure to different areas and take courses accordingly.
2. Chose difficult projects, different projects, long projects. Do projects in groups. Understand the good practices that your team members are using. Observer their work methods and chose the good ones. Discuss. Chose group members such that you will end up sharing and learning things. Do not chose group members because you are his friend. Chose on the basis of knowledge. If you are less knowledgeable, go to a group which has clever people so that at the end of it you would have emerged wiser.
3. Chose the courses wisely. Do not get bogged down by the course content. Have a diverse yet related courses. Like if you are in systems, good courses are statistics(undergrad level) (this is needed for analysis of data), operating systems, storage systems, distributed systems, data mining, database systems, multimedia systems, computer networking, algorithms, logic algorithms etc. Do not fear the ones you do not know. Understand the way this system works and try to build up the context and prerequisite for the courses you are not good at by taking extra undergraduate counterpart courses. US education system is very flexible and it allows you lot of flexibility in terms of lot of things. So make most of it. Get exposed to different problems so that when similar situation arises you can have atleast some background to think on it. You need not emerge out expert.
4. Take some courses which are inter-disciplinery ie. take some course in departments other than Engineering like say Psychology? Music? depends on your interest. Understand the life other than engineering. You will be surprised to see how different it is and what attitude it carries. Be socially responsible.
5. Professors are weird people. Do not feel bad if they do not talk nicely sometimes or not reply to your mails. Each professor is different. Some are really good, some are really considerate, some are good researchers but not good lecturers, some are good lecturers but not good researchers, some are harsh with spoiled attitude, some are very humane, some are not so. Understand their behavior and analyze them.
6. Difficult courses usually have a Teaching Assistant session where students are helped with their difficulties. Make most out of it. Learn how to use this time for a better learning and understanding of the material. Do not break your head on a complex problem under ego. Take hints and help of other people. Acknowledge the hints and help in your work. Share the credit. Do not brag. Plagiarism could be dangerous.
7. Homeworks are meant for making the material covered in class better understandable. You can learn new subject only if some problem in it is given to you and you break your head thinking about it. It is only during this time that you will face more problems and then only you will explore the subject more and appreciate it more. The satisfaction of solving a complex problem could be more than satisfaction of having a beautiful / HOT girl sitting next to you :) Experience it. haha. Homeworks are meant for that. So do that. Do not try stealing others ideas and copy. Get read of the typical Indian mindset.
8. Learn the material before hand. By learn I mean before professor teaches it in class, go over it in books, wikipedia, Internet. Get into the context of the subject so that the lecture would become interesting and you could identify yourself with what the professor is teaching. After the class is over, spend some time thinking about what professor talked. You will have better chances of remembering it, if you recall it immediately after the class. Your chances of understanding things improve manifold if you spend some time beforehand in going over lecture material, which is usually posted on class website by professor. Or take a look at previous years class websites.
9. Different professors have different ways and styles of conducting lectures. Do not try to force yourself in a single style. It will not work. Observe what is needed and how it could be achieved for the current class. Observe your methods each day so that you can correct them and improve upon them. At the end of your MS you will have lot of learning styles which would make you a real fast learner.
10. Take some undergraduate level courses. Audit them, do not enroll in them. By auditing I mean, just go and listen to lectures, take notes. Do not do homeworks, or appear for exams. Undergraduate classes are taught really nicely and it would give you a comparison basis for Indian education that you learned. Understand the difference between graduate and undergraduate ways of teaching by different professors.
11. Make American friends. Understand their culture. Pick their good habits. Discuss American and Indian culture with them. Make them understand Indian culture.
12. Attend different seminars that might be conducted in the school. Keep abreast with latest happenings in your field and in engineering in general.
13. Well that is most of it. Do not enter graduate school with the sole aim of entering US job market. American education system offers lot more than that. Make most out of your stay here. Enjoy it. Get stressed, depressed. The feeling that you made through it successfully at the end on your own is immensely gratifying. Experience it.
All the best...