Attend the seminar series.
All students at all points in their graduate careers should be attending as many of the seminars as possible. This is the place where intellectual exchange takes place between different research groups, different research traditions, different approaches to communication.
For reading courses and independent studies, take the initiative.
If there's a course you want to arrange with a faculty member, either to do some independent reading or some independent research, suggest it to the faculty member. Be explicit about your expectations for the course, such as how much time or credit you're looking for, or what product you hope to have at the end; at the same time, ask the faculty member to be explicit about his or her expectations.
Get involved in research.
The Ph.D. is a research-oriented degree, and the essential assumption of the program is that students learn the most by engaging in research. Ph.D. students seeking jobs will find that hiring committees (especially in academic positions) expect to see several conference papers and at least one published paper for which the student was lead author.
Stay in touch with your Special Committee Chair.
Your Special Committee Chair is your mentor and advocate. S/he can only do his or her job if s/he knows what you're up to, what courses you're finding interesting, what research activities you've become involved in, what readings you've found stimulating. If you don't find a chance to interact informally, make it a point to stop in every few weeks throughout your entire graduate career.
Convene your Special Committee at least twice a year.
The rules say your Special Committee should meet at least once a year. But, really, you want their collective advice more often. Take the initiative to schedule a meeting every six months. You may have to plan weeks in advance to find a time when everyone is available. Let your committee know what you're working on, and get their advice for how to proceed most efficiently and effectively. It's often useful to come to committee meetings with a complete list of courses, grades, and paper topics since you began the program.
Give your committee members time to read and evaluate.
Usually, you need to provide papers one or two weeks before exams (e.g. Second Year Projects, A exams, and dissertations), but that's never enough time. The first step is to work with your committee chair to get your thesis ready to submit to your committee. For most students, your chair should have a full draft at least four to six weeks before you plan on your defense. That provides enough time for your chair to read the thesis and suggest revisions. After you make the revisions, you will still need to give your committee time to read the revised draft. Discuss this schedule in detail with your chair and your committee – find out what they want. Neither you nor your chair want to send your work to the committee before it is ready.
The goal of these suggestions is to help students navigate the sometimes murky waters of a graduate program. If you have questions (or suggestions on how to make these comments more useful), please feel free to bring them up with your advisor or the Director of Graduate Studies.