So many of you readers are either considering going to graduate school, are anticipating starting soon, or are in the middle of your graduate school programing, whether getting a masters or a PhD. To commemorate the ending of my first year in my masters program, I have created a list of the lessons I learned. I hope this helps you along your journey through graduate school.
1) Be positive and focus on the things you can control.
In your first year of graduate school, you are going to encounter many new projects and people. You may face situations that make you uncomfortable or frustrated. Don’t be afraid of these circumstances. Keep your head in the game and work to improve on the areas you feel weak in. Remember, no one is perfect. We all have strengths and weaknesses. Your purpose in graduate school is to challenge yourself. So do it. Believe me, you will thank yourself when you tackle the things you thought were impossible in the beginning.
2) Be organized.
One of the skills you need to be very successful in a graduate school program is organization. This means, having a filing system, a strategic place to organize all your notes, and important paperwork. At this point, graduate program staff, professors, and your peers are going to expect you to be on top of all your work. Make sure you have an easy way of keeping track of all the documents you are given or create. One of the most useful tools in doing this for me has been Google Drive. The new updates google has made now allow you to create and manage multiple files online. I personally use this to keep track of all my lecture notes, class assignments, and exam study guides. It’s convenient because it allows you to share folders for group projects, which comes in really handy when you need multiple people editing the same assignment. So, go ahead. Use it. Love it. Make it your best friend.
3) Schedule time for everyday life.
Graduate school can be really tough when you decide to move to a new city or just live on your own. The best way to stay on track through all the rigorous workload is to make sure you have the basics of laundry, cooking, grocery shopping, rent, sleep etc. covered. So, when you are planning your schedule, make sure the first thing you think about are these basics. As someone who wants to work for the betterment of humanity, I constantly have to remind myself, “you can’t help anyone else, if you don’t take care of yourself first.”
4) Get to know your classmates.
When you begin a new program, it can be nerve recking to open up and get to know your classmates. Don’t let it stop you. Your peers are going to be with you for two or more years. Take time to build relationships with them. Its wonderful being able to share your dreams, fears, successes, and challenges with the people sitting across from you in that lecture hall. It also keeps you accountable to those grand visions you have for your life. So do it. Start up a conversation with that girl or boy sitting next to you in class the first day. It’s totally worth it.
5) Remember graduate school is a marathon, not a race.
This was the biggest takeaway for me in my first year. Do not stress about the small assignments and getting everything done. Take in the bigger picture. One of the best ways I have learned to do this is to keep an agenda with a list of due dates for important assignments and exams due throughout the semester. Doing this at the beginning will allow you to step back and strategize about ways to maximize your time and energy.
6) Plan, plan, and plan.
For masters programs like the one I am in, there are a lot of large group projects which require meeting with fellow students frequently. The best advice that I have for you is to schedule a time to meet with teammates each week, and stick to it. Treat that meeting time like its a class, and plan around it. This helped me immensely when my group for meeting to work on a semester long policy paper. It allowed us to stay on-track and feel less stressed over the length of the semester, especially when it came to turn in the final project.
7) Split up reading assignments with your classmates.
If you are a student with multiple responsibilities including work, school, and family, you know how difficult it is to finish all the readings necessary for class. Splitting up readings with fellow students is very helpful, especially in classes with a very heavy reading load and detailed discussions. This year, doing so allowed me to take detailed notes on the coursework I did read, and to have background on the readings I couldn’t do. Just remember to plan time to read over other people’s notes (It’s not helpful to have other people’s’ notes if you don’t actually look them over).
8) Plan fun time into your schedule.
Its really easy to get burned out with all the assignments and projects you have to do while in a masters or Ph.D. program. So, make sure that you plan to do at least one fun thing a week that allows you to de-stress. This fun thing can range from going to the gym, trying food at a new restaurant, going to a bar or club with friends, to rest and relaxation in the comfort of your own home. Take time to plan out what it is, and make it a priority to keep this up through out the semester. Your mind and body will thank you for it.
9) Maintain relationships with the important people in your life.
This particular task is very difficult to do when you have lots of different things to tackle. But, it can be done. So, make sure you communicate with those you love and spend time with them, whether its a phone conversation once a week or hanging out and cooking dinner together. These relationships will be a great resource to you in your time of need so make sure you continue to cultivate them while you are in the program.
10) Keep a fun hobby.
This is one of the best pieces of advice I can give you. Find a passion and continue to cultivate it when you are in a graduate program. While it might seem counterintuitive to pursue something extra on the side when your life is so intense, believe me, it can be really useful. My side hobby is cooking, and it helps me to de-stress after I’ve had a long day of school work, projects, work, etc. One of the best ways you can keep your mind healthy is through the sheer joy of doing something that you enjoy without the stress of being perfect. It will help you push through those days when you dread getting up in the morning, and make your overall life a lot happier.
Well, thats all I have for you folks. Please feel free to comment and share any pieces of advice you’ve learned from your graduate school experience, or something you would do differently now that you’ve had time to reflect. Also, if you have ideas of future blog posts you would like to read, please let me know.