Friday, November 7, 2014

How to survive your last year of grad school

My graduate school experience has had its share of meals on-the-go, motivational self-talks and 16 hour days. Holding two assistantships and advising multiple undergraduate committees and groups, maintaining a full-time class schedule all while preserving some shred of a personal life can be overwhelming at times.

Don’t get me wrong; I feel extremely thankful for the opportunities given to me and I am more driven by my demanding schedule than I have ever felt before.

However, I am not a complete robot and even I still have those moments when anxiety gets the best of me and my inner child just wants to crawl into a pillow fort, where my responsibilities cease to exist, and color pictures of unicorns for a few hours.

I’m not an expert, but I feel as if giving into these fleeting breakdowns once in a while is not only inevitable, but necessary to retaining our humanity as grad students.

Here is my to-do list if you’re interested in keeping your sanity throughout grad school:
  • Keep your schedule in your phone. If you’re anything like me, your phone is constantly within an arm’s reach. After experimenting with several different planners and scheduling methods, the most practical form has been my iPhone calendar. Add your daily/weekly schedule first (classes, office hours, etc.) then as soon as you find out something is happening, put it in your phone, set an alert, and free up some space in your brain!
  • Stop procrastinating. If you’re someone who is always waiting until the last minute to get things done, now is the time to break that habit. If you don’t already, you’ll soon learn what it’s like for something to come up an hour before a deadline and have to explain why the assignment was late. Your professors and supervisors will accept the “something came up” excuse once or twice, but anyone in Higher Education most likely has a similar schedule and, therefore, squandering sympathy for your lack of ability to plan for unforeseen circumstances.
  • Schedule free time. Self-care is different for everyone, but extremely important. If you’re waiting for free time to magically appear, good luck. Figure out how much time you can reasonably set aside for yourself without falling behind in your other responsibilities. If family, friends or gym time is important to you, schedule it. If it’s already in your calendar, when someone asks when you can add a meeting, you’ll be less likely to take away the only hour you have to yourself.
  • Sleep. Eat. Study. You are a human first and a student second. Everything else will come with time. Adding everything at once will only be detrimental to your health, grades and duties.
  • When things get overwhelming, re-evaluate. Grad school is a perfect time to learn how to balance time and experiment with how much you can take on and still give 100%. When that percentage starts to drop, your balancing act might need reassessment. If you find yourself completely booked with no time to sleep study or eat, it’s time to rework your current plan. Maybe it means taking a few hours away from one position and adding them somewhere else. Maybe a conversation with an advisor or supervisor can add some clarity and take away some pressure. It might also mean dropping one responsibility completely, and that’s ok sometimes. You can always add more responsibilities again after you get a better grip on things.
  • Don’t panic. Grad school is the perfect place to make mistakes. You’re probably surrounded by helping professionals who want nothing more than to see you succeed! If everything hasn’t fallen into place quite yet, don’t worry too much. It will.

— Alyssa Meyers is obtaining a graduate degree in Counseling and College Student Affairs (CSA) at Bloomsburg University, where she holds a graduate assistantship in the Student Activities Office. There, she assists in overseeing Bloomsburg's Program Board, Concert Committee and other groups and committees related to campus-wide event and activity planning.

Alyssa also holds a part-time position at Penn State University's Hazleton campus, where she is the Assistant Coordinator in the Office of Residence Life. In this position, she oversees a 10-person student Resident Assistant staff, works with the full-time residence life staff and participates in on-call or "Duty" responsibilities.

Prior to starting her career in student affairs, worked as a caseworked at Columbia County Children and Youth Services. She gained experience in crisis management, community health, and strength-based intervention strategies. Last summer, Alyssa moved to the Los Angeles area and worked with the Student Life and Engagement staff at Marymount California University. The focal point of her summer was designing an LGBT Safe Zone training manual and additional programming for the upcoming academic year.


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