Week 2 of the semester is just about done and I’m not hating it any less than I was last week when I shared the six struggles of graduate school students I wish my friends and family would understand. Judging from the comments, many of my fellow grad students feel my pain, but there was one comment in particular that really stuck with me. The comment was from someone who said she would be starting grad school in March and while she was already nervous, my post had made her even more nervous. Now I realize this commenter could have just been making conversation, but I felt bad that I could possibly be influencing someone’s life in a negative way. My intention for the post was to be funny, remind my fellow grad students that they aren’t suffering alone, and to give a PSA to friends/family growing irritated with the grad student in their life. I certainly didn’t mean to scare anyone away from grad school and decided a post dedicated to tips to thriving and surviving grad school was necessary for all my Royals heading to and/or thinking about grad school.
I’ve mentioned before how important time management is in order to be successful in life period. Time management is even more important to be successful in grad school. I highly recommend, as soon as the syllabi are available that you put all important due dates in your planner/calendar. This way, when you are trying plan for other things, you can keep these dates in mind.
2. Maintain a life outside of school.
Grad school has a way of consuming your life. If you aren’t busy reading, you’re probably doing homework or trying to align your schedule with your classmates’ for group work. Frankly, sometimes you just have to walk away from it all and you should. Schedule time to do the things you love. For me, it’s blogging and my TV shows. Blogging is my time to get away from work and school. It is my time to connect with the world outside of public health and work. The same way you pencil in when you will work on an assignment, is how you should schedule your “me time”.
3. Never Ever Get Behind.
Grad school keeps you busy. Very seldom will there be a lull in work, but if there is, use the time to get ahead because there is NOTHING worse than getting behind in grad school. Once you fall behind it’s almost impossible to catch back up and it makes what’s already often a stressful situation worse.
4. Work Smarter, Not Harder.
I can’t speak to what pursuing other Master’s degrees is like, but if you are pursuing a Master’s in Public Health you are no stranger to having to pick a health topic and/or underserved population and complete some kind of paper/project on them. Because I have come to expect this, I save myself time by always by picking between two diseases and only changing my population in terms of age (i.e. I always focus on the same race). This saves me time because I don’t have to do as much background research and I often feel a lot more comfortable because I’m familiar with these topics.
5. Make Friends within your program.
These are the people who can always sympathize with what you are going through. They have the same teachers, probably aren’t looking forward to that 25-page paper either, and also would rather be drinking wine than listening to any professor ramble on at 8 o’clock at night. No one is going to get it how they do and you need these people to stay sane. I am so grateful for whoever created the Facebook group for the students in my online program. I can always count on them for a good laugh, for information the school/teachers have poorly disseminated, and warnings of professors to avoid.
6. Find a Mentor.
Grad school can be a big scary place. At the end of the day there are thousands of other people pursuing the same degree as you who will ultimately be competing for the same jobs as you come graduation. It’s imperative to make connections with at least one person that has been down this road before. A mentor can help you avoid critical mistakes, help guide you in directions you never thought of, and even be a reference on those job applications.
Grad school is hard and I’m really excited to finish, but the benefits having a master’s degree will bring to my life far outweigh the struggle the past couple of years have been. For anyone starting grad school soon or thinking about grad school, know that it will be an adjustment. Don’t spend any time worrying about whether or not you will survive because you will and if ever you doubt that just remember this post and the one from last week. You’ll have that degree before you even know it!
Are you starting grad school soon? Have you already been to grad school? If so, what was your strategy for thriving and surviving grad school?