how I survived my first year in graduate school

As I start my second year of grad school, I’d like to reflect on how I managed to survive that first year.  It wasn’t easy, let me tell you.  I constantly relied on God, a wonderful support system of friends and family, and the wisdom and insight of my professors. Here are a few more things that helped me finish my first year as a Baylor graduate student…

I constantly remind myself of why I’m here: At the end of this second semester, a powerful thought hit me: Everything that I learn here applies to real people with real struggles. My first year learning about school psychology morphed the way I interact with people, especially in my graduate assistantship.  I’ve put strategies into place and noticed that I’m already helping people. I pull from articles I’ve read about study strategies and use techniques from my counseling classes, and I don’t know why, but sometimes I’m surprised to hear people say that I’m really helping. Below are just a few examples of things my undergrad students have told me since August:

  • “I hadn’t thought of that before.  That could really work for me!”
  • “What am I going to do without you next semester?”
  • “Thank you for all of your help!”

    While these statements are fairly simple in nature, in the context of all the struggles that my students experience each semester, these statements are huge!

gradschool

I set aside “me time:” I quickly learned that if I wasn’t careful, I could easily spend all of my free time either working on homework or worrying about my courses. However, it took me a bit longer to realize that I needed to carve out time each day for myself. Whether I’m reading a book for fun, reading other blogs, searching through Pinterest, watching a silly show, or just sitting quietly–I learned to find things that I enjoyed and make time for those.

I share what I’ve learned:  As a school psychologist, I will be an advocate for my students.  The best way I know to do that now is to share what I’m learning in my classes.  I talk with my family and friends pretty regularly about articles I’ve read.  (Sorry, not sorry.) Not only does this prepare me for the real world and sharing information with parents of students, but it also helps me learn the material better.

gradschooJake

I set realistic expectations for myself:  Similar to “me time,” I had to figure out what worked for me in terms of study time.  I quickly learned that it is unrealistic to finish all readings for class the night before.  I learned that I had to set aside time to read in advance, and I had to be honest with myself about how much time I would spend on each subject.  As an academic mentor, I’ve seen students who plan to study 20 hours a week and students who honestly plan about 3 hours a week to study, if they’re lucky.  Yet, I think the students who plan fewer hours perhaps have some advantage in that they are more honest and realistic with themselves. For me, it made sense to start by figuring out how much time I was already studying for each class, and then I increased that as needed.

I quit the comparison game: People LOVE to compare, and they will compare ANYTHING and everything.  How long is your paper? Have you started that project that’s due in 4 months? How long have you spent working on this assignment?  I totally bombed that quiz; what did you get?  (When they got an 80 on the quiz and you got a 60.)

I know the truth; you know the truth; everyone knows the truth:  When we ask what others are doing, we don’t really care what THEY are doing.  We just care about how they are doing compared to ourselves.  It’s selfish, and it will destroy your identity as a student and a person.

If I didn’t learn it in undergrad, I definitely learned this in my first year of grad school.  And I realized that it really doesn’t matter how much time or effort others put into their work.  What matters is how much time and effort I put into my work.  Just because others are spending more time and effort doesn’t necessarily mean they are doing better.  And if they are doing “better” (however you want to define that), as long as I’m doing my personal best, that’s what matters to me.

impostersyndrome

If you haven’t picked up on the theme of this post yet, it’s this: to succeed, you have to know yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, your capabilities and limits.  Then surround yourself with people who are willing to appreciate you for you and affirm that (and consequently, people who will call you out when you’re not being the best version of yourself).  Seek wisdom.  Seek growth.  Seize opportunities.  Lean on Christ.  I’m out of short, sweet sentences, but hopefully you get the picture by now. 🙂  This first year has been a roller coaster ride, and the next year is shaping up to be the same way.  But I wouldn’t have it to any other way.  Here’s to more opportunities!

how to survive your first week in graduate school

  1. BREATHE.
    Remember that even though you’ve experienced 4 years of college, graduate school is a new experience.  Amidst learning a new schedule, meeting new people, figuring out professors’ expectations, and completing loads of assignments, I have to take a moment to myself each day to pause and just breathe.  Some days just stopping to catch my breath, counting the number of slow inhales and exhales, relaxes me.  Graduate school is stressful, but there’s something about consciously breathing in and out that reminds me that I’m alive!  I’m going to make it!  It’s a great way to pause and refocus before moving on to the next task in a list of many.
  2. SLEEP.
    Gone are the days of staying up until 1 or 2am and sleeping until 10 or 11am.  Gone.  Now, 12am is a late bedtime for me, and sleeping until 8:30 or 9 is a luxury.  Honestly, I’m more okay with that than I thought I would be.  Completing tasks in the morning and early afternoon gives me a sense of accomplishment.  Waiting the night before an assignment was due never gave me that.
    Sleeping on a regular schedule actually reduces stress.  Yes, I know that people have told me this for years, but I’m finally realizing it.  Perhaps I’m a slow learner at times, but now that I’ve got this routine down, I feel indescribably better.  Sleep is now something that I look forward to, as opposed to a burden.  Getting a good night’s rest is crucial in graduate school.  The days will be long and miserable after a poor night’s sleep.coffee
  3. EAT.
    …don’t just eat–eat well.  Okay, okay, so I’m still trying to cut out those sodas at dinner and the fast food junk when I’m in a jam.  BUT eating well boosts energy and overall attitude.  Snacks that are high in protein have become a staple for me.  I keep almonds in my desk drawer at work; I’ll throw some low-sodium jerky in my purse for a snack; greek yogurt with fruit and granola is quickly becoming a favorite; and peanut butter will always be my protein comfort food.  I can definitely tell a difference in my attitude and energy level on days when I forget my snacks.  Nobody wants a tired, grumpy graduate student, so handy snacks are a must.
    Oh, and breakfast is ALWAYS a good idea.  My Keurig is great, but the caffeine from the coffee is not going to last.  Muffins, breakfast bars, fruit–a must.  I never thought I’d become a believer in breakfast, but I’ve been converted.
  4. READ.
    Do the assignments.  Do them ahead of time.  Plan every hour of every day and squeeze in reading time whenever possible.  I print out articles and carry them around in my purse.  I carry my books to the office and read between appointments.  I read over breakfast, lunch, and usually dinner.  I read constantly, it feels like.  Sometimes the professors cover the material and sometimes they talk about something entirely different.  Either way, completing the reading gives me a better idea of what to expect in class and enables me to answer questions and discuss things with the class.

cantsintocans

That’s the best advice I have, and just to be honest, I typed it out mostly for my own benefit.  My lifestyle changed drastically in the past three weeks, and it’s a good change.  This post will serve as a reminder to keep it up when I feel like giving in.

My first couple of weeks of class have been stressful, it’s true, but they have been overwhelmingly good.  Even though the work is never-ending, I am thankful to finally be able to focus on school psychology.  I’d rather read 5 articles and upwards of 10 chapters a week about school psychology than have a smaller load of gen. ed. classes.