As if getting into grad school wasn’t hard enough, actually surviving it is even tougher. Here are some tried and true suggestions that will help you make it though grad school – and maybe even enjoy it! 🙂
Befriend others in your program
You’re going to be spending a great deal of your time surrounded by people in your program, so you might as well make it a pleasant experience. Heck, you may even end up making a few life-long friends. It makes such a difference when you’re excited to see your classmates – going to school isn’t as big a drag as it could be because you get to look forward to hanging out with your buds!
Don’t try to do all the reading
If you’re hearing this for the first time, it might sound crazy to you. How are you supposed to show that you’re dedicated to school, willing to do what it takes to succeed, and not be made a fool of when called upon in class if you don’t pore over every word in the 100s of pages of assigned weekly reading?!? The simple answer is: you don’t need to worry so much. It’s just not worth it! Eventually you’ll realize that it’s also impossible. Here’s what you do: read what’s interesting to you, and skim the rest. Just make sure to read something each week for each class. You want to get something out of it, right? Don’t be so determined to get through everything that you don’t process anything.
Don’t try to do all the reading
Commit to your community
Get hobbies, pick up a sport, volunteer with local nonprofits, join a local language club, take a cooking class. The point is to get involved with SOMETHING non-academic that is a scheduled activity. This way, school is not your life, but one, albeit substantial, portion of your life. I know you’re probably thinking- I don’t have time for any of this! In truth, you really do have extra time, and more important, you have valid interests that extend beyond school. Chances are if you’ve made it this far, you’re not just Mammy the grad student- you might actually be Mammy the animal loving, environmental activist, marathon running, delicacy baking grad student. Pursuing outside interests will aid in your personal growth, give you new perspectives on life, and make you happy. This will spill over into school success. It’s important that you be committed to your hobby, otherwise school can easily encroach upon it and consume you! Don’t become a slave to your program! Make school just one thing you do.
Punctuate your work with planned festivities
Plan activities that you can look forward to! These things don’t have to be really time-consuming, but planning even a 1-2 hour coffee date with an old friend may keep your attitude positive through the week as you excitedly work towards it. Try the following: meet friends for dinner, try new restaurants, go to concerts, plays, movies, have friends in from out of town, check out local bars and farmer’s markets, go for hikes, play tennis, check out your school’s football or basketball games, have a pot-lucks with friends, and Mammy’s favorite- vacations! The bottom line is to plan things that keep you going through the week and the semester!
Get involved with your program
Don’t just scoot by doing the minimum. You know what they call the person who graduates dead last in their medical school class?? ……Doctor. Don’t be dead last in your class. You’ll need stellar letters of recommendation for residencies, internships, and jobs, and you need to show the faculty that you’re worthy of top positions. Help plan seminars, be on journal clubs, volunteer or find out about paid opportunities to work in a faculty member’s lab- all things to do so that faculty get to know you better, and write you better letters of rec. In addition, you’ll gain a broader perspective on your field, and perhaps identify surprising new areas of interest!
Get to know faculty informally
Aside from your academic and professional prowess, the faculty should get to know you on a more personal level. Make sure to interact with them at luncheons, colloquia, in the elevator, in the department office, etc. All of these microinteractions are opportunities for them to find out what an all-around nice, intelligent, and motivated person you are- in and outside of the classroom.
Have non-school friends
As important as it is to get along with your program mates, it’s equally important to maintain outside friendships with individuals not involved in your program. As has been mentioned in this list, school can easily consume you, so it’s important that you safeguard against this. You’ll want to maintain friendships with people who you know from various life stages. Whether it be having a weekly phone date with your high school friend, a monthly coffee date with your girl from college, or just randomly making plans with others from your life, make sure you put effort in to foster these older relationships. This is important for life in general! It’s heartwarming and special to maintain old friendships. Keep in mind that others in your program will have outside friends, too, so if you rely on them too much for your social outlet, then you might find yourself home alone on a Saturday night watching Crossroads (which is fine, sometimes…).
Yup, that’s right. Maybe it sounds crazy, but you really shouldn’t try to get too far ahead. In classes, assignments and due dates frequently change. Therefore, you’ll be doing yourself a disservice by trying to get too far ahead in your work. Take things one step at a time, and if you find yourself with free time- spend it having fun!
Balance your priorities
There will be times when others make you feel guilty about not spending time with them. This is probably the most difficult part of being a grad student. It feels awful to turn people down when you’d truly rather spend time with them. At the same time, it’s frustrating when others don’t seem to understand how much work you have. This is a matter of priorities- both school and your relationships/family/friendships are probably at the top of your list. It can be challenging to achieve a balance, but know that you never have to keep one above the other for long. It’s a game of back and forth, and it’s your job to distinguish between times it’s appropriate to sacrifice school for life, and times you should stick to your guns and do your work. This takes some feeling out, but you’ll get it right. Generally, if you’ve got a due date approaching, stick to your guns. If you don’t, and you’re just trying to get ahead- which there’s no point in doing- you may as well kick back and have fun. What good is the ride if you don’t enjoy it?
Bottom line: You’re sacrificing a lot, and it’s inevitable that you’ll feel overwhelmed at some point. But seriously, don’t let grad school take your entire life- you’ll become a sad, unhealthy burnout. What got you into grad school in the first place was your ability to fit you uniqueness in with academic and professional demands. You gotta keep rolling like this, maintaining that individuality, those quirks, that zest for life!