Reflections and Advice After My First Semester

The transition into graduate school can be tough, and as a first-year student I was undoubtedly plagued by fears, both rational and irrational.  As the spring semester is now in full swing and I have had ample time to reflect on my first semester of graduate school, I’d like to share some advice that helped me get through my first semester.

Organizing your “free time” is the key to success

Some students may argue that free time in graduate school is an illusion, and to a certain degree I agree with them.  As a Graduate Fellow, I do not currently have any teaching responsibilities.  I attend class four times per week and the rest of my time is “free.”  This is inevitably spent reading and preparing for those four classes, but it can be easy to fall into the trap of putting those readings off.  I’ve found that it’s best to create a schedule and to stick with it the whole semester.  Unfortunately, life doesn’t stop in graduate school, and you will certainly be forced to deviate from your schedule, but creating one in the first place will be extremely helpful throughout the year.

Find a great place to study

Knowing that you have a favorite spot where you are guaranteed to be productive is a relaxing feeling.  Whether you are buried among the stacks in the library or hidden in the corner of your favorite coffee shop, a familiar environment in which you can motivate yourself to do work will yield great results throughout your graduate career.  Furthermore, chances are someone else has made this their habitual study spot, so it’s also a great way to make new friends!

Take advantage of Grad Student Tuesday/Thursday

Although it’s great to have a specific study spot, it doesn’t hurt to change it up a bit.  Every Tuesday and Thursday on the College Avenue Campus, food and drinks are provided in the Graduate Student Lounge (GSL).  You can certainly benefit from a break, and the GSL offers a more casual environment for studying.  At the same time, you will be among other graduate students, and it’s nice to know that you are surrounded by others who share a similar lifestyle.

Look after your physical and mental well-being

This is the most important piece of advice I can offer, but is sadly one that is overlooked by many graduate students.   We all get worried and stressed about deadlines and the amount of work we need to complete; it may often seem like there aren’t enough hours in the day.  Unfortunately, this may lead to poor management of our body and mind.  This coincides directly with our organizational skills – it is important to plan a time during the day to take a break from studying to go to the gym, take a walk around campus, read a book for pleasure, or to do whatever you would like.  It is also important to eat healthy and to eat regular meals.  Preparing a meal may seem like a burden after a long day of work, but it is extremely important.  I have found it helpful to plan and prepare meals for the following week every weekend.  This eliminates the possibility that you come home and realize that you need to go grocery shopping in order to eat that night.

Other concerns or advice you think is helpful for other students?  Leave a comment!

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