Grad School: The How-To Guide

By: Jordan Aanrud, GMAC Graduate Student Aide 

Contrary to popular belief, it is actually possible to have it all in grad school. That being said, it definitely doesn’t happen without some effort. Here are a few tips and tricks for staying on top of all aspects of life as a grad student!

  1. Always have some form of homework accessible. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, working on your masters is basically like doing twice the work necessary for undergrad in half the time. You also are probably going to be working longer hours than you did as an undergrad in order to make sure those bursar bills (as well as electric, internet, gas, etc) get paid on time. My suggestion? Always have an assignment handy! I’ve gotten more of my work done during lunch or short breaks between commitments than I have when I actually sit down and try to be productive. Whether that means coming into the office early to get started before anyone else comes in, sacrificing my usual Facebook time during lunch, or staying on campus in between classes instead of snagging a nap at home, I maximize my free time and have much less stress when I finish for the day.
  2. Schedule time for exercise, and don’t give yourself an excuse to bail when you don’t need to. Working out increases endorphins, helps regulate sleep, and burns off extra stress (among countless other benefits). That being said, it’s easy to talk yourself out of it. Maybe you’re tired, maybe you’re stressed, maybe you just don’t feel like it...but it will ALWAYS help. My suggestion? Carry your gym bag with you to work/class! Lugging that on your commute will probably be irritating, but you’ll be even more annoyed if you take it with you and don’t put it to good use.
  3. Make a standing date with a friend or significant other. It can be really easy to lose sight of the importance of non-academic socializing when you’re trying to get that paper in on time, but giving yourself a break is as important as productivity. My suggestion? Block out a period of time every week that is dedicated to spending time with friends. That way when people ask when you’re free, you have a ready answer for them. Plus, the social time can be as glamorous or as low-key as you want! My personal favorite: drinks at my apartment with friends where we aren’t allowed to wear anything nicer than sweatpants.
  4. Similarly, make a standing date with yourself. This is helpful either on a daily or weekly basis. This is a time for you to just center yourself without the distraction of other responsibilities (translation: no homework or other people allowed!). My suggestion? Set aside 30-60 minutes every day when you can nap, watch your favorite show, shop online, get a massage, the world is your oyster! I would also suggest making sure you have at least half of a day every weekend (although a full day is preferable) to do whatever your heart desires without external influence.
  5. Set a “bedtime”. Yeah yeah yeah, I know we’re adults and should be able to stay up all night if we want...but does anyone really want that? Seriously, when was the last time you really loved staying up way too late when you had to get up the next day? It’s a terrible feeling. Besides, much like exercise, sleep is never not good for you. It improves mood, immune system functioning, memory, and more. My suggestion? Figure out your ideal amount of sleep during the week and count back from the time you have to wake up. Then, half an hour to an hour before that time, stop studying and give your brain a break. You’ll retain more information and be rested enough to get through the next day without needing three cups of coffee.
  6. Know your limits and plan accordingly. Grad school is all about time management, and if you overload yourself you’ll burn out quickly. No one knows your limits as well as you do, so only you know when enough is enough. My suggestion? Based on your limits, design your weekly schedule and fit things in where you can, all the while making sure to keep #1-5 in mind. And most importantly…
  7. Stay focused on your goals. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you care about something, be it your job, your friends, your academics, or yourself. My suggestion? Set achievable goals in all aspects of your life that keep you focused and grounded, and make sure to surround yourself with people and activities that will make those goals even easier to reach. You may be busier than you’ve ever been, but you can also be happy and fulfilled because of it!