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5 Ways to Help Your Marriage Thrive During Grad School

“Being a graduate student is like becoming all of the Seven Dwarves. In the beginning you’re Dopey and Bashful. In the middle, you are usually sick (Sneezy), tired (Sleepy), and irritable (Grumpy). But at the end, they call you Doc, and then you’re Happy.”  –Ronald Azuma

Grad school is not meant to be a walk in the park. The responsibilities associated with being a grad student involve completing coursework, providing treatment, conducting testing/assessment evaluations, working on research projects, teaching courses, fulfilling practicum requirements, preparing for supervision meetings, writing your thesis, dissertation, and clinical documentation, and involvement in professional organizations (just to name a few).

These tasks are doable. They require a lot of work and time management skills, but they are doable.

But what if you have a spouse at home who expects your time and wonderful attentive nature? You won’t be the only one who’s Grumpy. Being a spouse requires an even greater commitment.

As a spouse you provide:

  • Emotional Support   Such as love, encouragement, kindness, and respect.
  • Household Maintenance   Chores such as cooking, cleaning, and doing the dishes.
  • Financial Stability  Perhaps your spouse isn’t in grad school and they are providing the majority of the financial support to the relationship – if so, thank them.

There is not any substantial research that examines the successes of married graduate students. Some older studies have reported that marriage during graduate school is inherently detrimental to the relationship [1], while more current research suggests that marriage can be a supportive factor that contributes to married graduate student successes [2].

Due to the lack of research, we’re currently left to the advice of married grad students to share their experiences with the goals of making it work. I don’t pretend to be the best grad student around, nor do I believe that I have the key to a successful marriage.

This advice stems from the musings and self-reflections of a married doctoral student who is somehow balancing the demands of becoming a clinical psychologist with those of being a good husband.

My Top 5 Tips to Strengthen Your Marriage in Grad School

(Attention Directors of Clinical Training and All Supervisors: See #4!)

So if you’re in grad school and thinking of getting married or you have already taken your vows, here are my Top 5 Tips to Nourish Your Marriage (While Still Being a Good Student):

  1. Prioritize With Perspective

If like me, you are more in favor of putting your spouse first over various aspects of grad school, then you’re more likely to find yourself creating and maintaining a strong spousal relationship while learning the skills germane to your graduate program.

Marriage is meant to last a lifetime – thankfully grad school is not. With the average doctoral graduate program meant to last 5 years, and the average lifespan reaching 79, how much are you willing to sacrifice aspects of your most important relationship to appease a supervisor who only influences 6% of your life?

On the other hand, if you’re not married and you can’t possibly see yourself devoting your energy and attention to anyone outside of grad school, then maybe holding off on saying “I do” is a better option for you.

 

  1. Learn to (Kindly) Say “No”

It’s unlikely that you would’ve gotten to grad school without believing that working hard would bring you success.

With grad school being a source of many great opportunities, it might be tempting to write that book chapter, take on extra patients, or teach that extra course. It’s important to keep in mind that saying “no” does not equal laziness.

Appropriately declining extra work demonstrates (1) that you are aware of your limits as a student and professional, and (2) that you don’t want the work you do to suffer as a result of over-commitment.

Saying “no” is key to balancing your grad school requirements and your marriage, and being able to balance various aspects of your personal and professional life is paramount in preventing burnout [3].

Kindly is certainly an important takeaway here. Remember, a spouse can be the buffer between you kindly declining someone’s request and feverishly hitting reply to that email only to later regret appearing unprofessional.

 

  1. Create the Marriage You Want

We are all creatures of habit. From little things like needing to sleep on the left side of the bed, to larger patterns like trouble communicating with your spouse – routine turns into comfort.

It’s hard to think of life after grad school, but that time will eventually come. The habits that we develop during grad school are likely to stay with us after graduation.

It’s easy to get in the mindset of “this is all temporary;” however, the ways you manage your time, divide up household chores, and communicate with your spouse will turn into a well-oiled routine that is unlikely to change simply because you graduated.

Picture the marriage you want to have and start working toward that goal now!

  1. Involve Your Spouse in Your Self-Care Routine

Self-care is such an important aspect for behavioral health students and professionals alike, and unfortunately, the current data examining self-care in graduate schools is deplorable.

For example, 82.8% of graduate students report that their programs don’t provide written self-care materials, 63.4% report that their programs don’t even support or promote self-care activities or practices, and 59.3% don’t even promote informal self-care atmospheres [4].

There are many ways in which you can incorporate your spouse into your self-care practices. Together you can:

  • Exercise
  • Cook healthy meals
  • Meditate
  • Work on puzzles
  • Take on new hobbies
  • Listen to music
  • Visit farmer’s markets and/or garage sales
  • Create art
  • Walk the dogs
  • Plan regular date-nights
  • Go out with mutual friends
  • Take periodic vacations
  • Plan breaks in your day where you can both be together

Involving your spouse with activities that you both enjoy will help decrease the angst and resentment that many spouses may find themselves feeling as a result of being married to a graduate student.

 

  1. Don’t Skimp on Intimacy

As a grad student you already schedule meetings, courses, and patients.

If you’re able to be spontaneous, keep it up! But if not, give your spouse the same care and level of importance and schedule times when the two of you can focus solely on each other. This means no TV, no cell phones, and no pets.

The more you incorporate intimacy, the less you will need to schedule it in.

 

References
[1] Brooks, A. (1988, November 03). For Graduate Students, Marriage Presents a Special Problem. Retrieved May 24, 2016.[2] Price, J. (2006). Does a spouse slow you down? Marriage and graduate student outcomes [Electronic version]. Retrieved May 24, 2016.[3] Rupert, P.A., Stevanovic, P., & Hunley, H. A. (2009). Work-family conflict and burnout among practicing psychologists. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 40, 194-200. Doi:10.1037/a0011860[4] Norcross, J.C., & Guy, J.D. (2007). Leaving it at the office: A guide to psychotherapist self-care. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Carter, L. A., & Barnett, J. E. (2014). Self-care for clinicians in training: A guide to psychological wellness for graduate students in psychology. New York, NY, US: Oxford University Press.
Schwartz-Mette, R. A. (2009). Challenges in addressing graduate students impairment in academic professional psychology programs. Ethics & Behavior, 19, 91-109. Doi: 10.1080/10508420902768973

11 Easy Ways to Build Your GRE Vocabulary

What’s a GRE test-taker’s best defense against a lineup of scary answer choices? A formidable vocabulary. Improving your vocabulary is one of the most important things you can do to maximize your GRE verbal score. 

The GRE tests words that ETS (the creator of the GRE) believes the average college-educated adult should know. If you see a word you don’t know while prepping for the GRE or elsewhere, it’s probably a good GRE word. Develop a routine for learning new words, and you will grow your vocabulary in no time.

1. Read, read, read.

Get in the habit of reading good books, magazines, and newspapers. Start paying attention to words you don’t know. You might be tempted just to skip them (as usual), but train yourself to notice them, write them down, and look them up.

2. Learn to love the dictionary.

Get used to looking up words. Don’t assume that the first definition is the only one you need to know! The GRE often tests secondary definitions, so scan through them all.

3. Come up with your own definitions.

Now that you’ve learned the dictionary’s definition of a new word, restate it in your own words. You’ll find it much easier to remember a word’s meaning if you make it your own.

4. Say words out loud.

This might feel strange at first, but it works! Saying a new word out loud will help you remember it.

5. Keep a GRE vocabulary list.

 Keep a list of new vocabulary words on your phone or in a notebook. Writing something down also makes it easier to memorize. Jot down the words when you find it. Copy the sentence in which you originally found the word to remind yourself how the word looks in context.

6. Use GRE flashcards when you’re on the go.

Stick 5 or 6 flashcards in your pocket every morning and use them whenever you can. Stuck on a delayed subway train? Look at your flashcards. Standing in a long line at the coffee shop? Look at your flashcards. We make GRE flashcards easy with our  Essential GRE Vocabulary , which contains 500 physical cards in the box, plus access to the full deck online.

7. Prioritize learning words that GRE tends to test.

When you come across new words on a GRE practice test , add them to your list. They have been used before on the GRE and they may very well be used again. You can find a list of some of the most frequently tested works on the GRE in our book Cracking the GRE. 

8. Visualizations help.

Use your imagination to create a mental image to fix a new word in your mind. The wilder the image, the better. For example, if you’re trying to remember the word voracious , which means having an insatiable appetite for an activity or pursuit, picture an incredibly hungry bear eating huge piles of food. The voracious bear will help you to recall the meaning of the word.

9. Understand word roots.

Many words share similar origins. For example, ben ,  bene, and bon   mean good or well (and are used in the words benefit benefactor , and benediction ) By learning these common roots, you’ll be better able to work with words you’ve never seen before. This will come in handy when you’re trying to narrow down answer choices!

10. Use your new words every chance you get.

Developing a powerful vocabulary requires a lot of practice. Try casually dropping a GRE word into your next conversation.  Using a new word (in writing or conversation) as often as you can will help you retain it longer.

11. Don’t forget GRE math vocabulary!

Quick—what’s an integer? Is 0 even or odd? How many even prime numbers are there? The GRE loves to test your knowledge of integers, fractions, decimals, and all those other concepts you probably learned years ago. You absolutely need to know this math “vocabulary,” so you can understand what the question is asking.

Preparing for Graduate School

You’re in. Congratulations! Be excited and celebrate. Also, prepare. You want to make the best impression while in graduate school. And in order to make that impression, you need to be as stress-free as possible. If you can establish a good balance early on—studying, socializing, networking, and excelling at an internship—then you will be on track to succeed. Also essential to that balance is a solid living environment. As you can see, while there are many aspects to life in graduate school, they are all linked together and should work in harmony. We’re here to help you put all the pieces in the right place.

The Summer Before Graduate School

Summer time, and the livin’ is easy. That’s not entirely true, but you should make it a point to relax during the weeks and months of the summer before graduate school. Up to this point, you’ve likely been working hard, whether you were working a full-time job or completing the multitude of work necessary to graduate with your bachelor’s degree.

The best way to manage the weeks and months before graduate school is to budget your time well. Carve out time to breathe while getting some prep work done. One thing that will make your life easier is to calculate your financial budget several months before your graduate school program begins. Decide whether you will be able to take the summer off from work completely, or whether you will need those funds to make ends meet while in school. Some students choose to work full-time to make as much money as possible, and continue once the program starts—with a part-time course load. Others choose a full-time class schedule and part-time job. Others can afford to go to school full-time without working. Of course, this is ideal because graduate school can be rigorous and time consuming on its own. Everyone’s finances are different. The important thing is to take an honest look at your bank account and plan ahead.

Even if you aren’t working full or part-time before grad school, try to earn some extra money somehow. If you’re a writer, take on an editing project. Or, if you’re a graphic designer, accept some freelance work. Even if you have figured out how to cover tuition and living expenses with grants, awards, government and/or private loans, unexpected expenses almost always arise. If you have a car on campus, you might need a repair. You might need to travel unexpectedly. Or, you might want to take a partner out on a fancy date to celebrate an anniversary. In general, it’s smart to have a slush fund.

Try to check items off your to-do list and schedule those irritating annual appointments with doctors and the dentist, so it’s not another thing to worry about once classes begin.

One part of planning before graduate school might be to save money by living with family before your grad program starts. You can help your family with projects around the house and spend time with them before you’re swamped with work and research. And, in return, you can save funds that can be applied to rent in a few months.

At the very least, try to allot the last two weeks before you move into your apartment or dormitory to clear your head and gather materials. You’ll want to be prepared with the things you need. It’s a good idea to move early to allow time to get settled, especially if you are in a new city and living near a new campus. Once you arrive, find the library and on-campus coffee shop (for your own caffeine-fixes and so you’ll know where to go if someone asks you to meet). Check out the campus workout area and find the activities center, where you can look for events that interests you. While you likely won’t have a lot of free time, you’ll need to have some kind of social life.

Ask yourself how you are feeling and what you need to start on the first day of graduate school with a healthy outlook and lifestyle. By the time some students enter a graduate school program, they’re already burned out from rigorous senior year undergraduate seminars, internships and fellowships. Others find that their first job out of undergrad has fatigued them. Find a way to recharge and feel refreshed. That means something different to everyone. Read a book, visit friends, or take a small trip.

This summer is a transition. Make the best of it.

What to Bring to Graduate School

Before you pack, de-clutter. It will reduce your stress in so many ways. Bring clothes, of course, but only the ones that you wear several times a month. Don’t bring the dress or sweatshirt you haven’t worn for over a year. Don’t bring a ton of decorations, either (maybe just a few treasured photographs).

Bring a solid planner and wall or desk calendar. This way, you will be able to manage short, mid and long-term deadlines with ease.

Purchase and bring only the books you need ahead of time. Instead of buying them from the campus bookstore, try to buy them used online. If a book is particularly expensive, reach out to current students (or look on message boards) to see if it’s absolutely necessary. Reach out to students in your program to ask if someone might be interested in splitting the cost and sharing an expensive book. In addition, ask your program or university’s librarian which books are regularly available at the library.

On that note, a small bookshelf could be helpful, especially to organize academic and personal books. If your apartment doesn’t come with a desk, find one from Ikea or a nice used one from craigslist. Another good place to look: on-campus bulletin boards. Students often post fliers to get rid of their furniture for cheap. Inside the desk, you might want things like post-it notes and an organizer for small and large paper clips.

Keep in mind that some larger items are more expensive to bring than they are to repurchase. Take stock of what you have and what you will truly need and plan accordingly.

Make sure you have chargers for your mobile devices and laptop. If possible, even an extra. Also, if you have a vehicle on campus, bring a car charger for your cell phone. We all know how frustrating it is to have a cell phone battery die at an important moment.

Consider bringing a couple of items purely for comfort or relaxation. Perhaps your favorite fleece blanket or slippers. Or you might want a spice rack that includes exotic spices and herbs for cooking your family’s favorite meals. Consider bringing a teapot and teas and the kitchen items you use at least once per week.

If your family asks what you might need for graduate school, it’s a good idea to tell them you would like gift cards for places like Costco, Amazon, and your favorite restaurant. Gift cards don’t take up much space and they come in handy.

Most of all, bring your energy and determination. Graduate school will test you in many ways. If you’re stressed, remember that a semester is a finite amount of time that will pass. Before you know it, you will be finished and walking across the stage to receive your diploma.

Tips to Maximize Your Graduate School Experience

Graduate school will present you with many challenges, but this is perhaps the first one that you should anticipate: How do you get the most out of your program?

Graduate school tests students personally, academically, and professionally. Be like a sponge. Think about how to best use your program’s resources and absorb every bit of knowledge and experience. Initially, graduate school may feel unending. But the time passes quickly and you’ll graduate before you know it. You want to walk across the stage certain that you learned all you could and made every possible connection.

Here are some tips to help you make the most of your time in graduate school:

  • Smile when you meet your classmates and professors. At first, graduate school may feel like high school or undergrad. You’re meeting sometimes dozens of new peers all at once and the unfamiliar social dynamic might make you feel insecure. Don’t be! Introduce yourself. These are all future friends and colleagues—and possibly employers.
  • Make sure your living situation won’t get in the way of good work. You don’t want to worry about apartment repairs or a noisy roommate when you should be studying. For more housing advice, check out How to Create the Best Living Situation in Graduate School.
  • Challenge yourself. Push, but know yourself and your limits well. Once you hit that point, allow yourself personal time and room to breathe. A long, quiet walk can do wonders.
  • Set realistic goals and work consistently toward achieving them. Unrealistic goals lead to burnout and will set you back. Don’t underestimate little victories. Plan how to chip away at long-term goals and try to accomplish something each day or week.
  • Join at least one professional organization related to your major and career field. This is a great way to make professional connections and to learn more about your field of choice. The events and opportunities will be tailored to your interests and needs.
  • Join at least one club. If there isn’t a club related to your studies, make this an outlet for your hobbies or social life. You will meet interesting people and maybe even develop a new skill (even if that skill is a strong Frisbee toss).
  • Attend every event you can (in your free time, of course). Graduate programs—yours and others within the college or university—often host mixers and other events that can be great for networking.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions or for help. In graduate school, there is a wide support network. Professors, career counselors and therapists are all part of the university system, and are there to guide students with personal or professional questions.
  • Stay on campus. As tempting as your apartment might be, this is where many literal and figurative connections are made. Professors might stick around for 30 minutes to an hour after class for students who need extra help or just want to talk about the material. Try to create a professional bond, especially if you are interested in your professor’s work or are seeking a mentor. A professor who feels like he or she knows you will be more likely to write you a letter of recommendation or suggest you for a position.
  • Stay in touch. You will meet many people while in graduate school, so always follow up. Don’t accept a card without sending an email or making a connection somehow. Once your time with a professor is done, stop by their office and say hello. And try to connect with classmates and professors after you graduate. Your peers may become your colleagues and your professors could become your boss.

Personal Finance in Grad School

Living on a grad student stipend is tough, but we often make it harder on ourselves if we don’t know where the money is going. By tracking our spending habits, we can get a better sense of what we value, our motivations for spending, and areas where we can save a few dollars or even a few hundred dollars. Although our schedules our tight, making time to track spending and create a practical budget will pay huge dividends in the long run. Read on for budgeting and money-saving tips!

Figure out where your money is going. Track your spending for at least one month (3 months yields better results) and categorize the expenses. This will give you clues about where you can save money (more on this below). Using Excel is an easy way to track income and expenses, but if you prefer to use apps, here are few to try:

  • Android: My Budget Book ($2.59) This app allows you to set up your own categories and subcategories of spending, add recurring monthly bills, and export your monthly expense reports to html, cdv, or back it up in the cloud.
  • iOS: Mint (Free) This app allows you to link bank and credit card accounts to track both income and expenses, draw up a budget, and even set alerts when you’re over your allotted spending or a bill is due. This app is also available as a free website.
  • Spendee is available on both platforms ($1.99): It’s easy to use and colorful charts help you see quickly and easily where your money is going.

Divide expenditures into wants versus needsJust a note of caution here – don’t give up everything on your want list, otherwise, you’ll never stick to your budget. If you enjoy drinking wine and don’t want to give it up, consider doing tasting experiments with $5 and under wines at Trader Joe’s (one of my current projects). You’ll be surprised how many wonderful wines you can find that won’t hurt your budget!

Identify categories that are unnecessarily draining funds. For example, can you cut out your daily $5 coffee purchases, make your own at home, and bring it along in a thermos? Can you purchase an inexpensive coffee maker for the grad student office? This can save you $100 or more a month!

Consider your purchasing motivations. Do you turn to shopping (in stores or online) to relieve stress? While things are tight, can you replace this habit with something less expensive, such as going for a walk or calling a friend?

Reduce your bills. Do you need a data-heavy cell phone plan or can you cut back on this and rely on wifi? Consider getting rid of cable or satellite TV for a while or trimming down the package. Check out Lifehacker’s Bill-by-Bill guide to see where you can save money on other common expenses. Liz Homan’s recent GradHacker article on meal planning offers advice to make your money go farther and still eat well. Housing is probably one of your biggest expenses. Consider looking for a roommate, subletting, or alternative housing options, such as graduate student housing on or near campus.

Learn to do things yourself or find out what skills your friends and colleagues have and offer to swap work with each other. Not the best mechanic? Offer to edit and provide feedback on conference papers and articles they’re working on or babysit their children for a couple of hours.

Negotiate. There are many things you can negotiate, such as rent and even interest on your credit card. Don’t be afraid to ask about these things.

Avoid debt, especially credit card debt and loans from private agencies. Talk with your financial aid office to create a plan to get on top of any debtyou currently have and avoid taking on more. Look into the various options to pay off current debts, including SponsorChange to pay off student loans with volunteer work.

Lastly, draw up your budget based on your tracked expenses and the above considerations. Be reasonable and don’t cut out all of the fun. Look at this time in life as an opportunity to be creative, still do some of the things you’d like to do, and know that it won’t last forever.

Fast Track From Undergraduate to Graduate

Did you know you can get a head start on your master’s degree with the Fast Track Program?

The Fast Track Program is designed to enable undergraduates to accumulate up to six credit hours of graduate coursework, to satisfy both the undergraduate and graduate degree requirements, while still pursuing their undergraduate degree. The coursework will enable an efficient graduate program transition with the potential for accelerated completion.

The Fast Track B.S. to M.S./M.A. Program is open to all students. It will create a cohesive and supportive learning community for a diverse range of student populations that will assist them in the attainment of a bachelor’s degree with the immediate transition into a master’s program.

Benefits of the Fast Track Program

  • Improves chances of getting into graduate school
  • Allows students to more quickly complete their undergraduate and graduate degrees
  • Creates a clear path for goals and helps guide other class choices
  • Allows undergraduate students to interact with graduate students and teachers to get a better feel for graduate school
  • Graduate coursework will be more intensive and allow Fast Track students to experience projects and assignments that align more closely with work projects in their chosen career path
  • Allows undergraduate students to have more hands-on experience

How Much Does the Fast Track Cost

Fast Track can save you around $500 per each three hour course that you take. Additionally, Curriculum and Instruction and Counseling and Psychology waive the GRE admission requirement, which saves you over $200 per test taken.

How Do I Get Started on Fast Track?

  1. Meet with an advisor to determine Fast Track program eligibility
  2. If you are eligible, your advisor will have you fill out a request for Fast Track Course Credit Form
  3. If you are accepted into the program, you will receive a Notice of Acceptance Form
  4. Bring the Notice of Acceptance Form to the college of Graduate Studies to be signed and processed.
  5. Bring the Notice of Acceptance Form to the Records and Registration Office for processing

Current Programs in the Fast Track Program

  • Business Administration
  • Chemistry
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Civil & Environmental Engineering
  • Counseling & Psychology
  • Computer Science
  • Curriculum & Instruction
  • Electrical & Computer Engineering
  • English
  • Mathematics
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Professional Science Masters Environmental Informatics Concentration

10 Things Every Graduate Student Should Do This Summer

Congratulations! You’re continuing your path in higher education by earning an advanced degree–an accomplishment that less than 12% of the U.S. population achieves. Whether you’re pursuing a Master’s degree, or you’re in the long haul working towards a Doctorate degree, your experience will undoubtedly be different than undergrad.

For me, graduate school has been one of the most challenging experiences I’ve ever been through, but at the same time, one of the most rewarding accomplishments of my life. I’m certainly eager to be graduating in May 2014, but as I look back on my time at the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy at the University at Albany, I’m incredibly thankful for the things I’ve learned–not only professionally, but personally. I’d like to share with you some tips for those of you embarking on this journey!

Check out these 10 great tips for starting or continuing your graduate career:

1. Get to know the faculty

Graduate programs are the mecca of expert professionals in your field or industry. Colleges and universities really focus on having incredibly intelligent, influential, and experienced faculty and adjunct professors to train and teach the next generation of professionals in the field. Take some time to Google and research the faculty members in your program–even read some of their scholarly publications and research. Their work may inspire you to study specific topics, and you may even find a mentor or advisor to guide you through your career. Plus, they’ll be impressed if you know about their work!

2. Catch up on current events

Specialized advanced degrees are meant to prepare you and provide practical experience for a career. It wouldn’t be surprising, then, to find that your coursework will tie back to real issues, problems, and topics that are currently happening in your field. Start getting into the routine of checking the news every day–whether it’s online, on television, or even on Twitter–to brush up on current events that could have real implications in your career field.

3. Join a professional organization or association

Graduate school should be considered the beginning of your professional career, where you’ll be regarded as a specialist or scholar in your particular field. You’ll be exposed to a large network of other professionals and have access to tons of resources to help you excel in your career. Every profession has a related association or membership club that provides professionals and students with relevant tools. Some are free to join, but most have a membership fee. They are usually worth the cost though–just remember to join as a student in order to get a discount!

4. Subscribe to industry publications and newsletters

While you’re scoping out the right professional associations to join, add yourself to the mailing lists of other relevant websites and blogs to stay on top of industry trends, issues, and even potential job opportunities!

5. Work on your resume/CV and set up a LinkedIn page

Many graduate programs will require that you complete an internship or have relevant work experience in order to graduate. Most programs even have a “Resume Book” for employers to search for qualified candidates from the program. You’ll definitely want to have your resume included in this! Check with the career services office within your school or program to make sure that your resume or CV is formatted according to industry standards. You should also create a virtual resume through your LinkedIn profile – another resource that employers use to seek candidates.

6. Polish your professional side

Now that you want to be taken seriously as a professional, you’ll want to ditch your collegiate persona. Whether you were the campus jock, the popular sorority girl, or the fun-loving socialite in undergrad, you’ll want to update your Facebook page and even consider creating a more polished Twitter account. People in your new professional network will certainly Google you and inevitably find your social network profiles. Make sure those profiles speak well for you!

7. Network with your cohort

“Cohort.” Fancy, right? You’re in graduate school. You get to use words like this now.

For the next 2 to 7 years that you’ll spend in your graduate program, you’ll be surrounded by the same eager, ambitious, and tortured faces. You and your classmates will be going through #thestruggle together; studying for exams; working together on group projects; calculating what your weighted grade will be; and navigating the many challenges you’ll encounter in grad school. This is not the time to be shy. These folks will not only be your friends in school, but they’ll be long-term professional contacts whom you’ll keep in touch with long after graduation (or more!).

8. Get organized for next semester

Graduate school will not only demand your time and energy inside the classroom, it will take up your time outside of the classroom. You’ll want to take full advantage of guest lecture series, attend helpful workshops, travel to conferences, take on an assistantship with a faculty member, fulfill an internship or job requirement, join a student club or professional association… oh yea, and study! It’s best to get organized as early as possible. Get started with a day planner or calendar and use it diligently. There are also really helpful websites and mobile applications that can keep you organized when you’re on the move. My favorite apps to use are Evernote and Google Calendar!

9. Scout out your favorite study spot

Full disclosure: you may have already found out that graduate school is not like undergrad. In undergrad, it may have been easy for you to get by on last-minute studying, or you may have been able to talk your way out of a penalty on a late assignment. But graduate school shows no mercy. In fact, for a lot of programs, grades that are lower than a C are considered failing!

Take graduate school seriously; it’s not worth your money or time to slack here. You’ll want to get into a routine of studying regularly. Find a place where you’ll be able to concentrate on your work and not fall asleep. For some folks it’s at home, for others it’s a library. Or maybe it’s a nearby coffee shop with free wifi. Wherever it is, find it, and start calling it “home.”

10. Relax and enjoy the summertime

By enrolling in graduate school, you have already determined that a quality education is important to you. So be ready for the tough stuff. Once next semester starts, you may have to again sacrifice your social life and free time, but trust me, it’ll be well worth it. Before classes begin, find some time to enjoy the summer – take a trip, check out a summer concert, hang out with friends and family (before you put yourself in exile), and reward yourself for making it this far. You’ve signed up for another 2 to 7 years of schooling – something that most people wouldn’t even dare to accomplish!

5 Ways to Keep in Touch Over the Summer

Whether you’re traveling the world, working at summer camp or hanging out in your hometown, being separated from your best friends for three months gets old fast. Facebook and Snapchat are great for keeping up with each other’s shenanigans from a distance, but that can get stale after a while.

Mix it up with these five methods of communication.

Send a postcard
Whether you buy it at a destination gift shop or the gas station on the corner, your friends will be pleasantly surprised to receive snail mail from you. You can also make your own cards out of cardstock and print or draw pictures on them. Best of all, postcard stamps are only 34 cents!

Send other random objects

Speaking of snail mail, it’s good for more than postcards and envelopes. You can mail just about any self-contained item under 13 ounces with postage stamps! That includes pillows, potatoes, flip flops, coconuts, packaged treats, random hats and spatulas. Go crazy and surprise your friends!

Build a shared playlist
Some of the catchiest music of the year comes out during summer, which stinks if you usually listen to the latest tunes with your music-loving pals. During the summer, create a playlist with your friends of your favorite old and new songs so that you can jam together even from different places.

Share an online activity
The internet is a nearly-infinite source of bonding and entertainment; all you have to do is find something you like doing together. You can binge-watch the same Netflix series while Snapchatting back and forth, have a book club over Google Hangouts, play video games together, share a secret Pinterest board full of Ryan Gosling memes or test out new recipes while listening to the same indie playlists or stand up comedians on Youtube. It will give you something to talk about when school starts back up and might be the foundation for your new favorite hobby.

Set a goal
Summer break is a great time to build a new habit and try the things you’ve been putting off. Just because your friends are far away doesn’t mean that you have to go it alone! Whether you’re trying to improve your mile time, learn to crochet or lose weight, invite your friends to strive for success with you. They’ll make great accountability partners, and it will give you an excuse to pester them keep in touch!

The summer holiday will be over before you know it, and the gang will be back together complaining about homework and longing for freedom. Enjoy the break with your friends, whether they’re down the hall or across the globe.

Time Management Tips for Graduate Students

All academics, graduate students, and faculty alike struggle with the challenge of managing their time. New graduate students are often amazed at how much there is to do each day: classes, research, study groups, meetings with professors, reading, writing, and attempts at a social life.  Many students believe that it will get better after they graduate, but, unfortunately, most people report being even busier as new professors, researchers, and professionals.

With so much to do and so little time, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. But don’t let stress and deadlines overtake your life.

How to Avoid Burnout

My best advice for avoiding burnout and getting bogged down is to keep track of your time: Record your days and maintain daily progress towards your goals. The simple term for this is “time management.”  Many people dislike this term, but, call it what you will, managing yourself is essential to your success in grad school. Learn how to manage your time with these tips for time management.

Use a Calendar System

By now, you probably use a calendar to keep track of weekly appointments and meetings. Grad school requires taking a long-term perspective on time. Use a yearly, monthly, and weekly calendar.

  • Year Scale. It’s difficult to keep track of today and remember what needs to be done in 6 months. Long term deadlines for financial aid, conference submission, and grant proposals creep up quickly! Don’t find yourself surprised to realize that your comprehensive exams are in a few weeks. Plan at least 2 years ahead with a yearly calendar, divided into months. Add all long term deadlines on this calendar.
  • Month Scale. Your monthly calendar should include all paper deadlines, test dates, and appointments so that you can plan ahead. Add self-imposed deadlines for completing long-term projects like papers.
  • Week Scale. Most academic planners use a weekly scale of measurement. Your weekly calendar includes your day-to-day appointments and deadlines. Have a study group on Thursday afternoon? Record it here. Carry your weekly calendar everywhere.

 

Use a To-Do List

Your to-do list will keep you moving towards your goals on a daily basis. Take 10 minutes every night and make a to-do list for the next day. Look at your calendar for the next couple of weeks to remember tasks that need to be planned in advance: searching for literature for that term paper,  buying and sending birthday cards, and preparing submissions to conferences and grants. Your to-do list is your friend; never leave home without it.

  • Prioritize your to-do list. Rank each item by importance and attack your list accordingly so that you don’t waste time on non-essential tasks.
  • Schedule time to work on classes and research each day, even if it is just a few 20-minute blocks. Think you can’t get much done in 20 minutes? You’d be surprised. What’s more important is that the material will stay fresh in your mind, enabling you to reflect on it at unexpected times (like on your ride to school or walk to the library).
  • Be flexible. Allow time for interruptions and distractions. Aim to plan just 50 percent or less of your time so that you’ll have the flexibility to handle unexpected interruptions. When you’re distracted by a new task or something that you need to remember, write it down and get back to work. Don’t let a flight of ideas keep you from completing the task at hand. When you’re interrupted by others or seemingly urgent tasks, ask yourself, “What is the most important thing I can do right now? What’s most urgent?” Use your answer to plan your time and get back on track.

Time management doesn’t have to be a dirty word. Use these simple techniques to get things done your way.

Feedback for Continuation – Keep Doing the Right Things

“How am I doing?” Too often grad students have no idea how to answer this question. Am I doing well? Am I doing what I should be doing?

Most of the time, it is hard to be sure. We go through the day without much feedback. When we do get feedback, it usually emphasizes what is wrong. We learn what we should change and do differently.

But it is equally important to get feedback about what is going well. What should NOT change. What should continue. I call this “feedback for continuation.”

Feedback for continuation is rare. Silence usually means that things are going ok.

But you wonder.

Does silence mean that no one has the time or inclination to offer feedback for change? Does silence mean that no one has noticed you at all?

These questions are particularly gnawing when you are new. When you are doing most things for the first time. The need for feedback for continuation is especially great during the first years of graduate school. (If you think that you are the only one who feels this way, you are not. This is a form of “Pluralistic Ignorance.”)

What Is Feedback for Continuation?

Cobblestones

Feedback for continuation tells you that you are on the right path

You may think of feedback being either “positive” or “negative.” I prefer thinking of “feedback for continuation” and “feedback for change,” because these terms focus attention on the outcome that the input intends to elicit. The behavior should continue or change.

Feedback for continuation—when it is done well—is specific and detailed. It tells the recipient exactly what they did well, and tells them why.

It goes beyond general affirmations like “great job,” “awesome,” or “you are doing fine.”

Feedback for continuation is crucial because it:

  • Tells you that you are on the right track. Your confidence goes up and your anxiety decreases.
  • Specifically describes positive and desirable behaviors so that they can be repeated.
  • Tells you why that behavior is desirable to that you can generalize and adapt to other situations.
  • Takes some of the mystery and guess work out of grad school.

Here are two basic scripts for Feedback for Continuation with examples:

“Thank you for [describe behavior] because [reason why this is helpful to others].”

“Thank you for organizing the dinner with grad students for the prospective postdoc to our lab. The candid conversation will help that person decide whether this is a lab she wants to join. When we hire people who fit in with our culture, we are more productive scientists.”

“You did well when you [describe behavior] because [reason why this is helpful for the student’s own development].”

“You wrote an excellent literature review. What made it excellent was that you didn’t just summarize what each article said, but you found common themes and noted where there were contradictions. This is a skill that you will use over and over as a researcher and scholar.”

You can see that there are two parts:

  • What: Describe the behavior in detailed and concrete language. Unpack general adjectives like “good” or “effective.”
  • Why: Explain the positive impact of the behavior. Provide the rationale for thinking that this is behavior that should be continued. The “Why” details a particular positive impact for the team, the person giving the feedback, or the recipient.

In grad school and academia it is not customary to give feedback for continuation. Probably because it is assumed that expectations are clear. Not true! Unfortunately, expectations are rarely stated explicitly. University of Kansas professor, Bruce Hayes, observes that students crave more feedback. Barbara Lovitts’ research, published in Making the Implicit Explicit, showed that expectations about dissertations was rarely explicit.

Solicit Feedback for Continuation

IMG_2955You can ask for feedback for continuation directly. Try these questions:

“I am not sure that I am spending my time wisely. Can you tell me some things that I am doing that I should be sure to continue? Can you explain why these are helpful things to do?”

“I want to be a contributing member of the lab. Since I am new, I am learning how to do that. What are some things that I am doing that are making a positive contribution? Why are those actions helpful to the lab?”

You can pair your requests for feedback for continuation, with requests for feedback for change. This signals that you are ready to improve. By pairing the requests, you indicate that you are a learner. You want to keep what is good and change what could be improved.

Many universities provide structured opportunities for graduate students to get feedback from their advisors. These take the form of annual progress reports and required conversations. Some examples are at the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Missouri, the University of MichiganStanford University’s biosciences programs (Biosciences students and advisors are required to meet every year. The forms are tailored for students in year 1, year 2, and years 3-5.) Even if your department doesn’t have this requirement, you can ask your advisor to meet with you to discuss an individual development plan (MyIDP is excellent) or a progress report you have written (Stanford has a customizable Annual Doctoral Student Degree and Career Progress Meeting Worksheet).

Don’t Deflect

When positive feedback is given, it is often dismissed. Too often, the recipient deflects the praise and won’t accept it. “It was nothing.” “Others deserve the credit.” “I didn’t do much.” When you refuse to hear and accept that you are doing well, you deter the giver from giving positive feedback in the future

Practice accepting feedback for continuation, when you get it. Simply say, “Thank you.” Even if you didn’t ask for it. Embrace the praise you earn. Listen hard and learn from it. Feeling like you don’t deserve praise is a feature of the Imposter Syndrome.

Provide Feedback for Continuation

Fist BumpDevelop the habit of giving feedback for continuation.

You can provide feedback for continuation to all of your professional connections. Just as you can build connections in three directions, you can provide feedback for continuation to your peers, those who are following you, and even to those who mentor you.

  • Those you mentor and supervise:
    • Undergraduate research assistants
    • Graduate students who are new in your programs
  • Peers:
    • Lab mates
    • Members of your doctoral cohort
    • Team members on group projects
  • Your mentors and supervisors:
    • Your advisor (surprise!)
    • Research or teaching assistantships supervisors
    • Your boss
    • Instructor for a class you are taking

Providing feedback for continuation to those who mentor you is a way of getting the mentoring you need. For example, suppose you drafted a fellowship application and your advisor provided detailed written feedback. Helpful feedback. The kind of feedback you want to get more of while you are a student.

Does your advisor know? Suppose you say “thank you for the feedback.” Can your advisor determine what kinds of feedback are helpful to you?

Use the two-part formula: Specifically describe what was helpful and explain why.

“Thank you for the feedback on my application. It was particularly helpful to me when you suggested alternate wording for describing my research project. This helped me to learn how to sound confident but not boastful. I also saw how to make the project sound important. These models are ones that I will be able to use in the future. You are making me a more successful student.”

 

Feedback for continuation is underrated and underused. Build it into your repertoire: ask for it and give it. With less time spent wondering whether you are doing the right things, you will be more successful.

How to Prioritize Self-Care During Finals Week

Oh my goodness, one thing I don’t miss about being in college and graduate school is this time of year. Finals is a time that will make or break you as a student. So many final tests are worth a big chunk of your final grade and you have a million end of the semester projects due. While this time can be stressful, it’s important to prioritize self-care during this time as well. I wanted to share my best tips on how to prioritize taking care of yourself during this time.

Start Working On Finals Studying Early

Working on finals early is not a straight up self-care tip, but it is vital. The sooner you start studying for your final exams, the better. If you are thinking about procrastinating, do not do that. I know that is easier said than done, but as students, we often make things more difficult than they need to be.

I will tell you this: procrastination won’t make things easier. It won’t make you a better student to spend so many hours in the library that you burst into tears because you just want to sleep but can’t. Your diploma won’t mean more than mine just because you had to take an illegal prescription drug to stay awake to study at night. Waiting to study and then over-studying won’t make you more prepared. We have to stop thinking about these poor study habits as a rite of passage and instead as a dumb behavior.

So, start working on your tests and papers earlier. Even if you aren’t sure what will be on the test, go back to your notes and start studying them. If it’s a cumulative exam, see what you struggled with in the past and plan to tackle those ideas more now that you have a firm grasp on the class. Refresh your memory on topics you did well on in the past, just in case.

You may not know exactly how your professor will set up the final, but you can think back to what you made on past tests and understand how those tests were laid out. In April I shared my foolproof strategies for understanding your test trends. Go through that post so that you can understand where you should focus your attention for finals week so you can study more efficiently.

Schedule Big Pockets Of Down-Time

I know, I am asking you to schedule big breaks during finals week and the time leading up to it. That may not sound very smart to you, but I promise I have a reasoning.

Only taking short breaks just won’t cut the mustard when it comes to finals week (although we are about to chat about those too!) You need to take your mental health seriously and to do that, you must give yourself considerable time away from your work.

Obviously, you don’t want your entire finals week study time to be full of huge breaks, but don’t be afraid to take a couple of hours each day to yourself. Watch a movie, read a book, go to dinner with a friend, and live your life a bit. Look forward to those big breaks that you have.

Be Present

When you take those big breaks, I need you to be in the moment. Don’t think about all the work that’s on your to-do list or the test that you are sure you will fail. What’s the point in taking your big break if all you do is worry about the work you could be doing?

This Sense Of Being Present Goes Both Ways.

Not only should you be present during your breaks, but you should also be present while you are studying. So many students don’t get things accomplished when they are studying because they aren’t focusing. Instead, they are thinking about dinner or thinking about the boy in their class or the shopping they want to do. Studying takes so much longer when you don’t focus on the task at hand. Cut out your multi-tasking and tune out social media updates. When you are studying you are studying.

This is where the Pomodoro Technique comes in.

Take Small Breaks By Using The Pomodoro Technique

If you have been following the blog for a while, you know that in the past few years I have fallen in love with the Pomodoro Technique. I loved it so much I even wrote an entire blog post singing its praises. This technique is the only thing that keeps me productive, personally, and I love it for that.

I honestly wish I knew about the technique when I was in college. I think I would have been 10x more productive had I been using this method of focusing. I often get distracted, but the Pomodoro technique helps me stay focused by giving me dedicated time to slack off, check social media, and romp around my room.

I use the Focus Keeper app to help me stay productive. I recently upgraded to the paid version of Focus Keeper which was around $1.99 for a lifetime. I love the premium version because I can change a lot of aspects of my Pomodoro experience. For example, while I am working I have my app play rain sounds, when I am on my short breaks it plays Beyonce’s Formation, and then when I am on my long break it is completely silent which helps me take a quick power nap or eat a quick snack while watching a YouTube video.

When you use the Pomodoro technique, it is imperative that you have something to do. I suggest creating a quick to-do list of tasks that you need to get done before you start your first timed session. The technique only works if you do, but if you take it seriously and do what it tells you to do, you can make some major moves during your sessions.

Skip The All-Nighters And Create Better Sleep Habits

As I stated earlier, all-nighters and other dangerous finals week habits shouldn’t be a rite of passage. These types of activities are dangerous for you and your body, and they shouldn’t be praised.

It is crucial that you take rest seriously during this time of year because a well-rested body will tackle the day so much better than a sleepy one will. You will get more done, be more quick-witted throughout the day, and be able to think more critically about tests you are taking.  Yes, you may miss out on a few hours of studying by going to bed, but you will be way more mentally sharp due to the hours of sleep you didn’t miss.

I am hopeful that if you start studying earlier and if you utilize the Pomodoro technique you will be able to study more effectively and efficiently without the need to pull all-nighters in college (or at least not as many all-nighters in college.)

Think About What Pain You Are Willing To Endure For Your Goals

I am currently reading a great book by Mark Manson called The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fuck. In this book, Mark states, “What determines success isn’t, ‘what do you want to enjoy?’ The relevant question is, ‘What pain do you want to sustain?’ The path to happiness is a path full of shit-heaps and shame.”

This passage is a MAJOR truth bomb, y’all.

You can spend all your life trying to balance self-care and taking care of yourself during finals week and any other week of school. Yes, taking time for yourself is important, but at the end of the day, a break here or there to watch a movie is only going to be a small solace during finals week. Taking more breaks during finals week won’t be the answer to all your problems. So, when you take these breaks, be smart about it.

Smart breaks will help keep you refreshed during finals week, but finals week itself isn’t a unicorn and rainbows factory. Getting through all of this will make you become a better student, and it will help you prepare for life later. How you prepare for and react to finals week will have an impact on how you continue to respond to finals week and other life issues.

I hope that the article I shared today will make you think about how you can see finals week in a different light. More than anything, I hope that you will learn how to tackle finals week head on. I also hope that I get across the point that finals week is hard, and it is hard for a reason.

Once you get through this week, though, Winter Break will be here, and you can prepare to do the same thing next spring. Over time, though, this all becomes easier for you. You will get better at managing your time during finals week and prioritizing your self-care during finals week. This gets better, but you must focus and get through the current rough patch.

Conclusion

Finals week is soon approaching, and I have the utmost confidence in your ability to succeed. I hope that this article will help you consider what you are willing to do to get to what you want in life. Finals week is an obstacle, but if you have your goal in mind, it shouldn’t be an issue. Focus on being in tune with yourself and getting stuff done because with that focus comes a great reward.