Everything I’ve Done Wrong as a Grad Student

“What was I thinking?” It’s a common phrase that runs through my mind, especially when my two-year-old is still awake at 10 p.m. (grrrrrr) and I still have homework to complete for the following day (grumble, grumble, grumble). A little panic, perhaps a frustrated tear or two and some deep breaths get me through. Then I remember she’s only this little once, and we snuggle for a short thirty minutes once she is finally asleep. I am energized for more unless I fall asleep too (whoops). Grad school is a beast. What was I thinking?

Everyone is busy. Everyone has stuff to do besides school. My extracurricular is parenting (and soccer). It gets tough at times. I feel honored to have support from friends and family; they remind me why I chose this path, what’s truly important in moments of panic and despair, and what not to fuss over.

Here’s what you should remember to do when surviving grad school (with or without a baby).

  1. Organization, baby, it’s key
  2. Get organized. Have some sort of planner. I use a medium-sized notebook filled with empty pages and lots of lines. It has no dates, no nothing. Fill it with your checklists for each class, and by golly check those bad boys off once they’re complete! It’s so satisfying.

    For me, it is also important to keep an organized study area so my concentration can truly be kept in line. On my desk, I have a desktop, a printer, a lamp, and a small plant. It feels neat and tidy, and that truly does make a difference.

  3. Deadlines
  4. Deadlines happen really fast in a quarter system. Three weeks in and you are talking about midterms already, it’s nuts. I like to write my deadlines down immediately (usually a note about something due a week or two before the due date so it doesn’t sneak up on me). Since having a baby, I don’t remember if I don’t write it down.

  5. Study time
  6. Regiment your studies! I have never been too keen on routine, but being in school and having a ton else going on makes it necessary (so I don’t lose my sanity). I actually enjoy my awareness of time spent out of the house, studying, and my time home with the babe. It’s all the time I get, so no fooling around, just get it done.

  7. We all know this
  8. Don’t procrastinate. Take charge, be aware of your assignments, and get ’em done. You’ll sleep better knowing you’re on top of things.

  9. Fuel yourself
  10. You must be fueled! Over the weekend, prepare a few meals that can serve as an easy lunch to-go during the week (I prefer if it doesn’t have to be heated up anywhere) as well as some satisfying and protein-filled snacks. For me, I am at school four hours at a time (sometimes shorter, sometimes longer). That isn’t including my thirty- to forty-five-minute bus ride there and back. And when I don’t eat, that bus ride is torture. Keep your mind clear, your body energized, and you satisfied (not grumpy).

  11. Drink water
  12. That’s it. Just drink it. Stay hydrated; it’s important (I am bad at this).

  13. Exercise, baby
  14. I stopped doing this last term, and it was awful. Exercising is such a great brain break; I feel motivated and determined to conquer something once I am done. Just make an effort to do something throughout the week. Ideally, exercise daily for twenty minutes: run, yoga, or just stretch—it makes a world of difference.

    The campus recreation center has so much going on, whether you’re interested in group classes, climbing, or individual workouts. Check it out. It’s so convenient when you’re already on campus anyway.

  15. Make time for yourself
  16. Don’t forget about the things you love to do (and I don’t mean Facebook). Make time to do them; it keeps you in check.

  17. Make mistakes
  18. This may be an old lesson learned (again and again and again). Make mistakes because that is how you learn and evolve. Grad school mistakes are no different (but keep them responsible, eh?).

  19. Faculty help
  20. I am terrible at asking for help. So you can’t take my word for it, but when you are in a good place or bad, there are people who care (and it’s their job to help you). Utilize them! And let me know if it makes you feel better.

  21. Give up
  22. Sometimes it’s just not in the cards. Walk away for a little while and come back when you feel refreshed. For me, that means remembering homework will be there, but this moment with Myrtle Ray is right in front of me and what she needs matters most.

  23. Parenting tip: Don’t feel guilty
  24. Your time is valuable, and time away from your little ones can be heart-wrenching. Reach out to other parents who can wallow in your misery. Find friends who don’t mind studying with a child running around and banging on their piano. I also explain to my little one that this isn’t forever and that I can incorporate her into whatever I am working on. Oftentimes, she takes a book I’ve been reading, sits next to me, and says, “I read this.”

So basically, have a schedule and stick to it.

Of course, much of this is common sense, but reflect on your habits (maybe yours are better than mine). Do you practice any of these tips? Did you benefit from the reminder? Whatever is important to you, make sure there is a time and place for it in your schedule and watch your determination run wild. Good luck in the beginning, middle, and end of your journey through grad school. (Whew!)