5 Tips for Surviving (and thriving) in Grad School

“How do I survive grad school?” This week I begin one of my last semesters of graduate school – Queue the bubbly! The end is so close, yet so far. As I enter my last few months, my husband is starting a journey of being a full time grad student. Our conversations about what his year might look like has caused me to do some reflecting on what has worked well for me (and what hasn’t…like late night snacking on hot cheetos, it doesn’t work for me). So here are my tips for surviving and thriving in grad school.

Each semester has a different rhythm, and I have learned which habits work best for me. Similarly, each grad program will have different rigor, expectations, and needs. For example, my program has an emphasis on projects and research, but does not have exams. So if your program is exam heavy you will probably have more time dedicated to studying each day while I will be reading and writing, and meeting with teams more often.

I hope these help you transition back into school, succeed in graduate school, or even succeed in any level of college!

  1. Plan out your week – I love using a physical planner. My google calendar plans out my work week, and I hand write my assignments and class meetings into a planner. I use this one because it gives me lots of room to write while also allowing me to see the whole week at a time. I pick a day (usually Sundays) and take time to listen to music, go through my online learning platform, and write out all that is needed from me the next week.

  2. Take time off – This will be different for each person, (especially if you are in a full time program like med school or law school) BUT every grad student I talk to says this is a need. It might be a couple hours every few days, it might be one day a week you only study instead of doing homework, or it might be a full day off. Close your laptop, your textbooks, and do something that is not as exhausting on your brain. I love hiking, and attempting to be creative (weaving, painting, and this blog is a creative outlet for me).

  3. Organize your school supplies – Organization is big for me. Not so much in my life outside of school, but when it comes to school I use so many different items that they need to be somewhere I can find, them and somewhere I can easily pack them up and take to a coffee shop (pre covid). Pretty much every day I use: a laptop, planner, textbooks, etextbooks, notebooks, sticky notes, highlighters, water bottle, case studies, pens, PMBOK, PMBOK guides…there are so many items to think about!
    I have found that keeping a bag dedicated to school has helped me to have a spot for everything, and it makes them easy to travel with.

  4. Get Outside and Move – The science is out there, and if you are a grad student I know you can find it 😉 It is soooooo so important for us to exercise and move our bodies. This was hard for me to get into a habit once I started sheltering in place, but going on 15-20 minute walks, youtube workout videos, and hiking all are great activities that help me stay healthy, and help me focus in school too!

  5. Surround yourself with your biggest cheerleaders – While all of what I have listed above is important, I think this is the most impactful. If you don’t have a cheerleader and need one, reach out and I will be that pep squad for you! Not everyone will understand that you are saying no to your social life for something you believe in. When you find the people that will spend time with you in silence so that you can study, or write a paper…keep those people around! As them for help too. They don’t have to be experts in your field to help you with memorization, or to read through and spell check a paper. Chances are, they want to help you anyways 🙂

Graduate school has been by far one of my favorite life experiences. I know not everyone will have the same opinion, but for those who are just starting out and getting intimidated, it’s okay and you will survive! Take one step at a time, and work hard for what you are setting your mind to do. Pursue excellence, and give yourself grace. You got this!!!

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