Graduate School: A Balancing Act

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For many graduate students, studies are just part of the full-time 24/7 juggling act. Many students are also committed to full-time jobs, children and family, volunteer positions, extracurricular activities, and sometimes, even a social life. How does one keep it all balanced? Through trial and error I’ve picked up on some tips to help keep the average graduate student organized and effectively juggle their many responsibilities.

Tip 1. Plan Ahead.
I spend the first week of my semester in front of my computer searching the course reserves, compiling all the readings for the weeks ahead, marking important dates in my calendar, and organizing my school supplies. I don’t do it just because the start of a new semester excites me; I do it because if I don’t, it will be a long, bumpy experience. I recommend getting all your ducks in a row and forecasting when your toughest weeks will be. Once you identify the weeks you’ll want to pull your hair out, be honest with your work supervisor and use that hard earned vacation time! While you will not be using your time off for fun, you will be thanking yourself in the long run.

Tip 2. Make Friends.
The school I belong to (Public Administration) is a close-knit group. After a couple semesters, you start to really get to know your classmates and soon the first day of a semester feels like the first day of high school all over again. Making friends isn’t just nice, but extremely helpful. They are your go to people when you miss class for a work conference, sick children and family, or whatever else pops up that week. If you are in an Extended University Program, they are your car pool buddies. Their experience prepares you for what’s to come. Most importantly, you have someone who can relate to you and understand why you chose to never have a real weekend off.

Tip 3. Get Organized
Once you have a plan, get organized. I personally like to dedicate an afternoon in the Bernhard Computer Lab eating up my print limit and getting all the readings for the semester arranged. Binders will become your new best friend. In addition, find the best way you read and take notes. Have highlighters, notebooks, pens, and apps ready so you can effectively take notes while reading, as well as in class. Make sure you have a clear understanding of the weekly expectations for the semester.

Tip 4. Learn to say No.
Do not overcommit yourself. There are a lot of wonderful opportunities at WMU and the surrounding communities for graduate students. While joining a board, committee or RSO might seem manageable, carefully think it over and sleep on it before saying yes.

Following the above tips will not guarantee a 100% un-stressful semester. But at the least, you will know when the rough times are coming and have support.

Have any other tips? Please share in the comments!

– Josie



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