Graduate School, Week One: 10 Things I’ve Learned

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Well, I’ve done it. I’ve survived my first week of graduate school in the MSW (Masters of Social Work) program. Going into this week, I was excited and full of energy. It’s my first year as a graduate student in the MSW program, and my schedule includes 16 hours a week at an internship (all day Monday and Tuesday) and 5 classes (15 credit hours). By day 3 of this first week, I was stressed. Despite my love for academia and learning, there were moments I asked myself what I had gotten myself into. However, I also know that big changes are always overwhelming in the beginning, and as I take the time to develop more of a solid routine, things will hopefully begin to fall into place (somewhat, at least…I hope).

That being said, here are 10 things I’ve already learned regarding graduate school (and what it will take to be successful here):

  1. Keep your planner with you at all times. Seriously, document everything. In my case, each of my classes only meets once a week. In fact, one of them only meets once a month. Therefore, having all assignments written down (with due dates!) is essential. I already had to go buy a bigger planner because I was running out of space to write everything down. Also, I’ve started color coding in my planner. In the past, I’ve never bothered. However, in order to keep my sanity, I think it’s going to be necessary over these next 2 years.
  2. Get to know your professors (and start early). I knew going in to graduate school I wanted to be sure and get to know my professors. After all, they will be the ones writing recommendations for me when I’m applying for jobs after I’ve graduated. Therefore, ask questions. Use them as a resource. After all, that’s what they are there for, right? Additionally, start early. It takes time to develop a good mentor relationship with professors. Give your professors time to really get to know you so that when they are writing a recommendation letter for you later on, they’ll have plenty of information to pull from.
  3. Intern with organizations you’re interested in (and with those you’re not sure about). Internships are a great way to figure out specific positions in the field you might like. However, they are also a way to realize certain positions in the field that are not a good fit. Be willing to try internships at places that immediately interest you. However, try out the places you’re not sure about as well. You may discover a new interest, or you may figure out specific areas you would definitely not feel comfortable in. Either way, you are learning, and specifically coming closer to the position in your field that is just right for you.
  4. Don’t stress about grades. This was a tough lesson to learn, and it’s definitely one I’ll be working on throughout my graduate school career. The main thing I’ve had to remind myself is that I’ve come to graduate school to gain knowledge and learn skills to be able to perform accurately within a certain profession. At the end of two years, when I’m out looking for jobs, my potential employers aren’t going to care what my graduate school GPA is. They’re going to want to know if I have the skills, knowledge, and experience to perform my job to the best of my ability.
  5. Stay connected with close friends. Even after just the first week, I can see how graduate school could lend itself to responses such as: I can’t remember the last time I talked to my best friend. I’m just so busy. Yes, graduate school is stressful and definitely keeps you busy. Try not to lose contact with close friends though. Even if it’s just a “hey how are you?” text every few days, keep them in the loop. You’ll need their support over the next 2 years, especially when you may just need to vent about how stressed or overwhelmed you are. Plus, the potential for getaway weekends every now and then can definitely be a stress reliever!
  6. Don’t forget to sleep (regularly)! Thankfully, I’ve never had a problem with getting good sleep, even when I’m stressed. Without it, I’m crabby and unable to retain new information quite as easily. In my case especially, I’ve found that I do better if I go to sleep once I’m tired and then get up early to finish assignments (if I’ve gotten behind). It works better for me rather than staying up really late. It may take time to figure out what works best for you.
  7. Eat good snacks that’ll give you energy. Yes, sugary things and lots of caffeine may sound good in the moment, but they’ll cause you to crash quicker. I’ve found that I’m set if I just bring a bag of carrots and a bottle of water with me to campus. (Although, I will say, coffee does wonders for those 8am classes)!
  8. Network, network, network! Get to know your professors, for sure. However, don’t forget about your internship supervisor and others at your internship in a similar field you hope to enter. These days, it’s as much (if not more) about who you know as opposed to what you know.
  9. Practice self-care. I’ve started practicing self-care by implementing a regular yoga practice back into my life again. Though I am a bit sore after this week, I know it’ll help me both mentally and physically get through graduate school.
  10. Do one thing every week that makes you happy. Whether it’s having time to sit and read a book without interruption, making yummy baked goods, taking a long bubble bath, or Skyping with your best friend, try to do one thing every week (or even every day) that makes you blissfully happy. Though this way fall by the wayside every now and then, try not to let it. Though you’re busy with graduate school, remember what ultimately matters: your happiness. 🙂

Best of luck, fellow graduate students. We’ve got this!

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On New Beginnings

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The late Maya Angelou once said, Stepping onto a brand-new path is difficult, but no more difficult than remaining in a situation, which is not nurturing to the whole woman. Though I do not believe I am starting a new beginning in order to escape a previous negative situation, I do agree forging a new path is challenging. Of course it is. However, it can also be incredibly rewarding. Wasn’t it Christopher Columbus who said:

You can never cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.

In less than two weeks, I will be starting my journey as a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in social work. I am very excited, and the bookish side of me is squealing over the social work textbooks I bought a week ago. Truthfully, I’m having to fight the urge to start devouring each chapter. However, I’ve been through enough school to know I’ll have plenty of time to read my textbooks over the next 13 weeks. As a matter of fact, I better soak up these last two weeks of blissful “summer vacation” before graduate school takes over my life.

When I graduated from college a few months ago with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, many of my friends gave me a dazed, yet terrified look when I asked them if they had plans following graduation. In response, they either shrugged their shoulders, mentioned travel or said something along the lines of, Get a job, I guess. That being said, I know as much as anyone how scary it is to imagine graduating from college and not knowing what to do next. Halfway through my junior year of college, I realized I’d have to go to graduate school if I planned to do anything within the field of psychology (or even a similar field). Therefore, the choice of going to graduate school was essentially a no-brainer for me. Although, I do know it’s not that easy of a decision for most people.

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Additionally, I can also understand the desire to travel following graduation. After all, these are the prime traveling years, right? We might as well get out and see the world while we have the time…and before we take on all those adult responsibilities like paying bills and working full-time. Though I’ve always loved to travel, it wasn’t until I left the comfort of the United States that I started to develop a deeper appreciation for other cultures and areas of the world. The first time I traveled out of the country (January 2010), I was a senior in high school, and I went to Peru with a group of my schoolmates for 12 days. Over the course of those 12 days, I learned more about poverty than I ever could grasp from reading a textbook. I also visited Machu Picchu, one of the seven wonders of the world,ate alpaca for the first time (and loved it!), and saw an incredible sunset over the Pacific Ocean.

Though the Peru trip was phenomenal, I wasn’t home very long before the itch to travel started up again. In June of 2012, I studied abroad in Ireland for five weeks. Ever since seeing the movie P.S. I Love You, it had been my dream to visit Ireland. Therefore, when I realized I had the chance to not only visit Ireland but to study there for four weeks, I took up the opportunity as fast as I could. Even now, two years later, I can honestly say it was the best decision I’ve ever made and the trip of a lifetime.

Since I chose to go study abroad in Ireland without knowing anyone else who was going, I made a big leap before even setting foot in Ireland. However, I wouldn’t have done a single thing differently. Not knowing anyone before leaving was a big test for my introverted personality, but I needed that push. I needed that push to do something that scared me. Because you know what I learned? I learned that traveling “alone” is the greatest way to soak up everything, but it’s also a chance to have an experience that’s solely for you. It’s not the experience your parents would want or even the one some of your friends might have had when they studied abroad. It’s yours, and it’s happily filled with as many used bookstores and ice cream parlors you can find.

We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.-Anais Nin

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

So yes, by all means, travel. Travel your little heart out. I’ve done that, and I hope to travel a lot more in the future. However, for now, graduate school has my heart…and probably my soul…for the next two years. I’m fine with it, though. I’ll be getting an education in the field I want to enter, and I’ll be gaining first-hand experience as well. It’s not quite as enjoyable as traveling, I’ll admit, but I’m determined to make it a really great two years.

~Til tomorrow, friends.