5 Things I learned in My 1st Semester of Grad School

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Now that I’ve had some time to unwind from the stressors of school left behind, I have begun to analyze my performance throughout the semester. Since hindsight is 20/20, my goal is to figure out whether I could have done anything more efficiently and apply that knowledge to the upcoming semester. Here are 5 things that I found extremely important and will be keeping in mind in the spring:

  1. Procrastination is like masturbation; at first it feels good, but in the end you’re only screwing yourself. This one seems fairly obvious, but you’d be surprised how many times I sat trough a procrastination conversation with a fellow student this last semester. So many people feel as if they can only work adequately with an impending deadline, but the reality is you CAN train yourself to break that unhealthy habit. I avoided procrastination by creating a simple Word document with assignment and reading due dates for each class organized on a week by week basis. Having all my responsibilities displayed neatly on one sheet was wonderful for my action planning process. As I completed assignments, I’d simply highlight it on my sheet and move forward to the next one. If ever I fell behind, I’d prioritize my work by focusing on the assignments for the specific week that we were in & work my way backward to unhighlighted items from previous weeks when I found some spare time. That way I wouldn’t continue to fall further behind, and would be able to participate in class discussions as needed.

  2. Evernote (or a similar app) should be your best friend. In grad school your topic of focus should be narrowed, which means that the books you read for one course, can also apply to others. It’s because of this that it is important to save time by taking notes on anything and everything that you read! To make them easily accessible, keep notes in your Evernote app and organize them with tags or by creating separate notebooks for each book. When it comes time to write a paper and references are needed, you can refer back to your notes rather than try to remember what book you got an idea from and search for the info by hand (which you can’t do if you rented the book). To avoid plagiarism I would read a chapter in a book, set it aside and try to summarize the key points in my own words, then open the book back up and add specific quotes to my notes along with page numbers so that I could cite properly in the future. It takes a little longer to do things this way, but it saves sooo much time in the long run if you don’t have to keep searching for new references!

  3. Self-care is as vital as completing readings and assignments – especially as a Marriage and Family Therapy student! It’s no secret that grad school is tough and can weigh down on even the most resilient student; even more so for the students that are learning how to professionally tackle issues that aren’t even their own. I’m lucky enough to be studying at a university that emphasizes the importance of self-care. So when I went through that bought of depression half way through the semester, I knew that the only way to ensure that my work would not be negatively affected was to take care of myself first. It felt wrong to blow off a reading assignment so that I could go for a run or meditate for longer than usual. However, if I didn’t take the time to do those things, I would have continued to spiral downward and the quality of my work would have followed suit. Taking the time to clear my mind helped me stay focused and more importantly, interested in what I was learning. Nothing makes grad school more daunting than a lack of interest for the material being covered. Likewise, an inability to solve my own issues would make me horribly unqualified to help other individuals.

  4. Learn to lean on your cohort. The beautiful thing about a cohort, is that they can have a wonderful, normalizing effect. It’s typical for most grad students to start the program with a bit of imposter syndrome. Then you start getting to know your peers and realize that they have insecurities of their own. They too, are only human; but humans with foreign perspectives and intriguing ideas that will fuse with your own and ultimately enable you to grow. Bounce ideas off of these people, ask all the questions you can think of. They are bright individuals with vastly different backgrounds who are now on a similar path to your own, and these relationships will prove to be invaluable in your professional future. More importantly, they’re invaluable NOW; when you’re being bombarded with heaps of new information and consistently challenged to reach new levels of understanding. They too are facing these stimuli and, as aforementioned, can normalize the experience.

  5. I’m pretty damn resilient! This semester truly challenged me. Leaving work to start grad school is a major stressor in and of itself. I jumped into the new experience at the exact same time that I was also moving out of my parent’s house for the first time and finalizing my wedding plans. 1 month before starting my MFT program I moved in with my fiance. 2 weeks into the program I got married and went on my honeymoon. While it was a blissful getaway, I returned to an intimidating amount of work to catch up on. Then I decided it was time to wean off of my medication, which caused a new wave of difficulties. For a few weeks I was incredibly overwhelmed, kicking myself in the butt for biting off more than I could chew. Yet, I stuck to the check lists that brought me a bit of sanity, and forced myself to find comfort in meditation practices and similar healthy habits. I’m proud to have not only survived the semester, but earned straight A’s while I was at it! Take stock of your own strengths, when things become strained you should know what to cling to and be aware of your ability to make it though the most trying occurrences.
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