Happy New Year! The start of a new year may inspire you to make resolutions: attend this conference, finish that paper, and make progress toward graduation. Although it may not impose the same kind of deadlines as your academic work, your professional development deserves some space on your list of resolutions, too. Make time and set goals to stay on track.As we start a new year, here are a few back to graduate school beatitudes.
- Be patient with yourself.
- Be patient with your own process of intellectual growth. You will get there and it will all come together. You aren’t supposed to know everything at the beginning of graduate school. And you still won’t know everything at the end (of coursework, exams, the dissertation, life…).
- Getting the actual degree isn’t about intellect. It is about sheer strength of will and dogged determination. “ I’m gonna walk out of here with that piece of paper if it’s the last cottonpickin’ thing I do.” That kind of thinking helps you to keep going after you’ve just been asked to revise a chapter for the third time, your committee member has failed to submit a letter of rec on time, and you feel like blowing something or someone up.
- You have not because you ask not. You have to be willing to ask for what you need. You deserve transparency about the rules and procedures of your program, cordial treatment from faculty, staff and students, and a program that prepares you not only for the rigors of grad school but also for the job market (should you desire a career in academia). But folks won’t hand it to you on a silver platter. You have to build relationships, ask questions, and make demands.
- Figure out your writing process (the place [home, coffee shop, library], time [morning, afternoon, night], and conditions [background noise, total silence, cooler or warmer] under which you work best and try to create those conditions as frequently as possible during finals, qualifying exams, and dissertation
- Be kind to yourself.
- Reward yourself frequently. Most of us need positive affirmation of a job well done, but for long stretches, especially during exams, dissertation, and the job market, the rewards elude us; and often given the time crunch, once we conquer the mountain, there is little time to enjoy the view before it’s time to trudge back down and start climbing the next one. All that hard work in high stakes conditions for anti-climactic ends can take a toll on your psyche. So be kind to yourself. Figure out the things you really like and make sure to enjoy them as much as is possible and healthy.
- Be proactive about self-care.
- Figure out your non-negotiables. For me, sleep is non-negotiable. I must have it. I don’t do all nighters. I also generally don’t do weekends, so I adjust my schedule accordingly. What are your non-negotiables?
- Cultivate a spirit-affirming practice. Grad school is a mind-body-spirit endeavor. So meditate, pray, exercise, do yoga, go to church, cook a good healthy meal. Do whatever you need to do to keep your mind, body, and spirit in balance.
- Be a friend/comrade to others and let them do the same for you.
- Build community with colleagues inside or outside your department.
- Build community with non-students/non-academics. You need folks who live life outside the dungeon. They will affirm you and help you keep things in perspective.
- Be better not bitter.
- Fail forward. Being the overachievers that we are, we tend not to deal with failure well. It tends to become an indicator to us of our intelligence, worth, and competence. But failure is a part of the process. Unless you are incredibly, exceptionally lucky, you will hit a snag in a course, while writing the proposal, on the dissertation, submitting a journal article or submitting a book. Two tips: take the time to process, particularly for big issues like proposals, dissertation chapters or books. Cry, scream (not at your committee or editor), go to a kickboxing class. And then dust yourself off and try again.
- Be tight. Bring your A-game. Come to class prepared and ready. Keep a calendar of important due dates. Always be open to learn new ideas.
- Be a light. As you make your way, show the graduate students behind you how it’s done, so maybe they won’t have as many dark days as you’ve had.
Happy 2015! Make it your best year ever! Always believe in yourself!