Cross-linked Post: How I Survive & Thrive in Grad School

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Arrianna Marie (@ArriannaMarie) shares with us how she navigates grad school and its many challenges. She is a graduate student at the University of Chicago in the MA Program of the Social Sciences. Her research interests are the post-colonial state in Africa, statelessness, refugees and internally-displaced persons. On a personal level, she is a tea-lover who loves to cook and eat.

A Caveat: “I am 5 weeks into graduate school at UChicago. By no means am I an expert” :D

No all-nighters, just early bedtimes & early wake-up times

“No all-nighers?,” you may ask. Yes, no all-nighters. This is a challenge for me, as I am a night owl whose most productive hours are very late hours. However, I’ve had to adjust out of necessity, because I would accrue sleep debt. By sleep debt, I mean the continued consequences of foregoing sleep- including fatigue, lack of focus, exacerbated hunger and general irritability. My quality of life is much better if I go to bed earlier and wake up earlier.

This requires time management. After all, we make time for the things we consider important. Those course readings? Those paper proposals? Those term papers? Those are not as important as your overall wellbeing. In fact, you cannot prioritize those without your wellbeing.

I cook a week’s worth of healthful, nutritious food every Saturday

This is a challenge to most people. I realize that cooking is not a skill everyone possesses, and I realize that in many areas of the US (I can only speak for the United States), access to fresh, healthful, nutritious foods is a privilege. Nonetheless, I make the personal sacrifice of my time and money to eat food that nourishes my body and does not leave me feeling sickly in the longterm. I think of it this way: fast food now may be convenient, but in the long-term, is it beneficial to me?

Cooking is an essential skill. You don’t need to be a Julia Child to cook and eat well on a budget. Some of the most delicious foods you can make are also devastatingly simple. It could be a pot of soup, a crockpot meal that you prepare at night, and cook on low the next day or even a piece of lightly-seasoned fish (tilapia is a cheap fish, less than $4.50 USD a pound) steamed in a bed of cabbage.

Annotated reading notes w/ quotes & page numbers

I am one of those meticulous note-takers who combs through the reading with a pen in hand, hovering over my notebook. My method consists of writing down relevant concepts, keywords and quotes, with the corresponding page numbers in the margins. I realize that this method may not be possible for everyone, as we all read at different paces, and not all material may be read in this manner. (I am in the social sciences, so nearly all of my readings are amenable to annotated notes.)

Steady work on my MA thesis (which I began this past summer)

When I moved to Chicago, one of the first things I did was get to work on my MA thesis. I wanted to have a solid research base, and a theoretical base for my research question before I met with my professors and preceptors [graduate student instructors and advisers]. I did this while I was job-searching, so again, time management was essential.

Office hours- bounce ideas off of faculty members & be inspired

Some people are intimidated by the idea of going to faculty hours, but I am not. The key to making the most of office hours is being prepared. That may mean reading the faculty member’s latest publication, or that may mean doing next week’s reading for class ahead of time. The point is not to go into office hours empty-handed. It helps to demonstrate a grasp of the material or have meaningful questions that spark conversation. Office hours serve a dual purpose: 1) an opportunity to engage and learn from faculty about recent scholarship, course materials and prospective research interests 2) an opportunity to make yourself known to faculty members. Put a face to a name, and show them what stands out.

Make friends in your cohort

Not everyone in your cohort will be your friend, but a core group of friends who can challenge you to do and be better will enhance your graduate school experience a great deal. You don’t have to be a study group, but having friends in your program can mean an opportunity to improve your skills in presenting and defending your research before critical faculty members (particularly advisers and readers.)

Remember: Suffering is not mandatory

You will not see me complain about my work load or my course readings on Facebook or Twitter. I’ve realized that it takes precious energy to complain and commiserate with others, when I could be diving in head-first and getting it done. I do not care for the idea that suffering makes me saintly or gives me “social cred” among members of my cohort.

You were offered admission into this program because the program director and administration thought you were a good fit and had potential. Remember that. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or seek help from faculty members, program advisers and even counselors. A healthy balance will help you survive and thrive in graduate school. You will not survive and thrive if you do not ask questions or ask for help.

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