I started earlier than I anticipated after a difficult period of my life when I couldn't find a job in my chosen career field. So, instead of starting in the fall, I opted to start in the spring. I would be lying if I said my first quarter wasn't incredibly rough. I entered school during spring quarter aka. meaning I had no friends in my program and everyone else was already paired up. You might think that doesn't matter... but it truly does (we'll get to that in a minute!). While one of my classes was ridiculously easy (which made me angry.. I was paying $ for this!), the other was incredibly difficult. I was lonely and frustrated.
Somehow, I made it though that quarter though and the remaining three quarters of coursework that followed with a 3.9 GPA. Now, I can happily say I'm one thesis away from my MS :) While I can't give you posts on how to get through your thesis (look for those in December), I can give you my top 10 tips for making it through graduate school without losing your mind.
1. Become friends with the people in your graduate program. Seriously. No one else is going to understand or care as much when your Microsoft Word dies in the middle of spell check, your group members for your online Physiology class are awful, you have 5 projects due in a week (including the next comment), you work 18+ hours on a take home midterm and start crying convinced you aren't smart enough for graduate school, your obsession with Starbucks and Dr. McDreamy or how much you hate statistics. Also, they will understand what is referred to as "graduate school brain" where you can't remember anything important that anyone tells you because all you think about is school. Besides, you'll quickly realize these are friends you are going to keep forever.
2. Make sure you get enough sleep, eat well and exercise. I know, I know, this is much easier said than done. If you need 8 hours, you need 8 hours - burning the midnight oil isn't going to make you more productive and I promise it won't make your work any better. Remember, naps throughout the day can be your friend. Pack your lunch instead of relying on whatever is available at your school. Exercise on breaks between classes or try at home workout DVD's - Core Fusion is amazing.
3. If you don't know what RefWorks is - now is the time to learn. Your university library more than likely offers a class on RefWorks or EndNote (a similar program). Basically, RefWorks is a database for all your references that will make your bibliography for you in AMA, APA, etc. Your wish is it's command. Also, learn how to use Write-n-Cite - it will automatically put your citations into papers for you, while converting at your will and creating your bibliography. Seriously, you need this NOW.
4. If you aren't organized, now is the time to make that happen. My favorite planner came from Franklin Covey, but my favorite refills came from target :) If you aren't into writing things down, use your phone, your email - anything. Due dates will creep up on your faster than ever and if you can stay on top of it, you'll feel so much better.
5. Do something nice for yourself - every single day. It doesn't have to be anything big - think the simple things that you take for granted when you aren't in graduate school. Sleeping in on a Saturday. Watching Twilight on Friday night. The fortune inside of a Dove chocolate. Painting your nails. Going for a walk. Meeting a friend for Chipotle. Once, I bought myself a new pair of boots as a good luck present for my first big exam in the fall - it worked by the way.
6. Get to know your professors. Don't be afraid to ask for help, because if you don't ask, you are probably not going to get it. Is everyone in your class confused about an assignment? Ask for clarification. Are you have trouble finding something you need for a presentation? Ask where you should be looking. Remember, you're a graduate student now, no one is going to hold your hand like they did in undergrad. Sorry, it's tough love, but it's true.
7. Enjoy your breaks from school in the best way possible - spend time with your family and friends, catch up on your workouts and your favorite TV shows, revitalize yourself for the quarter ahead. Get out of your house and see a movie or go to a sporting event. Drink copious amounts of wine :)
8. Get to know the older graduate students in your program. No one else is going to know which electives are the best to take or which professors are the best teachers. You can learn from the mistakes of those that have gone before you and you can learn tips to help you succeed.
9. Don't lose sight of what you're after. Remember all of the things you hope to get out of your degree. Think of graduate school like running a marathon. Sometimes, you get to mile 22 and feel like you can't make it. You just have to put one foot in front of the other and keep on going, while always remembering how far you've come. Besides, as Winston Churchill said, "When you're going through hell, keep walking."
10. Don't worry, just study. I received this very wise tip from my aunt So you bombed your first exam in a class? Study harder for the next one - think about what you could have done to improve your performance, talk to your professor, be proactive. Put forth your best effort into every other project in that class. If you waste your energy worrying about how you're going to improve your grade and the grades you'll have to get on every other assignment for the quarter you'll drive yourself insane - not to mention waste a heck of a lot of time.
Have you finished graduate school? What helped you the most?