Wednesday, May 27, 2015

#SAgrad Survival Kit

My #SAgrad journey has officially drawn to a close, but I know so many people out there are just beginning theirs! It's an exciting time - pursuing a new path, learning things that you're passionate about and interested in, and getting some hands-on experience in a field that you've fallen in love with. However, being in graduate school is definitely a challenge, especially if you're going to be like I was - balancing three part-time jobs and a personal life with a full-time course load on top of it all. It's a tough but rewarding experience, and if you equip yourself with the right stuff, you'll get through it all! In honor of so many of you beginning this exciting journey, thought I'd share my personal survival kit to get you through your #SAgrad experience!

1. Planner/Notebook/Calendar/Time Mangement system of some kind.

 This is number one because it's honestly the most important tool you can have as an #SAgrad. It can be a paper planner, an electronic calendar, or a notebook with a running list of to-dos. As long as it works for you, I would highly recommend using and organization system of some kind. I relied very heavily on both my paper planner as well as electronic calendar alerts to keep me on track with everything I had going on. My paper planner acted as my to-do list as well as a comprehensive overview of what appointments I had each day, and my electronic calendars sent reminders to my phone to alert me of upcoming meetings. This combination of tracking everything that was going on in my life was SO helpful, and I honestly don't know what I would have done without it. Find a system that works for you and you'll be able to tackle grad school head on!

2. A way to keep your schoolwork organized. 

This one's obvious, but it needs to be said. My first 3 semesters, I had a binder for each of my classes with dividers, a note section, and enough pockets to fit all of the handouts that I received in class. This worked well for me during those first three semesters, but with adding an additional course to my workload in my final semester, in addition to the job search, I wanted to simplify. During my last semester, I kept a simple file folder for each of my classes, and took notes on OneNote as the program syncs your notes to ALL devices and computers, so I could access them no matter where I was. Again, keeping all of you coursework organized will help you stay on top of everything in your academic life and will make studying and completing assignments 10 times easier. Find what works for you and stick to it!

3. Scheduled "me" time. 

As an #SAgrad, you do not have a ton of time to yourself. You're going to hear a lot of preaching about self-care, but truth be told it is damn hard to actually achieve that as a grad. As a budding professional, it's really important to take these years as a grad and use them to your full advantage. Attend conferences, spend free time connecting with and learning from grads and professionals across the country, volunteer for that after-hours function that will give you a valuable experience to talk about on the job search, etc., but you need to be able to work in some time for yourself outside of your many roles and responsibilities. Continue to work towards your personal goals (for me I had a goal of running a marathon each year I was in grad school), spend time with your loved ones, try the new restaurant that just opened up. You are more than your program and your assistantship, and you need to continue to work on yourself as a person while you're working toward you future. With the craziness of your professional development, try to schedule in time to yourself each day. It may be best to wind down with your favorite Netflix show at the end of the evening instead of burning yourself out over assignments until 3AM. You may not be able to take a whole day to yourself, but if you can designate 30 minutes each day and treat it as an appointment that you can't cancel on, it will help so much.

4. A confidant. 

Grad school is challenging and frustrating. There's going to be days where you feel like you're going to want to quit. (And before I go any further, trust me that everyone is feeling this way. You're not alone.) You're going to want to have someone in your life that you trust outside of your program (a friend, your partner, your family member, etc.) that you can talk things out with. It's great to express your frustrations or challenges with someone who is removed from the situation. Having someone with an outside perspective can help bring clarity to a situation, can give advice from a new point of view, or point some things out that you may not have noticed before. (And at the end of the day, it's just great to be able to get some things off your chest, even if they don't completely understand what you're talking about!)

5. Some sort of attempt at physical wellness. 

Grad school was probably one of the physically unhealthiest times in my life, even though I ran marathons both years I was an #SAgrad. I really tried to make an effort to exercise at least 2-3 times a week, but sometimes it just didn't happen because I was just so damn exhausted. My diet generally consisted of Dunkin' Donuts drive-through, snacks from the vending machine, and food from the grill that was in the same building as my grad assistantship. It was easy, convenient, and honestly when you're going full-speed from job to job to class to sleeping to job, you're really not eating for health. You're more eating to prevent your stomach from growling and to ensure you don't pass out. (I'm really making grad school seem glamorous, huh?) You're straining your mind so much on a regular basis in grad school that straining yourself physically can seem like the last thing you'd ever want to do.

However, if you're generally aware of what you're eating and how often you're exercising, you should be alright. Maybe pack your lunch a couple times a week. Maybe spring for the salad bar instead of the chicken tenders for the 4th day in a row (#guilty). Maybe take the stairs to your 3rd floor apartment instead of waiting for the elevator. And (this might sound crazy, but hear me out), trade in the 2nd or 3rd (or 4th, you fiends) coffee for some high quality H2O (name that movie!). It seriously makes so much of a difference when you're hydrated! Though, unfortunately, you're not going to be able to be in top physical condition (and PROPS TO YOU if you can pull that off in grad school!), being mindful of how your treating your body will go far in this department! (Side note: I utilized summer and winter breaks to make up for lost time, and since I've graduated a whopping two weeks ago, it's been SO much easier to find time to exercise and buy healthy groceries to stock my apartment with. There IS hope, guys!)

6. A bed time.

I can't stress to you how important sleep is in grad school. There were multiple nights my first year where I was just pushing myself so hard at 2AM to make my brain work and crank out just one more page of a paper, knowing full well I had to be up in 4 hours for a 14 hour day of work and class. Of course, I would be completely useless the next day, and I would feel awful because of it. My second year I adopted a "bed time" or at least a time where I promised to take myself out of work and student mode and enjoy some time to myself. No emails, no textbooks, no anything after 11PM for me, and it made a world of difference. I was convinced that with all I had going on this year that I would become deathly ill from all the stress at least once, but because I was forcing myself to disengage every night and give my brain some rest, I didn't get sick one time. Make sure you do the same for yourself.

7. A willingness to take it all in. 

This is going to be a time where you're going to be challenged. Your views and beliefs are going to be questioned over and over again, and without the willingness to truly examine yourself and learn from the people and experiences around you, you won't last long as an #SAgrad. Make sure you enter each day with an open mind and see each interaction that you have with a student, staff or faculty member, colleague or classmate as an opportunity to learn and develop. Make sure you're staying up-to-date on issues in Higher Education and in the world. Learn about institutions outside your own. Conduct informational interviews. Participate in Twitter chats. Read professional test. Seize every opportunity that comes your way because now is the time to try new things and learn from them. It's really how you'll be able to make the most out of your #SAgrad experience!


And there you have it - the basics of how to survive your time as an #SAgrad. It's a crazy time of your life but honestly one of the coolest experiences you'll go through. You're at the very beginning of your career as an #SApro and where you're going to build the foundation of your Student Affairs knowledge. Take advantage of all of the opportunities that come your way, and remember, YOU CAN DO IT!

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