Tips for Surviving Graduate School

The summer is ending, and school is back in session. For some of you, the beginning of the Fall Semester means that you’ll be starting graduate school. Congratulations and good luck!

Desk PictureAs a recent graduate school alum, I can imagine what this new stage in your academic life will entail. Odds are, there will be some challenges.

The good news is that not only is graduate school doable, there are alumni that came before you that can offer advice. Some of the advice provided may or may not be for you, and that’s okay. Everyone is different and it’s important to do what feels right for you. There may be advice that you can apply only in certain circumstances, from the beginning of your time in graduate school, or never at all. As you move further along in your graduate program, you’ll undoubtedly come up with your own ideas for how to survive graduate school.

In the meantime, check out the following tips that may be helpful as you navigate through your graduate programs:

Take naps. This tip may seem a bit odd, but naps aren’t just for children. When swamped with work, which can happen and often, a nap can be a good way to try to recharge your batteries so you can keep going. You can schedule your naps into your work schedule to avoid feeling that you’re off-track by taking that break.

Skim the readings. This may not seem like good advice, and it certainly isn’t applicable for everyone, but please hear me out. When I first arrived in grad school I had a class with students that had entered my program before me. I asked them for advice on how to do well. They told me that with time I would figure out what material was most important to read and to skim the readings!

My initial reaction was “What?!” I was determined to read all of the material for my classes, and I did that for a large portion of my program. I learned that grad school however, isn’t just about working hard, it’s about working smart. Depending on your program you may not need to know specific details of the reading materials, because what the assigned readings are meant to develop are critical thinking skills. In these cases, you can ask yourself questions like:

  • What is the main idea of the reading?
  • What information do I agree with, and why or why not?
  • What are my thoughts on the framework used to analyze the information?
  • What are the potential implications of the findings?
  • Is the information outdated and if so, what new information can be added to add valuable insight?
  • How do the findings compare with any trends in the field of study that the information is a part of?

These are by no means the only questions to ask yourself, but are meant to help get you started. Memorizing information and being able to repeat it isn’t enough. Put your critical thinking cap on!

Incorporate meals into your social life. It can be difficult to find time to have a social life during graduate school. I don’t know how many times I made plans with friends and classmates, only for someone to cancel them beforehand. One way to make time to spend with others is to meet for meals. Whether you get together at someone’s place, or on or off campus, eating is an activity everyone has to do; you might as well take advantage of it, right?

If you’re feeling adventurous and want to try something new, make it a point to try new dishes with your friends when you meet to eat.

Seek professional help, if need be. Grad school can be really challenging and time consuming. Some students have jobs and families to take care of in addition to their studies. If you sense that you’re not feeling well emotionally, look for help from a professional. This can be a sensitive topic, as there can be a stigma around going to see a therapist, but mental health is a key component of overall health.

Many colleges and universities have therapists available for students as part of their medical services, and can even recommend providers that students can visit outside of the university. In addition, private health plans often have directories of doctors that take that specific plan, which can be a good resource in your search for a therapist.

It may seem like you’ll be in graduate school forever- trust me, when Charles Dickens wrote “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” he could’ve been talking about graduate school. However, with hard work, perseverance, and good coping mechanisms, you’ll survive graduate school and be a recent graduate looking for work in no time.


Mariela Santos-Muniz Picture

I’ve known I wanted to be an entrepreneur since I was a kid and this year I founded Verbatim Translations LLC, which specializes in English to Spanish and Spanish to English translations. In addition, I currently co-tweet about women’s sports and female athletes from @WMNSPORTSWORLD. In 2015 I graduated from Boston University with an M.A. in International Relations and International Communications, after completing a B.A. in Humanities from the Universidad del Turabo in Puerto Rico. Writing is a passion of mine and I’m enthusiastic about the opportunity to contribute to Women’s iLab. I also enjoy reading, listening to music, learning, and thinking that I would be a Gryffindor if I lived in Harry Potter’s world.

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