This December, I finished my coursework for my master’s degree in media and communication. While every program is different, I’m hoping the tips below can help someone else who is considering or attending grad school.
4 Tips for Grad School
(1) Find spaces that work for you and/or make spaces work for you
My first semester of grad school, I did most of my work—reading, writing, researching—in my apartment. This wasn’t exactly all bad—sweatpants! No shoes!—but it was difficult to separate school time from leisure time. And while it often seems like there is no separation from the constant, impending deadlines and projects of grad school, I found that creating work spaces away from home helped me to be more productive and put some distance between me and work. Some places where I enjoy working now are the library, the graduate student offices in my building, and a local coffee shop. Working away from home isn’t possible for everyone, but if it’s possible for you, give it a try.
Tip: Try creating physical separation from your work in small ways. Maybe your backpack doesn’t go into your bedroom or your books can stay in your office until they’re needed.
Tip: If the place you’re in doesn’t have the right atmosphere, try creating one with an app like Noisli that lets you design your own background noise. In the library or in a quiet office, I use the app to make it sound like I’m in a coffeeshop on a rainy day or by a crackling fire.
(2) Read outside of academia
Reading only academic work for extended periods of time can make reading a burdensome chore. I do enjoy reading academic work in the humanities outside of my specific discipline, which helps mitigate that effect. But the best remedy I’ve found is reading outside of academia entirely. A small amount of time each day reading poetry, graphic novels, creative nonfiction, or fiction can remind you that (a) actual humans write things that most other actual humans can read and (b) reading and writing can be emotional, riveting, and imaginative.
Tip: Many literary magazines have online daily features with short pieces of flash prose or poetry. Some even have blogs, like Ruminate Magazine, which I edit. Check it out here.
(3) Find small things that give you joy
Being a grad student often means you don’t have time to indulge in lengthy breaks. So, find some small things that give you joy. I like picking flowers on the way to school (when it’s not 0° in northwest Ohio) or watching a four-minute music video on YouTube. A good cup of tea or a conversation about literally anything other than school can feel like a miracle.
Tip: Larger joyful things can be divided into smaller ones! Maybe you don’t have time to watch that whole movie on Netflix, but watching it in 15 minute segments might be more reasonable.
(4) Be patient with yourself
You will make mistakes, and you will live through them. Show yourself grace, and figure out how to do things better next time if you can.
Some bonus tips:
- If you’re doing large-scale research projects, or even multiple smaller ones, a reference manager can really help. I’m currently using Zotero.
- Ask the more experienced students in your cohort/department about their experiences. Learn from their stories.
- Utilize your library’s resources as much as possible. They might have services that you don’t know about, like individual research appointments. Seriously, librarians are the best.
- Find fulfilling ways to do service to your department, School, university, or community. Grad school is a lot about you, but everything in your life doesn’t have to be.