How I Survive(d) Grad School

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This degree that I’m just starting in Library and Information Sciences is my second graduate degree, and what I learned from my last one has all come flooding back to me. I don’t pretend to be an expert at thriving in grad school. Far from it. These days, it’s all that I can do to keep on top of things, especially as reading week is over and the real work is starting. But grad school, like any challenging experience, reorients your priorities and changes how you think about yourself and the world. Here are some of the (somewhat unexpected) things that are helping me survive this insane process as best I can.

Don’t be too thrifty

This one is a hard one, because common sense dictates that when you’re poor you should avoid spending money, and shop around when you can’t hold off. For grad students, this is terrible advice. Sure, we’re poor, but we also have no free time. In my experience, it’s best to avoid shopping as much as possible. It’s a time suck. But if you need something, don’t spend all day pansying around. Get it. Move on. Does it make your life better or easier? Then buy it and be done with the decision.
This philosophy obviously doesn’t apply to major purchases. But for the small things? If you need jeans, just order the same pair as your last ones online, don’t bother going to the mall and shifting through the sale. Get it when you need it. Buy the coffee. Get the expensive pens. Print multiple pages if that’s your thing. Get take out. And while we’re on the subject of take out…

Don’t beat yourself up about things not being perfect

So you didn’t manage to handcraft a beautiful meal out of prosciutto, saffron, and angel tears while you were busy writing multiple essays/attending class/fighting crime? No? You had a peanut butter sandwich instead, which you scarfed down while walking because ain’t nobody got time for plates? THAT IS OK. YOU DO YOU. This goes for meals, but also for outfits, apartment cleanliness, proper use of time, orderliness of life, etc. And assignments. In library school, I feel like you’ll start to get funny looks if you get straight A’s. You aren’t supposed to, or at least, that’s just what my professors keep telling us.

I admit, I have a hard time with this one. My dream is to be naturally good at everything, including the balancing act of it all. It isn’t going to happen. My line is that there are some things I am not allowed to screw up on. I’m a good cook, but not every day. I am a good student, but I know that I have to spread myself a little thin to get everything done. I am not allowed to be a miserable human being, though, who’s awful at her relationships. Nope. That one’s not allowed.

Exercise

Now, this one is also obvious, and it appears on all kinds of advice-for-grad-school lists. But when I was doing my first degree, I didn’t start exercising on a regular basis until towards the end. I considered that I was too busy, and I didn’t really like exercising at all. I wasn’t a sporty person.

Towards the end of my degree, though, I started running, and it was the absolute best thing I could have done. It’s a wonderful way to get rid of stress. I know that sounds cheesy, but oh man, does it ever feel good to take a break from your problems for an hour or so and release some endorphins. If you haven’t already seen it, I recommend reading this great comic by The Oatmeal on running.

And finally, remember to do the things that you love to do

For me, this is more a question of differentiation. I like taking a break from homework to have a snack or go on Facebook. I love reading fiction.

What I love doing feeds something in my soul. It’s essential. Yet somehow, I tend to convince myself that I don’t have time for these things. Because often, I don’t – I’m up to my eyebrows in homework. But when I finally get back to doing any of the things that I love to do, I immediately think, “why don’t I do this more often?” Small, distracting pleasures are too easy. They’re a quick reward after a bout of work, or, let’s face it, a way to procrastinate. Watching an episode of something will never be as satisfying, though, as making a work of art or calling your friend, or doing whatever brings you joy. Even though it’s nearly impossible to find the time and energy to take time for what you want to do, it’s so worth it every now and then. This isn’t meant to be preachy, as much as it’s a perpetual reminder to myself. It’s about how grad school has forced me to reconsider how I spend my time – and I’d rather spend it doing what I really care about doing.

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