Posts Tagged ‘coping grad school’

Do you ever see yourself as the fantasy graduate student? You know, the grad student who focuses intently on school, has it all together, has a job or some other activity outside of school, a robust personal life, and still finds time to volunteer for worthy causes on the side. The fantasy grad student sees obstacles as steps in the staircase to success. Each challenge raises the fantasy grad student higher and brings her/him closer to success.

The fantasy grad student indeed has a robust personal life, but only one that supports academic endeavors. Anything outside of the classroom that does not complement academic/professional achievement simply does not exist.

It’s easy to try to fit the fantasy grad student mold. I mean, isn’t that what we aspire to be? Isn’t that how we see our classmates? “Wow, they really have it all together” we say to ourselves.

But we are not fantasy grad students. None of us are.

We are real people. All of us are.

We have obstacles, pains, and even personal lives that are not always 100% conducive to academic/professional success. In fact, some of us have personal lives that are downright obstacles themselves, and every day that we make it to class, that we hand in an assignment however crappy, that we register for those next set of credits is a personal victory.

Despite outward appearances, many of us don’t have it all together. For some of us, this isn’t the first attempt at getting a grad degree. It’s the second.

Or the third.

Or more.

Yet we press on, grasping at the image of the fantasy grad student, hoping and believing that this semester will be the one when I get it right. This will be the semester that I submit my papers on time. This will be the semester that I’ll get the grades to justify my loans. This will be the semester that I don’t end up dropping a class. Or two.

For some of us, “this semester” is the one we say we’ll get through without the help from Mr. Jack Daniels or Ms. Mary Jane. “This semester” is the one where we finally don’t let problems with our boyfriend/girlfriend prevent us from focusing. “This semester” is the one where we’ll learn to sleep without having that same nightmare from whatever happened years ago. “This semester” is the one in which we’ll get it together.

But what do we do when “this semester” doesn’t work out like we hoped? What do we do when “this semester” feels a lot like last semester? And the semester before that? And the one before that?

I don’t know.

What I do know is that none of us – not one single person in any grad program in the universe – is a fantasy grad student. All of us have stories, stuff we’re going through, coming out of, or are about to go through. All of us have personal lives that can sometimes make our studies difficult. We’re real, whole, people. We’re more than the sum total of our GPA, our classes, our internships and jobs.

Whatever you may be going through now, just coming out of, or about to go through, just do your best. Never give up. Ask for help when you need it (it’s NOT a sign of weakness!), and breathe.


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When I came to Milano in the fall of 2010, I was 100% set on graduating in two years. Get in, get out, get on with serving urban black communities. I was also 100% set on getting the most out of my graduate experience – taking advantage of opportunities for personal and professional growth and enrichment. At the beginning of this semester though I found myself in a quandary – in my desire to graduate in two years and take full advantage of the graduate school experience I put more on my plate than is wise. I’m a TA for policy lab, I’m taking the second  half of Community Development Finance Lab, I’m taking Public Fiance and doing my PDR. And I’m taking Legislative Process for my last elective (good class). And I’m working.


That all seems very daunting, so I seriously considered pushing one or two classes to the fall. Of course, that would mean that I would graduate in January 2013 (degrees are conferred twice a year and there is only one graduation ceremony which is in May). I talked to several professors about trying to power through and graduate in the spring with my full load and I’ve been told that A) it’s not a great idea, but B) it’s doable.

“Doable” in the sense that there are students who work full-time and go to school full-time and seemingly have a high tolerance for stress. That’s 100% NOT the experience I wanted coming into grad school. In fact, I purposefully decided to go to school full-time (and took out required loan$) just so that I could really dive deep into my studies without being unnecessarily stressed.

Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men.

But what would I drop? Everything I’m doing has value academically, personally, and professionally.

After much thought and prayer (and a dose of you-need-to-graduate-and-get-a-job reality from my father), I decided to power through.

Is it the best decision? We’ll see. Although I love all the things I’m doing, I fear that I won’t be able to dedicate the necessary time and care that each item deserves.

But I have decided. I am moving forward. I can definitely use your prayers and support.

Onward to May!!

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Well kids, we’re at that point in the semester.


That point.

The point where you are in the mick and muck of it all and trying to push forward to see daylight with no cracks in sight.

The point where you say “oh crap” because you realize the semester is closing soon, and while that should be a good thing, you also realize that those term papers are coming due as well.

The point where it seems like due dates are stacked like Jenga and you’re trying to keep the puzzle together without having the whole thing fall apart.

Yes folks, we’re at that point.

Prayers are appreciated.

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Flicker…flicker flicker. Blink.

That’s me. I don’t know if it’s a rough spot in the semester or what, but I feel like I’m burning out. This finance class (elements of finance) has really gotten to me and I want to just throw my hands up and say “I’m done.” Work is very interesting and part-time, but just because I’m not on the clock doesn’t mean there isn’ t stuff that needs to get done. Throw the TA gig on top of that, my other courses, Toastmasters, and oh yeah, my personal life. Let’s sprinkle in the search for a PDR client and the ever-encroaching employment search and we’ve got ourselves a full pot of stew!

Of course, this is the situation that I’ve chosen. I realize that. No one made me take a job, apply to be a TA, take the courses I’m taking, or go to grad school at all. Seems weird to vent/complain/stress about a situation of my own choosing. But then again most of our situations in life are of our own choosing. That’s a larger conversation so we’ll leave that point for another time. But back to grad school blues…

I think that being in the third semester of a four-semester (full-time) program probably brings a certain stress, and next semester I’m sure will bring a whole other set of stress. I just registered for spring classes today so that probably adds to the mix. As I move through this semester I’ve begun to reflect on my academic experience. It’s probably somewhat premature to do a postmortem since I’m not even 75% through the program, but at this point my classes are decided for the most part. There’s no more “ooh maybe I’ll take that class.” And since my classes are pretty set at this point, it’s easy to begin thinking about what kind of skills I’m going to graduate with. Also, for the PDR, we’re supposed to use the skills we’ve gained at Milano to produce this professional report.

At this point I’m not sure I’ve taken the right courses. I mean I’ve taken the courses that meet graduation requirments, that’s not the issue. My question is whether my course work reflects my true desires of what I want to do with my life. The reality is that choosing classes to set up your career can be much more difficult than one might think. Everyone comes to grad school with certain dreams and desires. As you gain experience and skills your original dreams and desires might change, but you don’t get more electives to balance it out. Then you start thinking about classes that you took (or are taking currently) that maybe you weren’t/aren’t really into and you question it. Then the program might offer some brand new elective that wasn’t available when you came in, and you have to figure out if you can use your precious remaining credits on it – and if it meets your interests better than the course track you’ve already planned out during previous semesters. Just to spice it up, there may be a tension between getting tools (hard skills courses like finance) to courses that are just interesting but don’t necessarily provide you with a marketable skill (other than reading and writing). So in a way the academic experience is a negotiation between past, present, and future selves.

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Have you ever had a class where you realize it’s one of the hardest academic experiences you’ve ever had?  Ever had a class that is so time consuming and frustrating and so difficult that you constantly question why you signed up for it in the first place?  Have you ever had a class that you knew you were going to benefit from at the end, but getting there was going to be excruciating?  That class for me is Elements of Finance.  This is, without a doubt, one of the most difficult classes I’ve ever had in my entire life.  The only other class I can think of that was this difficult was logic with Stiv Fleishman – in undergrad (that was a good class).  Elements is hard course for a few reasons:

1) The amount of work: chapter quizzes every week – on three chapters of the textbook.  Each quiz is 25 questions.  Takes around a good 2 hours each (or more, give or take an hour).  Plus case studies.  Plus other readings as assigned.  You can take the quiz again if you don’t do well – but the questions are randomized so you don’t get the same quiz twice. Which means another couple of hours (get it right the first time).

2) The concepts: finance is indeed another language.  It’s a different way of thinking about things that is not necessarily intuitive to the non-financial person.

3) The speed: we are blazing through some pretty tough and key concepts.  And when I say blazing, I mean blazing.

This class is kicking my tail, no joke.  I spend most of my time on this class by far, and I feel bad for my other classes.  But I know that I’m getting some really good skills out of the course (even though most of the time I feel like I don’t know what’s going on).

The class is difficult but I know it will pay off in the long run.  Today we talked about the time value of money, and we saw how easily someone without an understanding of compound interest could get suckered into an adjustable rate mortgage that probably wasn’t in their best interest.  This is real, practical stuff.  I look at loans differently now.  I look at my credit card differently.

So I power on through the course, doing the best that I can.  I know I’ll be the better for it.  Adversity breeds character.  And I like to remember what Ellen Degeneres’ character in Finding Nemo liked to say:

Just keep swimming…just keep swimming.

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When I entered grad school a year ago, I was energized, motivated, and ready to go. I had a set of goals for the semester as well as a set of goals for the program overall. I came in like gangbusters and I went hard. I mean I went H.A.A.M. on that first semester. I was studying until all hours of the morning, really putting the work and the effort.

What a difference a year makes. As we settle into semester and I’m taking one of most challenging courses I’ve taken since perhaps the logic course I took in undergrad (shoutout to Prof. Stiv Fleishman), I can’t seem to get the mojo back. The same fire and desire I had when I entered isn’t there anymore. Am I looking too much at graduating in May? Is it possible to have senioritis in a two-year program? Maybe I’m just rusty. I didn’t take any summer classes so maybe that’s it. Maybe my personal priorities have changed. There have been some major developments on the home front that could be distracting me. That’s part of it, definitely, but I’ve been talking to other classmates and some of them are experiencing the same thing. Some people have just “hit a wall.” But how do you hit a wall in a two-year program?

I can pontificate about the why and wherefores all night, but the reality is that there needs to be a gearshift – like yesterday. It’s the fourth week of the semester and things move fast in grad school. If you get buried early, it’s really hard to get out.

One thing I’ve noticed about the start of the second year is that people don’t congregate in common areas as much as they used to. It’s kind of like in college where everyone is friendly freshman year because they want to make friends, but by senior year everyone has their friends/cliques/crews, etc. Only in grad school it’s really, really condensed. As a side note, that would make an interesting anthropological study, on the social habits of students in higher education as they move through their program.

I wonder how many of my colleagues are experiencing the same thing. I’ve only talked to a few people so it’s not necessarily a representative sample. Of course, if more of us congregated like we used to we could actually have this conversation (that’s a tongue in cheek joke).

If anyone knows of any applicable anthropological studies, please let me know.

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Special Announcement from Kristen on behalf of myself and Eulalia: we are fine, we are just really, really, extremely, happily, very, busy and while we love all of you, we haven’t had time to write about all of our fabulous adventures over the past month. We’re sorry, but not as sorry as we’d be if things weren’t going well.

Soon, we’ll post and try to make some amends to get out of the Bloggers Doghouse.  Seriously, who knew people actually read this?  Kidding aside, thank you for your concerned emails and notes and in-person cajoling.  Much appreciated.

Eulalia and I ran into each other the other day and chatted about this (this = our blogging delinquence) and just started laughing, because, well, what else are we to do?  This has been a very exhausting, invigorating, inspiring, and provocative term so far.  I am close to finally having a “schedule” for it, in fact.  In November.  Which means my to-do list from August is now finally finished.  In November.  Good news: I went ahead and just wrote a new list FOR November, so now I am WAY AHEAD on things like “getting a PDR client” or “my public finance midterm preparation”.  For the record, that is what we call “spin”.

I am still reading, hearing and thinking about many new ideas and skills and reflecting upon or refining some old ones.  My fellowship is finally (fingers crossed!) going to begin later this week and it looks like things are going in a good direction there; my campus job keeps me busy but feeling helpful; my classes remain interesting; every week my post-unemployment “transition” is closer to being finished and I become more articulate later into the evening.  (Here’s a “happy problem” to be aware of, you other long-term unemployed folk: when you re-enter a work routine, you may feel as though you have been hit by a truck regardless of how busy you have kept yourself.  I was running a few miles per day, practicing yoga, writing, etc, etc., and I still became a frighteningly gifted impersonator of a Valley Girl by my 6 p.m. classes. That is easing. Now I just sound like one after 7:30.)

Here’s to more of the same great fall term greatness! (But with more blogging.)

Kristen (and Eulalia)

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