Graduate Student Perspective: New Year for Opportunity

Students in the library


We do not know about you, but we have no idea where the summer has gone. It is insane to think some of us will begin our doctoral journeys while others are preparing to defend our dissertations this academic year. Where has the time gone? Additionally, we are still in a pandemic, and conversations around well-being have been the focus for many of us over the past three years. Some of us may be experiencing anxiety, depression, fatigue, or loneliness, and we want you to know that you are not alone. We’d like to share some practices that have served us well in our journeys and that other graduate students — at all levels — can adopt in preparation for the upcoming academic year.

Societal changes have inevitably affected how we move through life, especially after the brink of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Many of us were forced to alter our ways of learning and researching while balancing the rigor of coursework, the anxiety around wondering what is next, and/or managing our mental well-being in the spaces we occupy. Thus, the pandemic altered many of our educational plans in many ways, whether good or bad. The changes offered a deeper reflection on our academic journeys and what that means for our career goals and aspirations. The pandemic also resurfaced the need for dedicated graduate student services. There is a strong correlation between graduate student success and the support services colleges and universities offer us. Now more than ever, graduate students need access to resources and support to complete their education and maximize their graduate school experience.

If you are like us, at this point in your academic journey, your plate continues to get heavier with innumerable tasks you must complete in a short amount of time. The pandemic has further complicated the already challenging balancing act; however, we want to ask you to breathe. There is an opportunity to refocus as we begin the fall semester.

Balance is the name of the game
Let’s talk about how we choose to balance the multiple facets of our lives. Moving forward, it will be vital to your success that you identify best practices of balance. Graduate school is one of the most difficult decisions many of us have had to make, and because of this, you may feel unbalanced in numerous areas of your life. That is totally okay. Knowing your situated experiences can assist you in creating a plan that better suits your needs.

Leslie: I am getting ready to defend my prospectus this fall, and quite frankly, although I should feel ecstatic, I am completely overwhelmed. But in a good way, right? I am closer to the goal of being finished but also overwhelmed by the thought of it. I am a Black woman graduate student, an academic, an educator, a researcher, a daughter, a sister, a lover, and a friend. I wear many identities, and because of this, I have been extremely intentional in prioritizing my boundaries. Ironically, I was pulled in several different directions when writing this article and became re-overwhelmed (if that’s even a word). Sometimes I feel like I do too much, and the next day, it feels like I don’t do enough. And then, sometimes, I feel like I am less of a sister, more of an academic, or less of a researcher and more of an educator. But what I found in the messiness of feeling less than in one area of ​​my life and greater in others is a practice of mindful meditation. In this practice, I work on controlling what I can while strengthening my commitment to finishing my final doctoral year.

Trevor: Honestly, I couldn’t tell you where the exit sign was in this maze three years ago as I made sense of the rigorous experience. Currently, I am in the process of writing chapters four and five of my dissertation. Scary, right?! However, I am excited to know that I am persevering through this process as a Black male scholar, first-generation doctoral student, and anti-racist and decolonial advocate. Being a Black male conditionally admitted doctoral student, I felt this sense of pressure to perform at a rate of excellence. I quickly realized that I was not only trying to meet excellence but also juggling the pressures of anxiety, depression, and not feeling worthy of being a scholar. I leaned heavily on my therapist and scholarly community along the way, who affirmed my decision to join the academy and encouraged me to blaze my path. Even though I see some light in the tunnel, I still worry and feel guilty about every little thing. However, I have learned that grace is your best friend throughout the process. I won’t bore you with the cliche saying, ‘trust the process,’ but what I will say is to “give grace to yourself throughout the process.”

This brings us to some areas we believe are essential to focus on this academic year:

Mental health
As mental health has taken the driver’s seat in the world around us, especially during this time of uncertainty globally, mentally, it can still be a struggle to grasp the concept of mental health. No matter where you are on your journey, paying attention to your mental health this academic year is incredibly beneficial. Our advice is to identify your mental health needs and feed your needs with positive affirmations. Whether that be therapy, journaling, yoga, or rest, find practices that bring joy and peace back to you. Additionally, seeking out forms of therapeutic remedies or a community that prioritizes and develops healthy boundaries that affirm your well-being, thoughts, and emotions during each stage of the process is a part of the balancing practice.

Time management
Classes and work will consume most of your week before you even start working on homework or your to-do lists. While that may seem doable, organizing your time by determining your weekly, monthly, and yearly goals can prevent burnout, the pressure of constantly feeling like you have to be busy, and discouragement. You are not perfect; you are human. Don’t let perfectionism turn every task into trauma; establish practices that seem right to you. A classroom discussion post does not need to be an epic book, and it is not necessary to cite every expert on every assignment you have to submit. Your success will depend on your ability to manage your time effectively. Work smarter. And even when you think you have it all planned, things change. So, know this: it is always okay to have a backup plan. That does not mean you failed; that means you are thinking strategically about the next steps in completing your tasks.

Accountability can be very daunting for all of us when you assess everything for which you are held accountable. But it is one of the essential concepts in this journey. Missing birthdays, social outings, family gatherings, festivities, etc., is extremely daunting when you are writing or having to meet deadlines. You will often develop this sense of guilt throughout the semester when you are holding yourself accountable. That is okay; you must stick to the bigger plan and know that your friends and family should not take it personally. However, find outlets such as accountability partners, writing groups, friend groups, or applications that can assist with the organization of your personal and academic life. Most importantly, find what accountability method works for you; it may change every semester. Still, that is fine; the trial-and-error process allows you to find the method that will enable creativity and productivity during your time of accountability.

Build Out Your Network
“It’s not who you know; it’s who knows you.”

Let us explain. What we have found in building our networks is the criticality of building YOUR OWN. You can do this by leveraging your identity through personal, academic, and professional networking. While networking is mainly seen as a professional relationship-building tactic, consider who your community is outside the classroom. Your personal network is just as special as your professional one. Identify and sustain relationships with mentors that will positively pour into you this academic year. As well as providing professional development and access to people who could serve you in your journey, your mentors can also create access to new friendships and social circles. Building networking — in a thoughtful way — into your day-to-day practices is a great way to eliminate the additional stress of finding your community of support.

Ultimately, be intentional with this upcoming academic year in everything that you give your time to. You owe it to yourself to build supportive practices that will establish the foundation for a purposeful academic year.

Disclaimer: HigherEdJobs encourages free discourse and expression of issues while striving for accurate presentation to our audience. A guest opinion serves as an avenue to address and explore important topics, for authors to impart their expertise to our higher education audience and to challenge readers to consider points of view that could be outside of their comfort zone. The viewpoints, beliefs, or opinions expressed in the above piece are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by HigherEdJobs.

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