Tuesday, September 4, 2012

How to survive grad school while working: part 1

by topgold via Flickr
When people find out that I went to grad school full-time while I worked full-time, their reaction is usually along the lines of, "Are you serious?! How the hell did you do that?" I typically just shrug my shoulders sheepishly and say that it I didn't sleep much and didn't have much of a life in order to spare them the agonizing details of how I planned out those two years of my life. While it is true that at times I did not sleep much and did not have much of a life, I did have a whole arsenal of tricks that I used to get all of my school work and day to day work finished. I'm going to share these tips over the course of two posts, this being the first, in the hopes of aiding stressed out students get through this period of their lives and reassuring them that it is completely possible to survive. While I realize that everyone's situation is different, I bet some of my tips can be used by others who are co-working and schooling or who just have a lot on their plates.

I found that the most important thing for me to get through my two years of full-time hell was to have the right mindset. I constantly reminded myself that my situation was temporary. Anyone can practically do anything trying if they know that there is an end to it. I knew that one day soon, I would not have to sacrifice so much time and effort to complete classes and that my future would be brighter thanks to my hard work. Knowing those things eased my mind and gave me a fresh focus.

Creative outlets
To go along with a right mindset, if you are a creative person, do not close yourself off from creative outlets. I started this blog in the midst of my two years of hell because not writing was simply not an option for me. Sure, my blog posts weren't super amazing or frequent, but at least I was able to release some of the tension that was building up inside of my head. Draw, paint, play an instrument. Maintain that balance to keep your mind more at ease and ultimately less distracted.

Keep yourself healthy
Whenever I sneezed over the course of those two years, I seriously began to fear that I was getting sick. I simply did not have time to be ill when I was expected to work 40 hours a week and attend classes three nights a week. Lying comatose in bed was not an option. Eat a well-balanced diet, try to exercise as much as possible (while I wasn't able to swim or do yoga, I did walk to and from work, so I was able to get some exercise in), and make sleep a serious priority in your life.

Learn to say no, but not always (a.k.a. re-prioritize)
When I began grad school, I stopped attending the handful of social groups I belonged to, I scaled way back on my nightlife activities, I slowed down on dating, I passed up parties and trips. It was a bummer, but, in order to get all of my work taken care of, I needed to say no to things that were going to interfere with my goals. If you're worried about what other people will say when you keep declining their invitations, bare in mind that anyone who seriously cares about you will understand and encourage you to keep your nose to the grindstone because they know that your degree is way more important than a few beers at the bar. 

I did allow myself an occasional splurge about once or twice a month to maintain some kind of balance in my life. In order to splurge though, I had to look ahead and do what needed to get done beforehand so that I could enjoy my time off. If I didn't manage to get the work done, I didn't allow myself to go. Simple as that.

Continued in part 2, where I talk more about actual actions I took to finish grad school at lightning pace.


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  3. Awesome post, lots of good advice. And go you! I only worked part-time while I did full-time school and it was a challenge but manageable. Not sure I wouldn't have driven myself crazy working full-time while in school full-time, so I'm totally impressed that you kept yourself together.