This post is written by Hack Library School writers and is part of our crossover week, check out GradHacker’s advice about advisor/advisee relations on their blog here: Hack Library School

One of the most fun and exciting aspects of grad school is taking advantage of the opportunities to get experience in your field. If you’re teaching, volunteering, working, researching, writing papers, etc., while you’re still taking a full load of courses, life can get busy. Living an incredibly busy life can inevitably lead to burn out and it’s really not good for your physical or mental health. For library and information science students, getting practical experience is a very important component to our degree. Many of us opt to take on a lot of extra curricular stuff to develop our skill set and our resumes. It’s a tricky balance of staying sane and being proactive about your studies. We’re here today to talk about gaining experience in school and how not to burn out.Annie – As I sit to write this post, I have to admit to everyone – I’m burnt out. I hear the sound of laughter and I wonder what that is because I feel like I’ve turned into some sort of cave monster, solely focused on school and work. How did I end up in this situation? By not being able to say no to opportunities that come my way. It’s actually been really wonderful because I’ve gotten great experiences through volunteering and working two part-time jobs. However, I’m getting really close to a crisis point because I actually need ME time in order to be happy and healthy. There are three things that help me cope with stress and being burn out.

  • Creative outlet – I say “creative” but I really mean anything that allows me to get away from work or school related activities, be it writing, drawing, exercise, cooking. Personally I love riding my bike because I get to see the land and calm my mind.
  • Friends – I moved away for school so I’ve been fortunate to have made friends in my program. I depend on them for support and we all root for each other. It’s been great to organize meet ups so everyone can gather around and hang out.
  • Fun activities – There are some interests that will stay with me no matter where I live. For me, going to concerts and shows is really fun, and can put my mind at ease. I try to plan my school work ahead of time so that I can afford an evening out every once in awhile. I also block out times during the evening for myself to read what I want. I don’t own a t.v. so reading is like my prime time television.

Rose – While library school students definitely need to bulk up their experience while in grad school, this isn’t exclusive to library school students.  Grad students in public policy and public administration, international studies, and law school — just to name a few large fields — are also encouraged to get applicable work experience.  For me, the best way I’ve gained experience is by working full-time in a library while taking a part-time class load.  I work at a university and know of many full-time staff members who are taking advantage of taking classes at the university for free (which unfortunately doesn’t apply to me!).  But since my job isn’t directly in the area of library science I want to work in, I also volunteer every week to gain more experience.  I seem to have a policy of saying yes to most opportunities (since you never know what will happen), but it’s definitely important to know when to say no.  You definitely don’t want to put yourself in the position of being overextended, spread too thin, and executing your commitments poorly.

Julia: I also tend to say yes to most opportunities that come my way, which is awesome almost all the time-I get great experience and I get to learn something new. One of the big themes being talked about here is finding balance, which has been a struggle for me because there are so many exciting things I want to do! The most useful experiences I had were those I went out and actively pursued outside of my coursework. I had two jobs: one at a library, and one driving public transit. Both were a lot of fun. I also got involved with publications in my field by becoming part of the editorial staff of two student-run journals. Many fields have opportunities for students to get involved either in student-run publications or as reviewers. It is very valuable experience! I also made it a point to do research: some of my research began as papers for classes and was later developed further and worked into conference presentations or journal articles. Other research I pursued independently, although the faculty in my program were there to guide me if I had questions even though the research was not a class assignment, per se. I would love to talk with other students about their experiences in research and publication, especially since I am less familiar with how this happens in other fields!

Britt: I probably shouldn’t be writing about finding balance in grad school, which is why I volunteered to write about it: because I do believe you can find that renewing, motivating feeling while simultaneously gaining experience.  A prominent figure in our profession, Camila Alire, once told a group of UCLA library students we should always have our “yes” hand in the air when anyone needs a volunteer.  It was through these “yes” hand opportunities that I gained the most standout experiences, personally and professionally.  I sort of think of it like a descending curve. Everyone is going to have the course work, the research, the culminating project, and depending on your field, internships.  That’s at the top of the curve.  Adding in things like being active in professional organizations and committees puts you in a smaller demographic.  Even further along the curve, there are those things that may seem only peripherally related to your field.  But like Apples to Apples, if you can make the argument, you can make it work!  And it’s experiences like these, out on the fringes, that can be rejuvenating.  Assuming you chose your field because you are passionate about it (unlike us librarians, who are totally in it for the money), pushing boundaries can bring back the spark that grad programs- even the most fabulous- can threaten to smother.

[Image by Flickr user AD Powers and used under Creative Commons License]


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