The typical perspective a graduate student is someone who is hungry, poor, and hungry. Holed up in the library, or trapped in a lab into the wee hours of the night, the helpless graduate student is at the mercy of his or her tyrannical advisor and can be spotted across campuses with large Ziploc bags at free buffets. Although a caricature of the life of graduate students, let’s be honest: grad school is a stressful time, and most of us can use as much help as we can get. Fortunately, university campuses are built to support students. Here are some “traditional” grad school problems that you may be able to get support for on your campus (if you happen to attend Michigan State University, these are problems you CAN get support for).
Less Money, More Problems
This is the quintessential grad student foible: how do I go to graduate school and afford to eat? Getting funding is hard, but just because you have it doesn’t mean you’re financially secure. Learning how to spend it (or not spend it) will determine if you have food in your cupboard by the semester’s end. Your campus wellness or financial services center may offer financial counseling. Counselors can help you set up a budget, develop a savings plan, or answer questions about how to track and analyze your spending habits. Just because you’re in graduate school doesn’t mean you have to spend it broke and unhappy: learning financial management skills can result in great habits to carry into your professional, post-gradaute life.
Writing a dissertation or thesis requires energy, and keeping your body in good shape is critical to maintaining a positive outlook. Most campuses have fitness centers: be sure to visit to see what the rates are for gym use and classes. But there are other ways to stay active. Join a student organization that is all about fitness, find a campus running club, or test your mettle in club or intramural sports. You could even apply some of those tuition dollars to a campus fitness class. Also, don’t forget about your mental health: your university should have a counseling office, with trained professionals prepared to talk with you about anything that might be bothering you. Make an appointment and they can help you with pressures relating to your personal life, professional life, or any other life that might be impeding on your ability to function at your best.
Getting control of your career goals is an important element of graduate school. Fortunately, your Career Services Department is there to help you develop an academic and professional portfolio that will focus on your strengths. Get advice about the job search, your CV and resume, or connect with alums in your field. Make this visit early in the game: learning about important professional development skills such as networking, keeping the CV updated, and how to use social media effectively are skills better learned early rather than late, and give you the chance to hit the job market at full speed.
All in the Family
Many of us don’t venture into graduate school alone: we bring a spouse and/or children into this adventure with us. A Family Resource Center can help you with anything ranging from finding affordable child care to parenting classes and workshops, or a list of fun things to do with your family at the university and in the local community. Being in graduate school can be stressful not only for the student, but for families, too. Taking advantage of family resources provide a great way to make sure your family stays strong during your trip through graduate school.
The Graduate School
Visit your graduate school website. They offer so many different programs and lectures and workshops on a whole host of activities related to your professional development and personal wellness. These can range from organizing and managing your committee to teaching practices to writing grant proposals and everything in between. This is your most valuable campus resource, and one that most graduate students don’t think to engage.
Universities are large places, with a number of different resources tucked away in different corners. Take some time to explore what your campus has to offer. There may be a center for disabilities, veterans affairs, or centers for minority and LGBT issues. If a problem ever arises, make the University one of the first places you turn to for support: it is likely there is already a system in place to help you navigate it.
What are some campus resources you have used? Any success stories out there? Share with us!
[Image by Flickr User LiminalMike and used under Creative Commons License]
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In my experience, the utility of campus resources like these varies very widely. Especially at universities where undergrads are the numerical majority and clear financial focus, support services for grad students can be intensely poorly handled. (For example, a psych counseling center that’s really great at helping 19-year-olds cope with learning to be adults may not have much to say to 29-year-olds trying to balance the demands of school, kids, and care for aging elders.) On the other hand, at big research-1 schools, I’ve seen some remarkably well-handled support services. So, it really varies.
At my university, the gym and various exercise classes are free, but commuting to campus takes up a lot of valuable time. The best discovery of my summer so far has been that it’s actually better for me to spend the money on a gym close to home (where I’ll go regularly) than to have a free campus gym (that I’ll never use, and where I may awkwardly run into undergrads.) If exercise helps me get my writing done, it’s worth it for me to spend the money and go ahead and finish. Cash on hand is nice, but not nearly as pleasant as a dissertation that’s steadily getting closer to finished. (Within limits, of course.)
Certainly, any resource you use may not be what pure looking for. the point here, though is to remember that there are lots of resources built in to the university already, Whig you have access to! As for a gym, I too used an off campus gym while at MSU, as it had a less macho frat boy feel to it then the on campus gym. But here in williamsburg, the on campus fm has a much more adult feel to it. So, it varies from campus to campus. Thanks for your comments!
I think one of the best things I actually did, for personal wellness, was live in a commuter location for graduate school. Although I am far from resources provided on campus, I am also able to “go home” for the night and turn off the university. Also, it was a bit more budget friendly, and allowed me to afford an apartment with a balcony-as time spent reading and working outdoors actually feels therapeutic even when working. I’ll be honest, it never hurts to be able to plant some flowers or herbs as an excuse to dig in the dirt. It is quiet where I live-contrast to everything going on in my academic world. In that regard, I have less distractions (night life), get more accomplished, and can find time to breath, nap, take a walk, etc. The down side is that is can be harder to be involved in the grad community. Sometimes, I think, we must not only use graduate wellness resources, but make wellness decisions based on reflection (and often using wellness counselors helps greatly with that).
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