Interested in Graduate school?
Learn why you should pursue a graduate degree from Texas A&M University’s world-renowned engineering program!
Graduate school can be exciting and exhilarating. It can afford you the much-needed freedom to choose your own work and purpose, which seems to be harder than ever to find nowadays. However, the change from strict undergraduate deadlines or fixed work hours can be a double-edged sword. For perhaps the first time, you may find yourself captain of your own ship, which can be daunting. One of the best ways to deal with this is to treat graduate school like a full-time job.
Order From Chaos
For some of us, it’s tempting to be driven by feelings or to work on 10 different things at once. While this can sometimes lead to success, more often than not consistent, organized work is what truly keeps the world turning. We depend on organization every day; the university gives us class schedules and exam dates; workplaces determine deadlines and office hours. A system of order can be quite a challenge to achieve, however, when left to your own devices. One way to be organized is in your research.
Since research can be quite unpredictable, an interesting management tool that I came across and recommend is LabScrum. Another tool that I used extensively to improve the efficiency of my research projects is Kanban boards.
Working in mechanisms to track yourself to further improve can do wonders when sustained over a long period of time. Because these functions are necessary in a professional full-time job, I would recommend adopting these methods and being your own manager.
The nature of research can be such that you can never get it off your mind. If you have an experiment to run in the morning that you think about all day; you are always anxious about the result of a current simulation even when you are at dinner with your friends. This seems to be quite common among grad students, and since there are no fixed working hours, we tend to work on our research at odd hours; staying in the lab until 3 a.m. is almost considered something to be proud of. While this may, in the short term, lead to higher productivity and good morale, in the long term, it can significantly undercut your efficiency and wellbeing.
While it is impossible to leave work at the lab completely, making it a habit to only work during a certain time frame and accepting that the slow and gradual work leads to far higher levels of motivation in turn boosts efficiency. It also better prepares you for professional life after graduation that is certainly going to be regimented.
According to a Nature article, 36% of graduate students have experienced anxiety and depression and this number is growing. While some of the major causes cited are uncertainty regarding career prospects and financial burdens, a lack of structure, guidance and loneliness are also important factors in anxiety and depression.
Viewing your graduate program as a job and not your entire identity can be liberating. Understanding that your research is not going to be your “life’s work” but only the beginning of your “work life” can help develop a healthy mindset. Setting aside time for yourself and for relationships that matter to you can alleviate feelings of loneliness. Structure can also be implemented when adhering to fixed working hours, meetings, progress reviews and proactive planning, all of which can contribute significantly to your mental health and wellbeing.
As much as graduate school is about professional and academic growth, it is an excellent opportunity for self-discovery and exploring various activities, cultures and places. A vast majority of graduate students are unable to take advantage of this due to their lack of organization and work-life balance.
Having scheduled time off (it doesn’t need to be the weekend) where you deliberately refrain from engaging in academic activities and try to focus on other aspects of your life can aid in this process. Creating an organized schedule means you can spend time on various extra-curricular activities you enjoy.
From my own experience, treating your graduate school journey as a full-time job makes all the difference. Viewing grad school in this light helps you enjoy the positive aspects, such as choosing your own work and discovering your purpose, while learning from the challenges that graduate school throws at you.
If you found this blog post interesting, you may consider reading “Why you should consider grad school” and “Engineering & Studying.“