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Preparing for Success in Graduate School

The Youth, Family, and Community Sciences graduate program publishes a monthly blog written by students, alumni and faculty sharing important topics and helpful resources in family science. In the November 2021 blog post, associate professor Harriet Edwards highlights the importance of organizational skills in graduate school.

As I think about my personal graduate school experiences, I’m not sure how I managed [them]. Working full-time while taking two graduate courses at a time was challenging to say the least. And this was before the option of taking classes online, so it meant trips to campus to sit in class for three hours on two different evenings each week. It was a lot of juggling schedules and completing assignments on weekends to successfully navigate the semesters.  

As we enter the registration season to prepare for the spring semester, I thought it might be helpful to strategize about ideas that could be helpful in navigating the graduate education experience.

Consider your workload: Many of us have “seasons” of busyness in our work lives. If you know that spring is a hectic time for work, that might be a time to take less intense courses, or fewer courses, to allow for travel or stresses that work might add during that season.

Plan ahead: Review the syllabus for each course and schedule time on your calendar for any synchronous meeting of the class, as well as make “appointments” with yourself during the weeks leading up to due dates for larger assignments. Be sure to schedule meetings with your advisor or committee chair to ensure you are on track with your plan of work. Another component of planning might include meal planning, grocery shopping, and other personal chores that can contribute to reduced anxiety and stress.

Establish a weekly schedule: Once you have your course schedule, set up a plan for consistent studying, reading, writing, or group work. Having a regular pattern for preparation and assignment completion will help you stay on track to keep up for a successful, less stressful semester. 

Manage your email: Create folders, set up filters, review spam or junk settings, and generally organize emails so you can keep current with messaging. Especially with virtual or remote classes, email communication is critical, so be sure you are accessing the email assigned by the university for official notifications.

Organize your documents: If you are comfortable with digital formats, create filing systems so you can quickly locate materials for use later. If you are a print learner and prefer paper copies, develop a filing system and location so you can prevent clutter and locate the articles easily.

Create a study zone: One of the lessons we have learned in the pandemic is the importance of an established space for work; the same is true for our academic work. Designating a space where your tools and resources are available and accessible contributes to a focused mindset of what needs to be happening when you are in that space. And focused study time is a more efficient study time. Though personal preferences come into play in establishing this space, generally, this area should be as organized and clutter-free as possible because clutter can be distracting.

Connect with your peers: Establish relationships with other students and with your professors and instructors so you have connections to others who may be able to assist with information or listen when you need to talk with someone in a similar situation. 

Take care of yourself: Your physical and emotional health is critical to your success in anything. Make time to be with family and friends, including exercise and good nutrition in your planning, and enjoy the journey to graduation!

The graduate school experience can be an amazing time of learning and connecting by taking several simple steps to prepare for the demanding days ahead.