Finding a Tribe

Whether you are introverted, extroverted, shy or friendly, finding a circle in graduate school is extremely important. There are going to be times when you are not able to make it home over the holidays. I remember there were Thanksgiving breaks when I had to make the sacrifice to be in the lab instead of visiting family. During these times, it is depressing enough realizing that you cannot go see the ones you love, but spending it alone should never be an option. I was always able to spend these breaks with others in my circle who were in similar situation, where we all felt as if we were “stuck” in this place together. But how do you find this circle who becomes your family during your graduate tenure, and why is it important?

How to find them?

Get out of your comfort zone by networking and getting involved. Network with professional and academic societies (As a STEM Major, I joined the National Society of Black Engineers and Society of Women Engineers), within your field as well as other social and interest opportunities on your campus or area. It can be as simple as volunteering on the weekend or going to a hosted brunch. This is where you meet and get to know others.

Don’t be afraid to ask a question. Seek out the programs and organizations in your department/school that cater to minority graduate students such as black graduate professional associations or diversity programs offices. If you can’t find them, ask someone in the graduate office. Do not be afraid or feel self-conscious to inquire when it comes to getting the minority support you need.

Begin to surround yourself with individuals who make you feel comfortable enough to be you. You should be able to express frustrations and receive positive and motivating feedback and advice.

Why is it important?

Simple – You cannot get through this phase in your life alone. There are strength in numbers and a tree alone cannot withstand a storm, so surround yourself with your forest.

Not only is every setback, heartbreak and disappointment easier to deal with when there are others rallying around you, but every accomplishment, success and triumph is that much sweeter when those same people have been on the journey with you.

5 Tips for Time Management

One of my biggest challenge has always been managing my time well. I enjoying adding to my plate and volunteering for tasks till I realize that my plate is overflowing and everything is due at the same time. This leads to a stressful dash to get things completed with all-nighters and no sleep. Busy time comes in ebbs and flows, so how do we find a way to find that balance and manage while not feeling overwhelmed with deadlines looming over us? It’s all about planning, prioritizing and managing our time.

Step 1)

Begin with a high level view of everything you have upcoming. From exams to deliverables. What are the milestones and deadlines? Laying out tasks visually allow you to see not just when tasks are due but the time you have between them so you can better plan. If you put something on your radar for 5 weeks out, then you can start working backward on the steps you will have to take to achieve that task. How you visually lay it out is personal preference but I have found printing monthly calendars then taping them to my desk have worked great for me. If you are on the organized side then a planner will also work as an added plus. But the key to having a high level view is to ensure that a constant optical is maintained. A planner is always put away and unless it is opened and flipped through, you are not going to have that constant view. Having a printed view in places that you tend to be (office, bedroom), will give you a constant reminder.

Step 2)

Now that you have laid out the tasks, milestones and deadlines you need to track and create a short road-map for each of them. This is a hybrid road-map that can show you the steps you need to take to get an end goal accomplished. From researching, to writing a paper, to submittal, it is important to list the steps you need to take. From this list, you can then work your way backward from the end task to see when the steps need to be completed. This way, they are strategically placed on the calendar.  It will take some practice to arrive at the optimal road-map but this is a great start when it comes to time management.

Step 3)

Once you have worked your way backward, you are probably going to end up with multiple steps to do for different tasks on the same day or within days of each other. This is where you prioritize and plan, try to avoid placing heavy to-do’s on the same day. It is important to set feasible goals. If stuck to accomplish those tasks within the same sitting or week, then that means Step 2) is not yet optimum. But that is okay! This is where some prioritizing and mini-planning comes into play. Break up the bigger list items into smaller items. This ensures you are not too overwhelmed and trying to do one multi-hour item in one sitting. Which leads me to the next step. (Tip: Try not to have more than two big tasks in one planned sitting/day)

Step 4)

So you have highlighted everything you have to achieve on your visual calendar or board, made your hybrid roadmap/list of steps in getting there and strategically placed these steps on your visual to create a timeline, now, time-blocking. There is no point in doing all this pre-planning if you are still going try to jam everything in at once. This is where prioritizing from step 3) and having dedicated time blocks go hand in hand. When there are multiple steps to be completed in your queue, you can’t afford to only spend time on one thing that only serves a single end goal. It helps to come up with a plan where there is dedicated time spent on each. Just like studying, it is important to break up heavy to-do’s into shorter sittings. Of course some items will take longer to complete than others but this is where your priority and goal placement on the calendar come into play.

Step 5)

Be consistent and dedicated to your plan. The only way to improve time management is to be consistent with your planned flow. There will always be unexpected occurrences but with great structure, you can handle it. As you continue to manage month by month, you will find your rhythm and your style, what works for you and what doesn’t.

What other time management tools work for you?

Feel free to contact or comment for more discussion and tips!

 

8 Steps For Proper Self-Care & Stress-relief: Part II

Choose & Control

Sometimes we cannot choose the situations that inflict stress such as the classes we take or setbacks in research. However, there are other times we overload ourselves with so many activities that we forget we have the choice to control what we take on. Do not over-commit. While it is good to be involved in other activities for stress-relief, without knowing the limits of what we can do, that can sometimes add to our already full plate. Instead of prioritizing in terms of importance, prioritize based on the amount of time you can commit.

Appreciate

You have worked hard and continue to walk a long, sometimes lonely path. Self-care means showing yourself appreciation for all that you have accomplished. Getting the degree is not the accomplishment by itself, but waking up everyday and showing up to a place that may have brought you more misery than joy at times, that is the accomplishment. When you take the time for self-appreciation, you open the mind to the courageous you. The one who says, “I have made it this far, I am ready to take on tomorrow knowing that I can make it to the end! ”

Rest

We spoke about exercising and living together with having a healthy diet. But do not forget, all of this only works if you give your body enough time to rest. Recharging is necessary for your mind to reset. A fresh mind, tends to be sharper and more patient. It is very difficult to get enough sleep in graduate school but you must carve out time to get a good night’s rest, at least 2-3 times a week. Chose a day where you are going to do completely nothing for a few hours. Call it your Relax Saturday or Sunday.

Enjoy

As hard as graduate school is, you are going to have some of your best memories there. Enjoy the moments and take advantage of opportunities. Take advantage of free conference or program trips. Take advantage of the networking and mentorship relationships you form. Also, take the opportunity to meet others outside of your discipline and just enjoy and be elated in other people’s company.

8 Steps For Proper Self-Care & Stress-relief: Part I

Support

Part of self-care is knowing that in the hard moments, the right support system needs to be in your corner. It is important that you have supportive friends that are either surrounding you or in your network. These people should be dependable and should be people you can rely on when you are going through a challenging period. How do you find a support system? We will go into more detail in a later post, but all you need to ask yourself is, if you were to evaluate the people in your network, how many of them can you say would be in your support circle? Although there are many who may be located in your hometown or scattered across the world, you want to make sure that a dependable circle is formed at graduate school. Sometimes tears will come, and it is always great to have someone there to give you that hug and in-person pep talk you need.

Exercise

You are probably asking yourself, when am I going to find time to exercise? Trust me, I know that after a long day, the last thing you want to do is go to the gym or do some type of physical activity. But, being physical helps with your mood and truly releases the stress of the day. It does not have to be a strenuous activity and it does not have to be gym only. It can be something as simple as a short hike or as involved as boxing. The key is to do it as regular as you can. Not only are you ensuring that you stay active and have healthy circulation (we tend to sit all day as graduate students), but you are allowing your mind to have a mental break. This is a time where you do not have to think about anything or the things you think of are irrelevant, which gives you that moment of a free mind.

Live 

You have chosen the graduate life of working hard and achieving some of the greatest accomplishments, but life is also about having the experiences. Remember to take time to truly live. Explore the area you in which you reside. Every place has a list of top 10 things to do, work your way through the list. Plan a trip with friends to somewhere you have always wanted to go. Try new hobbies such as cooking, painting, photography or volunteering. I enjoy volunteering because it puts things in perspective. We sometimes forget that the world and the problems around us are bigger and while we may be frustrated, someone else is in a worse position. Take time to enjoy the fact that you are blessed and this opportunity you have while stressful, is rare.

Food

Feed your body the right type of fuel. What do I mean by the right type of fuel? Remember your body is the source of all your energy and knowledge. It’s like a rechargeable battery. You wouldn’t charge a battery with the wrong cord or put diesel in your only gasoline car, would you? It is the same as your body. Food affects your energy levels and your health. Although it was mentioned earlier that exercising is important, what is the point of exercising if you are treating your battery with the wrong fuel? We all love to indulge, but you want to make sure that when you indulge, you are also eating things that keep you 100% fueled and do not make you feel too tired and lethargic. Walk around with some fresh or dried fruits, nuts, carrots, crackers, and other light snacks to get you through the day. Also avoid eating large amounts of food at lunch that are going to affect your productivity in the afternoon.