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Lessons Learned: First Semester as a Grad Student

I currently work 20 hours a week, which usually ends up being almost 25 hours a week at a minimum, depending on the week. I'm also currently in grad school for my Masters of Community Planning and I also have an almost 8 year old son. To say we live a busy life is an understatement. Here are a few tips I learned along the way:


1. Schedule and communicate

One of the first things I did was make a schedule and communicated my schedule with almost everyone (my bosses, colleagues, work calendar, family, friends, my son's school and other people I would see on regular basis). As a single mom I need a big support team and having people check-in and support me makes my life so much easier. A few of the key things that helps me:

  • Adding my school schedule to my work calendar.

  • Sending an email to my colleagues about my new availability and how to best get ahold of me in an emergency.

  • Buying a planner and inputting all my appointments in a centralized location.

  • Scheduling regular down time.

  • Making appointments with friends, family and other people (things will get crazy, trust me).

  • Planning ahead with work - figure out your 3-month deliverables and work plan.

  • Asking for help (your support team is bigger than you probably know).

2. Connect and stay grounded

I live by growing and nurturing myself spiritually, emotionally, physically and mentally and ensuring these areas in my life are balanced. Since grad school is a big push mentally, I put in extra effort to address and balance the other areas in my life. This included:

  • Walking and listening to podcasts whether life style, academic or even motivational .

  • Giving up 5% of my day to exercise and opting for 10% whenever possible

  • Spending time outdoors.

  • Taking 5 minutes to meditate, breathe or journal.

  • Seeing a counsellor to have a neutral voice simply listen .

  • Doing things I love (I like beading, baking, hiking or driving up the mountains).

3. Balance the big picture and the details

Without a doubt, grad school is overwhelming and I always have 100 things to do. My best advice is to make a weekly to-do list (be sure to date the list) and highlight the items you complete. Not only am I be able to plan, track and monitor my progress, I'm also be able to break down assignments into smaller tasks and see how much I've actually get done.


4. Solidify your purpose

Why are you in grad school and what do you hope to gain from this experience? Are you hoping to build your professional network, enhance your career or further your field of interest? I'm looking to do a combination of both. I want to continue working to ensure steady career progression while also engaging in meaningful research to move my profession forward in new and innovating ways. My goal is to identify, create and seize every opportunity that aligns with my goals and ultimately my purpose. Things that I've done include:

  • Reaching out to previous grads in the program.

  • Connecting with colleagues, mentors and others for advice, support and guidance.

  • Talking with professors regularly.

  • Reading, reading and reading.

5. Think like an executive

Find opportunities to get efficiencies in your life because you will not have time to do everything you want. Things that I have considered and/or implemented:

  • Doing delivery or mobile grocery shopping.

  • Learning how to read and retain information (yes, there are books for this, check your local library. Trust me you'll learn something you didn't know).

  • Mastering your note taking style (use abbreviations, symbols and other short hand forms)

  • Hiring someone to help you with something (or find ways to barter and exchange).

  • Simplifying your life (eat basic foods, wear business casual all the time, have snacks in the car, get a Fitbit to track your sleep and work outs).

6. Show up and try

My biggest piece of advice with anything life is to simply show up and try. There is alway something new to experience or learn so why not show up and give it your best effort. Also, do it with confidence, enthusiasm and a smile on your face. A few quick things that I've learned or tried:

  • Taking the seminar, workshop to simply learn something new. I am talking about drop in library sessions, orientation workshops or even talking with your professor. Even if it is about time management or how to research, there is always something new to learn.

  • Asking for help early on whether it is with a colleague or professor.

  • Believing in myself. If I don't believe in myself why should anyone else? Lead with confidence, always.

  • Trusting things will always work out.

  • Remembering to break things into smaller tasks and doing a little every day. Doing something is always better than nothing.

These are just a few tips to help you stay on track let me know what your tips are for being a student while continuing to work.

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