What to Do When Life Interferes with School
Information compiled by the GradSchools.com team - last updated October 2010
Most graduate students do not have the luxury of being able to focus all their energy and time solely on their studies. They have jobs, families and other commitments that vie for their attention, and it can be difficult to strike a balance. But if you find yourself suffering from burnout, you can find ways to overcome or at least mitigate the challenges you face in grad school.
Be good to yourself
One of the keys to balancing life and school is learning to deal with your stress in a healthy way. After all, you are going to grad school to better yourself. It is important that you take care of yourself, especially if you are trying to balance grad school and family life. Speak with your family members and be specific about how they can help you. Explain to them how important your education is to you, as well as how it will benefit the family.Taking care of yourself involves ensuring that you are getting adequate sleep and nutrition. It also involves maintaining a positive attitude and appreciating the things that are going right in your life. Don't be your own worst enemy. If you are tired, hungry and jaded, it is hard to stay focused on your studies. Even if you think you have no room in your schedule for anything else, don't forget to pencil in some leisure time.
Think of graduate school as a job, rather than as school. In graduate school, students have much more control over how much they learn and are really expected to take initiative in their own learning, much like someone would do on the job. Students who may have done just enough to "get by" in undergraduate work may find that they have to delve a lot deeper into their education. Developing adequate methods of dealing with stress from balancing life and school involves recognizing weaknesses, utilizing strengths and employing outside sources.
Assemble your support network
Don't be afraid to reach out and ask for help. There may be helpful seminars sponsored by the graduate services office at your school, as well as study groups to join. Talk to your classmates and find out how they manage all their responsibilities - they understand. You are not alone. You should also speak to your professors and advisor, as they have heard it all before and can give you advice on how to manage your time.
You can also reach out to your employer. The fact that you are enrolled in grad school most likely benefits them, and they may be open to making your schedule more flexible. There is a chance they will even provide you with tuition assistance or a scholarship to help calm your financial worries.
Finding a mentor can be of great assistance to you while you strive to balance all of your roles. Your mentor can be your advisor or a professor you trust. Perhaps you know someone else who has endured the same struggles while they were enrolled in grad school. Mentors can help you remain realistic and to stay on track. Sometimes it helps just to have someone to talk to about your troubles.
Reducing expectations for yourself can be a huge relief. You cannot be all things to all people. An example of reducing expectations can be letting the housework go during exam period. It is helpful to set small, manageable goals and work up from there, focusing on one thing at a time. Remember that it is not a race and that grad school does not provide instant gratification.
If you feel you are not getting your schoolwork done because you are having a tough time balancing life and school, you need to give yourself some structure, and you need to maintain it. Grad school does not necessarily dictate timelines for you as undergraduate work tends to do. As a grad student, you must be a self-motivator and have the ability to set realistic goals and priorities.
Perhaps a change in your study environment is in order if you find yourself behind in your schoolwork. It is easy to experience role overload if you are studying in a place where your role as a student goes head-to-head with another of your roles. It is not likely that studying at the kitchen table in the afternoon is ideal if the kids are just getting home from school looking for something to do next. That being said, consider how rewarding it might feel to have "homework time," where you and your kids do your schoolwork at the same time.
Try to get assignments done ahead of time as much as possible. When you can't, give yourself a break. Keeping your sense of humor, as well as your purpose, throughout your educational journey in grad school is key. Never lose sight of the rewards that your education has in store for you and don't forget to set personal priorities for yourself. Balancing life and school is a skill, and while it may be difficult, it can be done.
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