On The Way Out: Advice to New Grad Students for Keeping Life Balanced

Jessica PayneMSW, 2017Brown School, Washington University in St. Louis
The hard part is done – you’ve made it into your graduate program and are hitting the books hard already. With one semester down, you’re starting to feel like you have a handle on your study schedule and understand a little better about what is expected of your work as a graduate-level student. Academically you’re all set! But what about personally? Have you set yourself up to have a healthy and stress-free experience on your new journey?
Taking care of your mental and physical wellbeing during graduate school is just as important as making sure your research is done on time. As a graduate student, you’ve been through the rigor of higher-learning before, but it doesn’t hurt to have a refresher about how to maintain a balanced life now that you’re back on campus, especially if it’s been a few years.
Here are a few tips I’ve learned during my time at the Brown School that will keep you going full-speed ahead toward your degree without facing the dreaded burnout:
  1. Take advantage of school counselors.
    Let’s face it, grad school can be overwhelming at times, especially for students with families and full-time employment. Student Health Services (shs.wustl.edu) on the South 40 offers professional counseling services to all full-time degree-seeking students. Take advantage of this and make regular appointments to keep your mental health needs on track.
  2. Keep a regular sleep schedule.
    As a grad student, you’ve probably spent some time working a 9-5 job before coming back to classes. Don’t lose that regularity as you settle into your new life. Set your alarm for the same time every day and make sure you’re getting a full night’s sleep. The routine will help keep stress levels low as your schedule ramps up.
  3. Plan your meals.
    Fueling your body with healthy food is key to keeping you on task throughout the day. Plan your meals ahead of time each week, including healthy snack options, so you are always prepared with a good meal. It will help keep your wallet balanced, too!
  4. Invest in a good water bottle.
    There are days when you will be on campus or working an internship for hours on end. Keeping yourself hydrated will keep your energy up and hunger at bay until the next meal break. Find a sturdy water bottle that you can bring along with you as you hop from class to class, and meeting to meeting.
  5. Build an outside support network.
    In addition to making use of your school resources, build a network for yourself off campus. Connect with other interns, join a local club or professional group, and reach out to individuals in the field you hope to be in to meet for coffee. Having additional social and professional connections to lean on will help keep you grounded when coursework starts to feel overwhelming – and it will.
  6. Take 20 minutes for quiet reflection each day.
    Whether you set aside time in the morning or in the evening before bed, take some time to reflect on everything you have accomplished and your goals for the day ahead. Be sure to practice gratitude for all that you are, because you are amazing!
  7. Schedule your exercise – and stick to it!
    Along with planning your meals and sticking to your daily alarm time, plan your exercise breaks. If I haven’t reinforced it enough, life will quickly fill with obligations. Make sure your physical fitness is one of those top priorities that doesn’t fall to the wayside. Bonus: exercising is an excellent way to relieve stress and boost productivity post-work out.
  8. Take time for yourself.
    Lastly and most importantly, take time for yourself every week to do something you enjoy. Go for a hike, read a book that isn’t required of you, catch up with old friends, watch a movie, or take an art class. Just like creating a support network, taking the time for self-care can help make sure you don’t experience the dreaded grad school burn out.