This is a note to the Student Affairs Graduate student from a fellow SAGrad student.
First off, I realize each of us are different. We all have varying learning styles, strengths, weaknesses, and outside commitments (families, friends, loved ones, children, part-time jobs, watching tv…etc). With that, we each bring to the table a depth and wealth that make up the co-hort or classmates in the program. This is awesome.
Some of us are the last minute procrastinators (which is fine) and some of us get it done way in advance (that’s me). I get made fun of a lot in my program; everyone from my supervisor to my peers in classes to some of the professors all know that I get things done early. Often on the first night of class someone will crack the joke “gosh, Brian’s got that final 20 pg paper completed already, right?” I usually don’t have the paper done, but I do try to work ahead (foreshadow of what’s below).
We each have some sort of interest in being an SAGrad student and seeing where that will take us. Some of us want to be academic advisors, others want to work in ResLife, while still others want to be conduct officers. But, we’re all taking classes and most of us are working assistantships or full time jobs in Student Affairs.
We all acknowledge that the job or assistantship time in our days usually takes more time than they are supposed to. A 20 hour a week position somehow becomes 35 hours per week…etc. Part of this is the ‘nature of the beast’ but part of it is how we allow it to take over our time.
Add on top of the job/assistantship the coursework that we are required to take. Granted, it is our ‘choice’ to enter the Masters program – and also only some of the courses are required. But, let’s face it, most of us are taking 9-12 credit hours per semester – that translates to 3-4 courses (by the way I understand credit hours). That is a significant amount of time in the week to be sitting in class. Some programs offer classes at night while others have the courses during the sun-up hours.
Then there is the reading and paper writing. There’s a lot of it. We are expected to do all of the papers and most of the reading. Plus, if you find a topic you are really interested in you should go out and do some independent research on it to make yourself a better professional…. right?
My plan is pretty simple: Plan ahead. Use your time wisely. Have a purpose in what you do.
- Wake up with a plan. Before you finish getting dressed for the day, realize “here are the things I need to get done today that will help with today,” “here are the things I need to do today that will help with this week,” “here are the things for the month,” and “the semester.” Just taking that time to pre-think will help you to remember the laundry, remember the paper that is due, and remember your Mom’s birthday! (All important)
- Do things in spurts. There is a lot of buzz on Twitter about the The Pomodoro Technique™ . Basically the idea here is that our brains work really well for 25 min and then we start to become un-productive. One professional that I admire said in an interview, that while she was working on her Doctoral Thesis, she would work for 25 min & then play mafia wars on FB for 5 min, then do another 25 min session, and then get up and stretch or return a phone call. During your 25 min sessions: turn off your phone, don’t check your email, leave twitter apps closed…etc Really focus for those 25 min. You would be amazed at how much you can get done. I use this concept when working on both school work and assistantship work.
- Prepare for meetings. Even if you are just a participant in a departmental meeting, after the first few meetings, you should know what to expect. Are they going to do some sort of ‘how was your weekend check-in’ well, prepare your answer (not scripted, but know what you are going to highlight). Are they going to ask you to report back on what your area is doing? are you presenting an idea or a plan to the group? Be ready to share those things – if you need notes to be ready to go, then have those notes ready! Going to a meeting is an active part of your day, not a passive part. True, there are meetings that we attend that we don’t have to do anything for – but, you should still come prepared.
- Meet & Greet. When you have a meeting during the day that takes you to another part of campus or another building than you usually work in, take a moment to stop into those offices and greet your friends, members of the division that you don’t see every day, and others that you have met. This not only builds very valuable networks of people for you at your institution, but also allows you to breathe a bit in between meetings and schedule some ‘social’ time in the middle of the day. I was in our campus center the other day talking with a professional – turns out she did her graduate work at a school I want to apply to work at. Guess who got a lot of really good insight into a school… yup, I did. Our conversation lasted 3 min.
- Sacrifice… just a little. Our semester here is two weeks old. I think it is important early in the semester to take a day off & organize all of your school things – figure out when the busy times are going to be for your classes & for your academics. I’ve got my calendar all mapped out to see when I’ve got to really crunch to get a paper done vs when the big Superbowl party is that I’m running is vs when I’m going to TPE and NASPA. So, this helps me to plan ahead. I doubt you need to spend every Saturday spending 12 hours doing reading & writing for your classes. I do think you need to plan ahead and realize in advance when those crunch times are so that you can plan for them. This ties back to the first point pretty clearly.
- Do stuff for you. I can’t stress this enough. You need to take a break and do things for you. For me, this means that over my lunch time I watch a 20-30 min TV episode. Typically this is when I catch up on Modern Family or Simpsons. I know that in the middle of the day I want a mental break from other people (to revert to my Introvert self) and just relax. In a previous job I used to always read books during my lunch hour (wearing white-noise headphones). However, going back to the first point – make sure that your breaks are planned. Know when you will be ‘allowed’ to spend a whole weekend sitting on your bum laughing with friends — figure out when your best friend is coming to visit and be ready for his/her visit — versus scrambling Monday morning after they leave.
Bottom line, this is your graduate experience. That means you are in control of it. Yes, you are in complete control of your life. You choose to go to the gym in the morning OR you choose to hit snooze. No one is making you do these things. Take your time and figure out what is best for you & your style, all the while thinking about how it will prepare you for your future.