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Counseling Center

The Counseling Center offers free services (through the Services and Activities Fee) and can help with adjustment issues, depression, anxiety, relationship concerns, and a variety of other challenges. 

Thriving in the Fall

As you delve into your first week of studies, we encourage you to incorporate wellness strategies that help you feel centered and connected to yourself and others. This is especially important during moments when you feel caught up in the frenzied demands of the quarter. We know that your success as graduate students is not only about developing intellectual and professional knowledge and skills, but also about cultivating your emotional resilience.

Try out these tips below and let us know how well they worked for you or share your favorite strategies with us at Core Programs:

Self-compassion. Let’s be real, attending graduate school is going to be hectic at times. You’re juggling everything from living in a new city (and in some cases a completely new culture) to getting acclimated to the rigor of your graduate program to taking care of loved ones. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, this is perfectly normal. Take a few moments to acknowledge your feelings, and recognize that many of your peers experience similar feelings too. So be kind and gentle with yourself. There’s a whole lot to learn, but the beautiful thing is, you can give yourself permission to not figure it all out right away.

Managing feedback. One of the most difficult things to hear in graduate school is critical feedback (whether constructive or unproductive) on your seminar paper, lab work, thesis or dissertation. It can sometimes feel like your intelligence is being scrutinized on a deeply personal level, even when the comments you receive are helpful to your intellectual and professional growth. In these moments, be intentional about listening to the feedback without self-judgement, take a few notes, and revisit the suggestions at a later time. Then make a conscious effort to take a break from your work. Catch up with a friend over the phone. Go for a 10-min walk. Listen to your favorite music. Grab dinner with some friends. Do all four! The goal is to avoid ruminating on criticism by engaging in activities that nurture you and connect you with your support system. You’ll find when you revisit the feedback, you’ll have a fresh perspective.

Sense of purpose. Sometimes when you’re in the thick of it all, it can be easy to focus solely on the factors that make graduate student life stressful. We encourage you to get an early start on curbing this by writing out a short list or an outline of all the positive reasons you’re in grad school (keep your grad school application Statement of Purpose nearby even)—in order to ground yourself. Are you passionate about a particular research topic and want to make scholarly contributions to your field(s)? Do you want to excel in a profession that will be rewarding to you and your family? Interested in making unique and innovative contributions to your community or society? Your reasons for being in grad school may change over time, but the most important things to center are your values, priorities and goals for earning that graduate degree rather than getting lost in the demands of it all.


Keeping the Momentum Going Through the End of the Quarter

As we head into the last two weeks of the quarter, some of you are completing your first year of graduate school, wrapping up a capstone project, writing a draft of a dissertation chapter, or eagerly anticipating graduation—all the while juggling family and community responsibilities. Many of you are in the midst of a job search and interviewing for future employment. We at Core Programs understand that it’s crunch time, and we’re here to encourage you to keep your momentum going. Here are some tips to get you through that last leg of the quarter:

Plan and prioritize.  Make a daily list and prioritize what you must complete each day. De-prioritize anything that can wait. Because your time is scarce, create a “wish list” for things you can do after the crunch time has passed, and since they are on a separate list, you can trust you won’t forget about them!

Utilize your strengths.  We wrote about this a few newsletters ago. What time of the day are you most productive? Whether it’s the morning, afternoon, or evening, do your graduate work during the time you feel the most motivated. Incremental bursts of work will allow you to be more productive, rather than setting aside unrealistic chunks of time. You’ll also feel satisfied because you’re actually getting work done.

Get support.  Meet with a peer or two to review drafts of each other’s work or do mock job interviews in preparation for actual ones. Plan to debrief or release stress with a friend or colleague after you’ve worked through a milestone. Working with a colleague not only decreases isolation, it increases accountability.

Self-care.  It’s important to renew your energy level, especially during crunch time. Go for a 5-minute walk after writing for an hour, grade a set of student papers and then listen to relaxing music, or make plans to share a healthy meal with a friend before continuing work into the evening. Do whatever reduces stress, feels rejuvenating, and allows you to get in “me time.”

Acknowledge and reward milestones.  You’re nearly there, and that’s a feat in and of itself! Take time to recognize all your efforts each day and give yourself a treat for doing so! You definitely deserve it!

To all graduate and professional students who will complete your programs this year, we applaud you for your sheer dedication, tenacity, and passion. Best wishes in all your future endeavors! To all students who will be returning the coming year, Core Programs in the Graduate School will be here to encourage and support you! As always, we love hearing from you—your ideas, successes, frustrations, and thoughts on how we can better support your graduate experience. Contact us at

Being Supportive and Getting Support: Suicide Prevention for Grad Students

“It will never get any better,” or “I can’t take it anymore”–sometimes phrases like these appear as posts on social media or comments in passing. Other times it’s behaviors such as being increasingly anxious, withdrawing from others, increasing drug/alcohol use, or expressing thoughts about wanting to die or feeling like a burden.

Combined together, these are signs that your peer, colleague, or loved one is experiencing intense emotional distress and could be at-risk for suicide. These verbal and behavioral cues are often a person’s invitation for support, and it is our job as a community to recognize these cues and get help.

It is estimated that 11% of college students seriously consider suicide annually, rendering suicide the second leading cause of death among college students nationally. And graduate students are at greater risk than undergraduates.

The good news? The vast majority of suicides are preventable and most people recover from suicidal thoughts.

If you notice the signs that a person might be in emotional distress, follow these steps:

Show you care. Express your concern for the person’s well-being. Say something like, “You mean a lot to me, and I want to help,” or “You really matter. I’d like to support you.”

Ask directly about suicide. Say something like, “Sometimes when people have lost interest in their work, are feeling hopeless, and are withdrawing from others, they’re thinking about suicide. Are you thinking about suicide?” Asking about suicide will not put the idea in someone’s head. It is perhaps the most critical step in suicide prevention.

Get support. If it is a UW student you are concerned about, call SafeCampus at 206.685.7233 (SAFE). If you are concerned about a non-UW student, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.8255 (TALK). This will route you to your local crisis center where the person in distress can receive a suicide risk assessment and will be connected to appropriate community resources. Encourage the person to call with you, but you can also call without him/her to seek expert advice on next steps. Please save both of these numbers in your cell phone! You never know when you might need them.

Restrict access to lethal means. Help to ensure that the person in distress does not have access to means that can be used in a suicide attempt, such as a firearm or large quantities of prescription medication.

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, there is help available!

You can call SafeCampus or head over to the Counseling Center or Hall Health. Both have walk-in crisis counselors available during business hours from M-F, and you can also receive ongoing treatment there. Importantly, there is no shame in having these thoughts.

Now Matters Now is a fantastic public resource where people who have experienced suicidal thoughts share their clinically proven coping strategies.

For more information on how UW is working to prevent suicide, please visit:
Forefront: Innovations in Suicide Prevention

This post’s guest author is Lauren Davis, Director of Higher Education and Senior Policy Analyst for Forefront: Innovations in Suicide Prevention (School of Social Work) and an MPA student at the Evans School of Public Affairs.

Conflicts with Advisor

What do you do when it becomes clear your graduate advisor will never let you graduate due to personal conflicts?     —Anonymous

Yeesh. I am so, so sorry. It’s clear from the tone of your question that you are not being dramatic or flippant. This is one of the worst case scenarios for a graduate student. But please be assured that you are not the first nor the only, and there are protocols and strategies in place just for this. First, it’s essential that you document your interactions and conflicts with your advisor. The Graduate School has Guidelines for Good Practice in Graduate Education. You need to be able to be able to point to the specific responsibilities that your advisor is failing to fulfill, rather than just claim a vague “My advisor has it in for me.” The first step is usually to talk directly to your advisor. If that doesn’t help, then usually you should go to your Graduate School Representative (GSR) and other committee members. Of course, all this depends on your situation and your relationships with these individuals. It also sounds like you are past this point?

In that case, you should start following the Graduate School’s Academic Grievance Policy. You attempt an “informal conciliation,” where you invite the director/chair or dean to conciliate the grievance with your advisor. If this discussion with your advisor and the facilitator does not resolve the grievance, you then request the Graduate School to assist in an informal resolution. An associate dean of the Graduate School then acts as conciliator, either directly or with the involvement of the Office of the Ombudsman. If you’re still dissatisfied with the informal conciliation, you can then file a formal complaint with the Graduate School. This is an involved process, outlined here. Please note that there are certain time limitations. I hope this doesn’t sound daunting. Such a process is in place for your protection, really. I truly hope it works out!

Kelly Edwards, associate dean for student and postdoctoral affairs in the Graduate School, has these tips for additional strategies and self-care while you go through this process:

Facing conflicts with your advisor is one of the hardest things you do in your academic career. I know from talking to many students that it can take an emotional toll as well as a professional one. Knowing how to manage yourself (the one thing you can control in the situation) can help you get through it. These are a few strategies that have helped some students in the past, which may be helpful to you:

  • Stay calm (hard to do!). While it is understandably frustrating/upsetting/infuriating, do things (yoga, walking, breathing, venting conversations with allies) to help calm you. It will be easier to do what you need to do when you are thinking more clearly, and calming your stress response helps you think.
  • Put the roadblock in perspective. It might feel like the end of the world, or the end of your academic career, but is it really? Talk to others about your situation. When necessary, have someone from the outside (the department chair, my office in the Grad School, your GSR) explore the conflict or current barrier with your advisor. It may not be what it seems, and there may be a way past it.
  • Know when to move on. There are times when a personal conflict presents too large a barrier to work through with the usual channels, and the emotional cost to you may not be worth it (the professional cost too—as deep conflicts with your advisor will not often yield positive letters of reference, etc). Even though it feels like a set-back (and it often does involve taking some extra time in the program), changing advisors, finding a new research team, identifying a new project is sometimes the best way forward.
  • Find allies. This is tough, and you shouldn’t do it alone. Find safe people to talk to, including those you can vent with (family, peers) and those who you can strategize with (other faculty, staff, and leaders).


  • Be transparent and direct. It may not be safe to do this, in which case, take one of the other communication routes, but it can be helpful at times to just name what you perceive from your advisor. Stating this as descriptively and non-emotionally as possible is important. Something like: “Can I run something by you? I’ve been noticing a trend with my drafts and your feedback in that it seems you are really not happy with my work. Can we talk about what I can do differently that will help me move forward? I am really motivated to finish and I want to know what steps I can take to make that happen.” Document the conversation in an email to confirm what you have heard, and that becomes a learning contract of sorts for the two of you, which you can refer back to as needed.

Ask the Grad School Guru is an advice column for all y’all graduate and professional students. Real questions from real students, answered by real people. If the guru doesn’t know the answer, the guru will seek out experts all across campus to address the issue. (Please note: The guru is not a medical doctor, therapist, lawyer or academic advisor, and all advice offered here is for informational purposes only.) Submit a question for the column →

I Am Not Perfect, I Am a Whole Person

Do any of these sound familiar to you?

My paper has to be perfect, before I submit it to my advisors. They’ll think I’m stupid otherwise.
I can’t lose my train of thought during my presentation.
I have to run the numbers many more times, before I start my report. If I don’t, my labmates will ridicule me.
I need to be on top of everything!

As you complete your work this quarter, we know that perfectionism can be an obstacle to feeling like you’ve done your best. The culture of academia is good at promoting the notion that your work is always under the toughest scrutiny, leaving little room for error or work that may be rough around the edges.

For some, staying up all night to really nail the analysis can provide a tremendous sense of accomplishment. But repeatedly working at this super-productive pace ultimately comes at a cost to your emotional and physical health. For others, setting goals that are impossible to reach may lead to procrastination, avoidance and feeling not good enough.

For those coping with perfectionism, we see you and encourage you to shift your thinking so you can acknowledge yourself as a whole person. Intellectual and professional development are constant processes that require supportive feedback, self-revision and personal growth over time. Four thoughts below may give you something to try differently as you head into these last few weeks of the quarter:

Accept.  Perfectionism reduces you to the sum of what you can and can’t accomplish. The reality is you can’t do it all, and you can’t do it all perfectly. Be concrete and intentional in your goal setting each quarter, so you can do work that is manageable and meaningful to you. Adjust your goals as you go, to know what is really possible to accomplish now, this weekend, or this week.

Invite. Perfectionistic thinking distorts the way you perceive the quality of your work and can contribute to isolation. Instead of feeling like you have to buckle down and work harder, make time to ask peers, faculty advisors, and colleagues for help in clarifying ideas for that seminar paper or presentation. Framing something as a “work-in-progress” can take some pressure off. Knowledge production is a process, not a product. Nobody just “gets there” from sheer self-determination.

Ground.  Perfectionism can perpetuate obsessive thinking on school or work related projects. Intentionally spend time with friends, family, and community who know that you are more than just a graduate or professional student. Your community can help remind you that you are a partner, sibling, parent, friend, artist, dancer, gamer, hiker… the list goes on and on.

Enough.  Accepting “this is enough” means that you have done the best you could given the time, experience, and resources available, and it is time to be done. It also means you are enough, just as you are.

More resources:

Building Resilience: Moving Forward During the Winter

Welcome back to campus! We hope that you enjoyed your well-deserved holiday break.

As you move forward into the winter quarter, we acknowledge that there could be a marked shift in your experience as a graduate student. The days are both shorter and longer as you spend hours working inside. Personal and work deadlines also appear to grow exponentially. The stress of it all can feel overwhelming. In light of this, we at Core Programs encourage you to build your resiliency so you can better navigate what will feel like an especially challenging quarter.

Here are a few strategies to build your resiliency:

Be mindful. Pay close attention to your mind and body. What kinds of thoughts are going through your head? Do your muscles feel tense? Is your breathing shallow? Are you hungry? Not hungry? Pausing to reflect on how your mind and body are working allows you to be present and take stock of what you truly need at the moment.

Be compassionate. Academia can make you feel like you’re never doing enough. When you couple this with how difficult it can be to stay motivated during the winter, you can become your own worst critic. The truth is, it is neither realistic nor possible to do it all, do your best work, and maintain your health. Be kind and gentle with yourself. It might not feel like it, but you are enough.

Be active. You’re thinking, “Isn’t that the problem?! It’s difficult to stay active during winter.” We’re not suggesting that you train for a marathon (although this may resonate with some of you). If you’ve been reading and writing for several hours, go outside for a ten-minute walk. Do light stretching in the living room. Watch your favorite tv show or read a non-academic book. Intentionally schedule time for family and community. Do activities that not only give you a break from school but also feel rewarding.

Be consistent. Having a daily routine is a helpful coping strategy for managing the stress of the winter. Set your alarm to get up everyday at the same time. Make or grab coffee afterwards. Listen to a podcast on the way to campus. Eat meals at regular times. Give yourself time to wind down before going to bed at night. Do whatever feels right and do it daily.

Renew and refresh. Finally, as during any busy quarter, focus on why you are here as a student. Remember your personal, intellectual, and professional motivations for working towards your degree and beyond. Keep yourself fresh and committed by placing reminders around your home or work station that surprise and ground you.

Taking Care of Yourself This Winter

Core Programs extends a warm welcome as you enter into 2016. We know that for many of us, the holidays can bring up mixed emotions for many reasons–let’s be real. Also, whether you’re new to the Pacific Northwest or a seasoned local, the winter months can prove to be challenging to your mood. We’d like to offer strategies that can help you navigate the quarter both logistically and emotionally.

Keep your energy up. During the winter months, getting vitamin D is important to lifting your mood. If you’re working inside, open your curtains and blinds to let light in or sit in a café with large windows. Take a couple of breaks during the day and go for a walk on campus or your neighborhood—the goal is to feel and absorb any light. Invest in vitamin D tablets. Cut back on sugary foods which tend to make you feel tired. Include fresh fruit in your diet which can give you that much-needed energy boost that lasts longer.

Monitor self-beliefs. Academia can foster an environment where you feel like you aren’t smart enough or doing enough. You can counter irrational thoughts with realistic strategies: Review and make a plan to get things done (daily, weekly, monthly). Meet with peers (they can be colleagues from other departments) to discuss your progress, and hold each other accountable for getting things done. Fill out an individual development plan and schedule appointments with your faculty advisor to discuss your goals. Practice resisting negative self-talk with neutral and honest affirmations.

Stay connected. Graduate life can be isolating, and this feels pronounced during the winter quarter when it gets dark and cold. Avoid isolation by sharing workspace at a café with colleagues. Call or skype a friend or loved one. Attend social events even if you can only stay for 30 min. Make time to relax and socialize with friends or family. If you prefer alone time (not the same as being isolated), schedule time away from work to do things you enjoy.

Seek support. There is no shame in seeking help from a mental health professional, if you are struggling to cope emotionally. This is especially true if you are experiencing depression or anxiety. The Counseling Center is an excellent resource for mental healthcare. King County also provides a list of low-cost mental health providers.

It’s the Home Stretch!

It’s nearing the end of the fall quarter, and we’re thrilled that you continue to invest in your intellectual and professional development as current graduate students at the University of Washington.

You may have had these thoughts rolling through your mind about graduate school:

“Why did I do this to myself?”
“I’m not good enough.”
“I’m supposed to be on top of everything.”
“Will I seriously get through everything I need to before the end of the quarter?

These worries are totally normal, especially during your first year of graduate study.  We also know that these anxieties impact graduate students differently depending on gender, race, class, ability, sexuality, nationality, and type of degree program.  And they weigh heavy on your mind, in addition to the seminar papers you have to write, student papers that need grading, or lab work that needs to get done.  You might even be studying for your generals, looking for a job, planning a family holiday, or dissertating.

Especially during these crunch times, it can help to remember your purpose—why are you here? Your core purpose, the contribution you want to make, the stability you want to provide your family, your passion and curiosity—these are the things that will get you through the tough times. You do belong here, and you can do it. You are in graduate school because you are already serving your community and want to deepen this, or because of a passion for creating innovative technologies, a desire to contribute to scholarship, a hope of getting a good job that matters and sustains you—the list goes on and on.

In addition to remembering your purpose and passion, here are some other tips to help encourage you as you finish out the quarter:

Surround yourself with people who can pull you out of a slump. Friends or peers (in and outside of academia) who can give you a reality check that graduate school is not the entirety of your life, even if it feels that way. Plan a potluck with them, hang out at a cafe, go see a movie.

Exercise. Even a short brisk walk helps calm the mind and gets the blood flowing. It also releases stress hormones that tend to build up during this busy time of the academic year.

Make a quick list of all your accomplishments so far. Attended first day of graduate school (check), taught your first quiz section as a TA (check), developing a specific skillset (check), others? Celebrate these accomplishments and reward yourself (time away from the computer, a date with a friend, a chocolate bar. etc.).

Create situations that help you feel motivated. Is there a quote you love? Tape it to your computer. A band whose music makes you feel like you can do anything? Listen to it before (or after) a big work session. An image of a place that inspires you to get things done? Put this up where you will see it several times a day (maybe by the coffee pot?).

What else keeps you going? Let us know and we will share your tips with others.

Core Programs in the Graduate School is here to root you on! You have made it this far (a big feat), and we commend you for working hard. Give it your best shot—and remember this is all a learning and growing process. You do not have to get it “perfect” right out of the gate (no one does!). You are nearly to that much-deserved break!

Thank you to Florence Sum, Masters student in the Evans School of Public Affairs, for these tips.

Living the Truth of Not Yet

Life in graduate school is challenging and stressful, not only because of program demands to excel and be productive, but also because there is life outside of the lab, classroom, and the university. The demands of health, relationships, and responsibilities don’t stop.

We seek to find a balance between our graduate studies, research and life responsibilities—and often feel unsuccessful. This can result in debilitating feelings of failure, perhaps negative thoughts that “something is wrong with me,” which only intensifies shame or guilt.

I find it important to move away from this binary and re-frame it as a work-in-progress. We need to give ourselves permission to live the truth of not yet!

When an infant is learning how to walk and takes her initial steps and falls, we don’t scowl and shout, “Get up, what’s wrong with you?” No, we smile, clap and cheer because we know her muscles are getting stronger and she will find her balance. We don’t expect a seven-year old to be doing calculus. Not yet! But we are good at imposing upon ourselves unrealistic expectations of perfection rather than give ourselves permission to grow, to live not yet.

What helps me is to view the areas of my life not as separate–or compartmentalized–and not to see balancing as an achievement. Rather, it is a process that I listen and pay attention to constantly because it is easy to lose perspective and balance. We must respond by being authentic—being human– and this includes being vulnerable and growing through our struggles and with our limitations.

What helps keep perspective and focus? For some it’s regular exercise—yoga, running, or cycling. For others it’s listening to music, creating art, or talking to a friend. For others it may be meditative or spiritual practices. Whatever helps you—practice it! Practice being present with yourself and others.  Stay connected to your passion and to that which grounds and centers you. Rather than being a selfish act, this investment in yourself allows you to be a better student, colleague, partner, friend, and parent.

Live your gifts as a practice. Be gentle with yourself and allow yourself to hold and appreciate the not yet. Then, your work and personal life will be acts which flow from your center, your heart, and will be powerfully generative and transformative.

This post’s guest author is Dr. Gino Aisenberg, Associate Dean for Student Affairs and Diversity in the Graduate School and Associate Professor of Social Work.