Setting Boundaries – UW Graduate School Skip to content

Setting Boundaries for Yourself

These last few weeks of the quarter are truly a busy time. Many of you are completing final projects while also navigating job searches. Others are completing degree requirements in anticipation of graduating next year, or within the next several years. No matter where you’re at in your educational or career trajectory, below are some tips to help you push through this last leg of the academic year.

Protect your time. Graduate school can often make you feel like you have no control over your schedule, but this is simply not true. Yes, you are busy, and it’s still possible to manage your time. Block out times in your weekly calendar where you have no flexibility — e.g. courses, appointments, hard deadlines, family time. Reschedule meetings that can wait until after you complete the quarter. Hold small chunks of time during the day, or a larger chunk of time twice a week (or a duration that works for you), for self-care activities that re-energize and nourish you.

Set boundaries. During crunch time, it’s important to say no to doing things that take time away from completing your short-term goals this quarter. Often times in graduate school, exciting or interesting work or research project opportunities may come up that pique your interest. Just ask yourself: are these new projects a distraction from what actually needs to get done? Remember that it’s perfectly okay to say no to requests of your time, as only you know your needs and schedule. 

Connect with support. When the pressure is on, it’s important to stay connected with individuals that support us and have our best interests in mind. Having trouble staying motivated on a final paper? Organize an impromptu writing accountability group with peers at a café, or make it a potluck at home after you’re done writing for a few hours. Needing feedback on your work? Check in with your advisor or mentor to make sure you are on the right track. Feeling anxious or stressed out? Reach out to a friend, a loved one or a community member who can lend an empathic ear and help you stay present.

We hope these tips resonate with you, and good luck with the rest of spring quarter!


Core Programs—Office of Graduate Student Affairs
UW Graduate School

From an Overworked TA

The class I am a TA for requires 12 hours of student interaction and about half a day of preparing materials. Every week. This is way more than the 20 hours/week that I am paid to do. The instructor knows this and had originally requested twice as many TAs as we have, but the department, being broke, only assigned two of us for this awful job. This particular class is known to be this way, as I have learned from talking to past sufferers. I have been TA-ing for two years now and have noticed a wild disparity in the workload for different classes. My question is: how is this fair? The department pays everyone the same amount, still how is it that some TAs get away with just 4 hours of work while others have to do upwards of 20? Since this is an issue of the department, I don’t know how to proceed. The officials in the department get very defensive when asked this. I don’t want to risk not being considered for future TA positions and am therefore not going to pursue the topic with them, but isn’t this just exploitation of us students by those in power? If the department has no money, they should figure out a better way to do this than exploit two students every 
quarter (yes, this class is taught every quarter). I am at a loss here and am losing my sanity not finding time to do anything else that actually matters for my Ph.D. Please help. –Anonymous 

This week’s answer is provided after consultation from the Labor Relation’s Office

Yikes. I’m sorry this TA-ship has been such a negative experience for you. Fortunately, you have resources at your disposal to help you resolve some of these issues.

You’ve said you do not wish to pursue these issues with your department. But you should know all academic staff employees are covered under a collective bargaining agreement by UAW Local Union 4121. If you do want to file a grievance against your department, the Union will help you do that. A Union representative urges Academic Student Employees to remember that addressing workplace concerns is time-sensitive under the Union contract.

Another resource available to you is the Office of the Ombud, which provides a space for members of the UW community to voice their concerns and develop plans for addressing difficult situations. The Ombud is easily accessible, with offices on all three campuses. Students contact the Ombud to discuss a range of issues including TA appointments. They are your go-to for addressing problems with the department’s culture. They’ll advise you on your situation without starting a formal complaint or grievance, and they won’t contact your department about the matter unless you ask them to do so.

Best of luck!

Ask the Grad School Guide is an advice column for all y’all graduate and professional students. Real questions from real students, answered by real people. If the guide doesn’t know the answer, the guide will seek out experts all across campus to address the issue. (Please note: The guide 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 →

Practicing the Art of Saying No

Spring Quarter is finally here, and we at Core Programs extend a warm welcome to you as you continue to focus on your personal, intellectual, and professional goals!  We ourselves have lots of projects, collaborations, and dreams in the works.  It can sometimes get overwhelming and things you had hoped to do “sometime this year” are not yet happening.  Whether you are completing your very first year of graduate school, drafting your thesis or dissertation, or currently doing a job search, Spring Quarter is a great time to clarify your priorities and make room for what is really important to you.  It’s a great time to practice saying no.

Say No to Create Space.  You may have heard the expression, “The work will always be there.”  This is true for those of us who are in academia whether we are students or administrative, teaching, or research staff and faculty.  There truly is no end to the work and additional opportunities for professional development!  But this doesn’t mean we are actually capable (nor should we try) to do work constantly.

Not only is this unhealthy, it is unrealistic.  In order to manage yourself from the temptation to overwork, make a list of your current commitments, prioritize what needs to be done this quarter, and set aside tasks or projects that can truly wait.

Example of Saying No: “Thank you for thinking of me to participate in this project.  I can’t commit right now, because I have several projects that I am working on already.  Would I be able to participate later (in the next few months, next year, etc.)?”

Say No to Be Real.  Is someone making a request of you, but the task is completely unrelated to your skill set?  Ever find yourself doing work for others, because that is easier to do, rather than focusing on your own work which can be challenging at times?  Knowing your own limitations—and areas of growth—are important for helping you to say no. Making sure that you focus on your priorities isn’t being selfish – it is what you need to do now, so you can help others going forward.

Example of Saying No:  “Unfortunately, I am not the right person to respond to this request.  However, (blank) is someone who may be able to assist you. Reach out to them, and see if they are available.”

Say No To Make Time for You.  Many times we have to say no to other people’s requests, because we need to put aside time over the course of a week to devote to our friendships, relationships, or families.  Or maybe you have been neglecting activities or hobbies that nourish you on an individual level like hiking, cycling, reading, cooking or playing video games.  Saying no to requests and projects that are not at the top of your priority list ensures that you will have time for loved ones and interests.  The only thing to remember to do is schedule times for yourself and loved ones on your calendar.

Example of Saying No: “I really appreciate you reaching out for my participation on XYZ, but my plate is full.”

Saying no is an art that takes consistent practice over time.  The more you can try out these strategies, the better you will be at managing your time and energy to concentrate on things that matter most. What are your strategies for saying no?  Let us know, so we can share them out!


Kelly, Jaye, and Ziyan
Core Programs Team

Hours and Hours of Office Hours

I am a TA for a graduate level class this quarter, and my professor is asking me to hold 4 hours of Office Hours. I feel this is too much. I had TA’d the same class last quarter, and I had five hours of Office Hours, way more than any other grad class in my department. It was incredibly stressful, and I grew to hate the work because of the long hours. I was hoping that this quarter I can have office hours similar what others in my department hold. How do I tell my professor? I want a good recommendation letter from him eventually and don’t want to piss him off, but there simply doesn’t seem to be an indirect way to tell him what I want to say. —Anonymous

This is exactly the type of situation to take to the Office of the Ombud. They specialize in handling conflicts with others at UW and will help you approach your professor with your concerns. Additionally, you can consult the Center for Teaching and Learning for tips on how to manage office hours and handle the stress that comes with teaching.

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 →

Building and Maintaining Momentum

It’s nearing the end of winter quarter, and we know it can be difficult to keep your spirits and energy up as you work to fulfill on and off campus responsibilities.  We are right there with you.  Here are five tips to help keep you going:

Set achievable goals.  Rather than promising yourself that you’re going to spend 5 full hours in one sitting to work on a paper, approach time management realistically.  Try writing in 30 minute chunks.  Take a short break and pick it right back up.  This approach can be a great stress reliever, because you can make progress one step at a time.

Set boundaries.  Set healthy boundaries on campus, at work, and at home–and if you haven’t done so, now is a good time as any to practice. Take stock of what you have to get done in the next two weeks.  You can hold off on any tasks and responsibilities that can realistically wait for the next few weeks or month. Boundary setting helps you realize that you do have control over your schedule.

Meet with your support system.  Have you checked in with people who’ve got your back?  This may include faculty, graduate program advisors, loved ones, student peers, or work colleagues. More than one person in your support system is better. Check in with faculty via e-mail or in person and focus on one or two goals you have for the rest of the quarter.  Meet with a peer at the library or a coffee shop to write and go over ideas and drafts.  Connecting with loved ones and community is important and can remind you that you are more than just a graduate student.  Call, text, skype, share a meal, and/or make plans to spend time together.

Keep yourself nourished.  What keeps you going and energized?  Do you need a glass of water? How about a snack or meal?  A short nap or a good night’s sleep?  Is there a song, movie, hobby, or activity that restores your motivation?  Is there something you are looking forward to during Spring Break? Post an image or word in your work space or apartment that reminds of you of what you are looking forward to–to keep yourself moving toward that finish line. And it’s always helpful to reflect back on why you’re here in graduate school in the first place (insert personal, intellectual, and professional goals here).

Have faith in yourself.  You do have what it takes.  Really, you do!  You can do your best now and it will be enough.


Jaye Sablan, Kelly Edwards, Ziyan Bai
Core Programs Team