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Being Intentional Throughout the Spring Quarter

It never hurts to do some intentional planning and mapping out of the most important tasks and goals that lie ahead of you.  This is especially true for Spring Quarter as we know that many of you will be graduating, seeking internships, taking the next step in your program, and transitioning into a variety of career paths.  So why not welcome spring with some intentionality, and start out the quarter on the right foot?  Here are some tips to help you do just that:

Set goals.  You can’t do (and be) your best while attempting to do everything at once.  Your first step?  Take a step back.  What?  We know this is really hard to do in the midst of a tsunami of work, but it really does make moving forward possible.  Make a list of short-term goals that will help your reach long term goals—for the coming week, month, the end of the quarter.   Identify time constraints that are out of your control versus deadlines that you can manage and set for yourself—you’ll have a more accurate picture of a schedule that is actually yours.  Try out the following resources and see what works for you:  individual development plan, decision making, and SMARTER.

Be resourceful.   It’s true—in many instances, completing goals and projects are ultimately down to you.   They run the gamut from writing a thesis or dissertation to gearing up for multiple job searches.  But this doesn’t mean you have to do this work in isolation, nor should you.  Create opportunities for you to get and/or give support.  Co-organize a writing accountability group with peers, who are inside or outside of your field. The important thing is making a commitment to each other.  Check out these guides for writing accountability and dissertation support groups. Seek out opportunities for networking, job shadows, or informational interviews.  Schedule meetings with advisors or mentors (community, professional, academic) that you trust, so they can be your sounding board and help keep you on track.

Make commitments. Sometimes we need an extra push to move forward in our work, and creating external deadlines to participate in events that help us grow intellectually and professionally can help.  We’ve had graduate students (Masters and Doctoral) say that participating in Scholars’ Studio really helped them organize their thinking about their research in important ways.  Just like taking a step back, it can help to pull yourself up from the weeds of your work and communicate with others about it.  Whether in a rapid exchange with peers, a lightning or research talk, or ways to showcase your engagement with service and leadership, get inspired or refreshed by participating or attending UW events happening this quarter at all three campuses.

Stay present.  We know what you’re thinking, “Yeah right!”  Because it feels like crunch time, this can coincide with persistent worrying about the future.  Taking time for yourself to slow down at several points throughout the quarter prioritizes your health and takes focus and energy away from anxious thoughts.  This can look like doing only one task at a time (as multi-tasking never works), spacing out time between tasks and appointments (so you’re not rushing all the time), decompressing by going for a run or doing yoga following several hours of work-related tasks, or doing absolutely nothing for a few minutes (try focusing on the rhythm of your breath or visualize a soothing image).  The purpose of these activities is to help re-ground you and bring you back to your intentions and the present moment.


Jaye Sablan, Kelly Edwards, Ziyan Bai
Core Programs Team

Mental Health and Wellness


Towards Sustaining a Culture of Mental Health and Wellness for Trainees in the Biosciences, written by Jessica W Tsai and Fanuel Muindi, discussed the importance of mental health of postdocs in benefiting the scientific community at large. Studies are limited, but we can see we clearly have work to do. According to one study, only 13% of postdocs are “flourishing” and we know that a postdoc position doesn’t lend itself to regular exercise, healthy diets, or good stress relieving practices.  Lack of sleep and high levels of stress actually impede performance.  Bottom line: our work will get better if we take care of ourselves!

As the figure above shows, there are many factors that contribute to well-being. Do your own self-assessment to see where you have areas of strength and where you may need to seek more support. If you are experiencing significant stress, anxiety, or depression, there are offices that can help. You may be eligible for accommodations – even on a temporary basis – and it can be worth discussing with the Disability Services Office.

The UW Mindfulness Project aims to increase holistic wellness, self-inquiry, grounded leadership and compassion within UW community and beyond. Check out their Facebook Page.

Health & Wellness provides support, advocacy, consultation and education to the UW campus community. Check out their website for more information.

For additional resources and suggestions on many dimensions of self-care, visit the UC Berkeley “Be Well” page.


Originally posted on March 24, 2016.

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

Do I Have to TA if I Have a Fellowship?

I received an NRSA predoctoral fellowship. My understanding is that the fellowship is to cover my graduate school tuition so that I can devote full-time efforts to research (as required by NIH policy). However, my department has requested that I TA in the Spring quarter (concurrently with my fellowship) to cover the tuition shortfall. Is this typical? Are there options for tuition waivers so that I may focus solely on research? Are there limits to the number or amount of tuition waivers for NRSA recipients? 

(This week’s answer is courtesy of Helene Obradovich, Director of Fellowships and Awards, Graduate School.)

The Graduate School often provides tuition waivers for students who receive prestigious, individually-awarded, nationally-competitive fellowships from external organizations that don’t cover the full cost of tuition. We want to ensure that graduate students know that they can and should apply for these prestigious awards without concern for how they will cover the cost of tuition. Examples of types of funders/awards include the Ford Foundation Pre-doctoral and Dissertation fellowships, NSF Graduate Research fellowships, fellowships from the AAUW, ACLS fellowships, etc. NIH NRSA individual fellowships also fall into that category. Have your department contact our Fellowships & Awards office to discuss how this might work. The request for tuition coverage must come from your department.  Our staff can be reached at or 3-7152. Any graduate student considering applying for an award that doesn’t cover the full cost of tuition should also contact our Fellowships & Awards office before applying for confirmation on whether we can assist with tuition coverage.

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 a first year Ph.D. student and feel lonely all the time. There are several days when I go without any human contact except with students in my office hours. It’s strangely suffocating. I am still not part of any lab, so there are no labmates to hang out with. My classmates go to their labs straight after class so can’t hang out after class. —IsThisHowIt’sSupposedToBe

(This week’s answer is courtesy of Jaye Sablan, Core Programs coordinator, Office of Student Affairs in the the Graduate School.)

First off, thank you so much for reaching out. I know how hard it can be in academia to share emotional vulnerability, and I totally hear you. Graduate school and its demands can create an atmosphere that feels isolating and alienating to graduate students. No, this is *not* how graduate school is supposed to be, or how it needs to be, though we hear you that this is how it *is.* Know that your feelings are totally normal, and many grads have similar experiences. When I was in grad school, the cues that I was feeling disconnected were usually a combination of headaches, not being able to eat, inability to focus, and generally feeling alone on a campus with thousands of people around me. It also didn’t help that faculty, staff, and grad peers were busy in their own work that they (unintentionally) failed to notice I was struggling.

Here are a few things that helped me manage feeling isolated, and I’m wondering if they would be helpful to you:

  • What do I need right now at this moment to feel connected to my body? A stretch, deep breaths, a healthy snack, a glass of water.
  • Whom can I connect with to talk things through or feel vulnerable with (this one is a tough one, but you’ve already reached out to me ITHISTB)? Family members or friends via a visit, phone call or skype, my department’s GPA, off- or on-campus counselors (reaching out to more than one person is better).
  • If I can’t connect with peers in my department yet, what organizations on campus can get me those face-to-face connections with other grads? GPSS and their events, grad student organizations, Center for Teaching and Learning (you mentioned being a TA, so that might be a place to start), Core Programs, etc.
  • What other interests do have I have outside of academia that I need to intentionally make room for in my schedule? Dancing, going to see live music, baking, visiting museums, town hall talks, getting to know the city that I moved to for grad school.

Again, ITHISTB, I am so very grateful that you reached out, and I hope this message resonates with you. Again, no, this is not how graduate school should be, and there are ways to decrease isolation — including connecting with others, which is so important and vital for all of us studying and working in academia. If you’d like, please let me know if you’d like a specific list of campus resources to connect with. Looking forward to hearing from you.

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 Your Roadmap Through Graduate School

The Graduate Student Equity & Excellence (GSEE) program invited Core Programs to facilitate a Power Hour event called Building Your Roadmap Through Graduate School. We knew the students were the ones who really had the insight here, and we worked with several outstanding GSEE graduate students including Priya Patel, Osa Igbinosun, Greg Diggs and Juan Gallegos, to plan and facilitate the discussion. So many great insights were shared during the panel and small group discussions that we wanted to share out some of the insights with our broader UW grad student community.

Here are just a few:

Define success on your terms. It may not feel like it at times, but you can influence your pathway through graduate school. Periodically check in with yourself by asking the following questions: First, how are your research interests, courses, labs, or professional work meaningful to you? We know you won’t like every course, theory, lab work, or practicum—but overall, how is being in your grad program meeting your needs?  Second—and this is related to the first point—are you setting personal, academic and career goals that are realistic and achievable? An individual development plan can help you keep track of your goals. Finally, how can you utilize feedback from faculty, peers and professional colleagues to enhance or strengthen your knowledge and skills? When people in your field give you feedback with constructive value, take it as a compliment that they have faith in you to grow in your work and career.

Be proactive and reach out for support. Taking the initiative to build relationships in graduate school is crucial to your success. Yes people are busy in and outside of academia, but more often than not they will make time to connect with you if you are consistent, proactive and prepared to meet with them. Which people do you need to connect with to get the support you need to thrive in grad school? Who do you need to network with outside campus to achieve your career goals, and how will you find them? What meeting agenda items and questions do you need to have ready to schedule that meeting via e-mail or phone? For example, the UW College of Education offers an excellent resource (revise and adapt as needed) that will help you prepare for your faculty advisor meetings.

Remain open to possibilities. Many of you already have a specific research and career focus upon starting graduate school at the UW. This is excellent, because you have a vision of what you want to achieve for yourself. At the same time, any of the following scenarios can happen: you read a text that a sparks a different trajectory for your thesis or dissertation, a conversation with someone inside or outside of the university inspires you to think about diverse career paths, or maybe after a few meetings with your advisor you realize you’re not a match. Any or all of these can be anxiety provoking (totally normal, btw) and be viewed as opportunities for you to think expansively about your educational, professional and interpersonal goals. What lessons can you learn from those situations about your interests, strengths and passions?  Are you allowing yourself to be curious to explore different goals?  What steps would you need to take to accomplish those goals? Remaining open to possibilities can help you see goal setting as a process rather than an end result.

Many thanks to Priya, Osa, Greg and Juan for their permission to adapt these insights for the Core Programs newsletter and for collaborating with us for the Power Hour event, held on October 20, 2015.  Thanks also goes out to GSEE staff Vanessa Alvarez and Cynthia Morales for the initial ask to collaborate!

Addressing Difference and Growing Your Support

Are any of these thoughts affecting you?

“I should understand that theory or concept already!”
“If I speak up to say I don’t understand something, I’ll look stupid in class.”
“I’m not participating the way everyone else is, so there must be something wrong with me.”
“Where is my community?”

Every graduate and professional student experiences doubt, anxiety or critical self-talk due to the demands of their educational programs. At the same time, there is no universal graduate student experience, and the long-held idea that you’ll automatically be successful if you just work hard enough is a myth. The reality is not everyone enters graduate school with the same access to social, cultural, professional and financial resources and not everyone is treated with equity. This is especially true if you are a first-generation graduate student, person of color, woman, person with visible or invisible disabilities, international student, or a member of the LGBT, Queer or Trans community (one can also embody multiple, intersecting identities and backgrounds).

Sometimes asking for help can feel like taking a risk—that it calls attention to your difference and to your vulnerability. It’s no wonder then that asking for support on campus can either feel truly unfamiliar or feel like a daunting task for many.

Core Programs’ mission is to promote an environment where all graduate and professional students can thrive and to suggest strategies that encourage students to seek out the support they need to reach their intellectual, professional and interpersonal goals. We also see our work as aligned with larger, institutional efforts to address the complexities of difference at the University of Washington.

Here are some tips to help you remind yourself that you belong here and that your work is important:

When you feel you don’t belong. Also known as imposter syndrome, it’s the persistent, internalized belief that “you’re not smart enough, competent enough, or productive enough” to be in graduate school, and that peers, faculty members, and your department chair are somehow going to find out. Notice when these thoughts come up and stop yourself.  As communication studies scholar Dr. Felicia Harris states, “The nagging voice that says I don’t belong discredits everything I’ve done to get to a certain point. Pursuing an advanced degree is an admirable and challenging feat, and I remind myself of this by celebrating every milestone.” Milestones can be getting your reading done, mustering the nerve to ask a professor for their mentorship, or gaining teaching, research, or career experience. Read more from Dr. Harris.

Mentoring needs. There are numerous reasons why you seek out mentors in graduate and professional school.  The obvious ones are to develop intellectual and professional relationships with faculty advisors whose research or career backgrounds resonate with you. Sometimes a single mentor can support you in multiple ways. Yet it also turns out that we often need a mentor network for different dimensions of our lives. Start with an inventory and see where your needs are being met and where you may have gaps. Some dimensions include:

Academic — Specific skills or techniques, new knowledge domains
Career — Sponsorship, exposure, coaching, protection, challenging
Psychosocial — Role modeling, acceptance and confirmation, counseling, friendship
Values — Worldviews, belief systems, politics

Grow your support. In our first fall quarter newsletter, we encouraged you to get to know the campus community by attending departmental and welcome events to make meaningful connections with peers, staff and faculty. Other ways to grow your support system are identifying those safe people you can confide in when things feel tough. These can be close friends, loved ones, members of your faith-based or spiritual community, and even a qualified mental health professional (there’s no shame in seeking counseling).

Jaye Sablan & Kelly Edwards
Core Programs, The Graduate School

Additional Resources

What Influences Your Mentoring Needs, UW Graduate School

Getting Started With Your Graduate Education

On behalf of Core Programs in the Graduate School, welcome to all our new and returning graduate and professional students! We are thrilled you are at the University of Washington, where you will have a new year of opportunities to strengthen and grow your intellectual and professional skills. This fall, we encourage you to tap into resources that can help you thrive as you navigate graduate student life.

Here are just a few ways to get you started:

Find your ground. Graduate school is about navigating a complex set of academic, professional and social experiences. Whether you are new or returning to campus, this can sometimes feel overwhelming and unwelcoming—especially if you belong to an underrepresented community based on race, gender, sexuality, class, ability or citizenship. One way to counteract this imposter feeling is to say to yourself, “I do belong here.” You are in graduate school to enhance or find your career path, give back to your families and communities, or make important contributions to research and innovation. For even more tips and strategies on how to counteract feelings that you don’t belong, check out these resources: here and here.

Get to know department staff. From organizing orientations, providing a supportive ear to students, or ensuring that you fulfill your degree requirements, Graduate Program Advisors (GPAs) are often your first point of contact into graduate school. They also provide important administrative support for graduate programs. Feel free to reach out to your GPA, as they have a wealth of experience and knowledge of your campus. If they don’t know the answer, they can often connect you with campus resources that serve the needs of graduate students.

Attend department events. Whether they are faculty or peer presentations, departmental meetings, working committees, or peer pub nights, there are numerous opportunities to connect with peers, staff, and faculty throughout the year. These co-curricular spaces provide an opportunity for you to glean information such as how to develop strong presentations, pick up disciplinary lingo (don’t worry if you don’t know all the terms yet), learn the spoken and unspoken culture of your graduate program, and foster collegial relationships with faculty and peers. Remember to pace yourself—you need not attend everything as you are already busy. We know from experienced graduate students that it’s best to attend events that make sense to you and your schedule.

Prepare for graduate seminars. It’s totally natural to feel excited and anxious about attending your first graduate seminar—especially if you don’t know what to expect or are the first person in your family to attend graduate school. Fortunately, Dr. Ralina Joseph, associate professor of communication at UW Seattle, provides useful tips on how to succeed in a graduate seminar.

Find your community. The University of Washington is a big place, with three campuses and multiple off-site research locations. We know that a feeling of belonging on campus is critical to your success as graduate students. It makes a difference to find and connect with people that can support your whole self—and not just your role as a graduate or professional student.

Best Wishes On a New Academic Year,

Kelly Edwards, Jaye Sablan, Ziyan Bai
Core Programs Staff, The Graduate School

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.