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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.

Small Cohort

I am coming into my graduate program with an extremely small cohort, and I am worried that I will not be able to make friends with such a small group to choose from. What do I do if I do not get along with my fellow cohorters? Thanks! —Anonymous

First of all, I’m so sorry that I can’t answer every question as soon as it’s submitted. My hope is that now, a month into the quarter, this issue is moot and you’re comfortable in your program and bff’s with everyone in your cohort. But to answer the question: Remember that you’ve all chosen the same program, you have similar academic/research interests, you’ll be going through the same classes/labs/grunt work. By keeping that in the forefront, you’ll see just how much you all have in common. Keep an open mind and don’t feel pressured to cement relationships immediately. Let the shared experience of grad school naturally develop your friendships. And if you find that you need more friendship or more support than you’re getting within that small cohort, consider reaching out to the many student organizations and networks here. An example of this is below. Even if you do get along famously with your cohort, it’s still a good idea to develop support and networks outside of your department and enlarge your perspective. Good luck!

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 →

Peer Mentoring: Connect With Your Community

Core Programs staff enjoyed meeting many of you at the recent Husky Sunrise event on Rainier Vista lawn (700 new and returning graduate students attended!).  A highlight of the event was witnessing graduate students foster community—through formal and informal conversations—with peers from across the disciplines. And it doesn’t have to stop there.

We encourage you to continue seeking out these important connections in order to grow your peer support network.  This network can come from within your program and from across campus and should comprise of peers whom you look up to, gain insight from, and build trust with.

Peer mentors can become a cornerstone to your graduate experience and take many forms:

  • A peer mentor is familiar with departmental culture, faculty, and expectations and provides suggestions that help you acclimate to your program.
  • A peer mentor is someone who shares similar life experiences based on race, gender, sexuality, class, ability and citizenship.
  • A peer mentor offers insight into balancing academic, professional, and interpersonal responsibilities.
  • A peer mentor points you to on and off campus resources.  They can also give you the lowdown on local eateries, hangouts, and events in your area and encourage you to avoid isolation.
  • A peer mentor is a graduate student outside of your department who acts as a neutral sounding board.

Just like your faculty mentoring team, you can always have more than one peer mentor.  Getting and staying connected to others, and seeking guidance and input when you need it, is key to your success in graduate school. To enhance your informal networks, Core Programs is partnering with the Graduate and Professional Student Senate (GPSS) on a new service called Grads Guiding Grads (G3)–a peer mentoring system available to you on a one-time or longer-term basis.

G3 can be a place to bring questions you do not feel safe talking about within your own department, or can be a gateway to finding other students or organizations across campus where like-minded students are building support and community with one another.

Stay tuned for the next recruitment of new peer mentors coming this fall!