Maintaining Relationships

Maintaining a Healthy Relationship with Yourself

Does support for graduate students exist?

Successful life as a graduate student depends on your ability to maintain balance between the various elements of your life, and often necessitates seeking out some support. If you are unable to maintain balance in your life as a graduate student, then you may face some negative consequences that could seriously hinder your academic success. These consequences may include (but are not limited to) academic burnout or fatigue, depression or other mental health issues, and deterioration of important personal relationships with family members and friends. Of all the elements that factor into your life as a graduate student, you are the only factor that only you can control. If you are able to maintain a healthy relationship with yourself while you are in graduate school, then you will be more able to handle stressors from outside sources (e.g., professors, peers, etc.). The following information and support for graduate students are to help you improve your relationship with yourself while you are in graduate school:

Allow yourself to accept outside help.

There are plenty of resources and support for graduate students for academic, personal, and financial help during grad school. Unfortunately, some graduate students will not accept the help that these resources offer because they may feel that accepting help is beneath them, offends their sense of pride in their own accomplishments, or compromises their self-images as independent individuals. This is simply not the case. Knowing when we need help and being secure enough in ourselves to ask for help is the first step to academic maturity and success and to maintaining healthy relationships with ourselves.

Slow your pace (if possible).

It is unhealthy to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If possible, you should learn to slow your pace, setting aside some time each day in which you will not work (this does not include the time that you need to eat, sleep, bathe, etc.). We understand that as a graduate student, you have important deadlines that you must meet to avoid serious complications and consequences. However, you should avoid working continuously for days and weeks on end without any breaks until you absolutely crash in exhaustion. Continuously working for days and weeks on end is not only unhealthy for your relationship with yourself but is also unproductive as far as the quality of work you are able to generate. Forcing yourself to slow your pace and to take some time off regularly is critical.

Do something unrelated to your academic work.

Graduate students often tend to eat, sleep, breathe, drink, and live for their graduate program, so much so that they no longer have any thoughts that are unrelated to their identities and work as graduate students. When this happens, graduate students easily lose perspective in their lives, which may negatively affect their relationships with themselves and with those who are closest to them. Try doing something that is totally unrelated to your academic work: volunteer somewhere or do something to help others, learn something new outside your discipline, read a book for pleasure. As difficult as it may seem, you should try to do something to take your mind off school every once in a while.

Tips for Balancing Work and Family

When graduate students think about balancing work and family, the first thing that comes to mind is often “Help!” In addition to academic relationships with professors, advisors, committees, and classmates, some students have to still make time for their spouses and children! To foster these academic relationships and to further their academic success, graduate students often neglect their interpersonal relationships with their families and friends. However, interpersonal relationships are just as, if not more important, than are academic relationships; academic relationships come and go, but interpersonal relationships with family and friends will last long after professors, advisors, committees, and classmates have forgotten graduate students’ names. Therefore, graduate students should plan to invest some of their precious time during graduate school to balancing work and family by maintaining their interpersonal relationships so that they will have a social support structure before, during, and after graduate school. There are two main strategies for maintaining healthy relationships with family and friends during graduate school: don’t procrastinate and do communicate:

Don't Procrastinate

When you are swamped, you may be tempted to reschedule a lunch date with your mom or to ignore your friend’s texts and calls to go to a movie, assuming that these people will understand and will always be there for you. You don’t procrastinate in these relationships to be malicious, but you assume that you will have more time after graduate school to make up missed time with friends and family. However, this is probably not the case because after graduate school you might find balancing work and family even more difficult to achieve. Therefore, you should take advantage of every opportunity you have to spend with your family and friends. For example, instead of rescheduling your lunch date with your mother because you have an upcoming exam that you need to study for, you could ask your mother to help you study while you are eating lunch together. If you absolutely must cancel prescheduled time with friends or family, try to figure out a way to make up the missed time. For example, you may occasionally have to miss your child’s soccer games, but you can make up for missed time by doing your grading and reading assignments with your child while your child is doing his or her homework.

Communicate

Your family and friends won’t know what you need and when you need it unless you communicate with them. No, your family and friends probably will not understand the minutia of all the theories that you are learning during graduate school, but your family will understand when you are most available and what they can do to help you if you keep them informed. One good way to communicate back and forth with family and friends is to use a dry erase board placed in an easy-to-access location (to communicate with family and friends who don’t live with you, you can use an online message board instead of a dry erase board). You, your family, and your friends can all use the dry erase board to share schedules, reminders, and to-do lists. You can also use a dry erase board to complement one another, to tell each other about your moods (happy, sad, anxious, lonely), to play games, and even to develop secret codes, all of which will help you with balancing work and family.

Resolving Academic Advisor Issues

An important part of surviving graduate school is having a strong relationship with your academic advisor. Whether your advisor is assisting you with the class selection process, reviewing your dissertation or thesis, or conflict resolution skills for your academic dispute, your advisor is vital to your career as a graduate student. Before you even start meeting or are assigned to an academic advisor, do some research about your graduate program by talking to your peers about their advisors. Find out which advisors are the best in terms of meeting with students and genuinely caring about students’ academic careers. You might be assigned to a specific academic advisor your first semester, but usually you can request a specific person later in your program. Perhaps you even know some of the professors from classes that you have taken already.

After your first meeting with your academic advisor, you should have a good feeling about how he or she operates. Take some time to reflect on this meeting and to determine whether this is a person with whom you can successfully work over a long period of time. Consider your advisor’s professional presence, personality, and habits for timely communication. If you don’t get along your assigned academic advisor, you should request a new advisor as soon as possible.

Avoid just tolerating your relationship with your advisor. This can often lead to loathing your education, procrastinating scheduling your classes, and not making significant progress on your thesis and dissertation. Don’t be ashamed about switching advisors! Remember that you are paying not only for classes but also for an educational experience that should include professional assistance. If you do decide to change advisors, do so with caution and professionalism; you do not want to make enemies with any of the faculty members in your program.

Remember that your academic advisor has a busy schedule as well. Be patient and understanding when working with your advisor (especially if you are waiting for your advisor to read your dissertation or thesis), keeping in mind that you are not your advisor’s top priority. Do not be annoying with constant emails, calls, or unscheduled surprises in your advisor’s office! This can result in your academic advisor taking even longer to help you. However, if your advisor has not responded to a question or to your attempts to schedule a meeting, one follow-up email (after a week or so) is appropriate. Your advisor is a human being and, just like you, makes some mistakes from time to time. The important thing is not to let this get in the way of maintaining a healthy working relationship with your academic advisor.

What Goes Around Comes Back Around (Albeit Slowly)

Grad School Tips to Speed up the Process

Writing a thesis or dissertation is a long and, at times, slow process. Given the daunting nature of such a task, it would make perfect sense that you would want it to go by quickly. There are many ways that you can speed up the process of writing your dissertation. For example, writing a little bit every day, maintaining a writing calendar, and setting personal writing goals are all very intuitive and doable grad school tips to speed up the dissertation or thesis process.

Unfortunately, there are some parts of the dissertation or thesis process that cannot be sped up. One of the biggest hiccups in the dissertation or thesis process is revision and, more specifically, turnaround time between drafts from your advisor or chair. At this point in your academic career, you have probably grown accustomed to the fast-paced world of graduate school and implemented plenty of grad school tips you had been given before you started your program. However, keep in mind that your professors have made a career in the fast-paced world of academia and constantly have a million things to do at any given moment. The chances of your professors dropping everything they are working on to revise your dissertation or thesis overnight is highly unlikely. Below are a few more grad school tips to avoid getting delayed in the dissertation or thesis process by faculty turnaround time.

Send what’s done when it’s done.

You do not need to be finished with your dissertation from cover to cover before you send it to your advisor. Not only will it take much longer to review the entire document, there may be revisions in earlier sections that will affect later sections. Solid advice is to send it off to your advisor as soon as you finish a major section, and continue working on other sections of your project in the meantime.

Plan ahead.

You know all too well how much work your dissertation is. Additionally, you know your timeline. If you want to defend by a certain date in order to graduate, you probably know the deadline. You may have been able to procrastinate a few projects over your career as a graduate student; however, the dissertation or thesis is not a process that can be rushed. Give yourself and your advisor ample time to revise your document.

Don’t be annoying.

Have you ever heard the saying that the squeaky wheel is the first to get oiled? That is not good advice when it comes to your dissertation. Your advisor will know when he or she needs to look over your document, so pestering him or her with emails about your document’s status will probably not help you get your revisions in a timelier manner. In fact, bugging your advisor might actually result in your revisions mysteriously taking longer.

Maintaining Healthy Relationships with Peers

When you were an undergraduate, you were probably one of the most motivated and engaged students in all of your classes and had no problem balancing work and life. You probably received the highest grades and were chosen by your professors for leadership opportunities both inside and outside class. Your sense of responsibility, accountability, and perfectionism undoubtedly motivated your decision to pursue graduate studies and try your hand at balancing work and life as a grad student. These qualities and characteristics allowed you to stand out and shine as an undergraduate because there were fewer students like you in your undergraduate classes. In graduate classes, however, most of the students possess these qualities and characteristics, so you may often feel like you have become one star among many in graduate school. If you are feeling this way, then you can rest assured that many of your peers in your graduate program are also feeling this way. The desire to prove oneself in graduate school often leads to competition among peers, and excessive competition among peers can lead to unhealthy peer relationships, especially when everyone is competing for the same limited resources (fellowships, internships, assistantships, grants, professors’ time, etc.). In the following sections, we will discuss why it is important to maintain healthy relationships with your peers and how you can do so.

Why You Should Maintain Healthy Relationships with Peers

The demands of graduate school are many and great; many students have problems balancing work and life as a grad student. You may often feel like you need the support of someone to talk to who understands what you are going through. There are many resources for financial, personal, or academic support while you are in graduate school, but time and other circumstances often prevent you from seeking support. Who better knows what balancing work and life is like than your fellow graduate students? You see your peers more often than almost anyone else (including your family members) while you are in graduate school, so it is sometimes easier for you to seek help from them before, during, or after class than it is for you to find time to visit an academic advisor. Furthermore, your peers know and understand better than anyone else does what the challenges are that you face during your graduate studies, such as balancing work and life. If you allow them to, your peers can be your greatest source of emotional support during graduate school, so, whenever possible, you should try to foster and maintain healthy relationships with them.

How to Maintain Healthy Relationships with Peers

Much like your family, you do not get to choose who will be your peers in graduate school, so it may be difficult to find common ground to unite so many different people. Attending university-sponsored social events is one way to foster healthy academic relationships among peers, but conversations at these events can often return to academic discussions, which can further increase competition. Besides attending university-sponsored social events, you could organize group activities for yourself and your peers, activities which would improve everyone’s sense of trust and community. These activities might include exercising or playing team sports together, volunteering or fundraising together, or even studying together.

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