Disclaimer: In the name of full transparency, please be aware that this 5 Things I Learned in Grad School post may contain affiliate links and any purchases made through such links will result in a small commission for me (at no extra cost for you).
Something crazy is happening today. I’m officially graduating from grad school. After the longest, craziest, most unorthodox grad school journey, I’m finally done. And I couldn’t be happier. I can finally put this chapter behind me and continue moving forward with shaping a life I’m in love with. But before I get too far ahead of myself, I wanted to share a few things with you.
As I said, my grad school experience was unusual. I was meant to graduate in December of 2017, but had to go on medical leave, postponing that end date. Then, I thought I’d be done in the Spring, but due to some logistical issues, that was not the case. But now, NOW I’m done. And holy moly have I learned a lot. Obviously I learned a lot about agricultural economics (what my Master’s is in), but I also learned a ton about myself and life in general. Even if you’re not, or have never been, in grad school, I think you will find some value in these lessons. We’ve all been through trying times. These are simply the lesson’s I learned during one of the most trying times of my life.
Your Support System is Everything
Honestly, I have no idea how I would have made it through graduate school without my cohort, colleagues, family, and friends. Grad school is HARD. It’s mentally, physically, and emotionally challenging. And those are the things for which I believe people really need their support systems. For me, personally, grad school wreaked havoc on my mental health and made it so I barely socialized at all. I’d speak with select few in my classes, only hang out with friends if it was convenient, and spent most evenings locked away in my room.
However, my support system pushed past my isolating tendencies to make sure I was cared for. They made sure my anxiety and depression weren’t taking over and that I took the time to have a little fun. When my advisor first told me I would end up working really closely with my cohort and that no one should go through grad school alone, I laughed. I thought I could handle it on my own. I was dead wrong.
Very Few Things are Life and Death
As I mentioned previously, my anxiety and depression were running rampant during my time in grad school. The anxiety in particular made everything seem like such a big deal. Literally everything. I’d even start freaking out over the smallest homework assignments, or start freaking out that I wasn’t doing enough. This lead to isolating behavior (mentioned above), neglecting my health, and panic attacks.
I definitely don’t say any of this to garner sympathy. I want to show anyone else potentially dealing with similar challenges that they are not alone. I know it’s hard when you’re in the midst of the stress, but there is something I want you to try to remember. Very few things are life and death. That paper you’ve procrastinated on? It’ll be okay. You’ll get it done. That exam you failed? Well, everyone fails sometimes.
It’s important to try to put things in perspective. One of my favorite tools, one I used incredibly often during grad school, was thinking about if something would matter in five years. Chance are, what you’re worried about won’t even matter in six months. If something you’re panicked about is life changing, your life will still move forward. And that’s okay. It might not be what you planned, but it’s what the universe has planned for you.
Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help
This one was hard for me to learn. And honestly took way too long. I’m so stubborn. As I said before, I thought I could handle everything myself. I really dislike relying on others or burdening others with my problems. But that’s not what’s happening when you ask for help! Whether it’s as simple as asking your friend for homework help, asking your family for a little extra financial support, or seeking professional help from a therapist, do yourself a favor and go for it.
I know asking for help is incredibly hard. But it doesn’t make you dumb, dependent, or weak. If anything, it makes you smarter, more independent, and stronger. You’re taking control of your life, of your wellbeing, and utilizing the resources available to you to improve your current situation. And there’s absolutely NOTHING wrong with that.
Take Care of Yourself
When you’re in grad school, obviously your school work is important. But you know what else is important? Taking care of yourself. Take the time for self care. Whatever that means to you. For me, it meant actively making the effort to spend a little time with friends every week because I knew my isolating tendencies would get the best of me. It meant trying to move intuitively, at least a little bit, multiple times a week. Self care in grad school for me was setting boundaries, going to bed at a certain hour, and taking the time to snuggle with my dog. For me, it was really the little things. And I definitely should have done more of it. I often wonder if I would have had a more positive grad school experience had I been able to take better care of myself. And I think I would have enjoyed and appreciated it a lot more.
Grad School is a Priority, but so is Your Health
This was definitely the biggest lesson for me. As I mentioned above, I didn’t take great care of myself in grad school. When the anxiety and depression took over, I stopped eating well, stopped moving, and stopped doing things that made me happy. Unsurprisingly, this lead to a pretty sharp decline in my health. At the time, I knew I had Interstitial Cystitis, but I thought I had it under control. Well, the longer I wasn’t taking care of myself, the worse it got until I was barely able to make it to class. The pain and bladder symptoms had gotten so bad that I could barely function. My fatigue was unreal. I spent the majority of my time in bed, even if I was studying. I would put off other responsibilities until I absolutely HAD to take care of them. Needless to say, I was not okay.
Because I had stopped taking care of myself, my body revolted. Not only did my IC get worse, but I also developed fibromyalgia. It got so bad that I ended up going on medical leave just three months before I was scheduled to graduate with my Master’s degree. I was heartbroken. But more than that, I knew I just couldn’t continue on the way I was going. I had already been to the ER once and I definitely didn’t want to get to that point again. So I moved home, back in with my parents, and essentially rested for three months. About 80% of that time was spent in bed. It wasn’t glamorous and it sure as heck wasn’t fun, but it was necessary. I have been able to get most of my symptoms under control and have started applying for jobs. I have my life (mostly) back because I was able to prioritize my health again.
Grad school was definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It challenged me in ways I honestly never expected. And as much as I learned about agricultural economics, I learned a heck of a lot more about myself. I’ve learned where my priorities lie, that I’m stronger than I ever thought possible, and that no matter what, the world keeps spinning. Life goes on. I want anyone going through a really trying time, grad school or not, to know that you are not alone, things will get better, and you will come out triumphant on the other side. I promise.
I also want to make sure you understand that my grad school experience was unique, just as everyone’s is. Just because I had a rough time doesn’t mean everyone will. I know, in the long run, getting this advanced degree will be worth it. I also know that grad school isn’t for everyone. It can be incredible and incredibly difficult all at once. If you are thinking about grad school, don’t let me challenging experience discourage you. Make the decision that’s best for you, regardless of what others say.