My 2017 ended on a pretty high note, at least academically speaking. Early on the last day of the year, I checked my CRS account, praying all my professors had uploaded my grades and I could enjoy the New Year weekend instead of worrying. (UP students, ya feel me?) Lo and behold, they had! And – wonder of wonders – I scored a big fat uno across the board. My GPA is a nice, beautiful, flat 1.0! (For any Americans reading this blog, our GPA works in the opposite direction – 1.0 is the highest grade you can get.)
As I mentioned in my Life Lately #4, I’m thinking of starting a series on my blog called The Working Student Diaries. Basically, I want to talk about the struggles of being a grad student while also juggling a full-time, 9-to-5, 5-days-a-week job. And since I ended my first semester spectacularly (I’m sorry for bragging – okay, I’m not, I put in the hard work and did amazing, I deserve this y’all!) I think I more or less know what I’m talking about. So for anyone out there walking across this precarious balancing beam, read on! I’m here to help.
Lay Your Foundation
It’s exciting to go back to school, especially after a number of years just being a card-carrying member of the rat race. I was happy as a clam to be back on a campus, buying school supplies, getting ID pictures taken, attending orientations, and basically just doing all the usual errands a new student has to get done. But – and this a very big, Nicki Minaj-sized but – you have to remember that you’re not just a student.You’re also an employee, and there’s a team, a supervisor, clients, etc. who need your A-game. Don’t lose sight of that.
I’m incredibly lucky to work for a government agency that encourages its employees to pursue further education. Our managers are very understanding about things like exams, papers, homework, etc. As long as we’ve cleared it with our supervisors beforehand and we have no deliverables, the higher-ups are super chill about letting us take off early to get to class, or even take the day off to study or finish a paper. We can even study and do schoolwork during the workday, as long as we’ve got nothing to do then.
Clear your plans for studying with your management. Make sure that your academic career won’t infringe on your professional one. You’ve made commitments, after all, and you need to make sure you can keep them. Self-improvement is and always will be an admirable goal, but don’t let down the people relying on you in the process.
The key is an honest self-assessment. You know your capabilities best. Look at all the projects you have on your plate. Are they going to keep you too busy for studying? Conversely, are your papers, assignments, exams, etc. going to coincide with any due dates you have at work? Anything major happening at either work or school? What about extracurricular activities? Are you still going to have time for volunteering, traveling, blogging (heh), or whatever else it is you do in your spare time?
Remember, this is an honest self-assessment. Don’t go thinking you can do it all when you know you’ll buckle under the sheer weight of your to-do list. And also, don’t go thinking you can sacrifice things like eating and sleeping! Those are non-negotiables!
I should warn you – this step is my absolute favorite. I absolutely love planners, sticky notes, highlighters, colored pens, and all that good stuff. I’m a regular Amy Santiago (holla at me Brooklyn Nine-Nine fans!), and I love sharing my organizing tips with the world – even if the world doesn’t care to hear it!
I’m telling you right now, guys. Whip out all the usual suspects. Your planners, agendas, desk calendars, Google calendars, or whatever other productivity tools you use to keep organized. You’re gonna need all of them. Balancing a full-time job and graduate school is no walk in the park, and unless you want to start a cocaine habit (which…not recommended, at all), you’re gonna need to get your shit straight if you wanna get through the semester with your head screwed on right.
This 2018, I am using two planners. The first is a teal-colored weekly planner from Typo. This is my main planner, and it’s color-coded to hell and back. I used light blue for social life, pink for school, purple for work, and black for my daily to-do list. I also used highlighters – particularly, the Stabilo pastels: blue for days I’d be out of town, green for errands, pink for birthdays and anniversaries, and purple for urgent items. I also stapled Post-Its and stuck little flaglets to important pages.
My second planner is the 2018 Giving Journal from Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. I use this as a mood-tracker and a journal, as well as an overall view of the events that I have going on for the week. This is not color-coded (and I also don’t have photos of it, because it’s pretty private). I am totally anal-retentive about my other planner, but this one – I decided not to care. This is going to be my chill diary, my way of assessing my mental health, my values, my goals, where I am in life, and where I want to be. (Woah, deep.)
The first thing to do with your planner is to check out your syllabus and/or academic calendar and write everything down. Generally, in grad school, professors are pretty flexible and will often change due dates as needed or dictated by their schedules. However, you should still write down important dates anyway. Even if the professor changes stuff around, chances are the new dates won’t be too far off from the original ones, so at least you’ve more or less got an idea of the time frame you’ll be needing.
Remember to update your planner as needed, and religiously check in on things to make sure you’re not falling behind.
Lastly, make sure you’ve included your contact details in your planner in case you misplace it. When my family and I took our trip to Japan, my sister left her planner in the Starbucks at Taoyuan International Airport during our layover in Taipei. Another traveler found it, turned over to the airport’s customer service, and they e-mailed my sister to let her know they’d found it. Luckily, our flight hadn’t left yet, so she was able to head on over to the customer service counter and claim it!
Manage Your Study Habits
Let me preface this section by saying, I truly believe in the saying, “Study smart, not hard.”
The first thing to figure out is the study method that works for you. Some people like taking notes. Others are visual learners who prefer flowcharts and graphs. Still more prefer listening to recorded lectures before sleeping. There are tons of learning styles out there. Take the time to figure out what you find fun and/or easy, so studying won’t feel too much like a chore.
Once you’ve gotten the hang of your favored learning style, you need to pick a study spot. Consider what you need. Absolute silence? White noise? Air-conditioning? Lots of light? Wi-Fi connection? Easy access to food and coffee? Water? Once you’ve figured out what you need, check up on places that give you all these things.
My learning style is taking notes (of course), and I prefer study spots with white noise, lots of light, Wi-Fi, and easy access to coffee and water. Normally, I study at coffee shops, especially the Coffee Project along Macapagal Avenue or the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in SM MOA. (And students, don’t listen to the assholes who seem to have a massive problem with studying in coffee shops. As long as you’re quiet, only occupy one table, and keep ordering enough coffee or food to justify your stay there, you are perfectly within your rights to study at a coffee shop, and pressed salty titas can just kiss our asses.)
An unhealthy person cannot do well in school. If you’re sick all the time, you won’t be able to study effectively. It’s that simple.
For me, the two easiest things you can do to stay healthy are to get enough sleep, and to drink lots of water. I’ve developed the ability to fall asleep anywhere – on a bus or train, at my desk if I finish my lunch early, etc. I’ve also invested in several water bottles that I keep in various places that I frequent – my bedroom, my desk at work, my car, my purse, and even my boyfriend’s backpack. Anytime I’m feeling dehydrated, I can just take a quick swig. I can usually tell when I’ve not had enough water. I start feeling lethargic, my head hurts, my eyes hurt, and the back of my throat feels raw and itchy. Drink water, you guys.,
It’s also important to eat healthy. Avoid fried and oily foods, and opt instead for roasted or grilled options. Choose fresh fruit, protein, vegetables, and whole grain. I’m not a nutritionist so don’t take everything I say for gospel truth, but do make a concerted effort to avoid the usual bad stuff: sugar, fatty food, fried food, highly processed food, etc.
Lastly, try and get some exercise. It’s difficult to find the time to go to the gym, even when you’re not a working grad student. But that doesn’t mean you totally give up physical activity. Take the stairs. Walk. Find yoga or Pilates routines on YouTube and do them in your bedroom. At least thirty minutes a day will suffice. Once you really take the time to think about it, finding space in your day for exercise is pretty easy!
Me, I found a gym near the DFA where I do boxing and Muay Thai. I also run by SM MOA and along Roxas Boulevard (although not as often as I’d like), and I walk when I can.
The Importance of Relaxation
MAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF. I cannot stress this enough, you guys. It is so important to take care of yourself before you can handle the shit the world will throw at you. Make the time for the things you enjoy. Watch some Netflix. Catch a movie. Read a book. Travel, if you have the time. Go see your friends and family. RELAX.