After having a nice break at home, it’s great to be back at Memorial for round two of my master’s degree. It’s exciting to think that I’m halfway through my first year at Memorial; the Fall semester flew by so quickly, and I expect that this Winter semester will be no different. I was pleasantly surprised with my final grades from the Fall and am now looking forward to beginning the new term with a renewed sense of confidence and peace of mind. At the very least, finishing well last semester has really solidified the feeling that I can do this – that I can succeed at the graduate academic level. As I move into a new semester with new responsibilities, I hope to continue the momentum and keep performing well. Again as I have hinted at in other blogs, a large part of my personal performance is really due to those around me. Anytime you feel like you’re drowning in the academic work, reach out to others. Trust me, many other students feel the same way as you (and as I did), and there is always someone around to help. At Memorial, others around you really do want you to succeed and perform well. I can’t stress that fact enough in these blogs. Stay encouraged, and seek the help when you need it, because it will pay off in the end.

Classes are already two weeks in and the busyness of being a graduate student is well underway. As expected, there is no shortage of readings, assignments, quizzes, or labs for my courses, and it feels as though I might have to take it up a notch this semester to stay on top of everything. Similar to last semester, I’m enrolled in the same number of classes, but have picked up an extra teaching assistantship. As graduate students, we get hired to help various professors with their courses by being their teaching assistant (TA). In the Fall semester, I assisted a professor with one course, and now I’ll be helping with two different courses. Each year, psychology graduate students are responsible for TA-ing three courses over the year, and it was just luck of the draw that I ended up having two courses to TA this semester. Typically, the duties of a TA are to invigilate tests and exams, grade assignments and quizzes, and to hold office hours for any students who wish to discuss or review material learned in class.

I was initially nervous when I found out that one of my responsibilities as a graduate student would be to assist undergraduate students with their course material. Sure, I had taken the courses before (albeit, at another institution, and a few years prior), but my fear was that I would steer the students wrong on a key concept from their class. The experience was nerve-wracking at first, but not nearly as bad as I had expected it to be. I looked at this opportunity as a way to hone a new set of skills; effective communication and teaching qualities. I want to be an effective communicator and also want to be able to convey academic concepts properly to others, so a good way to develop these skills is to put them into practice. Being a TA is a perfect avenue for this. Of course, I admit that there were some questions that I didn’t know the answer to, and when this occurred I’d just make a note of it and ask the professor myself in order to learn the answer too. Being a TA is a really good gig and if you get an opportunity to take one (or three) during your graduate studies, do it! Teaching concepts to others is one of the best ways to learn and understand material, and being a TA presents the perfect opportunity to do just that.

Outside of school, I’m getting to know more of what the city has to offer. Besides the many cool coffee shops and restaurants that I’ve taken a liking to (Coffee Matters, Rocket Bakery & Fresh Food, Piatto Pizzeria + Enoteca, and India Gate all deserve mention), I was recently introduced to a place called Escape Quest and this experience was way more fun than I had expected it to be. Some friends and I went to Escape Quest in December as a way to celebrate classes being finished last semester, and this was honestly one of the most fun things I did all semester! Basically, you and your group are put into a room that has a back-story, and you need to escape the room in a certain amount of time (although you probably could have guessed that detail based on the business’ name). Simply (actually, it’s not so simple when you’re in the room), you need to look for clues within the room and work together as a group to figure out answers to various challenges in order to move on to the next area. It is a great team building exercise and when you have an awesome crew like I did, the experience is that much more fun and exciting. Not to brag (well, maybe a little), but our group was one of the few teams that actually were able to escape the “1892” room with a minute to spare! Go team MAPS! (What is MAPS, you ask? Check it out here). For real though, if you want to win at Escape Quest, take one of the MAPS people from this picture with you. They’re all geniuses! Escape Quest is a great spot to go to if you need a study break and good dose of fun.

Well, as always I should get back to some school work. I’ll blog again after the Winter Break and will surely have more academic news to share with you as I finish blogging about my first year in graduate school. Until next time…