Hello everyone, and welcome to this year’s Graduate Student Blog! I am glad to be back blogging again and hope that these weekly insights shared by my peers and I will be helpful to you during graduate school. To (re)introduce myself, I’ll briefly just say that I recently completed my MSc and am now a first year PhD student studying Forensic Psychology with Dr. Brent Snook in the Psychology and Law Lab. Although this is the beginning of my third year at MUN, I have been blogging about my graduate school experience for the past two years. If you like, you can check out my first blog (or any of my other blog entries) to learn a bit more about me and my story. I think one of the strengths of the My Master Plan blog is that all of the student bloggers bring a unique perspective about their graduate life and experience at Memorial University. Hopefully, these perspectives will be helpful for you as you experience life as a MUN grad student. If you’re new here, I’d really recommend that you take the time to go back through the blog archives and read some of the past entries posted – there is a lot of great insight and information that has been shared by current and past bloggers. Of course, be sure to also regularly check back here each week to catch up with what the new bloggers are sharing. As the semester(s) advance and various milestones are reached in our programs, I’m sure that we will have plenty of new stories to share with you about graduate student life. I’m also really looking forward to reading about what the new bloggers have to say this year. Happy reading!

As the picture above shows, I was invited to speak to the incoming graduate students at Graduate Orientation 2017 (as a sidebar, what do call a picture of yourself that contains another picture of yourself?  But I digress). Francesca Boschetti, a PhD student in the Department of English, also spoke at the event, as an international student experiencing life at MUN. Francesca provided lots of valuable information about various aspects related to graduate school, including a reference for helping students prepare for their comprehensive exam. In my talk, I shared some tips for how to set yourself up for success in graduate school. Of course, I am by no means an expert on this at all, and my talk was based upon some of my own experiences or tips that were passed onto me by former graduate students (Thanks, Kirk!). I thought it might be beneficial to share some of the things that I talked about at the Welcome Event in this first blog (apologies to those who have already heard some of this). Despite originally being aimed at the incoming graduate students, I think that all students could benefit from these points; I certainly found them to be personally helpful and I hope that you will too. So, without further ado, here are some tips for succeeding in graduate school:

Number 1: As early on as possible, try to establish a proper work-life balance. Having a solid work-life balance will help you dedicate specific time to your school work, and leave time available for your personal life. If a proper work-life balance is not maintained then it can be easy to spend too much time on one (i.e., school work) and no time on the other (i.e., personal life); even worse, it may go in the opposite direction (e.g., all time focused on personal life with zero dedicated to school work). It is, therefore, important to be disciplined when it comes to grad school. Treating grad school like a job can help maintain this balance (i.e., check in at 9am and check out at 5pm – or whatever hours work for you). Maintaining a “work” schedule can help you prioritize your goals and responsibilities at work and at home.

Speaking of home, it really is important to make time for your friends and family. They are your biggest supporters and likely played a role in helping you reach your goal of attending graduate school. Whether they are local to St. John’s or live in a different city, province, or country, really try to connect with them periodically over the semester; they will no doubt be interested to hear about how you’re doing, and you will likely be encouraged to hear from them, too.

Something that you can easily overlook during grad school is yourself. Therefore, be sure to take time for and care of yourself while you’re here. Graduate school is not exactly a walk in the park, and is more akin to running in a marathon; so you need to be in good condition to do your best. With that said, if you find that you are starting to lose motivation or focus on your studies, it is totally okay to take a break and recharge your batteries. It may feel like you can’t afford to take a break at times, but trust me, it’s better to stop and recharge than trying to carry on with your work when you’re unmotivated and exhausted. There are plenty of resources available at MUN if you find that the lack of motivation is getting the best of you.

Number 2: Graduate school will be a unique experience to everyone, and you’ll really get out of it what you put into it. One of the best ways to make your graduate school experience unique to you is to seize the opportunities around you. There are a number of ways to do just that. One is to get involved with your community (e.g., your Department, the University community or any range of Societies, Professional Associations, or Committees). Getting involved with community groups is not only a fantastic CV builder, but is also a great way to develop social relationships and open up new learning possibilities. Also, be sure to apply for funding; both through the Tri-Council Funding Agencies and other local and external grants, bursaries, and awards. Also, make sure to attend a major conference relevant to your field (I’m sure most students will do this multiple times throughout their programs anyway). But beyond the opportunity of presenting your research and Memorial University on the world stage, attending conferences gives you an opportunity to network with the big players in your area. Networking can lead to collaborations and it will broaden your presence as a researcher.

Number 3: Most importantly, have fun! Graduate school is going to involve a lot of hard work and will take lots of effort, but be sure to enjoy the experience. Always keep in mind why you’re at grad school, too. In other words, whether you want to gain more knowledge or solve a particular problem, keep that motivation at the front of your mind. Things will, no doubt, get frustrating at times and you’ll need to reflect back on this motivation to persevere. And while it may not feel like it at various points in your studies, the time really does go by quickly. Be sure to slow down, and make a point to enjoy the incredible learning experience that graduate school offers.

I hope these few tips will assist you in making your graduate school experience unique to you. Don’t be shy to ask others around you for their perspectives, too. MUN really has a great culture of encouraging one another toward success, and that will become even more evident as you progress through your program. Best of luck in your studies and welcome to Memorial University!

Until next time…