alphacygni: (rail)
[personal profile] alphacygni
Although the dust continues to settle, I have become a grad student. I've had a few weeks of classes now, dropped one of them under the realization of the staggering workload, and I'm almost able to picture getting the hang of things. Deciding to drop a class was a scary and desperate decision. It will take me longer to finish my program now, but I truly felt like I wouldn't have made it a month otherwise. My study skills are rusty to nonexistent, my reading speed is molasses and all four classes involved intensive reading and writing. It's better to go a bit slower than to crash and burn so soon. I'm going to worry about the logistics of this "taking longer" later. And if you know me, you know that convincing myself to not worry about something now is hugely difficult.

That said, I'm still worried about burning. A question to any current or former students: How do you handle the fact that there's always much more to be done? I'm falling into the pattern I remember from my undergraduate years where I either feel guilty during any non-homework activity, or I throw myself into denial and avoid my work a bit too much.

I also have a life outside of school, and right now it consists of continuing to set up my great little house with Nathan. I really enjoy that, and I wish I could concentrate on it without feeling like I shouldn't be. I want to enjoy living in this beautiful area, without being awash with anxiety constantly about my schoolwork. Anxiety saps the pleasure out of all the best and simplest things, including eating and sleeping. The situation has improved over the month, so I can only hope that it continues to do so.

I learned one thing as an undergrad. If someone asks me if I have time to volunteer to run a restaurant? I'll say NO.

My classes, when I take a breath and notice, are interesting and the readings are fascinating. I'm still plagued with doubts that I'll be able to do the "real work", as we get further into the semester and into projects. Several second-year students have assured me that everyone feels this way.

My classes, by the way:

  • RP651 Planning History and Theory

  • RP656 Judicial Planning Law

  • RP693S Planning for Multiple Publics

I also have a research assistantship which is very much like an additional class. I'm helping a professor research a book about the economic development of New England mill towns.

Date: 2004-09-26 11:09 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
My grad-school situation was a little different, since I was working full-time and taking classes part-time. But I did face a similar dilemma of how to know when I was doing enough and how not to feel guilty when doing anything non-school-related, and one thing that helped me immensely was to set aside times when I explicitly allowed myself not to study or do school stuff. I gave myself Friday nights and usually either Saturday or Sunday afternoon or evening; for you, it might work better to set aside one or two hours every evening -- "I don't do school stuff between 8 and 9 pm" or "after 9 pm ever" or something. No guilt allowed. I was pretty vigilant about sticking to this, too -- except during the last couple weeks of the semester, when all hell breaks loose and there's just nothing you can do about it.

Having that "no guilt allowed" time helped, but what also helped about it was that if I felt tempted to goof off at other times I could say to myself "stick to it tonight and then tomorrow night you can relax" --having that time to look forward to helped me push on through at other times.

I have no idea whether that helps you at all or not. You'll figure out how to make it work, though!

Date: 2004-09-26 12:35 pm (UTC)
nathanjw: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nathanjw
Dang, so much for that brewpub plan...

Date: 2004-09-26 12:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
A question to any current or former students: How do you handle the fact that there's always much more to be done?

I know people always say "break the work down into manageable chunks" but for some reason that strategy never caught on with me. I did something sort of similar in grad school, though: I made a list of what tasks I needed to do, and estimated how long each would take. Something like:

Read chapter 7 of Johnson & Smith - 1 hour
Revise opening paragraph for paper - 30 minutes
Look up quote about welfare - 10 minutes
Write section of paper about employers - 1 hour
Write section of paper about social policy - 2 hours
Put bibliography into proper format - 15 minutes
Write summary of chapter 2 of Jones - 30 minutes
Read paper for grammar check - 30 minutes

etc. I found that even if I overestimated the time it would take me to do various pieces, I often wound up with what seemed like a manageable amount of time, and that helped to keep from feeling like the projects were taking over my life, like "oh, this will take 13 hours total? And I have a week and a half? I can do that..."

That also helped me stay happy, in that I felt like I had more choice of what to do (instead of "work on paper" it was "write part of paper" vs. "research [topic] for paper" vs. "compile bibliography" vs. "revisions", etc.)

I hope this is coherent, and useful, because naptime is imminent here...

Date: 2004-09-26 05:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
This is going to sound totally nuts, but the thing that saved me in grad school was my commute. I commuted an hour each way by bus and T, and I read chapters for school the whole time. And that's how I got by.

Now, your commute is nothing like that, but I know that you don't drive. So when you're going anywhere, take a reading assignment with you. Waiting for a bus? Catching a ride to dinner? Standing in some dumb line in the Campus Center? Read. Cafes were the other thing that helped. Sequestering yourself in the Haymarket with a few textbooks and a pot or two of tea may be just the thing - you're out in the world, and you're in a place that's relatively relaxing, but you're still getting things done.

Date: 2004-09-26 07:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I learned one thing as an undergrad. If someone asks me if I have time to volunteer to run a restaurant? I'll say NO.


That is very, very wise. (Although I admit it is a good thing for the restaurant in question that there are always new undergrads who have not yet learned this lesson.)
From: [identity profile]
umm...i hated school and had the same problem. fortunately i went to a lame school with a bunch of slackers. also notice that i am not jumping to take the GRE.

one thing i can tell you is this: while i was in leiden i spend three weeks writing a four page paper, and it was the best thing i ever did. i would write about a paragraph every other day. which i guess is a testament to spreading the work out and planning ahead...but it is probably only really helpful when you only have one or two assignments at a time.

so i'm a lot of help. at least its a subject you are interested in?

Date: 2004-09-29 06:42 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I also might not be much help, but that's never stopped me from commenting.

I second the lists thing - I never estimated the time, but I was big on lists. Very broken down lists. So - depending on how hectic it was - I would have "take shower", "eat lunch", Read Chapter 2 - public policy, chapter 3 - PP, chapter 9 - Air management.

Also - and this is bad attitude girl talking (I got about three weeks into my major in grad school and realized I'd made a gigantic mistake...but I had a scholarship and it beat unemployment). Some things can slide. Look at grading. Figure out which classes you really have to do the reading for (and you really *want* to do the reading for). If the class isn't a discussion, you might be able to do only half the reading first. Heck, if you just have to write a paper, you might be able to never do the reading. (I am slightly ashamed to admit it, but I did basically no reading for any of the classes in my official major. Because it was *boring* and the classes sucked.)

Date: 2004-09-29 06:46 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Oh! And I didn't get to my advice about writing papers.

If you can start in advance, do. Try not to wait to the last minute. I was never good about this, but I was at least much better than undergrad. If all you can do is write 100 words, or one paragraph, at least that's *something*. Do that once a day for a week two weeks out from when your paper's due, and you'll have something started by the time panic sets it. I found outlines terribly helpful. At some point when you think you can't write any more and you're going to flunk out of school and definitely that this paper is crap (maybe that's just me but I thought that all the time), do the bibliography. Because that takes way more time than it seems like it should, but doesn't actually require brain sweat. So you'll be doing something productive and necessary but yet giving your mind a break.

I also liked to write my papers single-spaced and only double space them near the end, but that's just me.

I'll stop now, promise. :)
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