Year-by-Year Self-Care for Graduate Students: First Year Students

For First-Year Students, Make time: Your first year of grad school can be be a big adjustment but being prepared and keeping some self-care strategies in mind will help you transition smoothly. In your first year, make time to

Disconnect electronically.

It may appear counter-intuitive, but planning time where you do not work is as important as planning time for when you do work. Making time for yourself can be facilitated by signing off of all chats and other mobile devices at set times each day so that you are not inundated by messages you feel obligated to respond to at odd hours of the day or night. Although it is true you will have ongoing work while in school, it is also true your productivity benefits from unplugging. During your first year make friends with the idea of having professional boundaries, and put them to work!

Read your program’s handbook.

Most programs or departments will have a handbook, manual, or guide that details anticipated goals broken down for your program of study. The handbook’s aim is to acquaint you with the expectations of your program for each year or term you are enrolled as a student.  Despite the aim of the handbook being welcome students to their graduate program, these guides are often long and can feel overwhelming at first –this results in students holding off on reading through important information. One way to evade the temptation to avoid when reading your handbook is to think of it as an indexed syllabus that you will never need all of at once. Trying breaking it down month-to-month, read what you need, and bookmark the rest. Don’t be afraid to find out what’s expected of you by doing your own research, and taking it one term at a time.

An added benefit of knowing the handbook well is that it can also help you to break ground with your advisor. By confirming with your advisor what is expected of you in accordance with the handbook, you are showing her/him your investment in the program, A discussion with your adivsor over the handbook can also help you begin to carve out a plan for managing time in your advisor’s research lab with other program requirements.

Get to know your cohort.

The reality of graduate school is that members of your cohort will not remain completely in sync or on the same schedule for every moment of your doctoral program. It is equally unlikely, however, that anyone else in your life will quite understand what that first week, month, or mid-term exam was like for you. Cohorts are like families in that everyone is an individual, but shared experiences can bring and keep you together. You will always have your first year to look back on, so do not be afraid to connect with your fellow students during your first year.

Take time during this first year on at least three different occasions to meet for a happy hour, a game night, or some other non-academic activity. It is true that much of what doctoral programs include involve long hours of work, but it is also true that students are not people without senses of humor, enjoyable quirks, and necessary inside jokes. Develop these traits and experiences in your new surroundings, find out more about yourself with your cohort by your side.

Keep in contact with close friends and family.

The people who likely saw you through your application process will likely be some of the same people who see you through graduate school. It’s a good thing to immerse yourself in what is happening with your program but remember you were interesting and important before beginning this graduate school experience.

Whether those bonds involve platonic, familial, or romantic partnerships, continue to be mindful of how friends and family show up in your life as you embark in your doctoral program. Go to these relationships for support, and remember to show up for your supporters when and how you can. They are likely an important part of who you are, and who you will become.

Reposted with permission from the American Psychological Association’s GradPSYCH Blog

About the Author

David Jeffries
David is a Student Affiliate of APA and is a fourth year graduate student of George Washington University’s Clinical Psychology Ph.D. program. He studies the effects of culture and identity on depression and suicidal ideation for African American and LGB populations. Current projects include examining the moderating effects of ethnic identity on the relationship between depression and suicidal ideation. Additionally, he is interested on the individual effects of vicarious suicidal experiences and help-seeking behavior in African American boys and men.