I am a first year student at Teachers College (TC) who recently moved into the Columbia University area. I seem to be having difficulties adjusting to graduate school. First, I am not able to manage my time correctly, even though it seems that I have more extra time than when I was an undergraduate. Though my grades are good (B+ average), I feel that I am always behind on my readings. Second, I am starting to feel alone. I live in my own apartment, and all the friends I have live downtown. I try to avoid going downtown because I end up staying out too late. Third, even though there are Gay dances at Columbia, I don't know any other places to hang out here in the area. Any suggestions?
Adapting to TC
Dear Adapting to TC,
Graduate school, for many reasons less obvious until you get there, is very different than the undergraduate days. Expressing your concerns of the imbalances in your work and play reflect your efforts to help optimize them both for a more productive and enjoyable grad school experience. Below are some tips to better fulfill your work and play!
In addressing your first concern about time management, your time in grad school usually becomes more self-motivated. It may not necessarily be that you have more free time than you did in undergrad. Many people find that what they have is more unstructured time, but less free time. This may be a dangerous combination at first because it gives the illusion of more down-time when actually what it is, is more flexibility. Advice in how to deal with graduate school time issues is almost as abundant as your assigned readings, but a couple of quick tips to try include:
- Treat grad school like a nine to five job. On weekdays when you have no class, work for eight hours. Catch up on readings, get a head start on papers, study for upcoming midterms, and try to avoid distractions, like the late week night partying you mentioned and the internet.
- Make checklists. Keep a list with all your projects (short- and long-term) in one place. Mark them off as you complete them. Many people find this method quite satisfying because you're documenting your productivity and tracking your progress.
- Reward yourself. Positively reinforce your good progress with little rewards. For example, make a deadline for yourself and stick to it. When you do, use that as a reason to go out late on the weekend with your downtown friends or to do any other activity you may enjoy, like enjoying parks and museums, seeing a movie, or going to a show.
- Find supporting peers and mentors. Fellow grad students may make great study buddies! Be cautious and remember that you're there to study, not to chat away into the wee hours of the night. Peers and mentors that you regularly check in with may help provide you with ongoing constructive feedback on your work and progress.
For more study tips, check out Must. Be. Productive. But I'm so stressed out! and All night, done right: Getting the most out of an all-nighter.
Onward to the issue of dealing with your second and third points about hang out spots and feeling alone. The alone feeling is understandable and common because, as you likely have noticed, the social supports available in many undergraduate settings aren't so built-into graduate school. As difficult as this change may feel at first, you may find that these differences may actually create greater opportunities for hanging out and making connections. A few groups and areas to check out include:
- Queer TC is a group for any and all LGBTQ graduate students. You may also find them on social networking websites.
- Gays and Lesbians in International Public Affairs (GLIPA) is the LGBTQ student group at Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) and their events and meetings are open to Columbia grad students at other schools, including TC.
- Columbia's School of Social Work has a queer caucus and more information about their mission may be found on the CUSSW Student Union and Caucuses lists.
- Queer Academics at Columbia (QAC) is a discussion group specifically for students at any of the grad schools. More information on this and other LGBTQ graduate student programming may be found at the Office of Minority Student Affairs.
- Columbia Queer Alliance (CQA), while primarily made up of undergrads, has activities for all students and a listserv bursting with events and activities for LGBTQ folks both on and off campus.
- Morningside and neighboring areas, like Harlem and Washington Heights, offer several neighborhood hangout LGBTQ bars that have sizeable student traffic with regular fun events, like weekly karaoke nights. A quick online search will yield their exact locations and theme nights.
- Hell's Kitchen is a bit south, but not as far as Chelsea or West Village. A vibrant LGBTQ scene has emerged in this area with a variety of bars, clubs, and restaurants without going all the way downtown.
- Keep your eye out for opportunities to meet people through your academic department and classes. If you have the opportunity to take a course that examines LGBTQ issues, consider taking it.
As you're starting school, other students are likely to also be looking for new friends. Consider taking the risk and talking to people you see around as opportunities to making new friends.
For Columbia students, the Office of Disability Services offers, among many services, short term support for students that may need a little assistance to strengthen their study skills and time management. Furthermore, counselors at Counseling and Psychological Services may be great resources to further explore the pressures, anxieties, and stress of graduate school with you. They also offer social support groups, such as on procrastination, that may serve as constructive outlets.
Remember that any new beginning usually involves an adjustment period. It may be hard to balance social and academic life in graduate school even if it came easy during your undergraduate years. Loneliness is often a part of new beginnings, too, but with good time management and work-social life balance, it may soon dissolve.
Welcome to graduate school!Alice!