Whether studying onsite at the exquisitely beautiful North Bay campus, or balancing coursework with careers and families (near or from afar), this blog will serve as a common ground and a place to connect, discuss, and grow. In addition to offering a menu of resources and providing information for upcoming deadlines and events, the goal of this blog is to help overcome feelings of isolation that can arise when participating in online education.
Choosing to pursue graduate level education typically entails certain personality traits associated with Type As, including but not limited to: perfectionism, ambition, and a tendency to dance on the edge of burnout. While these traits have enabled us to flourish and thrive over 16+ years of schooling, at the end of the day we also want to emerge from the program healthy, happy, and whole. Well-being isn’t simply a buzzword, it’s an investment in yourself, and worthy of your time and effort.
On Thursday October 16, 2014, seven students from EGS gathered onsite at the North Bay Harris Learning Library to discuss their insights, thoughts, and concerns about the graduate experience. Through collaboration and anecdotal stories, we hovered around the following themes surrounding well-being at the graduate level, and as a group continue to work towards tailoring our success strategies to address these challenges in our respective lives.
COMMON CHALLENGE #1
Just Walk Away, or The Law of Diminishing Returns
Looking through the lens of an investor, there is a point where increasing the time and energy spent on graduate level course or research work yields incrementally poorer results. One of the graduate student attendees summed it up as the Law of Diminishing Returns: sometimes, you just have to walk away from the work in order to be more efficient. It’s counterintuitive, and several EGS members described feelings of guilt or anxiety (shouldn’t we be working right now?) whenever they have made the active decision to take time to walk away and let the work breathe.
Inspiration frequently lingers beyond the familiar walls of offices or libraries, and doing something as simple as going to the gym for an hour can allow your mind to relax and let the ideas flow. Keep a small notebook or digital recorder with you for revelatory moments, and go for a walk, spend time with your friends, or work on a personal project. Give your mind permission to rest.
COMMON CHALLENGE #2
All by myself, don’t wanna be…
Engaging in higher-level academia positions us in a state of constant vulnerability; our ideas are criticized and deconstructed, the readings don’t always make sense, and many still don’t understand the full range of options available in terms of routes (thesis/MRP/course) or opportunities (conferences, publishing, funding). Feeling exposed or vulnerable can be compounded by the social limitations of online learning. How can we feel a sense of kinship or empathy when we have never had an in-person conversation with our colleagues? Without the opportunity to engage in real-time discourse, we may only see the academic persona of our peers projected into digital writing and assume they are the sum of their writing; but at the root of that verbose discussion entry there is a human being who is learning alongside you. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your peers outside of Blackboard and build a friendly, professional relationship: swap papers, offer constructive criticism, bounce some ideas, and gain new perspective. There is a huge difference between a critic and a critical friend.
The Grad Student Toolkit
- Digital Recorder – make sure it has speech to text Dragon compatibility for easy transcriptions. Digital recorders ensure that sudden creative bursts that occur during long drives, random conversations, or presentations don’t vanish into the ether.
- Small notebook – the bedside table is the cliché home of writers’ notebooks, but keeping the old-fashioned pen and paper close can be a lifesaver when inspiration strikes at the gym, grocery store, or hockey rink.
- Self Control Software – social media and news sites can be deadly to efficiency. You know your habits better than anyone: if you need help becoming more focused, be proactive and prevent distractions from manifesting by installing a blocking feature on your computer such as Self Control (programmable to block any site) or Facebook Limiter.
Thanks to today’s blogger, and more than effective summarizer of our discussion:
Marianne Vander Dussen
October 22, 2014