How to Survive Grad School
Today’s post is written by Tiarra Currie. Tiarra is currently working on her Masters in Clinical Psychology from Columbia Teachers College in New York City. Her long-term goal is to receive her Ph.D. and become a child and adolescent clinical psychologist. 
I started my first semester of graduate school this past September. I knew early on in my education that I would need an advanced degree. Bachelor’s in psychology would leave me with extremely limited options professionally. To go a step further, even the Masters in clinical psychology is still very limiting in what career opportunities I have access to.  Because of this, grad school was inevitable, but something even more special is that this line of work is my passion. I knew since 8th grade I wanted to be a child & adolescent clinical psychologist, and every step I have taken in my life has been to support children and their families.
Despite those forward thinking thoughts, my first semester of grad school was the hardest transition in my life. I can honestly say grad school is one of the most difficult experiences one will encounter. I had many road blocks and standstill moments.

Wondering how to survive grad school? It can be emotionally and mentally draining if you don’t use some of the tools below.

1) Find Yourself

When we graduate from college, we see so much growth and change in our lives and become very positive that we know who we are. Grad school will challenge you and cause you to think deeper. I am in a program where I cannot relate to many of my classmates because most of my classmates are older and culturally different. There are not many opportunities that encourage students to get to know one another personally.
When you come to class, it’s all about the work. You have to be ready for rejection, criticism, and many “No’s” before you get a yes.  Nothing had prepared me for this and I did not like it at first. I felt like I was losing myself. I complained a lot and overworked myself until I became more frustrated.  It took me crying one night for hours to realize I am in this graduate program for a reason.
I have a purpose and a life to lead. As long as I know who I am, nothing can block me from my dreams. Overcome the fear of greatness or the fear of inadequacy. You are here for a reason. Thoughts lead to actions and before we can move forward we have to change the way we think. Once you conquer the fear of hard work, nothing is left closed to you.

2) Know You Cannot Do It Alone

I came into the program not wanting to meet new people or have new friends. I wanted to go to class, get my work done, find a job, and still have my same circle of friends. I soon realized that was not a smart idea.
My friends have no idea what it feels like to be a clinical psychology graduate student at Columbia. I needed to build networks with students in my program so that we could support one another. The work is not easy and for once I understood the relevance of study groups and classmate relationships.
Many of my professors did not have specific deadlines for papers, so we became each other’s calendar. Other times the work got tough and we would sit at a table for hours supporting each other to get through it together.  Also establishing relationships with professors is essential. These professors have resources and first-hand advice because they were once in my shoes as a graduate student. The beauty is that the professors want to help, but the ball is in my corner to reach out because I need their help.

3) Sacrifices Are Mandatory

I was 21 when I started grad school.  I was single, no kids, no real bills, and I didn’t have many sacrifices. Getting closer to the middle of the semester, I had to stop partying and hanging out as much. I had to go to sleep at an appropriate time, so I was able to be attentive for the next day of classes. I had to live on a budget that I had never been exposed to.
I found myself in the house on a Saturday night writing papers. I thought to myself  “This is not fair.” I sometimes doubted why I was in the program, but I never gave up. Have a motivation; find something close to your heart.
When that statistics class is getting tough or that 20-page paper is looking impossible, there has to be something there to push you forward to keep going.  My motivation is my family and knowing that I am fulfilling my purpose in life. Just a reassuring phone call from my grandmother or looking at a picture of my niece was enough of a push to get me back focused. My life story gives my family so much hope and love.
There has been no better feeling than finding my purpose in life. I know that everything I am going through now is a set up for the lives of children and families I will support later. Sacrifice now so you can live the life you want later.

4) You Determine How Far You Get

To get where I want to be, I have to do the work. Sounds straightforward, right? What I mean is that I have to seek answers to questions I don’t have the answer for. I cannot depend on the professor to know my needs.
I have to apply to 25 jobs a week to get the clinical experience I need to put my resume at an advantage. It’s my money I’m spending, and when you see your grad school bill, procrastination becomes the least of your worries. To succeed and meet your goals, you must prepare and then execute. It is important to have a plan.
Prepare and then execute is:
  • Know what core classes need to be completed
  • Know how long your program is
  • Know what professor you want to work with more closely
  • Know that you need to establish relationships with professors so they can speak highly of you around other colleagues
  • Know that leaving a good impression with the other students can help you in the future
  • Know that you need to build relationships and have practical experiences from outside the institution
Know that you are in control and you have the power to determine your grad school experience. It was important for me to clean up myself mentally and emotionally.  We learn the best from trial and error. Now that that phase is over, I’m focused on succeeding my next semester.

Did you go to grad school? How did you survive grad school?

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