As this semester very quickly gained momentum in the first week, I found myself reflecting on the ways I’d changed since a year ago at this time. Though a lot of the things I’ve learned seem menial – like keep a handful of boxes of Kraft in the house because sometimes you WILL NOT want to cook, or are rather lessons my roommates have learned, like if Meg has the entire kitchen table covered in notes and books then now is probably not a good idea to interrupt her – there are a lot of meaningful things I’ve learned after my first semester.
1) Organization is everything. There is not enough that can be said for keeping your notes organized and up to date. The incredible pace and content demands leave little time for review during class; accurate and detailed notes are key to succeeding on tests. Furthermore, I’ve found (partially because I’m not a morning person until I have 3 cups of coffee) that packing my lunch and my bags for the day before I go to bed the night before is infinitely more efficient than trying to pack them as I’m trying to run out the door. Living off campus and spending 10 plus hours on campus means I must have clothes for class, clothes for lab, clothes for the gym, clothes for work, lunch, coffee, and snacks. Inevitably, if I try to remember all those things the morning of, I always forget something.
2) You will study more than you ever have. It will seem constant! When your friends are watching football on Sundays, you will be studying; when your friends are enjoying a family dinner on Tuesday night, you will be studying; when your friends are going camping for the weekend, you will be studying. Think about the end result!
3) Gym time is important. I cannot stress this one enough. Regular exercise is the easiest way to beat stress, to have more energy, to get a good night’s sleep, to be happier, and feel healthier. Half an hour in the gym a day will be infinitely more beneficial than half an hour of TV or another half an hour of studying
4) Free time is important. Your sanity will be saved by occasionally leaving the dark and lonely cave that is the library and enjoying time with your friends. Being reminded that the world is bigger than school and letting off a little steam will help you get back to studying feeling refreshed and focused.
5) You need a creative escape. Or just a mental escape of some kind. I work at a nursery (plant nursery not child nursery) on the weekends and the time outside, even when its cold and rainy, is a god send. To have something mentally challenging and yet completely different from physical therapy helps the weekends feel like a break even though I work 8 hour days.
6) Write things down!! When I was in high school and even in undergrad, I had no problem remembering everything and everything about my life without writing things down. I could remember test days, I could remember my work hours, I could remember everything from class without taking notes. Now (though I never thought it would be possible) my life is even more chaotic and if I don’t write things down they immediately are swallowed in the grad school maelstrom my mind has become. Writing things down is the easiest and simplest way to stay sane.
7) Nothing worth having is easy. There are so SO many times when I haven’t seen my friends in days or when I’m running on minimal sleep that I ask myself why did I do this? Why couldn’t I have just been happy with a bachelor’s degree? And after I finish my time in the clinic the answer is always clear: this is what I was made to do. Most of the week I loathe my choice to become a physical therapist but when I’m actually being a physical therapist I realize there’s no other career I could ever be happy doing.
If grad school is a part of your future be prepared to work harder than you ever have your entire life, but be prepared to feel the most rewarded as well. Best of luck to everyone else struggling through hell, er I mean, grad school out there!!