Gearing Up for the Semester

Published: Tues. August 7, by Adrienne Christian

The beginning of a new semester is a new start. Whether you have been a student at UNL for a while or are brand new, there’s a few things to consider at the start of new year to help you feel comfortable in a new place, to take care of your mental and physical health, and to be successful.

1. Make Sure You Have Your Creature Comforts.

Think about the last time you spent a period of time away from home. What did you miss? Was it cable TV? Then your creature comfort is TV—if so you might want to download your favorite shows in case you have to wait a little before your cable is connected. Was it your indoor/outdoor slippers? Your terrycloth robe? Your copy of Mary Oliver's "Devotions"? Whatever makes you feel happy and comfy at home will be that much more comforting during your first year. I must have an electric tea kettle & caffeine-free tea, journal with 8 1/2 x 11 pages, black Precise v5 rolling ball pens, and my shea butter hair care products. If you’re an international student or a person of color, consider bringing your favorite ethnic foods and/or hair care products with you. You may not always be able to easily find them locally.

2. Plan for Expenses

There are as many hidden costs in a graduate program as there are bad weather travel delays at Christmas time. For example, it’s $51/month to park in most parking garages on campus. If you don’t have a car, there may be bicycle maintenance costs. On your tuition statement, you'll see fees for everything from using the library to using the gym. It'll cost you to decorate your new office. When your favorite authors come to lecture on campus, you may want to buy copies of all their books. Taco Tuesdays at Fuzzy's. First Fridays downtown. Tailgate Saturdays in which you have to drinks, chili, and cheese. There'll be copays for visits to Health Services and you may need to pay for using Counseling and Psychological Services (beyond your four free visits). Budget for these costs. Remember taking care of your mental and physical health is just as important as doing your coursework and research. Not taking care of yourself will prevent you from being as productive as you can be.

3. Take Your Time to Make New Friends

Be Facebook friends with everyone. On day one, when you’re eager to fit in and make friends, it’s super easy to overshare information you might not want to be public. Academic communities are smaller than you think and you don’t want to burn bridges with people who might be useful to you in the future. Here's a farm analogy to illustrate my point: If you're a farmer, you don't want a torrential downpour to thunder from the sky and water your crops -- that would rip them from the ground. What you want is the slow rain that drips down to the furthest root, deeply watering and nourishing the plant, giving it the water it needs to bear fruit even in seasons of drought. It's the same with making graduate school friends -- slow, slow, slow. Taking it slow lets you weed out those colleagues who might be overly competitive or who are not positive influences.

4. Exercise

As graduate students, we spend much of our time in our heads, so get out of your head and into your body. Even if you’re a runner or a biker, check of the gym for getting your exercise. Lincoln weather may not always be great for working out outside (especially in the winter), so it’s good to have a back-up plan when you would rather not be outside. It can be easy as a busy graduate student to rely on quick and easy meals from fast food restaurants and there are certainly plenty in Lincoln. In the first two years of my PhD, packed on 35 pounds. I mean it -- use your gym membership. Visiting the gym can help keep you healthy even when you don’t have time to eat healthy foods.

5. Skim

Not the milk, the readings. With reading for my classes, reading for research purposes, and reading my students' papers, I have anywhere from 100-300 pages of reading per night. Even the most studious amongst us can't get all the required reading done. So, please just skim, and please don't beat yourself up about it. And/or get the audio versions of all of your required readings. For more tips about skimming or strategic reading, check out our previous article on the topic.

6. Watch Out for Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome is the feeling that everyone else belongs in here and that somehow you just lucked into it. This is very common among graduate students. Remember, you wouldn’t have been admitted to your program if the department didn’t think you could do it. Whenever you feel those self-doubts or anxieties creeping in, it might help to talk to friends, colleagues or family for some reassurance. Just because you're far away doesn't mean you shouldn't try to stay in touch with those friends and family.

But, you were made for this and you know it. You have loved learning, reading, studying, looking up facts since you walked out of the womb. (You didn't slide out, you walked out, because you're an exceptional individual -- you know it, and your grades and teachers have been telling you this your entire life.) As a child, when your friends were outside playing kickball, you were at your little desk with your dictionary. Furthermore, you just love the manicured lawns of a college campus. You love the drumbeat of the band on game day. You love "Dead Poet's Society" and any other film that takes place at a school. One “Atta girl” from the professor you love and admire and it's like you won the lotto. But here's the best part if you ask me: one day you'll be online buying a ticket to present at a major conference. Before you type in your first and last names, the drop-down menu will ask if you are Miss, Mrs., Mr., or Dr.

And you'll get to choose Dr.

And you'll celebrate because, yes you are.