I’ve always found the transition between break and the start of the semester to be particularly tricky. Within a few days, you move from relatively little structure (which could be comprised of sleeping until noon, wearing pajamas all day, and binge-watching The Crown), to having a much more set schedule of lectures, discussions, research, reading, meetings, etc.
Help your body and mind ease into the new semester with these three tips! Spending an hour here and there thinking about goals and your experience in graduate school thus far will help you feel ready to get started.
1. Reflect on your experiences and start setting goals
Now that you’ve finished your first semester, you have a better idea of what your program and graduate school is like. Take some time to reflect on what you’ve learned and accomplished and where you want to go next. Some of the questions you might ask yourself include:
- Was graduate school what you expected?
- What do you really enjoy about your work?
- What is something that you would like to know more about?
- What did you learn that you weren’t expecting?
- Have new opportunities emerged that were unexpected?
- How have your goals shifted based on what you’ve experienced so far?
- What are some things that you might change based on what went well or didn’t go well?
- Are there any new skills that you would like to develop?
Based on your answers, you can start formulating some goals for next semester. Maybe there is a class you want to take, something new you want to investigate, or a faculty member to get to know. You might think even further ahead and consider how your answers relate to your long-term personal and professional goals. For instance, maybe there a particular career path you are interested in pursuing; are there any classes or activities that can help you prepare? Or maybe your professional goals are starting to change. Are there opportunities to explore different options?
2. Explore resources to help with organization and skill-building
This is a great time to get ahead on tasks that often get forgotten and to learn some new skills. Some ideas include:
- Do you have a good organization system for your class notes, research and lab materials, and other files? Use this time to get organized! You might download citation management software to organize all of the books, articles, and other resources you’ve collected. Programs such as EverNote and OneNote may be helpful in storing the notes that you’ve taken. Spend a little time exploring these programs to see what works best for you.
- Develop a file-naming system for your files so that you can easily find everything. For tips on organizing your files, check out the Research Data Service website.
- Is there software you’ve always wanted to learn or a skill you would like to develop? Explore LinkedIn Learning! These short videos cover topics including web design, photography, career development, interpersonal communication, productivity, and more.
3. Incorporate fun activities and breaks into your routine
The end of the semester is typically pretty chaotic, with a mix of paper and project deadlines, final exams, grading, etc. A good, relaxing break away from your academic work and responsibilities is needed and well-earned! But as the next semester begins, it’s important to keep self-care in your daily routine. Identify some activities that you enjoy doing and plan to do them each day when the semester starts. For instance, you might choose a television series to follow and watch it regularly, take a walk each day, read a chapter in a book (not work-related) before bed, or find another fun activity to do.
Make sure to also listen to your body. If you’re feeling tired, ill, and/or overwhelmed, take plenty of time to rest and relax before getting back to work. Keep in mind that there are campus health resources to support you including McKinley Health Center, the Health Education team at McKinley, and the Counseling Center. Campus units—such as the Krannert Art Museum and Japan House—are hosting activities that promote mindfulness and meditation.
Emily Wuchner is the Associate Director for Student Experience at the Graduate College. She holds a PhD in musicology from the University of Illinois, and her work focuses on music and social welfare in eighteenth-century Austria. In her free time, she enjoys boxing, reading, and knitting and crochet.