Starting the Second Year


So you’ve finished your first year of a masters program, spent the summer working in an internship that you loved, and now you’ve returned to your bustling campus for your second year. But, what does that second year have in store? Your first year brought with it changes in your life: new school, new classmates, new town, dietary habits, and even possibly a new partner. But now the second year? Mentors and friends can prepare (if one can be prepared) you for the first year, but hardly anyone talks to you about them second year.

As an aspiring second year masters student, this is where I now sit: returning to IU after a summer away to a campus full of new students, energy, and the oncoming school year only a short time away. While I do not have any advice to give as of now (having not completed the second year yet, I can’t say if anything worked best or not), but I can say that these are some of the things I plan to keep in mind to make this next year a great one.

Now, this may seem like a strange strategy to begin with, but it is one of the most important to remember throughout grad school. With assignments, grading, work, friends, family, and life all swirling around you at the same time, it can be easy to forget that you yourself need time every once and a while. It is also important to note that one should not fall into the trap of believing that self-care is the same for everyone. While one person may find that taking a few hours to sit on the couch, read a book for fun, and drink warm tea are the way to go, others may not. I fell into this trap many a time during my years as an undergraduate student, and into my first year of grad school. Thus, in the end, self-care is a two step process: remembering to find time to take for yourself amongst all the things that you need to do, and, finding those things that give you peace so that you can carry on.

Find your Person(s)
I know, I know, I quote Grey’s Anatomy in suggesting this, but, it is very much true. It is possible to make it through graduate school alone. But, it is much easier with friends. Having someone you can talk to after a long day of classes, a tiring shift at your job, and homework that will last you long into the night, can often mean the world. But, one person cannot bear the weight of all your problems, just as you would struggle to bear the weight of theirs. Thus, as the old saying goes “it takes a village to raise a child.” It may not happen right away, but finding your people will happen eventually. And these people will become so much more than friends.

Find your Routine
So, this one may seem obvious, but it may be one of the hardest things to accomplish during your year. For the first few weeks (even close to a month) you may find that you feel off: you’re adjusting to course loads, your job schedule may be in flux with new folks joining the team, and then outside of class you have to find time for all other things life. But as that first month passes you’ll start to figure out what your instructors are looking for in their classes, your homework time will solidly itself, you will find time to call your family and go get dinner with your friends, and it will all slowly come back into focus.

Things will Close
It may seem that grad school will continue on forever, but know this: all things end. For some it is two years, others 6, some 8. No matter what the time frame looks likes for the degree that you are pursuing, it will eventually all come to you walking across the stage with a new degree and a bright future. Now, this means two things for you in the present. First, remember this on those dark nights where it seems like there is no end. You can make it, and you will make it. Rely on your friends, your family, get sleep, eat healthy, and get ready for the next day. Second, take advantage of the time that you have where you’re at. Meet new people. Take walks around campus. Do some of those first year student traditions you think are weird. Make the most of it, because in a short amount of time you’love be moving on, and the memories you make are what you’ll always remember.

If there is one final piece of advice that I can pass onto you it is this: everything I’ve just said could work, or it couldn’t. Remember that you are the one who knows your life best, and that you have the opportunity to make of it what you will. Don’t be afraid to try new things; don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone. You are the one who has the opportunity to see this new year through to the end, your way.

With that, I wish you well. Welcome to you friend, whether it is your first day or if you’re returning once more. Welcome to your all, and I am glad to have the opportunity to learn from you while we’re here.

Hot Topic Conversation: Immigration, Identity, and Inclusion

The dignity of all human beings is respected and their fundamental rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are constitutionally protected in the United States. From my experience as an immigrant in past 12 years, I have always believed this, but last night I was once again reassured.

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the 2nd conversation “Immigration, Identity, and Inclusion” of the series “Hot Topics” for IU faculty, staff, students, and Bloomington community members. The event had 5 panelists, who spoke for about 5-7 minutes. This was followed by questions from the moderators and questions from the audience. At the end, audience, who were still present after the official event end time of 9:00 PM, were divided into smaller groups for further discussion.
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Summa Summa Summa Time…

Where has the time gone?! I’ve always thought the spring semester flew by compared to the fall. And that has truly been the case this semester. I feel like it was only yesterday that I was making vision boards with my sistah-scholars to bring in the new year. And now, it’s April! Spring is here! (Well, the cold temps may indicate otherwise…). But as I look at my planner for the remainder of the semester, it hit me that summer comes after spring…

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Spring is here…go outside

IMG_4050April is by far the busiest month of the semester this year because it is the last at IUB. In lieu of the long hours inside the library or at a desk, get outside. Bring your work, your lunch, your study snack, your coffee, and your laptop outside.

Bloomington has plenty of wonderful park, trails, coffee shops with outdoor seating (my favorite, Hopscotch on the B-Line). Regardless of where you are, take the time to enjoy the outdoors.

A couple other things to do in Bloomington this month: Take in the sights, sounds, smells, and treats the Farmers Market has to offer. The Market reopens the first Saturday in April.

Climb the Hickory Ridge Lookout Tower

I’ve found myself stuck inside lately but when I get moving, it helps me process my thoughts so I keep a small notebook in my pocket. This may not be as effective as sitting at a desk with a laptop but it is a healthier choice and YOU come first.

Life happens, just keep moving

My life as a graduate student began almost five years ago, in 2011, when I started a Master’s in Music Performance at IU. I remember that back then, when my family and friends asked me about how long I thought my studies were going to take, I said that they would probably last just two years. I was so wrong. I ended up staying one more year doing a Performer Diploma; later, I spent a year working before resuming my graduate studies, but this time as a PhD student at IU.

As I started a new degree in the Music Education Department, I felt more confident about managing the stress and my life as a graduate student. I was determined to succeed in my new endeavor. I thought I had enough skills to carry out this new project. Skills such as time management, healthy eating habits, and self discipline. I wanted to accomplish every single thing I had in mind for my new stage in life. Having all those skills tuned up proved not to be quite true either.

My first semester in grad school was really tough…. Continue reading

OHH NOOO, Spring Break is COMING….

Yes, I myself dread spring-break. I really do. When I was an undergraduate, spring-break literally and figuratively meant a BREAK. No homework, no readings, no nothing! Break was all about the beaches, drinks, and Netflix. You honestly did your best to break, and forget about academics for a week. But the golden days of truly “breaking” for spring-break are over once you enter grad school. Now, its about strategically using your time.

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How To Prepare for Transitioning to Grad School

As many of you prepare to end your last semester in undergrad and transition to graduate level in the fall, I offer some jewels of advice to ease the transition.

Assuming you start your graduate program some time in the fall, you have about 5 and a half months as of the date to prepare for your new journey. And in that time, you can do A LOT to aid in your transition to grad school.

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Getting through the semester ONE MEAL at a TIME

So, I’ve admitted before, one of my favorite things to do is cook. Sadly, finding enough time in a day, a week, a month, a semester to do everything we need to do as a graduate student seems impossible so finding time to cook everyday is just as impossible.

So here’s my proposal to you: Plan a week worth of meals over the weekend. We all need to find a balance that works for each of us so there is no master plan, just some handy suggestions.

  1. Make a list of your favorite foods to make! Be sure to include meals that you are familiar with making and that are almost second nature to you.
  2. Look for recipes online that you’d like to try. There are a great occasional treat.

What does a well planned out week look like for me?

  • Friday: Pick out SIX or SEVEN meals on  for the following week.Think healthy and abundant dinners. This should generate leftovers for lunch.
  • Saturday: Go grocery shopping!
  • Sunday: Crockpot Day! nice warm meals that takes care of itself while I plan lectures, grade, clean up around the house, and, the best part, there’s leftovers.
  • Monday: Burritos. My favorite meal ever.
  • Tuesday: Leftovers
  • Wednesday: Soup or pasta. Bacon Mac and Cheese? Or a more traditional. sopa de albondigas?
  • Thursday: Pizza
  • Friday: Leftovers

The two most important thing I’ve learned about meal prep and storage:

  1. Organize your refrigerator, your pantry, and your dishes! 
  2. Consider investing in three items: A SLOW COOKER, A PANINI PRESS, A WAFFLE MAKERS. These three kitchen gadgets are economical investments and my favorite acquisitions of the semester. I took WAY to long to get around to buying them.

Now, remember, I have a hound at home that requires me walking him at lunch time. I often make myself a turkey, bacon, and tomato panini sandwich for lunch or a fruit salad.

Everyone is happy on a full stomach! Helps me think and save money.

Find your balance but when the plan fails, Bloomington has a great selection of ethnic restaurants down the street from Sample Gates.

Being Married in Grad School

Copyright (Jorge Cham, 2015)

It is often said that Graduate school and Marriage are similar in many ways.

  1. Time Commitment – Typically grad school commitments are between 5-7 years (Ph.D.) which is a substantial amount of time given the usual 3-4 years of high school and college. However, for marriage you make a life-long commitment, but during that time is included the years that you do research, take courses, and work with your advisor. So you have an overlap of graduate school and personal time, but this can be of benefit as being married to someone who is supportive can be the best catalyst to finishing the Ph.D. in a timely manner and avoiding the dreaded perpetual ABD status.
  2. Partnership – When you decide to attend grad school you are paired with an advisor/mentor so that during your time in the program you have someone to guide you. This emulates being married in the pairwise relation between two individuals with a common goal: earning a Ph.D., publishing research, and being ultimately being happy. It takes “two to tango” is true for both your Ph.D. journey and life as a spouse. There is no “I” in Team so you both have to work together to achieve your team and individual goals. If this partnership does not work, then nothing will get done.
  3. Productivity – I find that as a newly married doctoral graduate student, being married and committing to spending the rest of your life with another person can often be the greatest support for your dream of a  rewarding career in academia. Most often having another person(i.e. spouse or advisor) encouraging you in times where you need to be productive can make the difference between submitting a mediocre or excellent paper.

Final Thoughts: Given the benefits of being married while in grad school, do not be dissuaded of making a commitment to the one you love when you are faced between the rigor of grad school. The benefits typically outweigh any potential limitation.