Social Life in Bloomington

They call New York City (NYC) the city that never sleeps, there is always something to do and/or something open. New York City is my hometown, so when I moved from NYC to Bloomington, Indiana I knew I was in store for a transition.

After I settled into my assistantship and course work, I began to seek out social outings in Bloomington. Back home I went to a lot of poetry events and was searching for that in Bloomington as well. I thought I would have to pause my passion for poetry, but I was able to find a monthly open mic and poetry slam right downtown. This was a monthly event, created by people of color that brought together various communities for communal storytelling. Whether it be a monthly slam, an informal gathering at someone’s home, or a night out at the bar, I always find comfort in these spaces. Graduate students of color take ownership of our experience here at IU and create the communities and bonds we want to be a part of. There is always a gathering happening somewhere with graduate students of color. I am able to engage with different graduate students from different disciplines and full-time professionals in Bloomington. I never knew when I came to IU that I would find a strong community of graduate students of color that would play such an integral role in my social support. Bloomington is no New York City, but I still manage to find spaces that rejuvenate and refresh me.

Spring Semester Thoughts and Tips

Now that we’ve had another break and are settling in to our spring classes, I thought it might be nice to share my thoughts on what I do to adjust to a busier lifestyle after each academic downtime. You know how it is–break comes, we have all these plans to read our research materials, visit with family and friends, and organize our study spaces. But, if you are anything like me, I spend the first two days wandering around my apartment and inside my head, trying to figure out exactly how to structure my life for a few weeks. Graduate school is intense at any level, and I know when I don’t have pressing deadlines and meetings hanging over my head, I feel a little lost for a while. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to have the break, but I’m so productive during the semester in comparison that I always feel disjointed and even somewhat guilty for being so “lazy” for the first few days of a break.

Then, reality of my free time hits and I’m off and running. To be honest, however, I only get about half of my “break to-do” list completed before I realize that the next semester starts in a few days. You know that feeling–panicking in my head over the “should-haves” instead of appreciating the “what-happened”. And before I know it, the weight of a new semester re-settles on my shoulders and that to-do list now becomes a Spring Break list lol.

You know what, though? It’s all good. What used to stress me out so strongly has become a way of life for me. Regardless of whether I’m working on my academic responsibilities or on my life outside of my studies, I have learned this one thing: Some way or the other, it will get done. Maybe not on my expected time frame, but when push comes to shove, I will accomplish what is needed. I have made it this far, one step at a time, and I will continue to work my way through it, one step and day at a time.

So, as far as adjusting to a busier life after each break, I have learned to take time for me outside of academia. Whether that is to take an hour or two to sort out my bedroom–which, trust me, can easily become a mountain of books and papers–to go to a movie on campus or at a public theater, or to exercise. If given a choice, personally I like to exercise the most, as it helps elevate my mood and ensures I will still fit into my clothes lol, but not all the time. Sometimes I just like to sit and watch a show that has little to do with what I am researching. In my opinion, I am always learning, no matter what I chose to view, and since learning makes me happy, then movies are justifiable. I am very introverted and don’t need much social time, but I can truthfully attest that spending time with others doing what makes you happy is one of the most productive ways academics re-coup and re-center.

Basically, nothing I’ve said is what you probably don’t already know, but it is so easy for us to forget. Take time for yourself. Be patient with yourself. And above all, put yourself first. You’re the only You you have:)

Love and Peace,

Amy Aiyegbusi

 

A New Semester!

With a new semester beginning on Monday, I thought I would share some steps and tips that I take to prepare myself.

Purchase color-coded notebooks and folders-Maybe this is because I am a former middle school teacher, but I still purchase the same color notebooks and folders for each class. This small trick makes organization a bit easier.

Say no as needed-The beginning of the semester always seems to bring a ton of meetings, appointments, etc. Say no when you need to. The new semester can already be overwhelming with new classes so you may need to focus on your studies and hold off on scheduling non-urgent meetings and appointments.

Schedule time for yourself-It may not happen if you don’t! If going to the gym is important to you, put it on your schedule as if it is a class and make it happen. Same goes for massages, seeing friends, weekend getaways, etc.

Happy New Year!

Photo by Garrett Carter

Happy New Year! Starting a New Semester by Thomas Elton IV

Getting back into the routine of school after winter break can be challenging. This is the time to order your books, purchase your parking pass for the new semester, and any other materials or supplies you need to replenish to make sure you continue to do well with your graduate studies.

Before the semester begins it may seem that you have a lot to do and you’re “on break” but here is a list of a few  things you may or may not have thought of to do to ensure you begin the next semester smoothly.

  • Clean and organize school stuff. Recycle all those articles and papers you printed that you do not need. If you believe they could be useful in the future, organize them by putting them in a folder so that you can easily access them later.
  • Check your emails! In graduate school you may find that even though you are “on break” not everyone else is. There may be emails regarding your financial aid, research, volunteer, internship, or even employment opportunities. For example, I recently checked my email, and the initial application window for a position was only 6 days. If I had waited to check my email, I would have missed my opportunity to apply.
  • Clean and stay up to date with your housekeeping. Although you are on break, you do not want to start the semester having chores to do on the first day. For example do all of your laundry, so that it is one less thing that you have to worry about when beginning the semester. Also do any other regular housekeeping tasks such as sweeping (vacuuming) floors.
  • Go grocery shopping and clean out your fridge.  When you have a lot more time than during the semester, stock up with your food. Since winter break is a few weeks, our refrigerators may become bare because food does go bad. This is because we may travel during the holidays and any food that can not last a few weeks will need to be thrown out. I personally like to make sure that I purchase milk, fruits, vegetables and healthy snacks during this time.
  • Make a list of things you do not want to forget. This list can include everything aforementioned in this post. This list can also include anything else you feel that you need to do before the semester begins. I like to physically write my list down but you can do it however you like (i.e making the list in your phone).

These are just a few suggestions that work for me when beginning a new semester  after winter break. Feel free to use them and good luck!

Countdown to 2018: Self-Care Practices for Graduate School in the New Year

The end of each fall semester is bittersweet. Grading is done, courses are complete, and, more often than not, we are burnt out. The new year is just around the corner and resolution ideas are already brewing as we check the pulse of our progress for the year. Self-help writers and experts publish pieces every year about why writing new year resolutions are necessary or planned failures . Wherever you stand on resolutions, the semester-end is usually a clear reminder (or demand) to get back into the regular practice of self-care, self-love, and healing after 16+ weeks of the emotional, physical, and spiritual tax of academic life. As I write this blog, I think about the 50-11-hunnid think pieces about self-care Continue reading

The End of the Semester…

For those contemplating a return to school, I thought it might be useful to give you a snapshot of what the final weeks of the semester look like. To provide some context, I am a third-year Ph.D. student in Education Policy Studies. Let’s begin with the Thanksgiving break that wasn’t…

While I enjoyed the opportunity to go home for a week, I went into break with one smaller paper to complete (7-10 pages) before returning to school, and two larger papers (20+ pages) due on December 11th. Since I did not want to be working on two large papers at the same time, I decided that I would complete my smaller paper and put a big dent in one of the larger ones. The good news is that I completed the smaller paper and put a dent in the larger paper! However, this came at a cost. One, I did not tell many friends that I would be in town because I knew I would not have time to see them. I work best when I have full days to work as opposed to days broken up by luncheons and dinners. Second, I chose to cut my break two days short because I knew I would get more work done at my apartment in Bloomington than at home where I would rather be spending time with my family. So, while I technically had a break, I also felt like I did not have much of one since I was still doing work. While this was a sacrifice, it definitely paid off upon my return.

While several of my friends were cramming to complete several large assignments in the final weeks, I was left with just a few pages to finish on one paper and then my other large paper. There is no right or wrong answer here; you just have to know what works best for you. Some people needed Thanksgiving break to rejuvenate and then tackle all of their work during the last few weeks. I knew that it would be better for me to get work done over the break, so I only had one major assignment to complete afterwards. As a result, I finished up my semester on Friday, December 8th leaving me with a full month of no work before returning on January 8th. This time, I will tell my friends I am home!

One of my large papers!
Photo by Garrett Carter

Happy Holidays, and I hope that you have an opportunity to take a little break as well!

Garrett

“ I’M HERE!”


(Image from http://pridebrary.com/the-color-purple-1982/

There are a lot of responsibilities that we take on as graduate students. Between personal, professional and scholastic development, I have felt absolutely exhausted at times. It is during these times to remember to be kind to yourself. Self-kindness allows you to forgive yourself. I may not get everything done as I would have like, but I am continuing to press forward, allowing myself to stumble and sometimes fall. There are days when the best I can do is show up… “but, dear God, I’m here!!”

The Horrors of Grad School! The Halfway Mark of the Semester!

As the leaves begin to change colors and temperatures drop, the fall season begins to settle in, and so do you in the fall semester of the school year. You should be settled into your class schedule; finished your midterms; and have made it past the halfway point of the semester. Now is the time to reflect on the first half of the semester, and evaluate your successes and failures to ensure a strong finish of the second half of the semester.

The first point of reflection should be your study habits and whether they positively or negatively impacted your performance. A good way to determine the effectiveness of your study habits should be your performance on your midterm exams. If you didn’t score a high mark and were disappointed in your grade, now is the time to change your study habits.

One way to improve studying is to work with your fellow classmates. Reviewing course materials, such as class notes and actual homework assignments, with another student from the class can help you better understand the material. Increasing the frequency in which you study can also help improve your academic performance. Studying a little bit each day instead of cramming for several hours the day before the exam can increase your ability to retain information, as well as reduce your stress level about the exam. Lastly, making a study plan for exam can help you do better in the course. Once the professor assigns a date for the exam, designate specific study times far in advance. Each day you can pick a specific subject to study to ensure that you cover everything that will be on the exam. And while studying is important, a graduate student must also effectively manage ones downtime.

One of the most difficult things graduate students face is balancing time between school work and social or personal relaxation activities. There will be weeks where you’ll have a lot to get done and other weeks where the workload will be significantly lighter. When it comes to the latter, it’s important to not spend too much time relaxing, especially when you are uncertain of potential future assignments. For instance, if an assignment is not due for more at least a week and half, you should begin working on it once you’ve submitted the more pressing homework. It’s best to get on jump on the assignment sooner rather than later. Even if you only do one or two problems here and there, getting a little bit done early on lightens the potential load of other assignments you may get hit with the following week.

Reflecting upon one’s progress after midterms is crucial for any graduate student. You’ll make mistakes or stumble in your graduate career, but the key is to learn from those mistakes and apply them to the rest of the semester and even the school year. After all, a phrase I like to live by is, “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.” So if things are off to a rocky start at the beginning of the semester, there is still time for you to improve going forward.

4 Tips for Surviving Graduate School Applications

Graduate applications can be a very stressful time, especially since they often overlap with midterms and/or finals. Below are some tips to help you survive this stressful time.

1) Make sure you get adequate sleep. Staying up late and getting little sleep is often seen as a “badge of honor” in college. However, not getting enough sleep is related to a number of negative physical and psychological health outcomes. Therefore, getting enough sleep is important for performing at the optimum level. You can improve this by trying to go to sleep at a similar time each night and have a consistent bedtime routine in which you get 7-9 hours each night.

2) Find an application partner. One of the best ways to stay on track to complete your applications by their deadlines is to have an accountability partner. Meeting with this person and working on applications together at the same time each week can help motivate you and boost productivity on days when you are not feeling up to it.

3) Have a team. Having a team of other students, current graduate students, and/or faculty members to read over your application materials and provide you with feedback throughout your process is crucial for creating a competitive application. These individuals can also help keep you on track.

4) Try not to stress too too much. It’s natural for you to experience high levels of stress throughout this process. However, there are some things you can do to try and combat this. Some ways to do this include: exercising, spending time doing things that you enjoy, and mindfulness practices such as deep breathing and yoga.

Dealing with Haters: What to do when you get negative evaluations

Although there are a many ways to fund grad school, most often your graduate stipend will come from a teaching position. For some this will be a one-time gig, but for many it’s an every semester commitment. During your time as an Associate Instructor (AI), often referred to at other universities as a Teaching Assistant (TA), you will be faced with the end-of-term evaluation. This is an important assessment from the students you are teaching solicited by the department to garner feedback about the course to make it better. Often, these are also ‘free for alls’ for students to tell you how they really feel, for better or worse.

The reality is whether you enjoy being in the classroom or not, negative critiques can hurt because it can feel (or be) a personal attack on your character. During my first year of teaching it was like night and day between the fall and spring semesters. Whether it was the number of students doubling or the personality of the group of students, I know that reading my evaluations made me question whether academia was the right fit for me. After reflecting on my personal classroom experience, a few pieces of advice:

Fix the things you can Ultimately, teaching is a skill like any other and needs to be continually developed. No one is perfect, and what worked before may not work the same way with this group of students. If your students make recommendations within the evaluation forms, see if there are reoccurring themes. Use these areas to focus on and improve your teaching style. For example: Do you speak too softly? Are lecture slides too busy? Have your office hours been held at a difficult time? Use these recommendations as small fixes that can improve the overall classroom dynamic. Universities often offer teaching pedagogy courses or have centers that host workshops to help improve teaching and learning. Making one or two improvements may increase the overall experience for both you and your students.

Recognize there are things you can’t change Understand that some critiques will be beyond your control. Whether it’s the amount of work required for the course, content to be covered or assigned projects, most of these are established way before you’re assigned to teach a course. Sometimes addressing it on the first day of class is helpful (and sometimes it’s ignored). Reflecting on why some comments are made, rather than the fact that they’re targeted at you can help illuminate that the issue may be less about you and more about their feelings.

Keep Calm and remember to breathe. Whether you’ve been teaching for 25 years or this is your first semester, take a deep breath and try to relax. At the end of the day everyone has good semesters and bad ones, but if you want to pursue teaching at any level, you will be bound to receive some negative feedback. Don’t let it break you.

KeepCalm4getHaters