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.



How Do I Deal With Life in Grad School? COMMUNICATE!

This last week has been the pits for me; First, I got sick, and then a small piece of my back tooth came out, and I need a crown (MAYBE $750 🙁 ). I still have so much to complete to stay on track (a detailed critique/commentary for one class, and I must read a book for another class by tomorrow) but throughout the weekend my body was simply not functioning. So I did what I could during the week, and when everything ended Friday I headed home. I made soup with onions, jalapenos, and green onions and curled up in bed.

A major challenge we face as graduate students (or others in hyper productive environments) is that we get so used to being productive (or at least striving to be) that when we are not working, we experience guilt to different degrees. And this can really weigh down our future efforts.

I was in the bed, sick from the flu, with a toothache I would wish on no one, and yet I still worried about getting my work done, and what would my professors think of me if I did not live up to their expectations. BUT LIFE HAPPENS!!

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Struggling to Find a Routine? (It’s okay!)

As I wrap up the 3rd year in my PhD program, I still struggle to find my sweet spot of productivity. BUT THAT’S OKAY!

Graduate school is essentially a marathon; you have a great (intellectual) distance to travel, and the primary goal is to finish. In order to do that, a balance must be struck between academic/professional work and self-care. Very often we forget about how important it is to take care of our mental and physical well-being. When we focus on sprinting too fast for a short distance, we run the risk of burning out (physically, mentally, and emotionally). So how can you negotiate your own balance of well-being and performance?

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Making Connections

One of the best things I have done since beginning graduate school at IU is joining a student organization. In my case, I joined the Latino Graduate Student Organization (LGSA). Being a member of LGSA has helped me both academically and socially by making connections with students and faculty.

As graduate students, we tend to stick within our department. Through LGSA I have met students and faculty from various departments such as History and Anthropology and the School of Education. Speaking with people from different disciplines has helped me learn how to frame my research in a way that others can understand it and find it relevant. In addition, it has exposed me to the different types of research being done at IU.

Perhaps the best part about joining a student organization is the supportive community it has to offer. Through LGSA I have formed strong friendships with other grad students. It is great to have people who you can talk to about the challenges and successes you experience in grad school, and life in general.

At IU there are numerous organizations that graduate students can join. I’m sure you can find one that fits what you are looking for!


Balancing Family Life and Academic Work

This academic year was a time of change for me: I suddenly became a guardian of my two younger brothers. I moved them to Bloomington with me because I knew they would have a better opportunity here than where they lived. However, I didn’t know how hard it would be to raise them while also continuing my academic career as a PhD student.

Before the boys moved in with me I had planned on being ABD (all but dissertation) by now, but I decided to take things a little slower. I knew raising two boys would be a lot of work but I figured I could easily continue on with my studies without any significant changes… I was wrong. Almost everything changed… Continue reading