Relationships Outside of Gradschool: “Okay Denise…”

Photo by http://thestylepagess.blogspot.com/

Photo by http://thestylepagess.blogspot.com/

With Winter in full swing, it’s just about time to start bemoaning the lack of having a significant other. Because I’m on that list, I’d rather curb this discussion to talk about relationships in a different light, particularly with one’s family, during the process of seeking a degree.

I am very close to my family. We have a strong bond centered around a love of food each other, support, and trust. That being said, when it’s holiday time, or time to go visit home, it can get a bit tense, especially when trying to go home and instill upon your family all that enlightenment that has come from higher education.

My sister and I lovingly call out “Okay, Denise,” in reference to the lovable, yet severely out of tune Denise Huxtable from the Cosby Show,whenever we start going off on tangents about how society needs to change, and that our parents need to get with the program of all the new progressive things we have learned while away. It is difficult to remember sometimes that your family is not the same as your cohort, and they aren’t in your same social sphere. While it can feel like everyone around you is learning the same things you are, it is important to remember that graduate school exists in a bubble.

I had become…a Denise with a Master’s degree…

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TEAM APRIL

2013 was a banner year for challenges.  There were losses:  first, in February, the unexpected death of the husband of one of my best friends; and second, in July, the sudden and unexpected death of my own sister.

Of course, there were the additional challenges associated with these deaths – supporting my friend as she reeled from her loss and the stress resulting from my own family’s struggle with decisions regarding the withdrawal of life support measures after my sister’s catastrophic injury.  Continue reading

A Tale of Two Cities

As a disclaimer, this post has nothing to do with the book.

Image courtesy of Google Maps. Edited by Tiphani D

Image courtesy of Google Maps. Edited by Tiphani D

I am a Kansas City native (from the better, more functional Missouri side, not the dark, desolate Kansas side), and I used to be a fair weather fan; I didn’t want to be there when I was in high school, but when I went off to college and  then graduate school, I missed it terribly. What can be said…often times, the adult longs for the crib as it were; recalling a place where life was all about coloring, watching Disney movies (without analyzing it down to the pixels), and eating cereal, laden with refined sugar.

I almost didn’t trust myself on this topic, due to the extreme bias it permits me to take, without really having to provide any empirical evidence, or legitimate scholarly insight. However, I will attempt to make this post somewhat informative, in that it will hopefully assist as a guide for how to get through the “This city is (insert colorful adjective, noun, or noun phrase here)” inner dialogue, that will without question, plague your mind at least twice a week.

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Keeping Up with Family and (Off-Campus) Friends

One thing good about the internet is the ability to more easily interact with your family and friends.  Now, when I mean interact, I don’t mean mindlessly scrolling through their Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr profiles.  It really means having a 2-way interaction, whether it be as “slow” as sending them an email update or as audio/visual as a Skype conversation.

Bubble

http://www.hackensack.org/controls/eventview.aspx?MODE=SINGLE&ID=276

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Finding time to connect

Keeping up with your family and friends is important. Having a Skype date once a week can help you survive grad school and remain connected with loved ones. Photo courtesy of www.http://laptop-computer-planet.com

One of the best tips I have received about grad school is to remain connected to your loved ones. It is certainly very difficult when you are juggling your other responsibilities, but making time to talk, Skype or write an email to friends and family will help you improve your mental health.

I made a terrible mistake during my first year Continue reading

Back to Business

I hope everyone had a very happy holidays and a pleasant break between semesters. I traveled home to Montana and enjoyed some quiet time with my family.

Friendly mule down the road from our house

VERY friendly deer… perhaps too friendly.

We ate a lot of food, played a lot of games, stayed up late, slept in late, and pretty much let our cares rest for a while. Since the breaks between the semesters are often a time for students and professors to catch up on work, it felt a little indulgent to relax so much.

But actually, taking breaks can help your productivity in the long-run (as I’m sure most of us have heard.) Here’s some advice for graduate students from Rachel Manes and the American Psychological Association:

First off, consider how long the designated vacation period will last.  While writing up results of a study might seem like a tempting way to spend this time during the extended break, planning non-academic related events is an equally productive way to spend time during the designated vacation period because they stand to improve productivity after the break is over.  These off-line activities could range from travel and recreation to leisure time with friends and loved ones. (rest of the article here)

So you see, there’s no need to feel guilty about your vacation – and I hope you took one! Instead, you can focus on transitioning into the new semester and having a productive start. Happy spring semester everyone!

When you can’t go home…

I’m sure most of us would agree that one of the more difficult parts of graduate school is being far from your family, especially at the holidays. I’m happy to be going home this Christmas (first time in two years!), but I’m also happy that the holidays I’ve spent in Bloomington when I can’t go home have also been quite nice. This Thanksgiving I stayed in Bloomington and enjoyed a delicious potluck dinner with good friends, and the next night we went out to see the annual ceremony where the courthouse square is lit up by a canopy of lights.

The square lit up for the holidays. Photo from Indiana Public Media.

I can’t believe this is my fifth year in Bloomington and I never saw the lights celebration before! It was festive and fun, if a little chilly.

enjoying the festivities and trying to stay warm

There’s plenty of fun to be had in Bloomington when you can’t go home – especially when other students in the same position get together. Our Thanksgiving party this year was made up of a wonderful conglomeration of people from around the U.S. and around the world. I think my friend said it best when he said he was thankful that such a diverse group of people could get together and enjoy each other’s company and excellent food and good spirits. It was a very special holiday.

Tree inside the courthouse.

Happy holidays everyone! Only two weeks til winter break!

 

 

 

The non-academic portion of my summer

Dexter, my chosen handful of surprises.

I’ve already explained to you the academic portion of my summer. Even though it took up most of my time, I did manage to squeeze in two trips back east. The first was to go home for my sister’s birthday and for family BBQs. That was also the first time I brought my dog Dexter home. I am from NY and I didn’t want to pay for a plane ticket for my dog I decided to drive. The trip from Bloomington, IN to NY, NY is about 14 hours depending on traffic. I’ve driven it several times, with friends mostly and alone once. I mention this because when I decided to drive it was probably the week before it was time to leave. I hit up some friends to see if anyone needed to go to NY and within a day or two I had a full car, 3 people and two dogs in a 4 door. The drive was still long but it went much smoother because the dogs could entertain each other and we rotated driving so no one had to drive tired. It was a good reminder to me that no matter how focused you get into your research it is very important to keep your social life alive and healthy.

The second trip home was for my line brother’s wedding (I am in a fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi and a line brother is one of my fraternity brothers who joined at the same time as me). That was an amazing trip for two reasons. The first being that I he got married and it was a beautiful ceremony. It was in Philly and even though I had been to Philly before I had never been to that part and It was very beautiful. The second reason it was an amazing trip is because it was the first time in 4 years that all 8 guys from my line were together again since we joined. We love spending time together but two of us have moved out of state (one is in the marines and I am in grad school), two more have kids (one just got married and the other is engaged) and everyone works full time somewhere. That being said scheduling is a bit difficult. But the time spent with them was fantastic and even though I was still working through my exam my summer was still amazing simply for that one trip. Once again I want to stress that you must keep the balance between your 9-5 and your 5-9. You are in school to accomplish something that most don’t have the desire, determination or drive to complete. However your friends and family are the ones who will keep you grounded and help you bounce back when things get rough, and they will get rough. Grad school is an amazing experience that you wont want to do again. At the end of the day you can do it.

My line at Chris’ wedding, the groom is kneeling in front.

Do you have kids? Finding childcare and schools in Bloomington

Once I was admitted to IU, there seemed to be an endless list of tasks that needed attending to before my family and I made the physical transition to Bloomington, such as arranging housing, setting up utilities, finding the grocery store and opening a bank account. For me, one of the foremost tasks on my list was arranging for childcare and school for my daughter and son, respectively.

When we moved here, my daughter was only 2 years old. As I quickly learned, finding childcare in Bloomington for an infant or toddler can be a challenge. This is not unlike many cities were infant care is in short supply, but if you have a young child, you should be warned that you will probably end up on several very long lists with other parents who are also looking for care for their young children.  As a result, I ended up looking for alternative sources of care for my daughter. As a grad student I could not afford an in-home nanny, but I was able to find an in-home group care setting for her. To do this, I used the following website to help me with my initial search for reputable, licensed daycare providers: http://childcareindiana.org/childcareindiana/ptq.cfm. This website allows you to search by zip code and also find out what violations of state regulations, if any, a licensed provider has had in the recent past.

When my daughter turned 3 (and was potty trained), we enrolled her in the local school district’s preschool program called Ready, Set, Grow. She really thrived there. The teachers were terrific, many of which were certified in early childhood education. The program has a curricula that includes academic and social skills development. My daughter not only learned the alphabet, but also built relationships with other children with whom she attends school today.

When we moved here, I also had to enroll my son in elementary school. The local school district, Monroe County Community School Corporation (or MCCSC for short), provides lots of information on their website, including how to register your child in a school: http://www.mccsc.net/subsite/dist/page/title-raw-nid-3. You will need to determine which school covers the neighborhood in which you live using the District Boundary Map and then go to that particular school to enroll your child. Although it depends on who you ask, the public schools in the area are good quality, and I have found the teachers and administrators to be very caring  and interested in the welfare of students.

In sum, if you have children, get started early arranging for their day care. Although Bloomington has many wonderful options, it takes a while to find the right place for them.

PETS!!!

As you begin your graduate program, and as you fully grasp your reality of being in Bloomington for a while–expect a minimum of five years–you will have to determine what it means for you to make a home in this small—but lively—Midwestern town. For some this means buying a home, for others it means planting a garden, but for some it means adopting a companion animal. Considering bringing a dog or cat into your family is a complicated issue; graduate school for most comes with financial strain, and getting a graduate degree almost guarantees a few years of instability after graduation. On the other hand, an animal’s companionship can help to offset the isolation of advanced studies. What to do?

I should note that I have consulted a cat-loving friend of mine to help think through the pros and cons of adopting a pet as a graduate student. We came up with a few tips that, as always, are based on a limited set of perspectives. Feel free to add your own pearls of wisdom in the comments section! More than anything, it is important to remember that adopting impulsively puts your own and your pet’s quality of life at risk. Here are some things you may think about.

  1. Consider finances. Would a pet fit into your budget for this year, next year, and the next five (or longer)?
  2. Consider travel and pet care. Are you planning on spending a year or two overseas for research? If you anticipate attending conferences, do you know two or three people who could provide quality pet care within your means? I knew from the beginning of graduate school that pets were out of the question due to my doctoral research.
  3. Consider time. Do you have the space in your schedule to give a companion animal attention? Remember that they will not only need food, but also play time!
  4. Finally, weigh the benefits with the losses (financial and other). My friend-turned-consultant feels that although her cats have added to her financial strain, they offset the isolation of a research and writing lifestyle. For her, then, the benefits far outweighed the costs (or at least that’s the story she’s sticking to)…

Pets can provide much needed companionship to many young scholars, but we encourage you to think carefully about what you have to give to an animal. And remember: even if you can’t adopt, you can always volunteer at a local shelter!

(here’s a fun picture of one of her (two) cats…)