Top 3 Characteristics of a Grad Student

Initially, the goal was to provide the world with week by week insight into the mind of a graduate student; however, we’re not so much different than other humans living in a struggle bus. Graduate students question everything, neglect self care, and want to be great.

Question Mark

Whenever you enter a new level, position, or school, the beginning involves a version of breaking the student down. People come in with rich backgrounds and amazing experiences which make them unique, but upon entering graduate school you have to build from the core. We often get lost in the “stuff” (e.g. titles, accomplishments, travel, memories) and forget about the “us.”

You could argue that breaking people is a negative practice. It’s quite possible that I’m simply brainwashed by now, but I argue that for some people it’s a necessary evil. In speaking about the core, working in graduate school challenged my beliefs and how I saw myself. Because ideas and perspectives are changing, it makes it difficult to write or journal coherently. However, towards the end, when you’re allowed to breathe parts of the big picture start to form. This process of reshaping the mind is helpful if one already questions things and themselves.

The key learnings here are: you are already great; do what you enjoy and do it well; you are never static, but always changing; it is okay not to have answers; and sometimes there is no meaning besides what you attribute to it.

Care for Self

Because people don’t keep themselves or their core at the center, they allow themselves to neglect the care they are silently begging for. When we get lost in the things (e.g. obligations, deadlines, accomplishments, etc.), we forget how important we are. The stress from graduate school and the normalized self neglect cause people to not eat, drink alcohol excessively, put off crying, skip grooming, and stop playing, amongst other things. This is dangerous in that the things allow them to forget themselves and become delirious. Graduate students reading this right now have probably already nodded their head in argument, giggled under their breathe, and continued self harming.

It is important for us to stay alert and watch for these signs. Although the focus is not about changing their minds, it is providing alternative options or ideas that they might consider. So I will not argue against a keg party or an average of 2 hours a sleep per week, but I will bring up how the combination of stress, alcohol, and lack of self care could be why they feel bad…and could make them feel worse. It’s not meant to judge, just an observation.

The key learnings here: graduate students don’t like it when you judge them; graduate students like when you comfort them with words; encouraging things like baths, vegetables, and breaks might not go over well, but with time can be done; and remember that you are human before student or employee.

The GOAT

Greatness is subjective. Our worlds have become so intertwined with social media, television, travel, etc. We know more now about what other people are doing and feel as though we are unsuccessful in the lane next to them. However, your life is your own race in your own lane. You are already great, you just need to find joy, happiness, and what can fill your cup.

I have been told in the past to find something that I do better than almost anyone else and have fun doing it. This is so hard. For some, finding passion or talent is simple. For others (like me), it’s tough because we think we’re great at nothing or everything. The combination of finding something that I both enjoy and am good at is tough, because I also want it to be something that is holistically healthy for me. But again, it’s a matter of just being honest with yourself.

I’m finally getting to a point where I’m filling my own cup and am able to identify that which is holding me back. I am listening to my gut which encourages me to move a lot, but tells me what I enjoy. I am continuing to ask all of the questions to all of the more adulty adults. Finally, next semester, I have plans to build in a structure for myself and develop small goals to make these stressful years more enjoyable.

The key learnings here: be honest and vulnerable with yourself and take a moment to talk to yourself about what it is you want (not what you think others want or need from you). Just do you, boo.

Best,

CJ

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Grad School: Not for Kicks and Giggles

Though I’m not sure why you’re here, I am not here for kicks and giggles.

It has been about two weeks since my last post. This is mainly because I’ve had a question that I have been investigating. I will share those thoughts with you next week. However, this week, I have seen somethings that leave me shook. Cue rant:

I realized that my understanding of attending a graduate program differs significantly from some other graduate students. Across departments, I often hear that grad school serves as a holding place for not getting a job or a safety net. This absolutely blows my mind. Of course, I understand that the job market is competitive and difficult to get into (mainly because you need experience to get entry level positions and it’s about who you know). I also understand that all students know is school. From k-12, you sit, listen to teachers, and take thousands of tests. Afterward, some students start jobs, careers, or families while a few go to college (if they can afford it or were given proper resources to apply). The idea behind going to undergrad is to get a certificate, an associates, or bachelors degree to get a job (or become a manager). And that’s just it. People can go to undergrad for experience, marks to elevate them to their next step, or just take classes for fun that their previous education did not cover (kicks and giggles). You are gaining general knowledge about an area to use in some practical way.

When you enter graduate school, you are making the statement that you are going to specialize in a certain area (or become the expert in the PhD track). These people DO NOT show up for kicks and giggles. The idea (or at least in my opinion) was that people go to grad school with an ultimate goal that can only be reached with specialization in that area. For example, I believe that I want to teach college students which means that I need at least a masters degree to be hired by a university and it would be nice to have some published work (for street cred). Within academia, they want you to get as many degrees as possible and have credible work to back up that knowledge. Those with other aspirations or want positions of great power and influence might also need more degrees to set them up for success. The point is, you come to grad school with an idea or goal in mind and you grind. You are processing information and adding knowledge to the academic community. It is intense. Specifically within Communication, I am doing a lot of reading, writing, and presenting those findings each week about new material. My brain hurts.

The shook part is observing graduate students who are on Facebook or texting their friends in lectures (like non-emergency, emoji conversations). It takes everything within me to not stare them square and say, “Leave.” If your timeline and gossip blogs are more important than this course content, go home! You do not have to be here. I do not think the professor is even taking roll. You are not engaged and now are distracting me with all the blue and white lights. Just leave. If this is not interesting to you and you do not want to be here…LEAVE. I just think it is disrespectful and devaluing the positions we are in. There are people in the room who 50…80…100 years ago, would not have been allowed to study there. These people would not have even seen it as an option. You sitting in that seat probably means another student around the country was wait-listed or declined. YOU CAN LEAVE.

Studying for your masters or doctorate is a big deal and is super tough. It is an opportunity that most people never get to experience. People come to grad school because they have goals they need or want to meet. They have things that they are interested in knowing more about. They are not here for kicks and giggles.

End rant. Now I have more reading to do.

Best,

CJ

End of Gap Year: What’s Next?

I’ll be starting a new adventure soon and hopefully I’ll have more time to write.

This time last year, I was going through one of the biggest transitions of my young adult life. I had completed my undergraduate studies and begun to define womanhood for myself. I made a terrifying, yet beautiful decision to take a Gap Year. Here’s what I learned from that experience.

Long story short, I graduated without a plan, but had great options. I deferred my enrollment at the University of Arkansas, in order to gain more focus in my life. My undergrad career was draining physically, mentally, emotionally, and academically. So during my Gap Year I completed internships in event planning and studio art, served through AmeriCorps to develop Social Emotional Learning or soft skills in young students, traveled aboard, attended conferences and trainings, while having a lot of fun (some might say too much)!

During this time, I learned that I am someone who has high expectations for excellence and will work endlessly to improve a situation. I have been creative, strategic, and intentional with putting myself in the right circle of people and places. I learned the importance of taking care of yourself and what that might look like for me. I also learned that teaching is where I am meant to be. However, I do not believe k-12 is my calling.

During my Gap Year, though I enjoyed working with middle and high school students, I do not believe that the Education system supports teachers to develop great students. Therefore, I applied to four different graduate programs around the U.S. I am now enrolled at the University of Arkansas to encourage more inclusive communities and be a part of changing what education looks like in the U.S.

Through serving long hours in various school systems and summer camps, I noticed that I was passionate about giving students the best quality experiences. I noticed that I put my students first in every capacity. I believe that those intense emotions or connections should never be ignored. I hope that my graduate studies will show me ways that I can be more influential and allow me to make tangible goals to improve our education system.

This learning matters because I noticed my calling. I think I had been running away from it for so long and not identifying it for what it was. In every aspect of my life, I have been a leader and teacher. I use to think that I was the only one without “a thing” or passion or clear direction. But now I believe that my “thing” is leading within education and what better way to do that than through graduate school.

As a result of my Gap Year journey, I gained more focus on what makes Cayla happy and who adult Cayla might be. I am still writing my story in pencil for now, but I’m starting to get a better picture of the final chapter.

I want to thank everyone for following me on my Gap Year Journey. I will continue writing about my new transition on the First Year Grad tab.

Take safe risks and always put yourself first.

Best,

Cayla Jae