How to Avoid Burnout in Graduate School

By Robin Kanak

Any graduate student can relate to the mounting panic you feel when your midterm deadline is steadily approaching and you know your paper it isn’t anywhere near finished. Once in awhile, those feelings of stress and panic are completely normal, but it is also easy to fall into a pattern where stress becomes the norm. Stress takes a toll on your mind and body, and stress + lack of motivation = burnout. I only started this program a year ago, but at the end of my second semester I was running on fumes and I knew that my lifestyle needed to change. Clearly, I am no expert, so I also consulted current graduate students, alum of Villanova’s Master’s in Communication program, and faculty members in the Department. Hopefully some of the things we have learned can help you too!

#1. Know Why You Are Here

Everyone in Villanova’s MA program is in a different place and is in graduate school for a different reason. You need to know why you are here and what steps are going to be most effective for helping you accomplish your goals. Are you here because you are interested in moving on to a Ph.D. program? If so, you might choose different classes and different projects than those who are in the program because they want opportunities for advancement in their professional career. Arianne Gasser (recent grad and Research Associate at CRA, Inc.) reminds us that “You have to know why you’re there and what you’re working toward–and that isn’t just with grad school; it’s with anything you do.” Whether you are working on core courses, studying for comps, or reading endlessly for thesis, understanding how your goals align with the things you are learning can help improve your attitude toward school and boost your motivation. Along the same lines, current graduate student Marianela Nunez advises fellow students to make sure you write about topics you are really interested in, they might even develop into your thesis!

#2. Don’t Let School Consume Your Life

There are going to be periods of time where school consumes your life, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have never have time for anything else because you are in graduate school. James Hand (current graduate student and father of two) reminds us: “You’re going to school to make a difference in your life– not to stop living.” Make time for other activities you love because they are important to maintaining your identity as more than a graduate student. Whether your activity of choice is training for a marathon, hanging out with your family, reading books for fun, or going out dancing, don’t feel like you are being a bad student for making some time for yourself (or your family). Taking time to participate in activities you love can help you feel more motivated when you sit down to do school work again. Communication faculty member, Dr. Amy Way emphasizes that “the key to making time for the activities you enjoy is unapologetically engaging in them.  Don’t take breaks and think about how you should be doing work – just let yourself enjoy the break.  Revel in it!” (As a side note, I found that Dr. Way’s credibility on this topic was boosted when she told me that she got 8 hours of sleep almost every night while in grad school!)

#3. Manage Your Time Well

By now you are probably wondering: “How is it possible to make time for anything else when there are 10 readings looming over my head?” There are a million time management tips out there, so here are just a few that come highly recommended by those who have successfully completed this process:

– Multiple graduate students recommend the Pomodoro technique (watch the video here:  Arianne says that the Pomodoro technique was particularly effective when working on papers because “I used to have the bad habit of checking Facebook or other websites whenever I couldn’t think of what to write next when working on a paper.” When doing Pomodoros, however, she says “its impossible not to feel accomplished.”

– Dr. Billie Murray, faculty member at Villanova, recommends sitting down each week and listing EVERYTHING you need to do that week. “We all tend to do this type of ‘to do list’ anyway,” she says, “But the key here is to THEN introduce your list to your calendar. Block off exact amounts of time that week when you will complete those tasks and DO THEM during that time. I find that if you schedule 30 minutes of time for writing and put it on your calendar, you will do it. And you’ll feel better having done it!”

Whether you are a full-time or a part-time student, it is easy to get burnt-out during grad school. Aligning what you are doing in school with your long term goals, choosing to make time for other activities, and taking steps to manage time more effectively can improve your motivation and attitude, making graduate school a much more pleasant experience! What are your favorite tips for avoiding burnout? Post them in the comment section below!

For additional tips and announcements, follow the Communication Graduate Studies Department on Facebook and Twitter.

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