Be Prepared for Grad School
August 12, 2020
As part of the Bachelor’s-to-Master’s program, my entrance into the Master’s program was unique in that it was also my senior year of undergrad. It was a strange transition, as I was trying to get used to being a Master’s student while holding on to my friends and senior year activities. I struggled with being simultaneously at the top of the school “hierarchy” and the new kid. However, I learned a lot during this past year, and am hoping that if anyone starting this Master’s student life transition resonates with my experience, you can find a new tidbit of information to make the transition easier.
Make New Friends
I struggled with figuring out how to spend my time with people. I wanted to spend every last minute that I could with friends from undergrad, as I knew it was not likely we would live this close to each other again. We had to make the most of our proximity. And yet, it was hard to feel connected to people that I was in new classes with when I was not as open to conversations. It took me a while to realize that these students were going to be with me in the field, and they were people I could learn from and rely on. All this to say: (1) Take the time to have conversations. Whether it be in class (during designated discussion time such as breakout rooms, of course) or not, you can learn about a person even through the course material. One entire class discussed the Therapeutic Use of Self, so we discovered a lot about our own and each other’s personalities. (2) Take the time out of class to hang out. I did not do this one very well, but maybe once a month, whatever you can swing out of your free time, log on to an event. Go meet new people. Start up conversations with people outside of your cohort and classes. Many people would open conversation by asking about the Bachelor’s-to-Master’s program, so I had to learn to use it as a conversation starter, to ask about their own undergraduate experience. We’re all OTs, so we’re all here because we love talking to and helping people.
Another strange factor is our new professors. We meet different OT faculty during these next two years, all with different experiences and expertise. Each student is also paired with a faculty mentor according to their interests. Take advantage of their knowledge base; reach out to them with questions. (3) Use office hours. If you may be unsure of what area of OT you want to go into in the future, as I am, use each practice immersion to further understand your fit for each area. Have conversations with the professors, who are experienced members of their field. It is only during this time that you will have the excuse of class material to start conversations. Even if you can’t use that excuse, faculty are always happy to talk about what they are passionate about. They are also very understanding and can help with any difficulties into the transition to grad school and classes.
Bring a Snack
Three-hour classes feel longer than I care to admit. And although we do get stretch breaks, (4) have food ready! It’s helpful for staying engaged. Be sure that the snack is something you can eat relatively neatly, as you may want to type a quick note on your computer without having to wipe your fingers of Cheeto dust. (Or like some of my creative friends, you can eat Cheetos with chopsticks.) We also have a nice lunch break in between classes. If you’re on HSC, you can go pick up a burrito from the surrounding food trucks, or eat your own homemade lunch. Lunch time is still a great chance for a stretch break, and one good quesadilla, whether off the stove or from the cafeteria across the way, can be a turning point after a tiring class.
Any Time is Usable Time
This is a lesson that I learned riding the shuttle to and from campus, but it’s applicable in more ways than one. It can feel like a long commute to the Health Science Campus from the University Park Campus or from wherever you call home. However, you can make the most of the ride. I was able to journal on the shuttle if I was awake enough, or catch up on another thirty minutes of sleep (which was a more common occurrence). Start on school readings, review slides for the upcoming quiz, or re-read the Harry Potter series. Download a movie on your phone. If you’re driving, take the time to listen to new music on the radio, or get pumped up for the day with some of your favorites. Listen to a new podcast. (5) Make the most of seemingly unusable minutes, even if it is just to relax and take a break. Some of my favorite shuttle rides would be when I ran into a friend on the shuttle, often a friend from UPC that I had not seen in a while, and we would use the shuttle ride to catch up on life. Unusable minutes may take a different form while we’re taking online classes, but that goes into my next point . . .
All of life is about balance, between work and school and friends and commitments. Adjusting to Master’s classes requires an adjustment of that balance. After completing a Blackboard quiz, make time to go grab dinner with a friend. My first semester, I personally decided to make time to stay in the Trojan Marching Band, blasting summer hits on Cromwell Field. Music was part of my life, and going to practice and playing piccolo was a bright spot in my day. (6) Make time for the things that keep you going. I had never used the calendar app on my phone so much as when I transitioned to grad school. My friend helped me color-code my schedule into different categories, a system I thought I would never use but ended up loving. Seeing the red of a band event or the green of an Intervarsity Christian Fellowship event was a bright spot in my day, and my calendar ensured that I did not miss things that were important to me. For me, this adjustment to online classes changes the balancing act. Now, it means calling a friend during my lunch break or taking time after class to play an instrument.
Lean on Your Support System
Every day, I’d come home to my apartment-mates, and I’d get to hear about how aerospace or linguistics classes were going and share about my own day. They and my other friends made time to let me ramble about adjusting to life and gave me time to just be myself. When I felt stressed, they would drive me out to get mandatory ice cream. When I needed a day out, we’d go to drive-in movie nights and have picnics. When I needed advice, they’d sit me down and tell me what I needed to hear, even when it was hard. You can find support in many forms, whether it’s finding tips on Calvin’s Survival Guide and reaching out to the student ambassadors, or having good, long conversations with friends. (7) Lean on your support system. These days, I go downstairs to do a workout with my mom and rant if I need to. But whether with friends or family, you are not alone in this.
Lastly, (8) be kind to yourself. It is a transition, and everyone will adjust differently. Don’t be harsh on yourself if the transition takes time. Make the most of these opportunities that we have: learn a lot, have fun, and Fight On!