As I wrote yesterday, this year the Admissions Blog will be sharing the stories of three second-year students (Mirza, Roxanne, and Scott) and two (possibly more, still TBD) first-year students (Liam and Diane). Today, Liam describes his transition to student life.
I think one of the greatest challenges in coming to a professional school like Fletcher is that many of the students were just that — professionals — and being removed from the academic life for the “real world” for several years can make the return challenging.
For me, I was used to working 14 to 16 hours a day in a setting where I literally did not have a minute to myself. As I prepared to go to Fletcher, many people told me how much of a “break” it would be, compared to my last job. That’s partly true, insomuch as I make the decisions about what I do in the day, but the demands of the Fletcher curriculum are extremely rigorous, and when you couple that with our many extracurricular options both at Fletcher and throughout the greater Boson area, it can easily become overwhelming. Grad school is demanding; it’s also fun. My intent in this post is to highlight some of the adjustments that I found critical to making that transition a successful one.
1. First, I decided to treat grad school like a job. A second-year student gave me this tip early on, and it’s the soundest advice I’ve gotten here. I make myself set up a realistic daily schedule and hold myself to it. Regardless of when I have class, I start the day at a reasonable hour (like 9:00 a.m.) and get after my reading, research, papers, etc. To maximize time, I pack a lunch and keep going until 5:00 p.m. or so. The benefit of this approach is that, if I stick to the plan, I get a TON done, and I find myself with actual free time at night to have something of a social life or to do the other things that matter to me.
2. I found a place where I could focus. For many, this is the library, and there are so many great nooks and crannies in Ginn where you can hide away and get things done. For others, it may be their apartment or a coffee shop. I live in a quiet apartment close to school, so my living room is a good space for basic reading on topics I have an understanding of, but for tougher stuff I go to the library to really focus. The key goes back to my first point — I plan out my day and hold myself to it.
3. I make time to do the things I enjoy. For me, running is important, so I make a point of going to bed at a decent hour so I can get up early to run and still start schoolwork around 9:00. The course load will take all of your time if you let it, so I make a point of setting aside time for myself. It helps me blow off stress, and I find myself more relaxed and able to focus on my work. If I were to approach it as trying to “find” time for myself, rather than “making” time, I would simply never find that time.
4. I found it very important to join study groups, especially in the classes I have less background in. For me, my International Organizations class is tough — I have no law background, so it’s a whole new way of looking at things. At first, I would bang my head against the book trying to complete the readings, but early on I got together with a few other students in the class, and now we meet every week to go over the last week’s lectures and reading. It’s a great check to ensure I’m taking away the right lessons and tie them into the bigger picture of the syllabus.
5. Last, and the most important aspect of adjusting, has been getting to know my classmates and going out to do things. This means I don’t spend all my time studying. I’m going to be at Fletcher for a short time, so being social — hence not spending ALL my time studying — is important. Yes, this contradicts most of my previous points about being organized and focusing, but I want to spend time engaging with this amazing community. For me, I find it amazing to talk to other students about what they did before Fletcher and the impact they’ve already had on so many regions of the world. Conversely, things I’ve done that I really don’t think are all that special or important amaze a lot of other students I talk to. The number of guest lectures and extracurricular activities, groups, and opportunities here is staggering, and not taking the time away from studying to really get the full “Fletcher experience” would be missing most of the fun.
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