That Full-time Life: leaning into the learning curve as a first-year grad student – by Stephanie Castro MPA ’18

Around this time last year, I was sitting in my neighborhood coffee shop (where I coincidentally am also writing this post), with GRE study materials spread around the table and a first draft statement of purpose uncertainly pinned down by my coffee cup. I remember stopping and looking straight ahead, seeing nothing but my own murky future, with all of its moving parts, and worrying over the prospect of making a wrong decision.

One of the biggest determinations I grappled with was my work-school balance. For any individual, it is an enormously important decision with many contributing factors, including your financial situation, current employment, career goals, personal commitments, and family. I approached my first semester with a feeling that can either be categorized as defiant optimism or utter delusion, and decided to be both a full-time employee and full-time grad student. I am often asked by prospective students about this decision: is it really possible to both work and go to school full-time and if so, how do you have still time for the rest of life?

The only real answer, frustratingly, is that it depends. It is possible, but your ideal situation will depend on your individual priorities and circumstances. However, for those considering the challenge of working and going to school full-time, I will tell you, I am here, I am not alone, it is possible, and you will not be alone! And with finals around the corner, I would like to share some takeaways from the ways my life has changed, and the lessons I’ve learned as I leaned into the learning curve:

  1. All of the little things take time too. From basic hygiene to feeding your cats, your daily activities will compete against each other for your most valuable, limited resource: time. Meals have become food I can easily eat one-handed while the other is holding my phone, a book, or attempting and failing to write a blog post. But now it’s more meaningful whenever I do have the chance to sit down and enjoy a good meal over great company.
  2. Creativity is an important and useful ability. Now that even my neighborhood park has wi-fi, homework is pretty much accessible anywhere and anytime: whether on the train, in a plane, or at the gym, capitalizing on those random free moments to get a little reading done really helps in the long run.
  3. Practice really makes perfect. Things will get easier over time because you’ll get better at doing them. In the last few months, I’ve become noticeably more efficient at reading, eating, and I’ve gotten so good at sleeping I apparently only need a few hours a night.
  4. There are healthy ways to combat the stress of this new lifestyle. Mine developed into a three-fold approach consisting of cats, morning jogs, and candid conversations over coffee. Whatever your methods are, make sure you keep them a priority.

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    Grad student unsuccessfully outsources homework to cat

  5. You will become a more interesting person. We are learning so much through our coursework, speaker events, student organizations, and interactions with classmates, that there is always some idea or concept we want to discuss. It’s okay that I can’t comment on the latest episode of the Walking Dead, because there are so many different things I want to talk about and events to attend; Netflix has lost its crown as the go-to activity of leisure and discussion. Embrace it!
  6. There is still time for awkward OkCupid dates! Ideally, there is also time for not-so-awkward ‘this may be my soul mate’ dates, but that’s just to say that you will still have time to socialize in your preferred setting. As the semester goes on, you may find you prefer to go to the GPAC mixers instead of swiping left over a cup of coffee – there is time for the things you feel are important, just make sure you know what they are.
  7. Prepare to sharpen your social skills. For many of us, we have fewer opportunities to meet people, and often less incentive to make new friends after college. It’s good to capitalize on the opportunity and push yourself to get to know others in the program. Making friends is harder for some than others, but we’re all here for the same reason and it’s easy to bond over the universal grad student struggle.
  8. This is really hard. At times you may feel like you’re failing at everything, and you have to come to terms with the fact that you have limits and can’t actually do *everything*. It’s part and parcel of being human. Accept the sacrifices and commit to your decisions. See #3 and #4 if you’re still having a hard time moving forward.
  9. People here are really great (including you!). Every person in the program has made a commitment to this field. They are dreamers, visionaries, pragmatists, innovators. They ask critical questions and challenge your perspective. Cherish the connections you make at Price – it’s not just about networking, it’s about coming together and learning from each other.

If you’re reading this and are currently a grad student either working part-time or interning, you likely have learned the same lessons, and could probably add a few of your own. That’s because everyone here at Price is full-time – at life. They embrace the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities presented to them.

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Price students attend Fall Networking Night

 

This is the time for you to own your own life. It will be made up of whatever you choose to prioritize: family, friends, classes, work, etc. Whatever it is, you will stand for something here at Price. Whether you ultimately decide on working full-time, part-time, or unpaid internship, there are so many great events, student organizations, friends to make, and perspectives to challenge, that no matter what you choose, you will be living life to the fullest, you’ll have joined us in that full-time life.

 

Stephanie Castro

Master of Public Administration c/o 2018

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