Self-Care: Who Has Time for That?

In this guest post, Gabrielle Pointon, M.S., Psychology Intern at the University Counseling Center, addresses the importance of self-care for graduate students. 

Self-Care. It’s an infamous word that you all have probably heard, but often ignore because of how impossible it seems. You don’t have the time. You don’t have the energy. There are more important things to do. I urge you to really think about this concept of self-care. As you are reading this, how are you feeling? Run down? Burnt out? Sleep deprived? Graduate school is a prime period in your life to feel this way because you have so much to accomplish in such a small amount of time. You probably even feel guilty when you take time for yourself because you could be doing something “more productive.”

This outlook has led to an epidemic, a crisis if you so choose, in the mental health of graduate students. You all have a lot of pressure on your shoulders, and this pressure leads to isolation and feelings of inadequacy. To make it even more difficult, you are in the minority in terms of educational achievement, so most of the people outside of your academic circle cannot even comprehend the stress you are under or the work you are trying to complete. If you are still in graduate school, you’re winning, but that doesn’t mean you don’t feel like you’re drowning at the same time. This is why graduate students have been found to be SIX TIMES more likely to experience depression and anxiety than the general population.

So, why is self-care important? Part of the reason is because students with a good work-life balance have significantly better mental health outcomes. This means making sure you take care of your basic needs, such as getting adequate nutrition and sleep, is important, but it’s more than just that. It’s taking a break and recharging too. It is essential that you are trying to disconnect from school by having a set time each day to find a little piece of comfort and joy. Self-care looks different for each person, so this could consist of social time, meditation, exercising, engaging in a hobby, etc. If you feel guilty about even the idea of taking breaks, remember that research demonstrates breaks lead to more productivity in the long run.

The take away here is this: make self-care just as much a priority as your work. Some days you’ll have hours and some days you’ll merely have minutes, but your mental health is dependent on these types of choices. Let’s make your graduate career a positive one to look back upon!

How can we, as a community of graduate students, prioritize self-care in our daily lives? What are your favorite strategies for practicing self-care? Leave a comment below!

Advice for Academic Writing from Wendy Laura Belcher

If there is one book I wish I read at the beginning of my graduate studies it is Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks by Wendy Laura Belcher. Although Belcher provides a detailed plan for completing and submitting an academic article, she also offers honest, useful, and more importantly, realistic advice which is applicable for other sorts of writing such as seminar papers, notes for comprehensive exams, dissertations, and even creative endeavors. Belcher acknowledges that scientific writing generally has other parameters, so she mainly addresses scholars in fields such as the Humanities and the Social Sciences.

Here are some of my favorite suggestions from the book:

  • Identify your feelings about writing.
    • Are you experiencing guilt, fear of failure, impostor syndrome? It is actually very common to have negative feelings about writing. It is important to acknowledge these feelings and even talk about them rather than repress them.
  • Prepare a realistic writing schedule.
    • Work on a writing schedule and anticipate weeks when you might not be able to write.
    • Pick a time of day that works with your other responsibilities and habits. Consider if you are a morning or an evening person before deciding on the best time to write.
    • If you cannot write at the same time every day, try to come up with a regular pattern for your schedule.
  • Make writing social.
    • Writing does not require isolation. In fact, it should be done in community. Join a writing group or attend a writing class. A good conversation about your manuscript will help you think further about your argument and will teach you how to respond to feedback and criticism.
  • Write every day.
  • Do not wait to write. Do not wait for:
    • Inspiration
    • The last minute
    • Big blocks of time.
  • Do not wait until all of your research is done to start writing.
    • It is not possible to read every book which might be related to our topic.
    • Start writing and this will help you determine what information you actually need.
    • Leave holes in your manuscript. These can be filled up later.
    • Approach writing and thinking as simultaneous tasks.
  • Persist!
    • Rejection is common, do not take it as a measure of your worth. The best writers get rejections as well, but they persist.  

Overall, Belcher’s book encourages graduates students to persevere, even when we feel we do not have the time to write. She also offers practical solutions to common internal and external obstacles. If you would like to know more about her approach or if you are interested in following her 12-week plan, you can find her book at the Hesburgh Library. (The Spanish edition is also available for online access).

Did you enjoy Belcher’s book? Do you have any more questions about it? Ask the Salmon! Submit your questions to gradlife@nd.edu or go to the Ask a Question tab at the top of this page.

Life and Living Well

I’ll begin by stating the obvious: grad school is hard.

As graduate students, we are familiar with the toil of prioritizing and accomplishing our to-do lists. But grad student to-do lists grow faster than grad students can work. We’ve always got a nagging feeling that we ought to be doing something productive right now.

Part of what helps us tolerate long hours of labor and high expectations is knowing that it’s temporary. Only a few years of suffering; then comes the really meaningful work. We’ll land the job we desire, and then our life can really begin.

But we spend so much of our lives in this mindset. As an undergrad, we looked forward to grad school – that’s when I’ll finally get to do what I really want! And as high-schoolers, we looked forward to college – finally, a chance to be out on my own!

And then Master Yoda suddenly pokes us in our (metaphorical) ribs: “All his life has he looked away – to the future – to the horizon! Never his mind on where he was! Hm? What he was doing! Hmph. Adventure – heh! Excitement – heh! A Jedi craves not these things.” (The Empire Strikes Back) And somehow, in the words of a weird, shrivel-faced puppet, we recognize the truth: we can spend our whole lives looking forward to the next thing, believing that our life hasn’t begun yet.

But the fact is – it has. Life isn’t in the future. It’s happening right now.

And if life has meaning, it must be somewhere in the present. It must be here and now: in the friends and neighbors who, by chance or providence, surround us; in our own hearts and spirits, calling us to pay attention, to look – to really look! – and to listen – to really listen! Our life may not be what we’d like – but it is – it exists. And that’s good.

Work hard, then, but don’t be deceived – the meaning of your life isn’t all in what you produce. It’s in your relationships. It’s in who you are.

Listen to people. Bless them and tell the truth with humility. Don’t rush. Stop. See the living world around you. The beauty of it all is that life’s not useful- it’s just good. It’s all the gift of God, who didn’t need to create anything at all.

But he did. He willed the world to be. And he willed you to live so that he can love you. He’s already given you all that’s necessary for happiness, free, no strings. It’s there if only you have eyes to see – if you only ask him.

Trust God’s love. Hear his voice. Enjoy his grace. He is the meaning in the present moment. He is the Beauty in the beautiful. He is the Goodness in all that’s good.

Grad Life Program Highlight: GO Grants

Have you and your grad student friends ever wanted to go to an event, but couldn’t quite bring yourselves to fork over the cash to pay for it? Next time, Grad Life may be able to help!

One of Grad Life’s ongoing programs is the GO Grant program, sponsored by the Notre Dame Graduate School. Groups of current Notre Dame graduate students and post-docs (and their guests) can apply for a GO Grant to help cover the cost of tickets or entrance fees to events around Michiana. If you have a group of six to twelve graduate students (and up to one guest for each student) collectively coming from at least two different academic departments, you’re eligible to apply for up to $300.00 per group to help subsidize the cost of the event you have in mind. This program is meant to support graduate student participation in local events in order to promote well-being and foster community.

All you have to do is fill out a short online application with a description of the event and a brief argument for why your group should receive funding for it. Eligibility requirements and other policies are spelled out in full on the Grad Life website, but here are the basics.

  • The money can only be used to cover the cost of tickets or entrance fees to one-time events – it is not for covering the cost of food, beverages, alcohol, transportation, recurring classes, etc.
  • Submit your application at least one week ahead of time, since every participant will need to fill out and submit a waiver form.
  • It’s okay if the total cost of the event will exceed $300 – you can use the GO Grant as a subsidy.
  • No applicant or attendee may be the beneficiary of a GO Grant more than once a semester. If you were part of a group that received a GO Grant in January, you can’t be part of a group that receives a grant for the rest of the spring. Check the website for specific dates.
  • Only adults (over 18) are eligible to receive funding.
  • Afterwards, your group will need to submit your receipts, a short survey, and a photo of the group at the event in order to receive reimbursement.

It’s as simple as that! So next time you and your friends feel like fleeing the library and getting some recreation, you can think less about cash and more about fun. Apply now!

Grad Life Moves to Duncan Student Center

Grad Life’s New Home and the Graduate Student Lounge

As winter break comes to a close, I’d like to invite you on Grad Life’s behalf to visit us in our new space on the south side of the Duncan Student Center’s second floor. Over winter break, Grad Life moved from a small space in the back rooms of the Main Building to a brand new office overlooking Legends and the Stadium Lot. This office is the new home of both Grad Life and the GSU.

Our office also looks into a stupendous lounge intended just for graduate students! The lounge, arguably the best spot in Duncan, has a wall of windows facing DeBartolo Hall and is filled with comfortable couches and chairs (including two rockers!) and tables for studying. There are also a number of day lockers, as well as a small kitchen area for graduate student use, which includes a sink, microwaves, free coffee, and, in case you forgot your lunch, supplies for making peanut butter sandwiches. The lounge’s conference room will also soon be available for reservation.

You can come check out the new lounge and our office during the official Duncan Student Center Open House on Monday, January 15, from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm. For more information on Duncan, see the university press release regarding its grand opening.

Smith Center for Recreational Sports

One of the new student center’s star attractions is the Smith Center for Recreational Sports, which will be fully operational on January 15. The entrance to the Smith Center is on the third floor, but is only accessible from the stairwell and elevators on the north side of Duncan. Upon entering, you’ll find yourself on the main floor of the Center, among dozens of state-of-the-art treadmills, ellipticals, and other cardio machines, most of them with individual monitors. On either end of the long room, you will also find fitness and personal training rooms, a basketball court, locker rooms, weight machines, a free weight area, and the SYNRGY 360 system, which amounts to an adult jungle gym with TRX resistance-training capabilities.

On the fourth floor, accessible from two stairwells inside the Smith Center, there is a 1/6 mile track with areas for stretching and numerous additional cardio machines and lockers, as well as another jungle-gym type apparatus. The Smith Center also boasts a climbing wall and a bouldering wall, both of which can be reached by a separate entrance on the second floor of Duncan.

There is much more to see in the new student center, however, so come take a look for yourself.

Graduate Student Appreciation Week Guest Post: Mae Kilker

It’s easy to forget in the day-to-day bustling life on campus that Notre Dame is not just an undergraduate university. Graduate Students make up a third of the overall student body here, but you don’t see them tossing beanbags, setting up hammocks, or throwing the pigskin around on the quads in the same numbers. They don’t live in the Hogwarts-like residence halls scattered among the classroom, lab, and office buildings. Brace yourself, but many grad students have never been to a home football game. (Gasp!)

Nonetheless, grad students do leave the lab and the library to participate in campus events, and I think we’re all better for it. While it’s important to focus and make progress on your research, you’re missing out if you never enter into the stream of the campus community.

My favorite memories are also some of the strangest things I’ve done on campus:

  • Brazilian samba dancing in the LaFortune Ballroom with the ND Club of Brazil. They make it look so easy!
  • Learning just how hard it is to flip a hamburger on a 4-foot-long grill when I volunteered for the GSU concession fundraiser before a home game
  • Watching my childhood favorite, The Princess Bride, at midnight in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center with free popcorn!

There were some awkward moments, too, like at the Rec Center Zumba course where everyone else clearly knew who Shakira was and how to dance like her – and I clearly did not. But that made me laugh, too, which is just like exercising. Right?

I’ve explored many different features of campus: the Snite Museum, the Basilica, the Grotto, lakes, golf courses, and the near-constant flow of graduate student workshops, lectures, receptions, etc., offered by my department or other organizations. Yet I’m constantly surprised by what else is happening here – like when the Wonder Woman movie played in Washington Hall, with free cupcakes from Gigi’s Cupcakes courtesy of the Student Activity Office. Or what I’m looking forward to later this week, the Grad Student Appreciation Week “Dogs & Dogs” event on the North Quad. Hot dogs and therapy dogs? What’s not to love?

Grad Student Appreciation Week reminds our grad students that you are ND, too. We’re glad you’re here, and we’d love to have you join in the fun. After all, I can’t be the only one dancing so weirdly in public….​

 

Mae Kilker is a doctoral candidate at the Medieval Institute and the Assistant Program Director for Professional Development in the Graduate School.

Summer in South Bend: Relaxation and Leisure

Many graduate students find themselves in South Bend for all or part of the summer. Campus is relatively quiet and sparsely populated, providing the opportunity for hours of undisturbed research and writing in the library or in the office, as well as time to tackle that to-do list that piled up over the course of the school year.

Yet the calm of summer allows space for more than uninterrupted academic work. It is also an ideal time to relax from the tensions of the school-year, to unwind and prepare oneself for the next cycle of classes, research, and teaching. One of the great thinkers of the late Roman Empire, Augustine of Hippo, wrote, “I pray thee, spare thyself at times; for it becomes a wise person to relax the high pressure of attention to work.” (De musica ii, 15) Few better exemplars of scholarly productivity and acumen exist in history: Augustine’s surviving body of work, which remains profoundly influential, consists of more than 100 books, over 200 letters, and nearly 400 sermons, many of which he composed while serving as a bishop, a position that involved numerous religious and civil responsibilities. Yet he also believed in the need for leisure.

Indeed, leisure is one of the most human of activities. A requisite for flourishing as a person, leisure affirms that human life has worth apart from productivity. In other words, we need not always be “accomplishing,” whatever the social or professional pressures we experience, nor feel guilty about using time to do what has no clear utility. To work without ceasing saps the vitality of joy, which is the heart of the good life. As another ancient teacher once wrote, “Of the making of many books there is no end, and in much study there is weariness for the flesh.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12 NABRE)

This being so, Ask the Salmon will feature various activities and opportunities for fun throughout the months of June and July with graduate students in mind. Check back regularly for new posts and, as always, feel free to Ask the Salmon questions about Notre Dame or graduate student life by e-mailing gradlife@nd.edu.