Blog By Katelyn Harvey
Deciding to start a graduate program is a big and often intimidating decision, especially when you have a family to support or need to work to support yourself. However, excelling in a graduate program while maintaining a healthy balance between school, work, and family is possible. I am currently a second-year student in the physical therapy program. When I started the program, I knew the curriculum was very intense and it was going to be harder than my undergraduate degree, but I also realized that I was being given an opportunity to be trained in my dream career at one of the best programs in the state.
My excitement to move to a new city and start a new chapter in my life didn’t come without worries. I’m really close to my family and I was moving three hours away. I was going to start a demanding program where I didn’t know anyone and most of the time I would be too busy to come home and visit.
I decided not to get a job my first semester of graduate school. I heard it would be quite a busy one and really wanted to focus all of my attention on it the best I could, and I’m happy I did. Being in a graduate program is much more involved and intense than earning an undergraduate degree. In undergrad I didn’t need to study that often, or if I did it was for certain classes. In grad school I find myself needing to study for every class. After all, these classes all pertain to my chosen career. It was stressful my first semester. I only went home about 3 times. But as stressful as it was, it taught me how to prioritize things and how to study so that I could get the most out of my education and time spent in the PT Program.
When second semester came around, I knew I was not only ready, but needed to get a job. At first, I looked through the school because I knew they would probably work with my schedule the best. I was able to find a job as a Graduate Student Ambassador which only required 1-2 hours of work a week; which was great for my busy schedule. After a while though I realized I might need another job, so I started looking. I was able to get a job as a pharmacy technician and luckily, they allowed me to work one day a week. I knew I would have to prioritize my schedule a little better once I started working; I couldn’t procrastinate anymore.
I started keeping a “to do” list on my computer so I could keep in mind all the assignments I had coming up. I also bought a calendar and wrote in all the assignments/exams/projects/etc. so that I would know what weeks/months were especially busy. This let me know in advance what weeks I would be too swamped to work or what weekends needed to be committed to school instead of fun. It also helped me prioritize and get things done in advance if I knew something was coming up that I wanted to go to, like a concert or movie with my friends.
Throughout my second year of PT school A LOT of stuff happened. My sister had a baby (my first niece!), my mom had a big medical scare, and then my sister had a big medical scare a few months later. To make matters worse, the second year of PT school is one of the hardest. Needless to say, I was struggling to balance school, work, and family. I was still working and doing my school work because I knew it needed to be done and it gave me a little bit of normalcy. But it did catch up to me. I reached out for help and that’s when I realized I wasn’t taking care of myself like I needed to.
Being in a graduate program is hard work and adding work, family, and other factors into the mess only makes it that much harder. Learning to prioritize and take care of MYSELF has made a tremendous difference. It’s hard to survive a graduate program without some organization. It’s impossible to do it without taking some time for yourself to help balance out the daily stresses. When you have time to be with family or friends, make sure your schoolwork is done ahead of time so that you can focus on the time being spent with them. It took me a couple months to start getting things done ahead of time, but overall, I’m now more productive and not as stressed and just genuinely happier. I take time to go on the occasional hike, drive home to see my family and friends and focus on the time I have with them rather than worrying about school, and I still balance my work life. The stress of a graduate program is unlike any other stress you will experience; but the pay off in the end makes it completely worth it. Every interaction with a patient just reminds me why I am doing what I am and I fall in love with the profession all over again.