Tryna Grad and Tryna be Sun-Kissed

Photo:  AdobeStock

Photo: AdobeStock


What if I told you….I was living my best life? Would you believe me? It’s okay. I don’t believe myself either.


As a 3rd year Ph.D. student, summers are a special kind of hell. Classes are recessed for the summer (for some students), but we still have work to do. For most of us, our family and friends don’t quite understand what we are working on. They don’t quite get why we are always on the computer. I know for me, there is this feeling that I constantly need to be having fun…because summer. But there is also the crippling reality of this dissertation looming over me.


I write this post, and parts of my dissertation from my family vacation in New Orleans. Crammed between Beignets and Po’boys, this graduate students is working…..AND working on living her best life.


I feel as though as graduate students we are simultaneously living our best lives and worst lives. Hear me out…between school work, going out with friends, and responding to emails from professors and advisors….it’s a lot. But we are also working on something amazing, be that a Ph.D. a masters degree, not everyone can say they have one of those.


So…how do we manage? How can summer 18 be both fun and productive? Check out a couple of suggestions that I have found helpful.


Schedule time for schoolwork and try to hit deadlines.

This may seem like a given….but its not. With the call of concert after concert (damn you Beyonce and Jay-Z) schoolwork can get pushed to the side. Even if it is like 10 minutes a day, trust, you will thank yourself for this later.


You can timer to work for 30 minutes, or set a word goal. For example, I’m working on my dissertation and I try to write about 200 words a day.


If you are anything like me and get distracted, you may find it helpful to block Facebook and Twitter for a little bit. You can used websites like StayFocusd (a Chrome Extension) or Self-Control (Mac App) to block specific websites for a certain amount of time.


Also….do yourself a favor and dispel the mentality that you sleep when you’re dead. You will not be more productive if you don’t sleep.


Practice Self-Care.

I’m sure you have heard that you need to take care of yourself, but it is really important. There is research that concludes that students of color experience microaggressions and racism in graduate programs, regardless of disciplines (Borum & Walker, 2012; Clark, Mercer, Zeigler-Hill, & Dufrene, 2012; Mahtani, 2004). This experience can lead to burnout and exhaustion (Wells, 2008) as well as negative mental, emotional, and physical health consequences for students of color (Constantine & Sue, 2007).


As a counseling psychology graduate student, here is my shameless plug for mental health services…please do yourself a huge favor and get a counselor. Most graduate schools offer free or discounted Counseling services. Graduate school is hard and summer as a graduate student is a hard too, it couldn’t hurt to have another person in your corner helping you to be your best self.


Actually talk to your Friends and Family.

They may not get what your dissertation is on…but they still love you. They want to see your face. And if you go to school far away from your family, but are home for the summer, you will cherish all these moments when you are back at school and can’t see them as frequently. If you haven’t done so today…here is a friendly reminder to call your support system and tell them you love them.


Have a community of Graduate Student Friends, too.

Sometimes your family just doesn’t understand, that why it is super important to talk to people who actually get it and can appreciate what you are going through. Throughout the summer it can be helpful to touch base with your school friends to help hold yourself accountable for schoolwork and celebrate milestones. A friend of mine go published this summer….we virtually turned up!! Her parents were proud of her…but I’m not sure they really understood the hard work and dedication she put into her research.


I have a group of PHrienDs who get what I am going through. They are in my classes, and understand the nuances of my discipline and higher education. You can not….I repeat can not…go through graduate school on your own. My friends and I have a group chat filled with encouraging and motivating messages, and we also share scholastic resources.


Be Kind to Yourself.

This goes along with self-care, but it deserves its own heading because it is soooo important. Far too often graduate students beat themselves up and combat feelings of inadequacy and the imposter syndrome. Try with all your might not to fall victim to negative self-talk. You are fearfully and wonderfully made, and have made it so far in life. It may be helpful to have hype song or a go to mantra to gas yourself up when need be.


You will be broke….budget accordingly.

In the words of Kelly from Insecure…."You ain’t got no money!!" As much as I hate to admit it…Kelly is right. Summer may be especially difficult because we may not be receiving the funding we get during the academic year.


So this is a good time to apply for additional scholarships and practice the life skill of budgeting. I use the Android/iPhone app Mint to help keep myself accountable. It helps me monitor my spending and alerts me when I am getting a little to out of hand.


Have Fun.

It is summer!! You have to let yourself have a little bit of fun. You will be busier once the semester gets started, so live a little. I will most certainly be going to the Beyoncé/Jay-Z OTRII Concert!!!


You don’t have to go to a concert, but definitely go to a movie or a fancy dinner (within reason). Go to a Beach!!! Have your melanin poppin and get sun-kissed!! Headed to a new city? Google: Fun Free things to do!


You deserve it….so treat yo self!!


About the Author

Monica J. Johnson is a 4th year Ph.D student in Counseling Psychology and School Psychology at SUNY University at Buffalo. Her research interest include African American Acculturation, Black Women's issues, and Minority Mental Health. When not writing her dissertation, Monica enjoys long walks on the beach and binge watching Netflix shows.

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