• Year One of my Doctorate | How to Survive Grad School

    how to survive grad school


    Whew …. I can finally say my semester is complete and I’ve finished my first year (!!!) of my doctorate in nursing – and breathe deeply. This first year as a doctoral student has been filled with tumultuous emotions, set backs, and unforeseen life hurdles. But what’s a doctoral pursuit without a few hurdles?

    I started this journey last May (2017) with one incredible nursing philosophy professor (love her) and one horridly absurd man who taught my ethics class. Merely judging my experience in my ethics class – I was unsure whether or not I could hack it but alas, I continued on.

    It’s been an interesting academic journey to see the expectations between BSN (bachelor of science in nursing), MSN (masters of science in nursing), and now my DNP (doctorate of nursing practice). In this DNP thus far, the knowledge is there – it’s more about discussing and digging into that knowledge on a deeper, more scholarly level. I’ve loved also learning from my classmates and our weekly discussion boards we’re required to complete – bouncing off ideas and experiences in numerous healthcare fields and specialties has been SO fascinating! While I’m extremely specialized in organ transplant and critical care, others come from backgrounds including mental healthcare and even ob/gyn or fetal medicine. Our experiences in our differing realms lends to some really interesting discussions and sometimes differences in opinions.

    Last semester was partially put on hold, as I had to withdraw from one of my classes due to the sudden passing of my mother in law. I’m definitely a person who latches onto timelines and “schedules” so when my MIL became very deathly ill and ultimately passed on, I had a very difficult time not feeling like I let myself down because my timeline was suddenly shifted. (Dropping the course set me a year back because the course is only offered every fall.) Feed that feeling into my gripping depression and imagine the downward spiral I found myself in – yikes! Fortunately – I have incredible people in my life who not only support me in love and friendship, but also strengthen my faith. They remind me of God’s plan and His timing – that life and its timing isn’t in our hands. Looking back, I know it was the right choice.

    doctoral student

    This semester was another doozy – also filled with many fits of tears and overwhelming stress. I am incredibly hard on myself – often filling my mind with insurmountable expectations. Do any of you do that? I’m also completing a nurse educator certification in conjunction with my DNP – which means extra classes. I began the first class of that track this spring and it challenged me in ways I didn’t expect. Learning how to motivate your students (and yourself) according to how they learn and the educational theories you stem from was enlightening but a bit of a stretch. I’m excellent at hard sciences (anatomy & physiology, pharmacology, biology, etc) and anything to do with math .. but classes based in theory and less concrete subject matter is hard for my mind to grasp.

    I rounded out the semester with an A & a B .. also something I’m trying to be better at. My master’s was filled with all A’s – something I was so proud of. But earning a B and giving myself the grace to accept the B feels like swimming in a sand pit. Doesn’t that sound silly? But I have to remember the end goal and that walking the stage isn’t going to resound with “she wasn’t a straight A student” rather I’ll be part of a very select few to say I DID THE DAMN THING!

    This next year is going to be a doozy – especially this coming fall, the busiest semester of them all. Now I’m prepped and fully versed in the expectations of the program, ready to tackle the next year to come. I’ll graduate in May 2020 – and hopefully feel like I can end my career student days. Will I stop learning? Never.

    So.. now that I’ve spilled my heart out on how my academic year has played out, let’s discuss how to survive grad school. And yes, this can apply to just about anything, but since my stress is directed currently towards this educational genre – that’s where I’ll grab the “subject” title.

    Make time to decompress

    This is important for anyone and everyone – but grad school seems to indicate an extra level of stress added to your life. You suddenly feel stupid despite your previous degree and you feel like giving up. Don’t! Take a step back, do something for you, and try to enjoy mental health breaks so you don’t have a meltdown! I like to read books, get a massage, get a mani/pedi, or even just go for a walk in the sunshine with my pups. Sometimes getting some fresh air is all we need to make a souls smile.

    Give yourself grace

    Like I said above, don’t be so hard on yourself. Give yourself grace to be less than perfect and know this is a journey. Even though you’re staring down piles of hard work, remember the opportunity to educate yourself is an immense blessing not everyone is afforded and take the time to enjoy what you’re doing. I can get so caught up in trying to “make the grade” and lose sight of the real purpose of the class or subject matter.

    Surround yourself with happiness

    Okay that sounds super cheesy but you’re under SO much pressure – being around people that build you up, make you laugh, and add joy to your life is crucial! You don’t need negative people, anyone who causes you added stress, or worse, makes you feel bad about yourself. Someone once told me my education was having a negative impact on their social life – haha WHAT?! Nope nope nope … don’t need that guilt or the need to apologize for improving myself. That nonsense can go take a hike. Instead, look to those who support your journey and appreciate the time you do have available to see them.

    Make healthy choices

    Yes, this has a resounding impact on your success as a student. Do partake in occasional “treat yourself” moments, but don’t go eating grease and crap food all day er’ day. What you put in your body reflects outwardly – you eat crap, you feel like crap. Hydrate hydrate hydrate and make healthy choices. A healthy body lends to a healthy mind, better sleep, and better skin! Better sleep = enhanced concentration and energy so you can go get ’em! I like to pack healthy snacks to keep me energized!

    Get up and MOVE!

    How many hours do you spend in front of a computer or sitting down? Get up, get that blood movin’ and heart rate kickin! Being stationary for long periods of time makes me super sleepy – so getting up and walking around perks me up (along with a cup of coffee or tea). I also like to go outside and get some fresh air for a moment, or even change my scenery and walk down to my local coffee shop (two birds, one stone). Studying outside just feels so much better! Try to make time for some real exercise often, it will do a body good AND help you de-stress!

    Are you a student? How do or (did) you survive a journey of yours?



    1. May 10, 2018 / 1:56 pm

      Yes, I love all the advice. It refers to most people nowadays. I spent so much time in front of a computer that it makes me feel depressed. Time for a change!

    2. May 10, 2018 / 2:16 pm

      I really need to get away from my computer more! Great reminder. 🙂

    3. May 10, 2018 / 2:44 pm

      You did an amazing job! Congrats for your first year! And these tips are great

    4. May 10, 2018 / 2:56 pm

      It’s great hearing you talk about how to deal when your brain tries to guilt you about things, and reminders to step back and breathe every once in a while.

    5. Annaliese
      May 10, 2018 / 3:08 pm

      CONGRATS on finishing another year of school! I so enjoyed this post and learning more about your education and course of study. Props to you for hanging in there through all of the tough aspects of school!

      xoxo A

    6. May 10, 2018 / 3:31 pm

      Good luck on your grad school journey, Tara 🙂

      As for me, when I was a student, I’d read and study during the night, in bed, or at my desk if I needed my computer. I enjoyed doing it at night because it was quieter and involved fewer interruptions.

      Highlighting helped with my notes and printed materials.

    7. May 10, 2018 / 7:39 pm

      Great tips, Tara! And congrats on Year One. So sorry to hear of your family’s loss. Sure your mother in law would be so proud of your academic successes. Way to stay the course!

    8. May 10, 2018 / 8:16 pm

      Congrats on finishing your first year! Even though I’m still in my undergrad, these lessons are still super helpful!


    9. May 11, 2018 / 6:38 am

      SO happy grad school is behind me! It was roughhhh (I couldn’t handle the professors ego’s) For me, it was just taking a lot of deep breaths. The school work was easy, i’d just never dealt with professors who were so awful. #SMH

    10. May 11, 2018 / 9:25 am

      Great tips!! My boyfriend is currently in grad school and I’ve heard him saying a lot of similar things that you’re saying here.

    11. May 11, 2018 / 9:58 am

      My husband just finished up his graduate degree, and I totally agree with the get up and move. It’s easy to get focused and forget to take care of yourself, but the truth is that it makes you feel so much better! Congrats on the first year down!

    12. Ruya
      May 11, 2018 / 10:58 am

      I agree about how awful it can be to be in front of a computer all day! That’s what my job requires and I always walk outside during lunch so I can feel reenergized again.


    13. May 11, 2018 / 12:02 pm

      My boyfriend is going to grad school this year. I’ll definitely have to share these tips with him.

    14. May 11, 2018 / 12:12 pm

      Congrats on finishing your first year!!

    15. Le
      May 11, 2018 / 3:21 pm

      These are fantastic tips that can be used for anyone! Working remotely these are things I have to consider especially getting up to move.

    16. Southern & Style
      May 12, 2018 / 11:10 am

      I graduated two years ago this May, but I distinctly remember my years spent as a student & there were tons of stressful times. I remember studying for hours and then just needing a break, so I would take a quick walk around the block and it helped so much! Just some fresh air and sunshine could make all the difference in recharging me for a few more hours of studying when I got back 🙂

      xoxo, SS

      Southern and Style

    17. May 13, 2018 / 5:43 pm

      Completing your first year is such an accomplishment! I know how frustrating dropping that class felt, but it was the right thing to do and i’m sure your husband appreciated you being there for him and his family. Good luck in the fall!

    18. Ashley DTKAustin
      May 14, 2018 / 4:31 pm

      Congrats on finishing your first year!! Cheers to many more to come and hopefully they just get easier and easier! 😉

    19. Nataly
      May 14, 2018 / 6:02 pm

      Great tips here! I needed some of these tips too! I spend way too much time on my computer.

    20. May 14, 2018 / 6:55 pm

      You are a BADASS and a total GIRLBOSS! You are giving me all the inspo!

    21. May 15, 2018 / 10:54 am

      I love this post and am so proud of you finish your first year girl! You are so smart and talented! Love these tips too, they even help me working at home!

    22. alex
      May 18, 2018 / 9:21 am

      YES YES YES to make healthy choices and get up and move — that is so, so essential when surviving grad school. My husband just finished his grad program thankfully – so glad we survived!

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