Wednesday, July 31st, 2019...3:18 pm

What I Wish I REALLY Knew When I Started Graduate School!

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By: Samara Moore, Gradlife Ambassador

Are you a soon-to-be Masters or Doctoral student starting graduate school for the first time in the fall? How are you feeling about it? Are you excited, nervous, eager, afraid, or all of the above?

This time last year I was in a similar position as you. I left the security of my job and daily routine to pursue my dream of going to graduate school to study social work. I was determined to enter this new stage of my life as prepared as possible for success! A true keener at heart, I set out to prepare myself in every way that I knew how. I watched YouTube video after YouTube video in search of advice from people who had gone to grad school before me and had wisdom to share. I signed up for my faculty student buddy mentorship program and was matched with a student who helped with the transition into my program. I attended as many graduate orientation sessions as possible, including the one offered by the School of Graduate Studies. I even got connected with Gradlife, a community-building and support hub for graduate students, and landed a work-study position as a Gradlife Ambassador! For all intents and purposes I started this experience, to some extent, textbook prepared. What I mean by that is that I checked many of the boxes of what a student should do to ready themselves for graduate school.

Wish I Really Knew

There are many things that I wish I really knew before I started this journey. I would like to share one of them with you today. When I entered graduate school, I wish I really knew how difficult it would be to truly prioritize my own self-care. I wish that I really knew that despite my knowledge about self-care and all of the information that I received about it, actually putting my health and well-being first in an academic environment would be very difficult for me to actually implement.

If there is one bit of insight from my own experience that I can share with you today it’s this, caring for yourself mentally, physically, emotionally, and relationally during your time at U of T is absolutely necessary! Your health and well-being will always be more important than your coursework, thesis, deadlines, grades, supervisors, and the countless other demands and responsibilities that you will have to manage and navigate as a graduate student.

My challenge to you is to not only gather information and reflect upon what will benefit your holistic health and wellbeing during your time as a graduate student at U of T. The bigger challenge is to figure out how you will be able to continue to maintain and prioritize care for yourself in the midst of the pressures of your program. I encourage you to identify what your tendencies are and to set non-negotiables. For example, when deadlines are closing in on me, I tend to skip meals, sacrifice sleep, and opt for quick fast food that does not nurture my body. A new non-negotiable that I am setting for myself is that giving up nutritious meals and sleep when I am exhausted are now non-negotiables. Despite whatever demands that I might be feeling academically, I am committed to making those things priorities, even if they take away time from my academic work. While this may seem like a minor example, I believe that it is critically important. When I look back at my own experience, I can see how several seemingly small sacrifices, for the sake of my academics, added up in ways that were harmful to my health and wellbeing.

Photo Source: Pexels

Exciting Time!

Don’t get me wrong, graduate school can be exciting, stimulating, and wonderful! You will get the opportunity to focus on learning about topics that truly interest you ! This might even be your first step toward entering a profession that you are passionate about! I hope that you step into this new chapter of your life, as Ava Duvernay would say, “with gusto!” I hope that you are able to grow profoundly personally, professionally, and academically. I hope that your research is supported and that you are able to meet your goals for your time here. I hope that you get as much as you could have wished for and more from this experience. At the same time, I hope that in the midst of it all you are able to sleep when you’re exhausted. I hope that you’re able to squeeze in some time for your annual physical with your doctor, even though life is busy. I hope that you will be able to say yes to breaks to relax and catchup with friends, every now and again. I hope that you will be kind to yourself and not feel guilty when you have to say no. I also hope that you will be able to pay close attention to how you are feeling in your body, especially during times of anxiety and stress.

All the best to you as you embark on this new journey! If you’re a keener like me, I encourage you to register for our upcoming Transitioning to Gradlife: Strategies for Success events. You are welcome to attend one of the two events, depending on whether you are a Research Stream or Professional Stream student. Checkout the links for more information! If you’re interested in learning exactly where graduate student specific resources are located on campus, there will be Gradlife St. George campus tours running in August. There is more information about those here on the Facebook event page.

If you would like more information about other useful resources on campus, check out my blog Resources 101 for New (and Returning) Graduate Students!

Until Next Time,




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