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Ashley Craft: “How I Make It Work”

“How I Make It Work” is a new blog feature designed to highlight the diversity of student experiences while attending MSP.  From students fresh out of undergrad to professionals who are retraining for a new career, MSP welcomes students wherever they are in life.  Ashley Craft (PTMA) shares her experience below.

Name: Ashley N. Craft

Current Program: Part Time MA

Describe the (joys and) challenges in your life that make graduate school difficult to manage.

The joys and challenges in my life that make graduate school difficult to manage are balancing a healthy personal life, work life, dealing with the recent passing of my mother, and scarce time for self care.

Finding joy independent of the graduate program is often hard due to the time commitment. Most free time is spent working on assignments for my courses. The same holds true for balancing a full time job. I don’t work in a traditional setting, so my earliest day throughout the week ends at 8:00 pm.

In light of my schedule, I make it my own personal responsibility to do things I enjoy on my off day, the weekend. I work really hard to stay on top of my work, but I make it a point to put my books down and not check work emails on my weekends. It can be hard if you allow yourself to fall behind, the overall goal simply has to remain at the forefront. Adjusting to a new way of life and being without my mom has also become a new reality in this journey, making intrinsic motivation very important.

How do you make it work?

In order to make it work, the reality is you have to find your reason for embarking on this journey. You need to understand why you are making this decision so that when things are tough, you can balance the long term goal against the short term stress. I’ve created a schedule for myself to maintain a balance that allows me to continue. I don’t work on Fridays, so most assignments/readings for the upcoming week are done on the Friday before. In completing work early, I usually get to use Friday evenings and Saturdays to do other things I enjoy.

What are some tips or secrets you have for staying organized with a busy schedule?

Tips for staying organized for me include utilizing more than one tool. I have reminders in my phone’s to do list, my calendar, and my planner. There’s even a homework tracker app called “Egenda” that a classmate brought to my attention a few semesters ago. I think you have to find what works most naturally for you. Another thing that I do is outline my assignments in my syllabus with different color highlighters to visually see what I’ve completed and what must still be done.

How do you make time for yourself?

Saturdays are mandatory days for myself. It isn’t something that I negotiate. I work diligently to get my work done on my Fridays, or before, so that I can enjoy my own little break on Saturdays. I also make sure that I read throughout the week at night for myself. These are readings that have nothing to do with class, just other things I am interested in gaining knowledge in.

How do you avoid feeling overwhelmed?

I believe adjusting to anything new can foster a feeling of being overwhelmed. It hasn’t been a feeling that I’ve been able to avoid completely throughout this journey, especially in the beginning. I don’t want to paint an unrealistic picture, being overwhelmed is a reality within the balance of a graduate program and other life responsibilities outside of the program.

There will certainly come a time where you truly have to be steadfast in your goals and personal motivation. These feelings are fine. You are human. My way to avoid that, at this point in my journey, is making self-care a nonnegotiable staple. It can be as small as just relaxing and lounging, to planning a quick trip to get away over the weekend. Whatever it is, it is mandatory in the same way I find it mandatory to attend to class and complete assignments.

What support have you received from MSP?

The MSP community is understanding of the life of part time students. You get professors who work with you in the event of emergencies, as well as paying attention to the need for school-life balance. I also have a cohort that was very supportive when my mom passed. A good cohort also helps!

What advice would you give a prospective student who is worried he or she can’t make grad school work?

I would tell a prospective and current student to be diligent in their pursuit. Make strides to always keep the long term goal in mind. The program is manageable and the community is supportive. Make an effort to stay on top of your work and reach out to your support system when you need to. There is no need to carry stress alone when there are people that can help along this journey.

Don’t allow yourself to neglect your need for rest and care. It may sound weird, but rest and self care may counter feelings of stress and overload. Combine those things with time management, and you’ll see that it is very manageable.