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My Experience with Grad School Stress and How I Overcame It

My Experience with Grad School Stress and How I Overcame It main image

By Arielle Irvine

If I’m being entirely honest, I'm the type of person who has inspirational quotes all over her house. They adorn every room and are bound to either inspire you or make you roll your eyes. One day, while waiting for me to get dressed, my mom looked over my fridge at all my notes, magnets, pictures, and quotes. Among the items, she pointed at one and said to me down the hall, "This one sounds like you."

When I saw where she was pointing, my heart immediately swelled. My mom had always been supportive and encouraged me to chase after my dreams no matter how big or small they are. Even knowing all of that though, this action meant more to me than anything. Her finger was pointed to a quote that said, "She turned her can'ts into cans & her dreams into plans. - Kobi Yamada."  

I was a little over halfway through my graduate program when that moment occurred in my life. Before it, just a few months prior in fact, I had confessed to my mom that I might drop out of the graduate program at the University of Northern Iowa. She listened to my fears and worries, to my stress and anxiety, and she confessed for the first time in our history the faintest hint of disappointment.

She said she loved me and she understood how much stress I was under but told me I was stronger than this. She reminded me about everything I'd been through to get this far in my life, the things I’d endured, and she encouraged me to take some time to think about it.

So, I did. I spent the summer before I went back for my second year reflecting on what I'd done thus far and what I had left to do. As a creative writing major, I’d taken all of my required literature courses and, for the most part, all that remained in my future were writing courses (which I loved more than anything in this world), graduate elective courses, and my research hours. However, I also had two major exams, two defenses, and my thesis all due that year. Hence my apprehension.

Graduate school is not easy. Don’t let anyone fool you. That being said, with the right support system, you can do it. I promise you that if you’re willing to put in the time to study, read, write, and listen all of the time, you can do it.

As well as my mom, I had a few other graduate students who I was able to speak to and professors welcomed me into their offices whenever I needed help. These relationships I made became friendships that I never imagined could happen. Those people in my support system showed up to my graduation party, my going away party, and on my social media.

Graduate school was obviously stressful, but without it I never would’ve known how intelligent, strong, and independent I really was, and I never would’ve made the friends I did. In my undergraduate program, I was a shy wallflower who loved books and writing, but I was always sitting on the outside of groups. Graduate school opened me up to the world, gave me confidence, an incredible education, and, more than anything, it gave me relationships I will be forever grateful for.

Trust me when I say that you too can turn your can’ts into cans and achieve your dreams. All it takes is some support, determination and persistence.

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