Thriving in Grad School

A student puts produce from a refrigerator into a plastic bag to take home.
Students pick out produce from the UW Campus Food Shed at 333 East Campus Mall. The Campus Food Shed project aims to redirect some of the surplus produce from several of UW–Madison’s agricultural research endeavors, and freely provide the vegetables and produce to UW students, faculty, and staff.

Eating Right

As a graduate student busy with research and studies, it is easy to slip into bad eating habits. With Madison’s many food co-ops, health food stores, local farms, and several farmers’ markets, Madison is a great place to develop healthy eating habits.

For many graduate students, time constraints and budgets can be the biggest obstacles to maintaining a healthy diet, even though a healthy meal may be exactly what we need when we’re feeling stressed. It helps to plan ahead. Something as simple as cooking multiple batches on the weekend can keep you eating well during the week, while saving time and money.

Wellness Spotlight: Food Assistance

By Elaine Goetz-Berman, Graduate and Professional Student Assistance Specialist

Being a graduate student can be a financially draining period of life, and many times it can be very difficult to make ends meet. This oftentimes can have an impact on the ability to afford groceries and a healthy meal. Below are options to connect you to the free food resources available on campus, and in the Madison community.

  • The Open Seat is a food pantry located on the UW–Madison campus (Room 4209 in the Student Activity Center) run by students, for students. Any student with a valid Wiscard is welcome to come and take part in the pantry weekly.
  • The Campus Food Shed student organization houses fresh, free produce around campus for all UW–Madison students, faculty and staff.
  • The Food Recovery Network at UW–Madison is an organization of student volunteers who work to increase food sustainability and equity by recovering surplus foods from UW dining halls and delivering it to organizations in need.
  • Slow Food UW hosts Family Dinner Nights on Mondays and the Slow Food Café on Wednesdays during lunch.
  • The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) offers nutrition assistance to eligible, low-income individuals and families. Students can use SNAP at markets and dining halls on campus. To determine eligibility, contact Megan Vander Wyst at Second Harvest.

More food assistance resources can be found on the University Health Services list of food resources and through the United Way of Dane County website.

Achieving Balance and Dealing with Stress

One of the most difficult aspects of graduate school is balancing academics with all of the other parts of your life. Below are some tips from graduate students for balancing school with family, work, relationships, and your own needs.

Balancing with a Job:

  • Get a planner, and use it. Try time management techniques to improve your productivity during study time, such as the Pomodoro method, which schedules short breaks into longer, focused work sessions.
  • Pay attention to your goals for the future. Try to take positions that will work for your future career aspirations.
  • Stay focused. Remember your graduate degree – and the knowledge, skills, and development that comes with it – is your priority.

Balancing Relationships:

  • In graduate school, you will need support from your significant other, family, and friends. Maintain open lines of communication and make sure they understand your world and the time and work commitment that it demands.
  • Take time to spend with your significant other, family, and friends.
  • Have fewer, or more realistic, expectations.
  • Remember to ask yourself: What does success mean to me?

Managing Stress:

  • Take time to connect with peers – whether through your department, MGN, or other student organizations. Social support from people who are in the same boat can help to manage stress.
  • Make time to do relaxing things, like cooking or yoga. Don’t feel guilty about taking time for yourself.
  • Pay attention to your mental health. During the winter season, some people may suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. It helps to get some ‘light therapy’: find reasons to get outside during the winter.

Maintaining Mental Health during COVID-19

An instructor rings a chime during a mindfulness meditation exercise
Mindfulness meditation can be a useful strategy to better cope with feelings of uncertainty and anxiety.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created exceptionally difficult and uncertain circumstances for everyone. Now, more than ever, it is important to take care of yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally. The UW–Madison Department of Psychiatry offers a COVID-19 Mental Health Resource Guide to support the community. It includes general coping strategies, support for parents, and tools for mindfulness and wellbeing – among others.

University Health Services, including Mental Health Services, remains committed to supporting students. The UHS Remote Health and Connection webpage offers information on service availability, virtual wellness resources, and more.

Meditation and mindfulness training is a useful strategy for many people who want to better manage their feelings and anxieties. The Healthy Minds Program from Healthy Minds Innovations is based on pioneering neuroscience research from UW–Madison. The program guides you through the four pillars of the science of training the mind. Healthy Minds Innovations has made the app freely available to individuals to support mental health and wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tips for Graduate Student Families

Two adults and three children sit around a table in their home, smiling for the camera.
Parents Noah and Noël Ash, both UW–Madison students, are pictured with their children at their family’s home in University Apartments.

These tips come from former graduate students to help parents who are new to campus.

  • Introduce your children to campus. Take them to the Union, the library, and other places where children are welcome. Connecting your children to your experience as a student will help them understand what you are doing when they are away from you; likewise, allowing your classmates and professors to see you in the parent role may help them understand some of the demands you face as a student-parent.
  • Set up your class schedule and program plan as soon as you can. This will allow you to arrange childcare that meets your needs, and will reduce your stress from semester to semester if you can plan ahead.
  • Be up-front from the start with your advisor, professors, and classmates about your dual role as a parent and a student.
  • Spend quality time with your family. Use creative strategies which may mean redefining what “quality time” means with your kids.
  • Take advantage of the services offered by the Office of Child Care and Family Resources.
  • Find ways to connect with other parents on campus and introduce your children to other children of grad student parents. The Office of Childcare and Family Resources offers a listserv, and many departments have informal programs to connect parents with other parents. These networks will help you maintain perspective and provide a great social outlet to relieve stress and minimize feelings of isolation.
  • Take breaks from school now and then to dedicate some time to your children and vice versa; take breaks from your children to completely dedicate some time to your school work and yourself.
  • Community building helps with parenting; this can mean learning to negotiate and learning good communication skills (for example, with your advisor), which will help you as a parent.