The Graduate Student's Guide to the Univers(ity)


UB south campus with outerspace overlay.

There is no question that the path in pursuit of a graduate degree is an intense one; it requires meticulous planning, flexibility, and focus. The journey alone through a graduate nursing program has its own unique set of stressors that can be exponentially intensified when trying to juggle school, work and family life. I write this blog from the perspective of having lived (and survived) graduate school thus far as a certified full-time student while working full-time as a critical care nurse. 

Reach for the Stars

I did not have the luxury of quitting my job to solely focus on school; I live a real life, with real responsibilities, and have real bills to pay. The reality is that most of my colleagues within the Family Nurse Practitioner Program share the same sentiments. My point is that if you feel grad school isn’t for you because you “have to work,” please give me a few more minutes of your time.

Grad school is a major commitment. Understand and accept the fact that your life will change as you know it. You will often find yourself confused upon waking in the morning, wondering if you are late, on time, or early for whatever you’re supposed to be doing that day. You will have to make sacrifices; for me, it was spending time with my family and friends. Your “free time” may quite possibly be consumed with errands, household chores or catching up on much needed sleep. You may even wonder occasionally if you made the right choice to pursue higher education, if this was the “right time” or the “right program” — until the vision of your student loan balance burns so brightly in your mind that you push any thought of giving up away.

And then you remember why. Why you chose higher education, why now and why this program.

Make the Best of Both Worlds

Being a successful graduate student while working a job is no walk in the park. It’s tough, but it’s not impossible. Having been there and done that, I’ve prepared a few suggestions to hopefully improve the likelihood of success.

1. Managing everything under the sun. (Be organized.)

Whether you utilize an electronic device to set reminders, fill out a calendar, or use a good-old pen and paper planner, a visual aid for mental housekeeping is essential. Use the same planner to input work days, school days and due dates for assignments. A visual aid also helps to plan out “off days,” so you can plan good times for grocery shopping, laundry, extra study days, etc. If you are like me and have a variable schedule, this can be key to maintaining your sanity. 

2. Houston, we have a problem. (Plan ahead and communicate with your faculty.)

In my experience, UB SON faculty have been extremely accessible and flexible to individual student needs. Don’t be afraid to contact faculty with questions, concerns or clarity on assignments or course topics. Further, they are more often than not receptive to allowing an assignment extension for extenuating circumstances — life happens. This, of course, is under the condition that you request it before the original due date. See #1. 

3. Don't space out. (Be flexible and adapt to change.)

Graduate education is dynamic. For me, navigating the DNP program shifted from purely online, independent study to a weekly full-day of face-to-face lecture plus clinical experience. Not to mention that clinical preceptors are people with lives, too; get used to planning your schedule around when they can fit you in. Many preceptors work at multiple sites or have more than one student. Be aware of the ebb and flow of your program, and keep in touch with faculty on what to expect. Plan ahead as you may have to adjust your work hours depending on your course load. 

4. The sky's the limit. (Be professional and act the part.)

Most employers love the idea of “promoting within.” A huge benefit of working while going to school is networking at your current place of employment. Most of my coworkers (including physicians and nurse practitioners) are aware that I am also in school. Working provides further opportunity for hands-on learning and increases awareness of the interplay of complex health conditions. Utilize opportunities while working to showcase your knowledge and ask informed questions. Demonstrate professionalism and you may increase your chances of getting an interview (and possibly a job offer!) after graduation.