Congrats – you are a member of a community of scholars and are on your way to becoming an expert in your field! You may have a few clumsy first steps, but that is okay and expected. You have earned your position as a graduate student and you should take pride in that.
A “PhD” is a degree — you are a person. It may seem like an obvious distinction, but it’s easy for physical and emotional well-being to become lost in the process of pursuing an advanced degree. Graduate school, like life, is full of stress, and it is important that you are aware of the tools you can use to manage your stress and maintain your health.
- Physical wellness involves building a healthy, strong, and resilient body. Such a body receives proper nutrition, sleep, and activity while being protected from disease and injury. As a result, the individual is physically fit and energetic, has a strong immune system, and is primed for longevity.
- Alcohol and Substance Use: Graduate school is stressful, and any stressful environment can lead you to fall back on coping strategies—not all healthy ones. If you have problems from alcohol abuse or substance abuse, here are resources:
- Emotional wellness is marked by an individual’s acceptance and healthy expression of their feelings. Emotionally well individuals experience a range of emotions, but they do strive to be happy. They effectively manage their emotions, stress, and related behaviors.
- You are able to recognize what is and is not normal for you. You probably have strategies that help you cope with stress, but there are many places you can turn to on campus if you are looking for a place for support and to express yourself.
Nationally, graduate students have high incidences of depression and anxiety. If you are experiencing signs and symptoms of either condition, you are not alone; there are resources to help you.
- Work-life balance is not only for people who have children or dependent family members! It’s an important part of not only being a holistic person but also being more effective and creative.
- Time Management and Boundaries: Much of graduate school can be unstructured time that is very open-ended and independent; this unstructured time is more flexible, but it is also easy to feel like there is always something more that can be done. It’s important to be able to set boundaries to balance your key priorities so that you find the level you need to be most healthy, happy, functional, and productive. Breaking down large, open-ended goals into smaller, more manageable steps can also help you feel like you’re tangibly accomplishing things on a regular basis.
- Intellectual wellness centers on engagement and challenge: expanding knowledge and understanding, improving skills, and developing creative thinking. An intellectually well mind is inquisitive, engaged, and challenged.
- Look for opportunities to be curious in your graduate studies; seek out collaboration and consider getting involved with campus, local, or national organizations.
- A socially well person has the social support that they want and need. The relationships that they have are mutually healthy and rewarding. Graduate school can be stressful, requiring a large investment of time and energy. Having a social support system—whether family or friends—is important for getting through the hard times and celebrating the successes. As busy as you may feel, spending time seeing or talking with your supporters can be revitalizing.
- The University of Iowa, Iowa City, and the surrounding areas have a wide range of activities happening year-round: sports, music, theatre, hiking, dining out, parks, markets, art, festivals, cinema, visiting authors, and more!
- Spiritual wellness is not only for people who are religious, although it can encompass religious beliefs and practices if they are part of your well-being.
- A sense of self-understanding can help you focus on where you are going and what you are doing. A spiritually well person understands and acts in accordance with their own values. They cultivate a sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation.
Emergency and non-emergency resources for safety concerns are available through UI and the surrounding community.
Find a community
Community events and organizations
- Working with your advisor on your academic plan
- Exploring plentiful opportunities to develop skills
- Conducting ethical research
- List of opportunities in Iowa City (maintained by school of social work)
- United Action for Youth (UAY)
- Shelter House
- Animal Care & Adoption Center
- Public Library
- Senior Center
University Counseling Services - offering a variety of services, outreach, and training.
Offering individual appointments and group sessions that are open to all graduate students, including:
- Individual and group counseling and psychotherapy
- Couples or relationship counseling
- Careers assessment
- Offer referrals
- Resources on helping a friend
Student Health & Wellness - to support student wellness and learning through educational and health promotion services that help students create healthy lifestyles.
Offering individually tailored, one-on-one consultations in the areas of:
- Stress management
- Tobacco cessation
- Alcohol and drug use
- Sexual health
Distinguish between being “too busy” due to having large, tangible projects with upcoming deadlines vs. being “too busy” from research being an inherently open-ended activity. There will be some weeks in grad school that have to be much busier than others, but set aside some recovery time after the deadlines have been met to avoid burnout.
Set finite specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound goals (S.M.A.R.T.) for activities that are inherently very open-ended (such as research)—“read 5 papers each week” gives you both clear progress and a clear stop point.
Reflect on your time management, and consider scheduling your breaks. Whether you take many short breaks or a few larger breaks is up to your personal preference, but be sure the way in which you’re getting break time is refreshing for you.
Consider multitasking. Reading while exercising is an easy way to combine physical wellness with your academic goals.
These feelings can happen to anyone. You are not alone. That said, if your activities are feeling monotonous, try doing something new:
- Talk about your work to a new audience who’s never heard it before
- Try a new teaching technique
- Read a paper or go to a talk that’s completely outside of your discipline
- Browse presentation/poster titles in a conference program to see what else is happening in your field outside your specific topic
- Do some informational interviews
- Present your research in a different format (video animation/song/painting)
- Brainstorm real-world examples that could be incorporated into your teaching
- Go to a community event
- Try a new restaurant
- Read about different careers and ways that other PhDs have applied their work in new settings
- Go to a new discussion event and meet some new people
- Brainstorm community outreach/service projects
- Look for organizations you could volunteer with
You do still need to complete your degree eventually, so don’t turn this into procrastination. However, a new activity may give you a fresh perspective to get reinvigorated about the topic.
Note: if you are losing interest in most life activities and nothing seems enjoyable anymore, this can be a symptom of depression; resources are available from University Counseling Service, University Human Resources, and Student Health and Wellness.
The answer will vary depending on your needs, how you work best, and the type of work you are doing for your degree. Whether you disclose your condition and to whom is always your choice. However, for many conditions, you are legally entitled to reasonable accommodations to ensure equal access to education (summarized here with other policy summaries, including from ADA.) Student Disability Services can provide information about accommodations and confidentiality, and other support resources can be found at the UI Community of Persons with Disabilities resource page.
Many highly accomplished people—including graduate students, postdocs, and faculty—can experience feelings of self-doubt despite many prior successes, which is known as “imposter syndrome.” It is not a formal psychological disorder—though it can certainly be stressful to experience—and can be felt by anyone in any field. Reading about others’ experiences can be a good first step to learn about other academics’ individual coping strategies, as can talking with a trusted friend or mentor. If your feelings of self-doubt are extremely stressful or harmful to your wellbeing, University Counseling Services also offers individual and group counseling.
Your fellow graduate students can be a great source of camaraderie. Your department, interdisciplinary graduate student organizations, dissertation writing groups, and online communities are all places to look for other graduate students who may have similar interests. Don’t assume that someone has to be in the same discipline as you to be able to offer mutual moral support.
Iowa City also has a lot of university-related people present in the general community, so you may meet other graduate students by chance in the course of participating in broader community activities (local sports, salsa dancing, etc.).
Don’t necessarily give up on caring family members and pre-grad school friends, though—even if they aren’t familiar with the specifics of graduate school, they can still provide emotional support and outside perspectives.
Go to the activity, try it, and see who you meet! Iowa City is a university town, so a lot of community activities will have other people from UI participating.
Asking other people questions like “what’s the most interesting place or activity you’ve found outside of university since being here?” can be a way to both learn about area activities and get to know others. Example area activities can be found here.