A Day in the Life of a Grad Student

It is probably a cliché to say that no two days are alike for a graduate student. For me, this variety makesthe hard work and long hours of graduate student life worth it. What makes up those long hours? It varies from student to student and as your program progresses. In the first few years, you spend more time in classes and doing class-directed reading and assignments. Later on, your own research projects fill your time. Depending on your program and your funding, other responsibilities will surface. You may work as a teaching assistant or on your advisor's projects. If you are a student in a clinical program, you will spend time in clinical training and start to see clients of your own.

I am a third year graduate student in the Health Psychology area at UCLA. At this point in my program,I am mostly done with coursework and my time is spent mainly on my own research, on teaching assistant duties, and on projects I work on for my advisor.

Here’s how I spent my time on a typical day last quarter: Wednesdays were some of my busiest days. First thing in the office, I like to review my to-do lists. Time management is a big topic for graduate students; to-do lists are a must for managing all of the steps in many projects. In the mornings, I also spend a few minutes tweeting about posts on this blog!

My first meeting was a lab. Every professor runs their lab a little differently. This lab does a mix of discussing journal articles and giving feedback to students on their research. Many students attend more than one Professor's lab meeting to develop breadth and get feedback from diverse perspectives. After lab, I held my office hours which were some of my favorite hours of the week because I especially enjoy one-on-one teaching with students! Midday, I went to the Health Psychology area's Brown Bag forum. Most departments or areas have a regular forum for professors, students, and visiting scholars to discuss their work. It is an opportunity to learn about research in your own department and elsewhere, and it always gives me ideas for my own research.

My first opportunity to get some of my own research done came in the afternoon. Many professors have repeatedly recommended to us that we make time for our own writing and research every day, and defend that time against interruptions. Later in the afternoon, a student doing a project in my lab would meet with me so we could discuss the next steps in her project. The last scheduled part of my Wednesday was another lab meeting—this time with my primary advisor's lab. That lab time is dedicated to giving feedback on student and visiting scholar presentations which is invaluable to improving your work.

After that lab meeting, I had an hour or so to squeeze in a little more work before heading to a running class at Drake Stadium. Balance is something that every graduate student struggles to achieve. Of course we want to do all of our work, to sleep, to spend time with friends, to exercise, to eat well...but sometimes it feels like there's just not enough time for everything! Being a Health Psychology student, I know just how important it is make time for healthy habits. My running class helps to clear my head and make sure I get a good night's sleep that night!

No two days as a graduate student are the same, and I'm lucky that I have some more relaxed days to balance out the busyness of a typical Wednesday. Schedules vary from student to student and from quarter to quarter, but setting good time management habits and balancing work with healthy habits and fun makes almost any schedule workable. And because you're working on your passion, the hours of work are [usually] a joy!

This post was originally published in Volume 1 of theUndergraduate Research Journal of Psychology at UCLA and is blogged with permission. Check out URJP's websitefor more articles!