Chandra Crane continues her series of letters for families of new graduate students, digging further into advice on what it means to support the graduate student in your life. Read Part 1 here.
Part II: A New Course of Study, and Some Advice
Dear New Graduate Student’s Family,
The nature of grad school is a weird nexus of too much information (Here are 800,000 pages. Please read them by last week.) and not enough information at all (Please figure out all the Things. Please create your own efficient life schedule. Please have a Fortune 500 CEO level of organization, motivation, and enthusiasm. Here is your $5 graduate school stipend.).
So let me try to distill the course of my own “PhT” (Pushed him/her Through) thesis down to a few key lessons:
- Welcome to your new job, and your new course of study.
- Try not to be a distraction, but please offer distractions.
- Time spent doesn’t necessarily equal value given.
- Rely on humor. Rely on the Lord. Rely on others.
- This isn’t forever, but act like it is.
I’ll tackle the first one here, and then wrap up with the last four in Part III.
First, Welcome to Your New Job: supporting a graduate student! This job pays beans, unlike your “real” job, which most likely pays peanuts. This new job has extremely long hours, little to no cash value benefits, and is not very glamorous. You—whether a spouse, parent, child, or other family member/close friend—are now in graduate school, too. So Welcome to Your New Course of Study: your loved one. Far beyond being just a clever analogy, you really will thrive more in the coming years if you treat this time as one of study and discovery. Bronywn Lea does a wonderful job of offering Survival Tips for the Spouses of Grad Students. Let that be the syllabus for an introductory course: My Loved One in Grad School 101. Study your loved one, and write a paper (or at least jot down some ideas) on how you can support them. If you live with them, what can you do around the house to help equip them? What ways can you help organize the house and your schedules to promote success? Even if he or she works mostly in an office, coffee shop, etc., home life makes a difference. Figure out what housework and other duties will look like, because those tasks will probably be more on you than ever before. Figure out what resources you need to be able to take on those responsibilities. If there are children in the house, pray over them daily that they will be able to understand the new situation and not take undue worry into their own little souls.
If you are a loved one who lives far away (or even across town), what ways can you uniquely offer support? Sending care packages? Bringing meals? How can you be an advocate for your family member? Sometimes an encouraging text message or a heartfelt card can make all the difference in the sanity of graduate students. Sometimes a funny newspaper clipping or two-minute phone call can keep them going. Often, just knowing that there is someone out there who believes in you, and will take the time to say so, keeps all of us going.
And you will be going. Much like the classic Energizer Bunny—going, and going, and going. You will need to be going about the day-in and day-out routines of life, all while keeping the bigger picture in mind. Your graduate student (no matter the exact relation to you) will need you now more than ever, and for the foreseeable future. You’re working on your own “PhT” now. You’re doing your own research, writing your own thesis, and facing your own struggles, all for the love of this crazy, wonderful person who said,
It seems God is calling me to go to graduate school. Will you journey with me?
Next time: Practical tips on caring for your grad student.
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