6 Mid-Semester Tips for Master’s and Professional Students 

By Alex Yen | October 2022

Now that the fall semester is well under way, October is the perfect time to reflect on your goals and create optimal conditions for you to thrive during your graduate school experience!  

  1. Make a graduate school plan: A master’s or professional degree can fly by before you know it! It is helpful to establish a plan for yourself that identifies your academic, personal, and professional goals for the next 1-3 years. A helpful strategy is to create a larger semester calendar where you identify and map out long-term goals and deadlines. Start by reflecting on what you would like to accomplish each semester as you progress through your degree. What skills and competencies would you like to hone? For example, you may want to improve your speaking ability in a language or strengthen your writing. The Educational Resource Center’s Language Link and Writing Assistance services can help you achieve these goals. In terms of career preparation, there are multiple resources at BU to help you explore potential jobs, create your resume, and even print out business cards. By planning ahead and identifying relevant resources, you’re far more likely to achieve the goals you’ve set for yourself! 
  2. Hone your graduate school routine: Some of you may be starting your master’s or professional degree fresh from an undergraduate degree, while some of you may have worked for years before returning to school. Either way, it’s important to establish a healthy, balanced routine that will help you meet the demands of graduate school. Take some time to reflect on your commitments: are you working part-time while going to school? What is your course load and schedule? It’s also helpful to reflect on your natural routines. What times of day are you most alert and focused? When do you like to wake up and go to bed? The Educational Resource Center offers workshops on time management that can help you establish a sustainable approach to time management. One strategy you can try on your own is creating a weekly “template schedule” for yourself using a 24-hour time grid. First, mark out your external commitments such as class, work, and weekly appointments. Then, add commitments to yourself such as sleep, meals, and self-care (exercise, meditation breaks, etc.). From there, you’ll see how much time you have available for studying and relaxation. If you’re a full-time student, aim for 24-32 hours of study time each week, prioritizing the times of day when you are most focused. Finally, don’t forget to block out times for socialization and relaxation to help you unwind at the end of the day and the end of the week!

  3. Establish a comfortable learning environment: Think about where you tend to produce your best work. Are you someone who likes to work at home or in a quiet space? Or do you find your concentration improves when you study in the library or a café? The ERC’s Study Space guide provides a list of places around BU where you can study by yourself or in a group. Wherever you decide to work, as a graduate student, you may be spending more time in front of your computer than ever before! That’s why it’s important to think about ergonomics. Be sure to position your computer or tablet screen at least 2 feet from your face. If you can use an external monitor or a laptop stand, this can greatly reduce neck and eye strain. For more ergonomics tips and resources, visit the BU Environmental Health and Safety website.
  4. Identify mentors and foster your mentor-mentee relationships: Mentors and advisors come in all different forms, and it is crucial to identify what you would like from a mentor. Make sure to identify an advisor or mentor early on in your degree program and begin to build your communication. Check out a few possible questions you can ask your mentor/advisor. If you do not have a set advisor or mentor yet, don’t hesitate to meet with multiple faculty members, identify whom you communicate with best (see examples of good mentor communication), and then ask them, “Do you have the capacity to work with me as an advisor or mentor?”
  5. Identify your funding and budget: Make sure you understand your financial situation before, during, and after your master’s or professional degree. Will you be working and generating income during your degree? Will you be a full-time student without a job and need to rely on savings or loans? As you assess your new budget, don’t forget to factor in textbooks, software, and even money that will be used during socializing and networking. Identify if the amount you save, spend, and invest may have to change while you are working on your master’s degree. If you are interested in working part time, the Student Employment Office (SEO) has a board listing part-time jobs, both on and off-campus. Don’t hesitate to reach out to campus offices where you might be interested in exploring a career to ask if they have job openings. A special reminder for international students: you are eligible to work on-campus, and there are plenty of job opportunities available! 
  6. Maintain and build resilience: Graduate school is a marathon, not a sprint. Identify when you need to take breaks, and identify times throughout the semester when you can step away from schoolwork for at least half a day. The challenges, triumphs, and hard work of a master’s or professional degree are a great opportunity to build resilience—the ability to recover from challenging moments or times of crisis. Throughout, it’s crucial to remember that you are not alone! If you would like help navigating the academic challenges of graduate school, the Educational Resource Center provides Academic Skills advising to help you build new time management, reading, and learning strategies. To support your mental health and wellbeing, BU Student Health Services provides a number of support groups and workshops for graduate students. Additionally, the Newbury Center is a safe and welcoming space that supports first-generation students at BU; if you’re the first if your family to pursue a graduate degree—you’re first gen! In addition to these on campus support systems, be sure to set aside time to spend with friends, family, and others who support your graduate school journey. Be kind to yourself and take the time to establish and adjust habits until you find what works best for you. You can do this!  

This article was written by Alex Yen, a Postdoctoral Associate in the Office of Professional Development and Postdoctoral Affairs (PDPA).