I thought I would take this time to share some of our lessons on graduate school:
- The first lesson is know that you will eventually want to read a book again. It took a few months for me, but Ben was immediately drawn into some great books that we had put in our "read after grad school" pile.
- Graduate school is hard. It is intense, overwhelming, encouraging, exciting, fulfilling, draining, etc. But at the end of the day, those two pieces of paper are something that you can smile at and be proud of. For those in the thick of it, all I can say is persevere.
- Working on master's degrees at the same time as my spouse was intensely tough. The divorce rate for people getting their masters and doctorate degrees is insanely high. It was not easy. We both were stressed and overwhelmed and never felt like doing housework. We operated for two years in our shadow modes and well, that ain't pretty. (For those of you unaware of what a "shadow" is, stay tuned to an upcoming blog post about personality types). Benefit to you both completing yours masters is that you each get to be called "Master Swihart" around the house and that is pretty great.
- If you have the opportunity to partake in a cohort based, residency program, we highly recommend it! We have made some solid, lasting friendship during our three weeks each of the two summers we spent in Uganda. I tried a limited residency in the US and while those friendship were great, they were not as strong as two solid years of working through the program together.
- Know that the pursuit of His work brings forth great blessings. The abundance of support and knowledge that we experienced was life changing.
- That being said, no, not everyone knew what it was like to balance work, being newlyweds, new jobs, full-time school, family, friends, etc. We heard the lines of "we miss you. Why aren't you guys ever around?" which I don't think our friends ever meant harm by saying, but it was tough not to feel guilty. We dearly wanted to hang out on the weekends, go out for dinner, have late night convos, but we honestly didn't have the strength. Not that school consumed us 24/7, but just the thought of our 25 page papers looming over our heads made life exhausting. We had to cut some things out of our lives in order to manage this short season of our lives, and after God, each other, and our work, our lives didn't have much energy left to give.
- You learn a lot about yourself in graduate school. For me, the course I was most afraid of taking (applied research and evaluation) was one that became one of my favorite. And coincidentally the one I was most excited to take, and part of the reason for switching to the Africa co-hort (advocacy and human rights) was not one of my favorites. Don't let your expectations get the best of you.
- Build relationships with your professors and classmates from the start. The support of your peers is like nothing else. No one knows where you are in the process like your classmates. They all understand your hatred of numbers during your practical finance management class and are there to talk you through it. They are the ones who can explain the confusing assignments, or better yet, vent with you on the unclear instructions that sometimes occur because of the online learning format where you have to converse questions over email not in person.
- A few months after you complete your degree, you may miss the intellectual conversations, books, challenging papers, etc. This is entirely normal and frankly, the sign that you did grad school the right way. If you reach this stage, connect with your fellow masters on Facebook or email chains. You can have a bond with these people for the rest of your lives, but it takes work. Send them encouraging TED talks, share troublesome areas, give them a chance to read a proposal your wrote. Give them a chance to get back "into" the knowledge fest and I am sure they will do the same for you.
- Be sure to save up money to take breaks and quiet vacations. It is hard to do knowing that your student loans are piling up, but we found it helpful to have a fun activity to look forward to at the end of an eight week class.
Overall, grad school is what you make it. And despite how it feels in the thick of it, time passes by so quickly. Savor it. Learn from it. Leave stronger and wiser.