My advice is to surround yourself with a deep-thinking community including at least a few Christians. Graduate school is challenging on many levels, but there are often direct attacks on one’s faith and world view. There is no reason to fear or avoid these attacks if you can discuss your challenges with trusted friends and wise mentors. The discussions you have will likely bring all involved closer to truth and to a deeper understanding of God.
Having a Christian community was essential. And it was important for me to be in a church with graduate students in it. In my master’s program I was in a group of five women who met weekly for prayer. We were not in the same field, but this was tremendously helpful to all of us. I am in a similar prayer group at my college, all female faculty, and it is really what holds my head above water.
And I suspect having a sense of humor helps. I have a friend who ends emails with this quote: “A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs — jolted by every pebble in the road.” (Henry Ward Beecher)
There are so many different things that can be said about “surviving and thriving” in graduate school. For myself, as I enter my medical residency training program, I’m again trying to remember to focus on the things that helped during graduate school because they remain relevant in my current transition and intense season as well.
- Find Christian mentors and Christian community. Both are essential and can be hard to find at first. Be persistent and patient. My time in graduate school was indescribably enhanced through the fellowship I found through the InterVarsity grad student group. I met friends who were going through similar situations and challenges. The prayers of others who understood my life was a huge support.
- Learn how to rest and keep the Sabbath. This is the most important discipline that I tried to learn and practice while in graduate school. In undergraduate, I was very used to doing many different things on very little sleep. Then, as I entered an intense graduate program, the desire to be academically successful made it difficult for me to even think about resting and taking a break at first. And, while I am far from mastering how to slow down and rest on a regular basis, I am convinced that Sabbath rest is an essential and good gift from the Lord. I strongly recommend Marva Dawn’s Keeping the Sabbath Wholly as a beautiful description of Sabbath “ceasing, resting, embracing, and feasting.”
- Give yourself freedom to accept the season of “graduate school” as different from others. While you will need to say “no” to some things that you’ve become accustomed to, there will be other things that God directs you to in graduate school that you will also enjoy if you let yourself.