Student Experience: Making the Most of the Balancing Act

In our next installment of the Student Experience Column, Megan Crayon, University of Maryland student and archivist at the MD State Archives, discusses balancing her various worlds and responsibilities, and leveraging opportunities that emerge.

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I am enrolled in a dual-masters program the University of Maryland, College Park, pursuing a dual MLS and MA in History, and I work full time as an archivist at the Maryland State Archives—plus the other realities and responsibilities of life. There are days that I have seriously questioned if I can handle so many responsibilities. I mean, I’ve had others (gently) ask me if I’m over-extending myself. And I am not certain of the answer. I was so excited when I applied to my program, after years of contemplation, and now…now I need reminders about why I’m pursuing graduate education. And reminders that it’s normal for it to be a bit overwhelming. This post is for all my fellow insanely busy people–working hard and pursuing your education, regardless of your individual set of circumstances.

One of the biggest mind games I’ve had to fight against is the temptation to compare my life (academic, personal, and professional) against those of my classmates and colleagues. It can be overwhelming to know that the person sitting next to you is taking a heavier course load than you are, maintains a professional blog, volunteers for student organizations, and has a social life–especially when it can be a fight for me to simply continue to get to work on time and maintain my course work. In fact, I missed a couple of the deadlines I made for myself in writing this post! Sometimes I can almost feel myself sinking in my seat at the, “What do you do?” question. I know that I’m going to be blown away by some of my classmates and all they have accomplished, and I’m probably going to have to fight feeling a bit inadequate. That’s when I try to keep in mind two of the biggest pieces of advice I received going into this graduate school adventure: 1) Respect your limits 2) Understand that everyone has limits, but because they are different limits than yours, they may not be easy for you to see (hence the feeling I get that some people actually have more hours in their day than I do). I want to make the most of my academic and professional experiences and not worry about all I could be doing if I was that person over there.

I’m in my fourth semester, and so far I’ve learned a few really simple strategies that have helped me to glean a lot from grad school, despite my limitations:

The first is to take advantage of the experiences of classmates around you. It is hard to develop a network of fellow students when you are not on campus all the time and the people you started the program with will finish long before you. However, I’ve tried to leverage the fact that my classmates have more credits under their belt, and have used them as a resource for figuring out what classes to take (and what to avoid). Most of the people I’ve interacted with have been incredibly kind and willing to share wisdom from their experiences. They may be able to tackle more at once than I can, but I can use that to my advantage. Even knowing ahead of time that a particular class will be really dry helps me to gear up and make a plan for how to make it through.

Along the same lines as the first strategy, my second strategy has been to mine the wisdom of my colleagues. I have been so blessed to have a job in the field for several years, so I had some established relationships prior to starting school. (In fact, one of my work mentors was the first person to advise me not to bite off too many classes at once.) Sometimes the idea of driving to campus for one of the career panels, or to talk to a professor, is just too much. I’ve been at work, I’m tired, and I have homework hanging over my head. But it is really manageable to email a colleague and ask if they have a half hour to sit and answer questions about their work, and how they pursued the path to where they are now. I have found great inspiration in and encouragement by picking the brains of the people I work with. Some of what they say rivals the learning of any classroom. (Added bonus: they often ask you questions too, which allows an avenue for solidifying in your own mind why you are doing what you are doing. And they become allies and cheerleaders in your adventure.)

My path to my degree does not look like everyone else’s, or even how I imagined it. But learning to see that as an advantage, and not a handicap, is enabling me to look at this as an adventure. In adventures, there are fellow travelers, who can teach me a lot. And that’s worth at least as much as the final destination.

Megan Craynon is a graduate student in the HiLS program, at University of Maryland, College Park working toward an MLS as well as an MA in History. She has been an archivist at the Maryland State Archives since 2011, and is currently working in the Administration department.

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