Sunday, October 17, 2010

Grad school pressures -- when family doesn't understand

A student recently asked me to suggest strategies to deal with family members who do not understand the demands and challenges that graduate students face.

Strategies to try to help family members increase their understanding:

1. Talk with your partner, kids, parents, etc. about the content of your work. That's right, talk them through content that you find interesting or challenging. If you can explain it clearly enough for them to understand it, you may deepen your own understanding and they may start to see the complexity of what you are studying.

2. Engage your family. If anything you are working on in school is transferable to your family members' lives, ask for their opinions. Again, this will help you think about the work and may also help them gain some appreciation for the depth of your work.

3. Numbers. Don't be shy about mentioning how many pages you have to read, how many articles or chapters you have to read, or the approximate length of your next paper. This may help them realize the heft of your workload.

4. Parallel play. Have "study hall" at home. You work while your kids work, or even while your partner works on a task or project.

5. Post your calendar. Post your school schedule including due dates for readings, papers, projects and exams, on the fridge or somewhere everyone in your family can see it.

6. Celebrate your successes. Ask your family members to help you celebrate completed papers and projects, successful exams, etc. This is another way to involve them in the process. In addition, when they see how happy you are, they may begin to see how important school is to you.

Strategies for when your family simply doesn't understand:

1. Find support elsewhere. Seek out family members who do understand or friends or classmates who are encouraging and supportive. Maintain contact with these helpful folks, even if the contact is brief or just via email.

2. Maintain your focus. Don't let your family members' lack of support shake your confidence. You have your reasons for pursuing school, hold on to that vision.

3. Be your own number one fan. Find ways to encourage yourself and celebrate your successes.

4. Seek out supportive faculty. Professors have been there (through the academic journey that is). We know how hard you are working and the level of commitment it takes to succeed as an adult student. Professors can provide important and ongoing support.

How about it readers -- what other strategies have you used when family members were not supportive of your academic commitments?

Cheering you on in your work!

Photo by HLS

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