Adrian Lara: Five tips to be a happier grad student

By Adrian Lara.  Posted October 4, 2013.

Grad school can be very demanding, stressful and sometimes even depressing. But it can also be a great time in life! I’m a 3rd year Computer Science Ph.D. student and I truly enjoy my life as a grad student. Here are some tips that, in my opinion, have made my experience exciting.

  1. Make friends: Friends are what you’ll remember for the rest of your life after grad school. They will celebrate with you, cry with you, laugh with you and they will be there when you need them most. You’ll be there for them as well and you’ll soon realize that they are your family here in Lincoln. The feeling of “my best friends are in my country, not here” is extremely strong, we all feel it. Keep a place in your heart for those who stayed home and try to stay in touch with them. But be also open to new friendships. With time, they will become memorable friends. A friendly warning: friends come and go very fast during grad school. You get to meet fantastic people, feel like you’ve known them all your life and one year later, they go back home! So cherish your time with them as much as you can.

    If you have no idea of how to start building new friendships, participate in everything you can think of! Sooner or later, you’ll find a group of people you enjoy spending time with.

    Friends
    A great friendship.
  2. Travel: Travel, travel, travel, travel! So far, nothing has reloaded my energies more than spending a Spring Break in San Francisco, a weekend in Los Angeles or a Christmas holiday back home. Are you on a tight budget? We all are. That’s the life of a grad student! Remember I mentioned friends? Well, travelling with a group of five is a lot cheaper than travelling on your own! We all become experts in coupons, Groupon and many other ways of traveling on a low budget.

    “I’ll stay in Lincoln during Spring Break because I need to work on my research”… It’s true that staying in Lincoln will give you some productive time to work on your research. But I assure you that you’ll do a lot more if you travel for 3 days and then work for 4 than if you stay home the entire week. Resist that urge to work all the time and make sure you find some room for fun!

    Travel
    Hollywood, Los Angeles, California.
  3. Be time effective: in a nutshell, it’s about making decisions, facing your problems and not spending too much time procrastinating. It’s always easy to say “I’ll solve this later”. The one thing that makes me panic is when my “to do” list has more than four or five items. I’m still not very good at it, but it’s important to actively work on solving things in that list. If you really depend on somebody or something else to get it done, waiting is the only choice. But it’s up to you and you’re only procrastinating, go ahead and solve it! It will feel great once you’re done with it.

    It also helps to use your energy wisely. Not everything is as important. Don’t go to bed at 2am because you wanted the font of your homework to look pretty. Be prepared for that extra mile when a big deadline is coming. If nothing is extremely urgent, then that’s the time to work on the other tips! If everything seems extremely urgent all the time, then step back and think about it. It’s probably not that urgent after all.

    Time
    One of my first conferences in Asuncion, Paraguay.
  4. Make your apartment feel like home: Spend some time making your place look beautiful. Buy some frames, put pictures of your family on the walls, get a comfortable sofa and a TV. Every single time I enter my living room, I think “I love this apartment” and this helps me a lot when struggling with homesickness. You’ll spend quite a bit of time at your place, make sure you’re happy in there!

    This is probably the most unorthodox of the five tips. But it’s very important to me. Some say there is no place like home and I agree. I miss Costa Rica so much! But I’m proud of myself for succeeding at decorating an apartment for the first time and I’m really comfortable every time I spend time at home. For some reason, this makes me feel like I miss home a tiny bit less. It makes me feel like Lincoln is also home.

    Home
    My apartment during Christmas 2012.
  5. Do some exercise and stay healthy: The number of opportunities that you get, as a student, to exercise is huge! For me, the Campus Rec Center is a gem, a place to work out and relax. Swimming pool, gym, climbing wall, table tennis, racket, yoga, Zumba, you pick! There are clubs for tennis, running, cricket, soccer, football, water polo and many others. The Outdoor Activities office also offers plenty of fun trips during the year. The Intramurals office organizes plenty of tournaments each semester as well. And keep in mind that Lincoln has more than 130 miles of trails begging to be explored! No need to be a marathoner here, but exercise is just a great way of staying healthy and forgetting about school for a while.

    Health
    Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Marathon 2013.

It’s up to you to be a happy person. Being sad, feeling lonely and homesick is perfectly fine. But at some point, you have to face it and go find some happiness! Eleanor Roosevelt would tell you: "Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That's why we call it 'The Present'."