How to survive your first semester of Graduate Journalism

How to survive your first semester of Graduate Journalism

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So you’re starting your first semester of graduate journalism. It’s lit.

If your situation is anything like mine, this is a dope, life-changing opportunity to do some pretty cool things in a pretty cool city. With that, though, comes a lot of new moving parts to navigate. The idea of this post is not necessarily to get you to do exactly what I do/did to “succeed” or “thrive” (and, sometimes just maintain, manage, survive), it’s to encourage you to know yourself and come up with some things to help you navigate your “things.” Speaking from my experience, your hangups, your triggers, and stressors, etc. are going to be alive and kicking, especially in new environments with new expectations. These are some things I wish I’d known or practiced consistently.

  1. Use the calendar function on your phone: LIFE SAVER. Even now, I schedule these Marginalia post due dates into my phone with an alarm two days before to make sure I don’t mess up. Because I HAVE messed up and probably will again. I sync meetings and whatnot now, it’s awesome and actually makes me feel like a real adult.
  2. Always have pen and paper for class. Write everything down. I take notes about everything, even the most obvious or mundane points. I do this to keep track of what I’m doing, what I need to do, what’s coming up in the syllabus, etc. I doodle and draw during class to keep my hands and mind occupied and awake during those two and three-hour marathon class periods.
  3. If you’re anything like me, you can’t get good work done in a productive way at home. Whereas I could type up an entire assignment at Harold Washington or 33 E. Congress, at home, I type a paragraph and immediately reward myself with a nap and something from GrubHub. Don’t play yourself; I did that so hopefully, you won’t have to go through that (Jay-Z lines are always applicable).
  4. Use different methods of creating presentations. By no means do I know all the cooler methods of presenting projects and information, and by no means was I always looking for the most creative ways to do that, BUT it does make a difference. Instructors notice when you do a little more, and using different forms of media only adds to your worth as a journalist in the long run.
  5. Talk to your instructors. If you’re going through it, struggling with a concept or just need clarification, be vocal about it. Even things that might be an issue moving forward are worth mentioning just so that communication is clear and so that you can store up some good grace for when you need it most. And you WILL need it.

The name of the game is being proactive. It’s about giving yourself a chance from the jump so that flukes and mistakes can actually be mistakes and not just you not giving yourself the time or space to complete things. I’m super guilty of procrastinating and, not to get too deep into mental health, it doesn’t mix well with the general anxiety I tend to have. Because I know this about myself, I have to give myself every chance to combat it, otherwise, I’m setting myself up for failure.

Bottom line is this: Control and plan your work time to the furthest extent possible because there are always going to be external factors that can manipulate your time without warning. In fact, as a bonus, DO THE EXTRA CREDIT, even if you don’t need it right at that moment. Go to the film screening, listen to the guest lecturer, go to the panel discussion or art exhibit, write up the review or report. Taking advantage of extra credit ahead of time is just a little good grace you can give yourself in case things get real later on.