Tips for Grads: Winding down at the end of the semester

By Emily Azevedo-Casey, PhD student

The end of the semester can leave graduate students feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, even after grades are in. And with holidays approaching it can feel like there’s simply not enough time to breathe. Before we start thinking ahead to what’s next, take this opportunity to check back in, rest, and give back.

  • Tie up loose ends. Have you handed in everything for your classes and research? If you have an incomplete – which, I’ve been there – then make a plan for what you need to do to finish and by when to get that squared away so it doesn’t hang over you all break. Avoid more stress by practicing time management skills.
  • Reflect on the semester. What worked well and what would you change about this fall? Think about your study habits, time management, ability to handle challenges, new skills, degree progression, health, and relationships. Document your milestones and accomplishments so you can remember these in the future ebbs and flows of graduate life.
  • Prioritize rest and relaxation. Use this moment before the holiday rush to take a minute for yourself, because the value of relaxing can only be appreciated if you can actually relax. With the constant pressure ‘to do’ in grad life, it’s okay to start small, like extending your exhale. Waking and going to sleep can also be great times to practice mindful relaxation techniques like progressive muscle relaxation (my favorite). I highly recommend Rena Kornblum’s stress management and relaxation techniques class in the dance department when it is offered next fall so you can really get a handle on these skills.
  • Make time to give back. The semester’s demands often require significant time dedicated to individual academic pursuits. And, we still need support from our loved ones and the larger community on this journey. A break in the semester is a great time to pay it forward; check out local volunteer opportunities for a place to start.

For graduate students well along their way or ones just starting out, congratulations on making it to the end of fall! For more resources on winding down with your well-being in mind, take advantage of self-care week from RecWell through December 21, read Rest is Resistance by Tricia Hersey if you need more convincing to rest, and make use of online tools like UW’s Healthy Minds Program app and guided relaxation podcasts. Watch out for more opportunities in our Winter Warm-Up calendar, coming to your inbox January 1.

Tips for Grads is a professional and academic advice column written by graduate students for graduate students at UW­–Madison. It is published in the student newsletter, GradConnections Weekly.