We asked new alums to provide perspective on adding graduate school to already full lives. Dr. Kim Mauer and Mr. Adam Byrd shared their mindsets, tactics, and lessons learned. They covered organizing their weeks to approaching assignments to connecting with others.
For each course and week, balance the “skim” with the “deep dive”. Scan the course for the arc and deliverables at the beginning of the term. Kim found that putting assignment dates on her personal and work calendars helped her track tasks and plan for completing larger assignments. At the beginning of each week, Adam skimmed the content and assignments. Working through the content, he identified what he could speed read (a skill developed during the program) and what he needed to spend more time on.
Figure out what you can do in “spurts” versus what needs longer, focused time. For example, Adam could read an article, watch a short lecture, and review classmates’ forum posts during a break or waiting in line. Deeper thinking and clear writing require dedicated blocks of time. Kim set aside two 4-hour blocks, one on Wednesday night and another on Sunday. Adam’s schedule necessitated making the most of the weekends for school. Another student worked 4-10s with Wednesdays off, which she dedicated to school while the house was quiet. There is no prescribed way to organize your schedule, but do the work that fits the time you have and your setting.
When working on assignments, Kim suggested, “Jump right in.” You have to start somewhere; once you get started, it is easier to keep the momentum going. She also advised, “Don’t be afraid of your answers. I wrote and spoke what I honestly felt and thought. I didn’t try to sound smart and wasn’t afraid to ask questions. I opened myself to those around me and came away with a lot of really wonderful new friendships.” To avoid worrying about comparison, Adam suggests drafting your initial forum response before reading peers’ posts, “Everyone in the program has a unique skill set that sets them apart, find yours and leverage it.” Connections among peers and between class assignments and professional life can strengthen experiences.
Adam drew upon his community to help and immediately took his learning into his work. Early on, he learned that by creating drafts and enlisting the help of a natural editor from his personal life, he created a buffer for himself and submitted higher-quality work. He developed templates that helped him organize his thoughts and write more efficiently. Along with efficiency, he noted how he became more concise, while a topic in his coursework, “this improvement was immediately noticed by my boss.” Use assignments to expand and deepen your thinking as well as connect to people and ideas.
Let technology help you connect. Kim’s and Adam’s peers set up a group text. These are people you click with. You can support each other through your journey. In team projects, Kim found that MS Teams and Office.com allowed the team to collaborate synchronously and asynchronously. Adam echoed the idea of connection. He shared, “Your classmates will help you, and you will help them. All of the people affiliated with this program are allies, we’re all in this together as part of a community. Reach out, spend time getting to know people, lend your services and be kind.”
Kim Mauer, M.D., M.B.A., is a Professor of Anesthesiology and the Vice Chair for Pain Management at OHSU. Her work in the comprehensive pain clinics is spread across two sites and consists of non-transitional work hours (evenings and weekends). Additionally, she works in surgery, providing regional anesthesia. At home, she is the mother of four daughters. After graduation, she noted that while she enjoys the extra time, she also misses being a student.
Adam Byrd, M.S., is a Biomedical Imaging Specialist at the Portland VA. He works 50-60 hours a week, provides 24-hour on-call for a hospital every third week (for week-long stints), runs a small business, and, at the beginning of the program, had a 6-month-old infant. Preparation and time management had to be efficient. He describes his time in the program as “hectic but manageable.” Read Adam’s profile from his time as a student.