Graduate Students

Graduate students face a host of unique challenges that can impact emotional wellness. The good news is that there are resources and people at U-M ready and willing to help. One of the best resources for graduate students is the Rackham Graduate School website. This website includes great information, relevant to students in any graduate or professional program, including information about living in Ann Arbor, health and wellness, and other resources.

Here are the most common challenges that graduate students say they face, along with helpful tips and resources.


RELOCATION

Graduate student programs, especially doctorate programs, may require a longer stay in Ann Arbor, and whether you’re coming from another city, another state, or another country, there is no doubt that relocation can be stressful. In addition to adjusting to the new demands of your program, you have to create a new home for yourself. And if you are moving with a partner or children, this transition can be equally as stressful for them.

One of the best things that you can do is get to know Ann Arbor. Explore and enjoy all that Ann Arbor has to offer.


ISOLATION

The difference in ages and experiences of students at the graduate level is often greater than during the undergraduate years. These perceived differences, coupled with living alone and working long hours, can leave some graduate students feeling alone or isolated.  Although it can be challenging, connecting with people and creating a support network is an important way to stay healthy.

Connect with students in your program: It’s safe to assume that most students in your program at least share similar professional or academic interests, which can be a good starting point in connecting with others who may at first seem very different from yourself. Another great way to find others who share your interests is to ask about what student organizations you can get involved in within your program.

Connect with others outside your program: Taking time to do something that you enjoy outside of your field of study, like joining an unrelated student organization or sport, signing up for an art class, or volunteering, can not only help you to connect with others but is also good for your overall wellbeing.


ACADEMIC DEMANDS

Many graduate and professional school students find that managing the academic demands at U-M can be stressful, and that balancing work, courses and personal needs can be very challenging. In graduate school the expectation is that you will contribute, rather than be a passive consumer of information, meaning that you will likely be conducting more independent research.

The advising relationship is also different. It can be scary to think about discussing your mental health with the person who may review your work or make professional recommendations. This worksheet can be helpful in making the decision about whether or not to disclose.


Time Management

Graduate school is full of competing priorities: classes, teaching, research, theses and dissertations, lab responsibilities, funding applications, and professional demands (such as interacting with patients or clients). As any graduate student will tell you, effective time management is crucial to success and to maintaining good mental health. It is also something that many–perhaps most–graduate students (not to mention faculty members) struggle with from time to time. Practicing time management skills can help you to get your schedule under control, stay on task, and reduce stress. See our self-care page the and the MiTalk website for some helpful time management tips.


Academic Support

Because graduate programs are typically small and specialized, you are likely to be able to receive individualized guidance and support from instructors if you begin to have trouble with any of your coursework. Second-year graduate students can also be a good source of support because they have completed many of the courses you will be taking. U-M also has many free academic resources developed specifically for graduate students.


Working with Academic Advisors

Developing a strong working relationship with your faculty advisor(s) might be the most critical step toward success in graduate school. Most graduate students work closely with their faculty advisors and rely on them for career guidance, research opportunities, and professional recommendations. It is best to meet with your faculty advisor(s) as early as possible so you can understand their expectations, and help them understand the ways in which they can be most helpful to you. You should schedule regular meetings with your academic advisor(s) to discuss your progress, plan/revise your goals, and get help if you need it. Faculty advisors take very different approaches to mentoring; some expect their students to work on specific projects and provide much guidance, while others expect their students to develop and work on their own projects with little guidance. The Rackham Graduate School provides a helpful guide, “How to Get the Mentoring You Want.”


Working with Department Administrators

Meet with your program administrators at least once during the academic year. The requirements of graduate programs can be complex, and can change during the course of your academic career. Many students are surprised to find that they have not met certain requirements, that they are not on pace to finish their dissertation on time, or that they have misunderstood the parameters of their funding package. Conversely, other students become convinced that they are falling behind when in reality they are right on course.


Balancing Coursework with Professional Responsibilities

In many graduate programs, course grades are neither the top priority nor the best indicator of success. More focus is often placed on research, teaching or other professional activities. This does not mean that coursework is unimportant; just that it must be balanced with other responsibilities. It can be helpful to talk to your academic advisor, other faculty members, or older graduate students to help get a sense of what percentage of your time should be devoted to coursework.


Stress Management

Grades are often determined much differently in graduate or professional school than in undergraduate courses. Graduate classes may not even have set due dates for assignments/exams, which means that you need to work independently and structure your own study schedule.  Keeping up with work throughout the semester, getting enough sleep, and practicing stress reduction and relaxation techniques can help make your academic schedule more manageable.  See the Mitalk website <mitalk.org> for information on everything from managing stress to tackling test anxiety to avoiding perfectionism.


Imposter Syndrome

Many graduate and professional school students find themselves filled with doubt about whether they belong in graduate school. Known as “Imposter Syndrome,” this phenomenon is particularly common in first-year graduate students. This doubt can lead to anxiety, procrastination, lack of confidence, and impaired performance. Through the Health and Wellness Initiative, Rackham offers workshops each year on stress management and Imposter Syndrome.


SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS

Whether you have arrived at U-M from another part of the country or the world and are trying to make new friends, exploring a new romantic connection, or learning to live with a new roommate, social relationships can sometimes be a source of stress.  Although it can be challenging, connecting with people and creating a support network at U-M is an important way to protect your mental health.

Graduate/Family Housing:  Living on-campus in the graduate or family housing can be a great way to meet new people with similar lifestyles. Check out Northwood Housing or Munger Residencies for graduate student housing options.

Graduate Programs: Graduate programs are typically small, providing more opportunities to interact with your classmates. Other students, especially those in your program, can be a great source of friendship and support.

Student Activities and Organizations: Joining a student organization can help you connect with other students who share your interests. With a large student population, U-M has a student organization to match almost any interest. To find a group with similar interests as your own, visit Maize Pages. Also, Festifall or Northfest are large events held each year to showcase student groups on campus for both undergraduate and graduate students. To locate activities specific to graduate students, visit the Student Life, Rackham Graduate School website.


PARENTING
  • Managing the demands of parenting as a graduate student can be uniquely challenging, but whether you already have children, or become a parent during graduate school, the University has many resources to support you both academically and socially.
  • Keeping a healthy work/life balance as a priority, connecting with other student parents, and taking advantage of the resources available, can all be helpful in managing some of the stresses of being a student parent.
  • The Students with Children website, the University’s Work/Life Resource Center, and Rackham Graduate School are great sources of information for student parents.
  • The Students with Children website, aimed at all student parents and caregivers, includes information on childcare, financial resources, social support, health clinics, insurance options, and more.
  • The Work/Life Resource Center is a starting point for the U-M community to learn about resources and tools to promote work/life balance, including resources to support parents.
  • Rackham offers programs and events throughout the year and provides quick access to important resource information including academic policies, and links to resources.

GETTING SETTLED AT MICHIGAN

Whether you are moving out of the dorms into your own apartment, or are new to Ann Arbor and searching for off-campus housing for the first time, issues related to your living situation can be stressful.

  • Housing: Many graduate students are coming from out of state or out of the country and need assistance finding a place to live. Your concerns may include finding housing close to classes, keeping housing costs in check, locating a peaceful neighborhood, or researching the area’s school system if you have children. The U-M housing website has information on graduate, family, and off-campus housing, and staff is available to assist you with your questions.
  • Roommates: If you lived with a roommate in undergraduate school, you are no doubt aware of the stress that can surface. Talking with your roommate about mutual expectations and developing strategies to compromise and share responsibilities can help to avoid conflict in the future. If you and your roommate need help mediating a conflict, you can talk with an advisor at the Office of Housing, or visit the Office of Student Conflict Resolution (OSCR) website. They can also help to resolve conflicts with landlords or neighbors.
    • Become a part of U-M Graduate Housing: A staff position within U-M graduate housing, such as a Community Assistant, might be another housing alternative to pursue. To learn more about becoming a live-in staff member in U-M graduate housing, click here.
    • Finding What You Need: Many graduate students arrive on campus just before the academic semester begins and have little time to explore their new home town. Attending orientations and talking with current graduate students is a helpful way to discover Ann Arbor and the U-M campus. The Campus Information Center’s website provides an enormous amount of information about living in Ann Arbor, covering everything from where to register to vote, to where to find grocery stores, to where to rent movies, to where to find the U-M football schedule.
    • Coming Prepared: Before arriving on campus, complete this checklist to help you prepare.

FINANCIAL STRESSORS

Whether you are supporting yourself or your entire family, you may need to find additional work to supplement the loans or stipend you receive while enrolled in graduate school.

  • Visit Rackham Graduate School site for information on employment opportunities and funding resources such as fellowships, grants, and awards. Some schools have their own job boards as well.
  • Your professors can also be a great resource to learn about any paid opportunities within your program.
  • As an enrolled graduate student at the University of Michigan, there are many free and low cost treatment options available to you and your family to address your medical and mental health needs.

STAYING HEALTHY

Making your health a priority while attending graduate or professional school can be challenging with so many other responsibilities competing for your time and attention. But it’s important to remember that your physical and mental health are interconnected, and both can have a dramatic impact – either positive or negative – on your success in school and in life. Finding ways to stay healthy can help you feel better and prevent or manage existing mental health symptoms.

  • Lifestyle: Though you may feel that you are too busy to get enough sleep, eat nutritiously or exercise, all of these lifestyle factors can have an impact on your mental health and academic performance. See the section of this website devoted to self-care for information on ways to stay healthy while on campus.
  • Health and Wellness Initiative: Health and Wellness Initiative is a mental health awareness campaign started by Rackham Graduate School in 2006. The Initiative offers programs and activities designed specifically for graduate students, addressing areas such as nutrition, exercise, stress management, professional development and connecting with peers.
  • Alcohol and other drugs: Some students use alcohol or other drugs to relieve their mental health symptoms, but in reality these substances are more likely to interfere with mental health recovery. The majority of U-M students make smart decisions when it comes to alcohol and other drugs. But when problems arise, resources are available at U-M to help students with everything from developing moderation strategies to locating substance abuse recovery services.
  • Health care: It’s easy to discount the importance of or forget to schedule regular medical checkups. To help you stay healthy, University Health Service offers both walk-in and scheduled appointments, and most services are already covered by the health service fee which is paid as part of your tuition.

 


MANAGING MENTAL HEALTH
  • In the past year, more than one third of graduate and professional school students at U-M reported that they thought they needed help because they were feeling sad, blue, anxious or nervous.*
  • Over 80% of graduate and professional school students at U-M say they don’t think it’s a sign of weakness to get help.*
  • You may find significant stressors related to managing your mental health while enrolled in graduate or professional school. Consider creating a plan for health and wellness on your own or with your clinician. Also, exploring the other topics on this website may leave you better prepared to handle these stressors.

*Healthy Minds Study


STIGMA AND DISCLOSURE

A difficult decision for many students is whether or not to be open with other students, professors, and administrators about having a mental illness. It may not always be appropriate or necessary to disclose the details of your condition, but it’s always appropriate to anticipate possible situations before they arise and plan ahead to consider how you might respond and what, if any, information you might choose to share.

  • Academic disclosure: Many students choose to keep their mental illness private even when their condition is causing serious academic problems. Whether or not you choose to disclose information about your mental illness, as soon as academic problems arise, it is helpful to speak with your instructor about what steps you can take to get back on track. The earlier academic difficulties are recognized and addressed, the greater your chance for success. Visiting the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities can be helpful if you would benefit from academic accommodations related to your mental illness.
  • Social disclosure: You may worry about the reaction of other students if you disclose your mental illness. Having a support network of friends can be beneficial. If you don’t have anyone you feel comfortable sharing with, consider speaking with undergraduate and other graduate students in one of the many student mental health organizations.
  • Click here an exercise designed to help you weigh the pros and cons of discussing your diagnosis with others.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES: HELP-SEEKING FOR YOURSELF AND FOR YOUR FAMILY

There are many mental health resources available for both you and your family on campus and in the Ann Arbor community. For a comprehensive, searchable list of the support services available, visit the resource section [organic URL needed] of this site.

 


Did you know that 28% of U-M graduate and professional students have a diagnosed mental health condition*? If you are concerned about your mental health, you are not alone.
* U-M Healthy Minds Study, 2017

 

X

Get Help Now - Crisis Text Line 741-741 // Call U-M Crisis Phone Line: 834-936-5900 or 734-996-4747