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Managing your ‘grad school’ emotions

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For those of us in a traditionally online program, multitasking is nothing new.  This week is a small break between summer school and the launch of a new fall semester and all of the anticipation and excitement which comes from looking forward to meeting dozens of new students. Faculty are posting grades from last semester and working to update coursework and reframe instructional design based upon what we’ve been learning about work during a global pandemic. It’s an exhausting time, for us and for our students. 

During difficult times, experience has shown that having emotional reactions are to be expected, sometimes ones that surprise. The people around us may react to uncertainty, stress, illness, and grief in ways that baffle us or require more of our time and attention. Starting a new semester of school can only add to the challenges and we expand our bubble of family and friends to include new people we’ve never met, only spent time with on Zoom and become a special type of “pen pals” writing all kinds of messages, discussions, and assignments to be read and interpreted by people we do not yet know well.

I always tell my Capstone students, those at the end of their graduate school experience, to “Trust the Process.”  The USC Price School, now entering its 92nd year, is a well-oiled machine with tight-knit faculty who continue to build upon an excellent foundation of pedagogy and coursework. Trusting the process suggests that students will get to the end of a course with their grades intact if they just follow along and turn in the requested and required assignments — all will make sense as the faculty ties together elements of learning with an objective of teaching new skills and developing content expertise in our students.

What can students do to ease the anticipation and nerves? What tips for managing our own emotions can best facilitate success during a pandemic? Within the field of emotional intelligence lies a wealth of effective leadership and interpersonal relationship-building techniques.

With a nod to John Stoker’s (2020) article for the ICMA’s SmartBrief email publication, in order to manage those “back in school” feelings more successfully, consider these steps:

  1.  Identify your emotions – notice when your feelings show up!
  2.  Surface your thinking – bypass feeling overwhelmed by answering the question, “I’m feeling X because….”
  3. Identify your values – remember what’s important to you to objectively assess whether those values are being challenged.
  4. Ask questions – tap into your logical and rational mind to focus on learning something new about the situation.
  5. Breathe deliberatively – meditation strategies have a common technique, slow your breathing to clear your mind.
  6. Change your movements – stand up, walk around or strike a “pose”, by physically moving we can lessen emotional responses.
  7. Change your words – negativity increases the bad feelings, consider using positive and inclusive language to instill goodwill in your own mind and with others.

Last, understand that when you have decided to change your circumstances, change your focus and go back to school, the people around you are forced into new patterns of behavior whether they want to change or not. Adding homework, live session classes, team meetings, and assignment deadlines into your schedule will mean less time for loved ones and friends — even if the change is just temporary. Your return to grad school will have a profound impact on those around you, and hopefully will provide a benefit for your family; but first, we all need a little space – and grace – to breathe.

References and Resources

Stoker, J. R. (2020, August 21). How can you increase your emotional intelligence? Smartbrief.

Charter Management Institute. (2019, June 24). How to manage emotional intelligence.

Stahl, A. (2018, May 29). Five ways to develop your emotional intelligence. Forbes. – 7b6aba256976

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