Fall is coming. It’s back to school season. Students (and teachers) everywhere are gearing up for a new semester. If you’re a student, you might be feeling a whirlwind of nervousness, anxiety, and excitement about the upcoming school year. You might be asking yourself, how will I balance everything? Why does summer have to end? How can I continue to have fun when I have all this schoolwork? When will I have time to do me? With this in mind, it seemed only fitting to publish an interview that might help you answer those questions.
Jason Windrow is a graduate student at Rhode Island College. Jason and I have been friends for over a decade, so I’ve had the great privilege of witnessing the development of their work ethic and career trajectory.
I admire their spirit and commitment to school, and I also knew they would have some insightful things to say about balancing school with working a job and cultivating self-care, so they seemed like the perfect person to interview. Jason was recently published in The International Journal on the Biology of Stress for his work on a study titled “Affective and physiological response to a novel parent-adolescent conflict stressor.” You can learn more about it here. Enjoy this interview!
What are you studying and how does it reflect your interests?
I am currently studying psychology at Rhode Island College. My main focus is my qualitative master’s thesis, which is about how African-American/ Black emerging adults/adolescents utilize celebrity racial narratives from media such as Beyonce’s Lemonade and Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer, and how that influences their own racial identity. Psychology can be a very fluid area of study that houses many interests, and that also allows me to be fluid and satisfies my desire to not just be attached to one interest that I have.
What does your day-to-day look like as a grad-student?
Many of my classes are at night which differs a lot from undergraduate courses. My classes also meet only once a week for three hours so it feels as though there is a lot of space for free time. My time is mostly occupied by reading the assigned readings and writing notes for discussion before my scheduled classes. I also have a graduate assistantship in the Rhode Island College LGBTQ+ office, where I focus on reaching out to off-campus resources, managing social media pages, and assisting in Safe Zone trainings. After class, my brain is usually fried, so watching TV, going on walks, and lying down are all helpful things. I luckily work only the weekends so I am able to really focus on school work during the week and not have to double-down on work and schoolwork on the weekends.
If you want, talk about your family background and how it might have impacted your adulthood.
I come from a working class environment where the motto of working hard and always working hard was very popular. Hearing that motto constantly has definitely impacted my adulthood. I experience a lot of academic- and work-related guilt where I sometimes feel guilty for taking time off for myself or guilty if my assignments are not “perfect.” Academia is also a different culture from where I come from; my mom went to a community college and got her associate degree and my dad went to a trade school and stopped schooling after high school. So, graduate school, academic articles/journals, and knowing how to navigate academia was not an innate thing for me. I’ve noticed that professors who are also working class have helped me to understand that the culture of academia is challenging for a lot of working class folk. Academia requires a lot of time and effort from students, and, unfortunately, often makes very little space for those who need to work to financially support themselves or others. Learning about what academic culture is like and the commitment needed to be an academic has helped me understand more about how to best balance work, school, and mental health in a lot of ways.
How do you balance school work, a job, and self-care?
Balancing school work, a job, and self-care requires a lot of effort and planning in my opinion. During the school week, I tend to carve out specific times in which I only work on schoolwork. My job has a set schedule, so I know that I work every weekend. For me, a set schedule is nice because I’m able to plan out my entire week. A lot of the time the way I balance self-care is checking in with myself emotionally when doing my school work. Writing a paper for 1-2 hours is a long time and checking in with myself every hour to see how I’m feeling and if I need to take a break. I also like to use self-care as a reward. If I write 1-2 pages, then I feel comfortable taking a walk to clear my head, listening to music, or talking to a friend on the phone. After I return from my self-care endeavors, I often ask myself if I feel like I am able to still work or call it a day. This can be difficult sometimes, especially when my academia/working class guilt takes over, but I’ve learned that maintaining my self-care is ultimately more important than school or academia is.
Do you feel that your self-care routines have evolved throughout your college career?
Yes, definitely. In my freshman and sophomore years of college, I was really afraid about what professors thought about me and my assignments, and often tailored the assignments around what I thought they wanted to see. However, that often made me feel like school was extremely laborious, with me stressing about the point of the assignments and giving myself a lot of anxiety. I felt stuck and unable to really do anything for myself. I’ve since learned that tailoring assignments to my interests is far more helpful. This has allowed me to create a space where I can walk away from what I’m writing or creating and take time for myself as well. Enjoying what you’re creating allows you to take breaks from it because you know it’ll be enjoyable when you dive back into it. Learning how to stop working when I feel like I need a break is also a skill I’ve been developing.
I feel far more comfortable talking to my professors now than I did a few years ago. I often ask my professors how long an assignment might take to be completed – this is really helpful for balancing school work, self-care, and working. If an assignment should take an hour and I’ve spent three hours on it, then perhaps I’m overworking myself and should think more about what the assignment actually is, take less time on the assignment and more time for me. Asking the professor how much time also helps you to understand what they’re looking for in an assignment which may help reduce stress.
What are some words of advice you would give to anyone struggling to balance school with the rest of their life?
Remember that life can be looked at as a series of stages, many of which are temporary, including school. What should be permanent is your commitment to yourself. Aim to find balance in school and all fields of life. Check in with yourself and don’t sacrifice your health for school (or for anything!). Remember that so many assignments are to show the professor you’re on task and understand what the class is about. Assignments are not about compromising your sanity. You are more important than those grades. Checking in with yourself is way more important than getting an A.
Feel free to reach out with your favorite self-care routines, or any questions or concerns you might have if you’re beginning a new school semester like so many of us are.