15 Life Lessons I Learned in Grad School

Graduate cap and books

by Heather Kallevig

“Become a change agent.” The last sentence written on my final comprehensive exam. That was it. I had simultaneously completed grad school and set my goal for my future in one succinct statement. As I walked out of the room, I didn’t know what I expected this moment to feel like. Should I stand a little taller, no longer weighted down by computer and text books? Should my head grow bigger to carry my inflated brain? Should I be suddenly more empathetic, caring, or driven? Ok maybe the physical changes didn’t happen, but the mental ones may. I had just achieved one of my life’s most challenging goals, and I did it in under a year. I was now Heather Kallevig, Purdue M.A. in communications.

Grad StudentThere are many reasons we attend grad school. To learn, to get a better job, to take steps toward greater goals; the reasons are as dynamic as the students. And there are over 500,000 students who earn a masters degree every year in the US.

I myself attended grad school to send my life in a new direction. I wanted the opportunity to pursue communication, writing, and education in the nonprofit sector. Grad school gave me the opportunity to pivot from my five years as teacher to pursue a new career using the skills I possessed.

In my year as a student, I witnessed a dramatic transformation in my person. My interests, goals, and pursuits all changed. Looking back I wouldn’t give up a moment of it, even the painfully stressful ones. I learned a great deal from my books, but in this post I want to share a little bit of my life learning. Here is a list of the top life lessons I learned in grad school.

1. Dress for Success

Business CasualRemember when you were an undergrad and wearing sweats to class was stylish? This is not the case in grad school. Think of class as your job. You may be teaching as a TA or attending as a student. It’s important to stand out with your professionalism. Your teachers may one day be your greatest advocates on the job market. Show respect and dress to impress.  Business casual is a good rule of thumb.

2.  Make time every hour to leave your seat.

It’s very tempting when you have an extensive to-do list and you’re on a role to feel success from staying at it till it’s done. This isn’t good for your body or your brain. Numerous studies recommend getting up at least once every twenty minutes. One doctor describes the side effects of a sedentary life style “You stop breaking up fat in your bloodstream, you start getting accumulations of fat … in your liver, your heart and your brain. You get sleepy. You gain weight. You basically are much less healthy than if you’re moving.”

Whether it’s simply to stand, grab a glass of water, or move around your office, take time to leave your seat. Even if you get your recommended daily dose of exercise, you need to break up the sedentary lifestyle and move around too.

3.  Take a few hours off every day.

Even during finals week, when you feel you’ll never accomplish all that’s on your list. Outdoor YogaTake time off every day to do something you enjoy outside of school. This will keep you connected to your relationships and other hobbies. So whether you like sewing, swimming, running, blogging, or watching movies with friends, make time to write these leisure activities into your daily schedule.

  1. Popcorn does not quality as a healthy dinner but it works in a pinch.

Remember the good old-fashioned food pyramid? Well it still applies in adulthood. In grad school though, there may be times you forget about it. There were many days in the past year where I had popcorn for supper rather than a square meal. This is ok, just don’t make it a daily habit and try to slip a couple other food groups into your daily diet – think fruits and vegetables.

5.  Foster your relationships.Foster your friendships

The friendships you build in grad school have the potential to last forever.  These are the individuals who share similar interests and aspirations.  Take the time to get to know the people in your program, classes, and school organizations.  They become your cheerleaders during the hard days and the people who join you for margaritas when you succeed.  Make time for friendships and happy memories.

6.  Humans can consume an astounding amount of coffee.

Grad School Coffee CupsI never really considered myself a coffee drinker until grad school. Today, I enjoy coffee morning, later morning, lunch time, early afternoon…(You get the picture.) In the department, a pot of coffee invites more people than a keg attracts undergrads, and mugs are an outfit accessory. If you are not a coffee drinker, and you’re considering grad school, beware. The coffee bug will get you.

7.  You can live on an astonishingly small amount of money after having a salary.

When I started grad school I transitioned from a full-time teacher’s salary to a pithy TA salary. Don’t get me wrong, I was very thankful to be making any money while studying! However, I was amazed at how little I could live on, a mere percentage of my previous income. The reason? When you get to grad school, there is very little time to spend. Great way to budget.

8.  Your body is likely to change in grad school. It gets softer… Everywhere.

SittingRemember life lesson #2? Well, sometimes it’s hard to follow. Which is why by the time you finish grad school your body may feel a bit different. You keep telling yourself you’ll begin exercising again once Christmas break, spring break, summer break, or graduation comes, but the reality is it’s really hard to get to the gym everyday. Be a super hero and make time to exercise.

9.  Make time for the gym.

This is a feed off from lesson 7. I tried to make it to the gym at least once a week. Much less frequently than pre-grad school, but even that weekly sojourn on the treadmill made a big difference. If you can’t make it to the gym, at least take time to go for a walk once or twice a day. Studies recommend at least 40 minutes of walking every day. You can break this up into two 20 minute walks if it’s easier. Walking improves weight loss, gives you a chance to breathe fresh air, commune with nature, boosts your mood and relieves stress or anxiety. So make time for those daily outdoor walks.

10.  You’re going to need a stronger glasses prescription at the end of the year.

GlassesHave you ever heard of computer vision syndrome? It’s a real term coined by the American Optics Association to describe the stress, fatigue, and deterioration our eyes experience from prolonged periods of staring at a screen. As you can imagine this is a common and necessary part of grad school. So, take care of your eyes, look away from the screen every once in a while, and be prepared to change your prescription at the end of the year.

11.  Schedule relaxation time

43% of adults claim to suffer from negative health effects caused by stress. These effects include sickness, sleep deprivation, weight gain, and mood changes.  Grad school is certainly stressful, but you can combat its impact on your health by taking time to relax. It may seem silly to write an hour into your schedule for relaxation, but it really is necessary. If you do not schedule relaxation time, there are chances you may forget it. Whether you relax through yoga, meditation, walking, reading (non textbooks), or watching TV, make sure this is scheduled into everyday.

12.  Get to know your professors

Get to know your professorsThey’ll become your greatest allies. Teacher-student relationships are different in grad school than in your undergrad. Professors and student’s are more like colleagues, working together toward a same goal. Students work with teachers on research projects and community activities. If you are lucky, you are likely to find valuable mentors in grad school. Remember to maintain a level of professionalism, because these mentors could one day be valuable allies when you start to develop your future.

13.  Grad School is not an extension of undergrad.

Many first times in grad school have the misapprehension that grad school is simply a continuation of undergrad for two more years. IT’S NOT. There is a reason you only take three classes a semester in most grad programs. Your time is divided between classes, research, and TA positions. The reading is far more strenuous, and the papers seem impossible your first semester. (Don’t worry, you can do it.) Just be prepared for a Stressed Grad Studentnew level of learning that is nothing like your undergrad.

14.  No matter how many times you think you can’t, somehow you will always get things done.

This is the final and most important thing I learned in grad school. I don’t know how many times I burst into tears, hung my head, and sobbed, “It’s too much, I can’t do it!” Then had a surprising turn around and finished the project ahead of schedule. My husband might tell you this is my process – build up, break down, completion, and success. Believe it or not, this sentiment is common among grad schools, and everyone has had a time when they questioned whether or not they had the ability to get the job done. Most of them will tell you they did.

15.  You’ll learn what you are truly capable of.

Similar to a challenging sport, grad school shows you what you’re capable of. It challenges you, teaches you new and exciting things, and helps you learn your mettle. Finding a program that fits you and your interests is very important. When it works, grad school is a gratifying, life-altering experience. You will come out a different person, so thankful you took the time to survive grad school.  It’s likely you’ll do more than survive, you’ll thrive and gain the potential to “Become a Change Agent.”

grad school - Computer


American Optics Association

Graduate education system

Choose My Plate

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Why Relax?

Five Ways to Make a Difference Today


by Heather Kallevig

In the modern world, the average person is constantly bombarded with 24-hour news. Whether it’s on TV, social media, websites, and radio, a large portion of what we’re hearing and seeing is negative. In this environment of seemingly endless drama, difficulties, and sadness it is easy to become disillusioned.

The truth, however, is these news sources are offering a disproportionate frame of reality. The world is not becoming sadder… It’s become better! Through education, we are seeing an increase in activism, peace, and prosperity. In Be the Solution: How entrepreneurs and conscious capitalists can solve all the world’s problems, Michael Strong offers new and invigorating insights about our generation’s potential to change the world. The best part is, we are doing so in a society that is already in the upward scale.

It’s true, we are plagued by concerns with pollution, loss of biodiversity, and terrorism, to name a few, but we are also witnessing the regrowth of hardwood forests, a dramatic decrease in violent conflict, and a rise of conscious consumers and capitalists. We are coming of age in a world with growing potential.

Tibetan Buddhists, in spite of their heartrending history, hold dear to the future. According to strong “they are committed to a 500-year plan to making a better world.” The goal of each individual is to make the best of their world with the opportunities they receive in their lifetime. This is their contribution to the better world.

We can all benefit from this principle, and the best way to focus on making a difference in your lifetime is to focus on the difference you can make today. Below are five simple things you can do today to move us forward into a better world.

  1. Smile

This is perhaps the simplest contribution you can make, and the easiest way to quickly improve a person’s day. By smiling you change the mood of a moment, end an altercation, or instantly help another. After all, it’s very hard to see a smile without giving one in return.

  1. Make contact

Take the time to make contact with those people in your life you may have been neglecting. No matter how busy your world is, there is always time to get in touch with old friends, family members, or even coworkers. By doing so, you are letting someone else know you are thinking about them and that they are important to you.

  1. Show your gratitude

Showing your gratitude includes saying thank you, but it so much more. Take the time to show genuine appreciation for the people in your life, the skills you possess, and the blessings you’ve been granted.

  1. Get outside

Make time every day to get outside. You will increase your overall health, making you stronger for tomorrow. You will disconnect from technology and the distractions of the modern world. Finally, you will enhance your appreciation for the world beyond your own sphere. Better yet, when you do go outside, take someone with you!

  1. Be happy

This the most important way to impact change in your surrounding environment. Nothing else matters if you are not genuinely joyful. Make happiness a priority, and it will become a habit. Even on those days when your car breaks down, you fought with your significant other, and your daily work is drudgery finding the little reasons to be happy will dramatically change your overall gladness and your contentment will lastingly impact others.

Empowering Quote for the Day

Heather Kallevig

“She is free in her wildness, she is a wanderess, a drop of free water. She knows nothing of borders and cares nothing for rules or customs. ‘Time’ for her isn’t something to fight against. Her life flows clean, with passion, like fresh water.”

Photo By Morgan Sessions

Quote provided by culturalquote.com

Photo courtesy of unsplash.com

Four Ways to Make a Change Today

by Heather Kallevig

Often when we think of making a difference in the world, our ideas are drawn to long-term goals. While these are valuable, they can be daunting, especially if you’re struggling with a busy schedule. As a graduate student, a wife, and the mother of two fur-babies, I often feel there is very little time in a 24 hour period to check off every item on my agenda. That being said, as a change agent, the time required to make a difference in the world can be daunting.

 DSC_1014           When I feel the pressure of my daily schedule, I focus on the areas in which I can make an impact with small mindful choices throughout the day. I keep the list short and sweet, and use it as a guide for mindful moments of change.

Live the Moment

My morning alarm on my cellphone is titled “live the moment” with a small emoticon of a dog. This reminds me to make every moment special, even my waking one. Similar to my dogs who seem to enjoy each given second to the fullest, this goal helps me appreciate all moments of my day, even the boring or challenging ones. For example, I remind myself to be thankful we have a working post office where I can wait in line.

Eating with Meaning

What we eat, though seemingly small has a large impact on our health, the people around us and the world we live in. Whether you’re a vegetarian, vegan, or meat eater, make choices that are beneficial. You may be encourage the people with whom you share your meal to make better choices too.

Find moments for outdoor activity

Take time every day to appreciate the outside world, even if it’s a short fifteen-minute walk. When you do so, try to give yourself time outside that is distraction free. Turn off your ipod, ignore your phone, and give your full attention to the soothing medicine of Mother Nature.

Share a smile

One of the most effective ways to improve another’s day is also one of the easiest – share your smile. In all likelihood they will smile back, and it’s hard not to smile without also lightening a mood. It’s amazing the difference it can make on the road when another drive smiles, or with customer service when you make eye contact and smile at your checker. By sharing a smile, you’re recognizing humanity and making a small gift of yourself.

These four easy steps can be a simple part of your day. Without changing your schedule, you can instantly improve your life and someone else’s. This may be the key to change-making. While the grandiose steps are amazing, it’s also the daily impact in which everyone can truly make a difference.

Exploring New Realms of Technology

Exploring new realms of technology

This semester has been one of discovery, investigation, and sometimes technological frustration and discomfort. I have always considered myself to be fairly tech-savvy in my own way, but for the past five years I have focused entirely on education technology. I focused on new tools to wield in my classroom for efficiency and student experience. Now I have new goals and am exploring new forms of technology.

This semester my focus has been social media, and new platforms. Previously I was experienced with the social uses of Facebook and Pinterest. I had Twitter and LinkedIn profiles, but I never used them. In the past semester, I have been using them frequently and find them to be more satisfying. My social base is more academic and professional, and therefore my satisfying. I have also been exploring blogging, a new outlet for my ideas and writing. This has been a very satisfying experience – one I intend to continue once the semester is over. The other area I’ve been exploring is web page design. This has been an exciting and heartbreaking practice at the same time – said emotions depending on whether or not the technology and I are cooperating.

I’ve found the new forms of technology rich and satisfying – often more for the hard work they can require. I look forward to targeting new technologies over Christmas break and next semester as I continue on with future plans – my next blog will explain more…

Tata for now!

How Important is Face to Face? A review of Blue Jeans’ Meeting Space

by Heather Kallevig

A Review of Blue Jeans’ Meeting Space

As globalism takes over our political and economic world and the technological cyberspace stretches its influence into the global village, we see many changes in how we get together. People are building romantic relationships online, conducting job interviews via skype, and inviting high-level guest speakers into their classroom on a Smart Board. Technology has allowed us to connect with individuals we may never have met in the past and is changing the ways we interact. Many experiences and decisions that once required a face-to-face meeting are disregarding that specification in exchange for the novelty, ease, and flexibility of the Internet.

Internet websites and applications offer many advantageous solutions to the way we conducted “things” in the past. To see the evolution of Internet usability, examine how online education has evolved. At first students were receiving books and turning their homework in through the mail, then e-mail. Later they began taking quizzes online followed by assignments and online texts. Next people began meeting online using programs like eLive. Today the options for online classes are innumerable and user-friendly. I have experience as a student and teacher in all the different levels listed above and am well-versed in the advantages and disadvantages of each. Recently I was able to use a new program in my social media research course. The program is called Blue Jeans.

Rather than get together late on a Monday evening, we decided to meet remotely using Blue Jeans. This is the easiest online meeting space I have used so far. The microphone and speakers worked great, the video was clear, and screen sharing was easy. Rather than seeing one person at a time, I was able to see a revolving set of nine squares of my classmates. The nine nodding heads did sometimes remind me of the opener to The Brady Bunch, but I appreciated the varied screen. All in all it was a good program and I enjoyed attending class in my PJs from the comfort of my own home. This is most definitely a tool I would use a second time around.

Creating a Web Domain and Host

by Heather Kallevig

This post also found on Open Air Advocate.

In this post, I’ll discuss how to choose and purchase a domain name and select and subscribe to a webhost.  This is a slightly involved process, so I apologize in advance for the longevity of this post.

My earliest experience in web design was on Weebly where I collaborated to create a wedding page for my family and friends. This was followed by the creation of a simple blog, one I’ve had trouble updating since graduate school. I then moved to WordPress.com where I maintained an educational technology blog. My next step was practice building simple webpages using HTML code and then downloading WordPress.org to practice creating live, customizable organizational webpages on my University’s server. I am now create my own webpages using a live server and domains.  My current pages include the following:


My social media management business and communication technology blog


My personal portfolio and activism blog


My personal travel blog

Whatever your personal plan for owning and maintaining a webpage, there are many things to consider.  Even if you’re not ready to begin your page today, keep in mind domains are constantly being purchased and selling out.  Too ensure a specific domain name is available to today, three months from now, or even three years from now, it behooves you to purchase your domain now and pay $10-30 a year to maintain it.

Choosing a Domain

For many, the first step of choosing a domain can be very difficult.   Personally,  my first domain, which I use for my professional portfolio was quite easy. I have a unique name, Heather Kallevig, so heatherkallevig.com was available. I paid $8 a year to purchase this domain from Weebly.com months ago. I later transferred this domain to wordpress.

For my business, I did not want to simply be called heatherkallevig.com. In fact, I did not even necessarily want my full name in the business title. One reason is I will be using that webpage for e-mail and heatherkallevig@heatherkallevig.com sounds silly. So, I went to the drawing board to begin choosing a domain name. There are many useful websites to help with domain selection.

Godaddy, one webhosting site offers ten tips including:

  1. Make it easy to type
  2. Keep it short
  3. Target your area
  4. Make it memorable

Huffington Post adds to the list in a more brand specific context.

  1. Name your brand
  2. Tie your brand to your domain name
  3. Don’t try to be clever, keep it simple

If you are having trouble choosing your domain name, search different suggestions from websites to see if you are on the right track.

To continue with the naming process, I wasn’t crazy about using my initials and really wanted an Alaska-based site, so I began using Alaska keywords such as north star and forget me not. I finally found my domain when I landed on northern light.  This is why my company is called Northern Light Social Media, and my web domain is northernlightsocialmedia.com

To be safe I also purchased northernlightsocialmedia.org and northernlightssocialmedia.com. The other two sites will be set up to redirect searches to my original website.

.com vs .org

Once you have chosen your domain, there are several different places you can check for availability. networksolutions.com is one option. You can also look for domains on the different web hosts you are considering, Godaddy.com and hostgator.com are two of the most popular. I began on Network Solutions and tried a variety of options that included the words social, media, consultant, consulting, Alaska, AK, etc and was initially unable to find anything  available in “.com”. The only combination of these sites that were available used a different extension such as aksocial.media. There was aksocialmedia.org, but the .com was already purchased, and I am technically not a .org site.

*Just to review, .com is generally used by businesses, .org usually implies a nonprofit, .edu is for schools, and .gov is for government websites. There are many different extensions, including .net, .media., but I wanted to stick with .com

Whichever web domain you use should be available in both .com and .org, and if possible, you should purchase both to ensure visitors don’t accidentally go to .org and get routed to another site. You should also purchase any domains similar enough to your own where confusion may occur.  For example, socialmedia.com is owned by livingsocial.com.  When you type in the former, you are automatically redirected to the latter.

Purchasing your Domain

The next step was to actually purchase the domains. After searching the different options, WordPress, Weebly, Godaddy, Network Solutions, and Host Gator, I ended up selecting hostgator.com. This seemed to be the site most consistently recommended. I also liked its host plans, lower cost of domains, and user dashboard. They have a 45 day money back guarantee in case you change your mind. Also they support green energy hosting – I am always a fan for the company who supports the environment!

When you click to Host gator, go to domain, choose your domain(s) and purchase. Once you have purchased your domains, you can choose your webhost plan. Your options are the Hatchling, Baby, and Business Plans. I chose the Baby plan for the unlimited domains option.  Consider what works best for you and your needs.

Beginning your Webpage

Once you’ve purchased your domain, you are ready to begin building your web page.  You can consider many different platforms for designing your webpage, some are simpler for beginners, others are more complicated.  WordPress is one of the most popular.  Other friendly options include Weebly and rubyonrails.

Facilitating Our Education

by Heather Kallevig

No matter how many years we spend in school, the most valuable tool students can take from our education is the ability to facilitate our own education and practice the acts of a life long learner. In my tech class this past week we had the opportunity to practice taking control of our own education. Rather than studying readings assigned by our teacher, we were in charge of selecting our own publications from the past year to read, review, and share with our peers. We then perused and responded to the reviews our colleagues posted.

This was a very interesting experience and a valuable practice. One of the most difficult skills to maintain after graduation is the study of academic reading. It is too inviting to explore only candy-readers, as I call many of my books, sugar for the brain. We need to continue exploring new information and dialoguing with colleagues to maintain the sharp edge of education. I enjoyed this activity, finding I relished in locating new texts, pertinent to my own personal interests to write about and share. This was a new activity and a pleasant one I would not mind repeating.

Technology Take Over

by Heather Kallevig

Article Review: Technology Distraction and the Learning Environment

Photo By Sergey Zolkin

Technology is taking over. As we walk the steps of our daily lives, an observer will witness people using their devices with purpose or distraction. Whether parents are attempting to entertain their children with an iPad game, a faculty member is e-mailing during a meeting, students are Facebooking in the middle of class, or drivers are risking lives to send an “urgent” text, the use and effects of technology are constantly in our view. In Technology Distraction and the Learning Environment, Audrey Griffin of Chowen University draws our attention to the societal obsession with our devices.

Griffin begins with a discussion on technology obsession followed by its relation to multitasking and causes. Statistics confirm we are obsessed with our devices – “According to Nielsen in 2011, the number of text messages exchanged monthly (both SMS and MMS) averaged 1,914 per user aged 18 – 24.” Griffin conducted a classroom study where students were asked to avoid all technology for half a day then write a paper about it. All but one of the students found this difficult, three could not complete the study. While college students are likely to need to use their computer for homework, it is likely that most people would consider going a day or even half a day without their devices nearly impossible.

Multitasking behavior results from this obsession. The word multitasking was coined in 1966 to refer to a computer capable of doing several tasks – today it is just as frequently used to refer to humans. Griffin argues computers are meant to multitask while humans are not. Yet we often find it difficult to do only one thing at a time. The possible reasons for multitasking outlined in this paper are: an inability to concentrate, boredom – the need to be entertained, cognitive overload, and technology addiction.

Next Griffin moves to the classroom and evaluates how technology obsession affects education. She begins with the benefits of allowing technology in the classroom. Allowing computers in the classroom facilitates note taking, “Several disciplines have found that student access to laptops during class allows for animating and demonstrating various concepts, exercises using interactive software, collaborative learning exercises, instant feedback, and evaluation and testing.” However, Griffin stands firm with the drawbacks of allowing technology in the classroom, visual effects of computers, phones, etc are more disturbing than other traditional distracters, use of devices distract not only the student using it but the students around them, use of laptops place a barrier between the student and the professor, it requires multitasking, and it sends a negative message to other students in the classroom.

She ends by offering solutions for faculty in addressing the technology obsession. Teachers should conduct lessons that are active and discussion oriented, incorporate meaningful laptop-based activities, and regularly monitor the classroom. In the most extreme instances a full ban of technology is optional.

My responsePhoto By Aleksi Tappura

After reading this article, I find it necessary to offer an opinion. I do agree distraction addiction is an issue, but I do not agree with tactics quite as extreme as Griffin’s. I myself am an avid computer user in class and feel the implementation of technology is beneficial when used properly.

I can type much more quickly, while also exploring additional resources relevant to the topic discussed in class. While I agree technology expectations need to be outlined for students in middle and high school, I feel college students are adults in control of their own education. They can choose whether to come to class, and they will implement the tools most likely to contribute to their success.

Yes, sometimes technology is a distraction, but our devices are taking over for many reasons, including the fact that they make life easier and have endless benefits and possibilities. Technology, when employed with control and purpose has the potential to enrich our lives.

Article: Technology Distraction and the Learning Environment

By: Audrey Griffin