Maintaining Your Motivation as a Grad Student During Quarantine

May 14, 2020

Alexandra Mercer

Ed.D. in Leadership


Whether the current situation is causing us to have more free time or less, the stress and anxiety that comes with being quarantined can affect our role as students. How do we keep motivated, focused and positive in order to be successful in our courses? Here are a few ideas that might help:

Step One: Break Each Course into Parts

An entire college course is a daunting prospect. It can feel like climbing a mountain. But a mountain seems more climbable when you break it into sections, and a college course is the same way. Take each weekly unit on its own, and don’t overwhelm yourself by looking too far ahead. This week, I had two papers to write and a quiz. That seemed doable, but I could break it down even further: I gave myself three days to write each paper and a day to spend on the quiz. It became even more doable! If you are feeling overwhelmed and under pressure, take the mountain step by step.

Step Two: Create Tangible Representations of Your Goals

We’re engaged in an intellectual pursuit, a mental exercise. But our minds can be fickle things and even hold us back. So let’s step outside of our minds and treat our student journeys as more than an abstract concept. Create a timeline, make a calendar, Photoshop a picture of you in a graduation gown – whatever it is, do something that reminds you of what you’re working toward every time you look at it. My favorite version of this is a massive checklist. Each course I need to take is a major check, and each weekly unit within each course is a smaller check. Every week, I get to check something off and at the end of a course, I do a big check and celebrate!

Step Three: Celebrate Successes

Speaking of celebrating, create milestones you can reach and congratulate yourself when you do. Every time I finish a course, I treat myself! (There aren’t as many choices in quarantine, but you can have an ice cream sundae, shop for a fun item or have a movie night!) If you find you’re having trouble maintaining motivation toward the big milestones right now, congratulate yourself for the small victories so you can keep moving forward. For example, when I found my focus and motivation flagging in the face of starting a paper, I made it my goal to at least create an outline and decide on my references. Afterward, instead of feeling like I got nothing done, I got to say, “Hey! I accomplished what I set out to do today. Good for me!”

Step Four: Getting Your Degree is Self-Care

Self-care, self-care, self-care. Every article I see lately is telling me about this all-important matter, but it turns out when you have readings to finish, presentations to watch and discussion posts to write, you don’t have time for a bubble bath! So how can busy grad students practice self-care? It’s all about how we view things. Right now, as a student, you are taking care of yourself by becoming better educated and improving your career path. So, in a way, this whole process is self-care. Your assignments and readings are not obstacles in your path, but stepping stones toward your personal, professional and academic goals. Instead of thinking of your task as a stressful thing you must tackle today, view it as time you are spending on yourself for yourself.

This is a hard time for all of us. Whether you are a working teacher with the stress of moving instruction online, a full-time student trying to handle the mental and emotional struggles of your studies on top of quarantine, or anything in between, no one can expect perfection right now. Give yourself a little grace, find a way to keep pushing forward and remember that you are doing all of this for a great reason.

American College of Education’s fully online programs are designed for busy, working adults. Browse our programs and see how we can help move your career forward.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of American College of Education.
Alexandra Mercer
Alexandra Mercer, Ed.D. in Leadership

Alex has been teaching for six years, leading classrooms abroad in Korea, Japan, Thailand and Morocco. She continues to be active in the global English education community and loves writing about what she's learned along the way.

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