Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What Every Graduate Student Needs—Good Health

I was originally going to write an article about making some extra money during the holidays. I would have titled it, “What every graduate student needs—A Side Hustle.” Then, I went to the hospital. I think the greatest gift every student can give him or herself this season, if you haven’t already done son, is a check-up.

Many graduate students tend to glorify the worst aspect of being a graduate student. Some laugh and brag about how little sleep and exercise we get as well as how poor their diets are. This is funny, until it catches up to you.

Earlier this semester I was chatting with Paul Dean in the computer lab. We started to joke with each other and I laughed so hard that my chest hurt. Paul asked what was wrong. Naturally, I thought I had eaten my Chinese food too fast. I begged Paul to stop making me laugh because the harder I chuckled the more it hurt. In reality, the problem was not my general tso’s tofu. My chest hurt because I am anemic. My blood count was so low that my poor little heart was tired from working overtime to make sure enough blood was circulating. My doctor explained this to me at our first visit.

I also learned that all my blood indicators—iron stores, red blood count and hemoglobin, to name a few—were “dangerously low” (the doctor’s words). They do not know exactly what is causing this in my case. I have no family members that have similar issues with their blood. Of course, I am certain somewhere in my family history there are people who have suffered from high blood pressure. I think every American knows that is caused by a condition called, “being black.”

Although, this semester I have tried to do better at taking care of myself, last year I had many problematic lifestyle behaviors that I’m still correcting. There are four areas in particular that I think many students can stand to benefit from monitoring I’m sure you have already guessed which ones they are…

1. Eating—I think many students have diets that consist of excessive alcohol, coffee and ibuprofen. I remember last year beginning my day with coffee and later painkillers. Basically, drugs as breakfast and a snack. Breakfast is such an important meal. If I do not have a big appetite for breakfast, it tends to be because I had too much to eat in the evening the previous day. I’m working on that now.

2. Sleeping—There were nights that I stayed in the office so late that I simply spent the night. One night is too many—and crazy. If work does not get done by 2am is it really going to make a difference if the person who assigned it does not get it until 10am the next day? I am convinced that it is better (and saner) to wake up early than stay up late.

3. Stress—This may seem obvious. Pressure to get things done can be stressful. However, I think if we can really get the concept of “Good Enough” down, this does not have to be so problematic. Also, to de-stress, we can do as Kendra said and take up something “completely un-related to academia,” like swimming or pole dancing.

4. Exercise—I actually think there are a good amount of students in our department who exercise regularly. However, I think it’s easy to think that if you cannot make it to the gym you cannot exercise. A fifteen to 20 minute, normal stride, walk around the campus is approximately equivalent to a mile. Doing that once or twice a day is not that much time out of the day to get the blood pumping. Of course, it can also help to de-stress.

Finally, I think it’s important that students de-romanticize the notion of killing themselves. In the past, I have joked with students about who had the least sleep and consumed the most empty calories. Given the changes I have made, I actually having fun discovering and preparing iron-rich meals (like spinach and tempeh stew or soymilk with molasses–yumm!).

Being a graduate student feels like being hazed into a sorority in so many ways already, we do not need to torture our own minds and bodies. You don’t want to be writing this article next semester…

Kathryn Buford


  1. Nice piece, Katherine. You offer some really important advice. I especially like your call to de-romanticize killing oneself.

  2. errrr....Kathryn, that is.


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